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Adopt a Grave to reserve and honor our history

By Mike Watson

The Adair Heritage Association and the Adair County Public Library support the Silent City Adopt-A-Grave program, an effort to encourage care and repair of older markers that need attention.

There's no need to be related by blood or marriage, just a love of community and history. There are plenty of stones in need of adoption where no one is left to take care of it.

Cleaning Old Grave Stones - special care is needed
Extracted from the Kentucky Historical Society, 2020

Serious damage can be done to stones by using improper cleaning methods. Even if they appear to be stable, not all stones can be safely cleaned.

Unstable stones are those whose faces or lettering are flaking, or which have obvious fractures or a grainy surface which falls away easily. Stones in this condition should not be cleaned.

Steps: Test clean a small, inconspicuous area before tackling the whole stone. Treating this patch to the entire cleaning process will reveal any problems without affecting the whole stone, and will show the results that the complete cleaning will give.

1. With a soft bristled brush, remove loose, dry materials.

2. Wet stone thoroughly with clear water.

3. Gently scrub with the soft brush and plain water. (Use brush with natural or plastic bristles. NEVER use any wire brushes, they will damage the stone).

4. Clean stone beginning from the bottom up to avoid streaking.

5. Make sure stone is wet before applying any cleaning solution. (Please refer to the recommended cleaning solutions included here. Try mildest cleaning solution first.

6. After using any cleaner, flood the stone again and scrub, using clean water. Do not let any cleaner dry on the stone before removing it.

7. To clean details of lettering or design: (a) Granite or slate: Use a soft wooden stick (tongue depressor, ice cream stick, orange cuticle stick.) Never use a metal tool. (b) On softer, grainer stones (as with sandstone or limestone) be more careful. Use a soft toothbrush or cotton swab.

8. Last, thoroughly rise stone with lots of clean water.

Procedures to Avoid:

* Do not use acidic cleaners on marble or limestone.

* Do not sandblast gravestones.

* Do not use high-pressure spraying to clean gravestones.

* Do not attempt to clean any stone that is unstable.

* Do not attempt to clean stones without first receiving proper direction.

* Never use wire brushes or any metal instrument in cleaning stone.

* Do not use household cleaners.

* Do not clean stones often. Even the most carefully cleaned stone looses stone particles with each cleaning. Generally not more than once each five years or more.

* Do not treat stones with "protective" coatings that are impermeable to water vapor. Such coatings can actually be very harmful to stones in years to come, or are ineffective.

Tools to Utilize in Stone Cleaning:

* Goggles

* Rubber gloves

* Tampico (natural bristle) or soft plastic brushes

* Toothbrushes, softest type

* Smooth wooden sticks such as ice cream sticks, tongue depressors, orange cuticle sticks

* Cotton swabs

* Spray bottle

* Water source (clean plastic containers)

Cautiously-Recommended Solutions:

Listed in order of increasing strength. NOTE: Always use the weakest cleaning agent that cleans the stone effectively. Do not increase the recommended strength of a given solution. Use only those solutions recommended for the type of stone being cleaned.

Marble and limestone * Water only

Soapstone * Water only

Slate * Water only

Sandstone * Water only


* Wire brushes, metal instruments, abrasive pads (Brillo pads, steel wool)

* Acid or acidic cleaners (especially on marble or limestone!). Limestone and marble are calcareous.

* Household cleaners: soap (dish liquids), detergents (liquid or powder), granular cleaners, bleach, commercial surface cleaners in spray bottles, or any other abrasive cleaner.

* Never use a power sprayer to clean the stones.

Remember: Make sure the stone is stable before attempting to clean it!

Pick up an adoption form at the Adair County Public Library, 307 Greensburg St, Columbia, KY. Fill it out and return it to us.

Cemetery funds exist, but go almost entirely to mowing and grounds upkeep. There is no budget for stone repair, cleaning, resetting, etc. Adopt a Gravestone asks that you choose an older marker to care for and support restoration. One that you are willing to restore personally or donate a sum to have repaired and reset.

You are under no legal obligation. However, we do ask that you follow the guidelines for cleaning and restoration supported by the National Parks Service, which advocates "do no harm to markers." More info at

For more information, please contact or Mike Watson at

This story was posted on 2020-09-26 06:17:31
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