After losing a loved one, their gravestone represents their life well-lived. Keeping this gravestone in top condition is one of the best ways to honor their memory, but this isn’t always easy or possible. Depending on the gravestone’s age and type of environment it’s in, some damage is sometimes unavoidable.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Situations Might Call for Repair or Restoration?
- When to Contact a Professional
- Can You Repair Incorrect or Missing Gravestone Inscriptions?
- How to Get Your Gravestone Repaired or Restored
Though it’s hard to see a loved one’s grave face disrepair, there are many ways to clean, repair, and restore a headstone. But, with so many types of grave markers, how do you know where to begin?
In this guide, we’ll examine how to get a gravestone repaired or restored step-by-step. No matter your budget or experience level, it’s possible to return your loved one’s gravestone to pristine condition.
What Situations Might Call for Repair or Restoration?
When buying a headstone or grave marker, you likely give some thought to the long-term care of the material. Yet, no matter how much pre-planning you do, things happen.
Sometimes these are acts of nature or vandalism that are outside of our control. Other times, we might simply fail to take care of upkeep for months or years.
What situations specifically might call for a gravestone repair or restoration? Here are the most common situations you might encounter yourself:
- Age: The most common reason you might need to repair a gravestone is also the simplest—age. Over time, the materials in a headstone might break down or just face too much exposure from the elements.
- Corrosion: Some types of material, like metal, are prone to corrosion from the elements. This can warp the material and make it hard to read engravings.
- Vandalism: Unfortunately, vandalism does happen to graves from time to time, and it’s always heartbreaking. Luckily, it’s usually quick work to restore the headstone to its glory.
- Weathering: Again, long-term exposure to elements like rain, wind, and storms leads to weathering of the material. Cracks expose themselves along the surface, and it’s not always possible to read the engravings through them.
If you know of a headstone in any of these above states of disrepair, you can take action. With a few simple steps, you can restore the headstone to a polished, classic state. Taking care of a loved one’s headstone is an act of service, compassion, and love. It’s a great way to feel closer to their memory.
When to Contact a Professional
It’s entirely possible to DIY a headstone repair in most situations. However, if you’re dealing with a particularly extreme problem, it’s a good idea to call in the pros. Having a professional ensures you don’t accidentally damage the gravestone any more.
When do you need to contact a professional gravestone repair service?
- Breaks: If the headstone is broken into several pieces, you’ll want someone with experience to handle it. While you might be able to use epoxy for a small break, anything more severe takes more hands-on work.
- Resetting: If the headstone needs to be reset because it’s fallen over or shifted, it’s time to call in a pro. Because it’s easy to do further damage or even get injured, you’ll want someone familiar with professional grave restoration.
The sooner you’re able to address the repair, the better. This is known as “early-stage” intervention. Early-stage restoration involves basic cleaning and restoration tools, and it can be done by just about anyone. Anything beyond this might require expert know-how. Professionals know how to clean a headstone with the proper tools and materials without risking more damage.
Can You Repair Incorrect or Missing Gravestone Inscriptions?
Over time, you might need to address some errors in a gravestone inscription. For example, you might wish to add deceased family members, like a spouse, or even change the prayer under the name.
In general, it’s not possible to add additional inscriptions once the headstone is set. While it can be done, it risks the material’s integrity, and it’s not recommended. Talking to a headstone engraver is the best way to learn if this is an option for you.
However, you can still repair incorrect or missing gravestone inscriptions without completely replacing the entire marker. In this case, create a new plaque for the memorial text.
This is something that can be purchased through an engraver, and you can choose a material to complement or match the existing headstone. From there, this can be affixed to the gravestone to update the inscription as needed.
How to Get Your Gravestone Repaired or Restored
If you know how much a headstone costs, you understand why it’s important to keep it in good condition. Here is how to get your gravestone repaired or restored to meet your needs.
Assess the headstone
First, take a close look at the current state of the headstone. If you haven’t visited in-person for a while or if there was a recent storm, you might not know exactly what needs to be done. If possible, consult with a restoration professional.
While it might seem overly cautious, especially for minor flaws, a professional is the best source of information about the next steps to take. Replacing a headstone from scratch is expensive, so being safe is better than being sorry.
Avoid harmful materials
Before you do anything else, ensure you know what cleaning agents to avoid. Some cleaning chemicals are simply not safe for any headstones. You should always avoid the following:
- Bleach: This is the most important thing to highlight on this list. While there is a myth that bleach is the best way to keep headstones clean, this is simply untrue. The bleach actually sinks into the material, eating away at its integrity. Avoid bleach any cleaner that might have bleach.
- Shaving cream: There’s another common myth that shaving cream brings letters and engravings to life on headstones, but this isn’t true. It’s too harsh for any type of stone or metal.
- Household cleaners: If you use it to clean your home, it’s probably not a good fit for a headstone. Household cleaners aren’t intended for this purpose, so leave them at home.
- Strong brush: While a brush is a great tool, avoid anything with harsh bristles that are not gentle enough.
- Sealant: Finally, avoid using any sealant on stone grave markers. Most markers don’t need to be sealed at all since this actually increases its chance of breaking.
Take photos of the gravestone
While this might sound strange, there are a lot of things that you might not be able to see with the naked eye when observing the gravestone. Take a photo and use a mirror to expose things that might not be obvious at first glance.
For example, if you take a photo, increase the contrast and lighting to see what else reveals itself. You might notice damage that wasn’t clear at first glance, so this helps you know exactly where to clean.
Scrub the headstone gently
When you’re ready to clean the stone, you don’t need anything complicated. A soft brush and water are your best friend. While there are headstone cleaners specifically for different types of headstones, water often gets the job done best.
When scrubbing, start at the base of the headstone. Work your way up to prevent the stone from looking streaky with dirt and drippings. At the end of your cleaning session, rinse the monument to eliminate any residue.
Pay attention to the shrubs and plants growing near the stone. These grow roots that can shift the stone over time, so remove them gently and carefully. These simple steps go a long way towards making the stone look closer to its former glory.
Apply epoxy for broken pieces
If there are small chips or broken pieces, apply epoxy once the monument is dry. Make sure you’re using something that is formulated specifically for headstone restoration.
When applying any epoxy, apply a continuous line down the center of the break. Stay away from the edges to create a clean look. Use a clamp to hold any broken pieces together while they dry.
If more restoration or repair is needed other than the steps above, consult with a restoration professional. This is a tricky process, especially for older monuments, so tread carefully.
Caring for a Gravestone
In many cultures, caring for gravestones is an act of love and devotion. It’s a way to pay close attention to someone’s memory even after death. No matter whether you’re fixing a loved one’s gravestone or an ancient marker in a local cemetery, this is highly rewarding work.
While it’s true that cleaning a grave marker is a powerful homage to someone’s life, it also takes a lot of care and dedication. Just about any grave can be restored to its former glory, but you’ll need to pay close attention to the tips and steps above to avoid any further damage.
If you're looking for more on caring for a headstone or gravestone, read our guides on grave flowers etiquette and solar lights for graves.