Published in the January 2023 Issue of Memento Mori

By Barry Feinman 

Reflecting on the poignant words of Khalil Gibran, “the eyes are the windows to (one’s) soul,” so, too, may we regard the lawn inset grave marker or monument the last tangible, touchable “window to our beloved ones.” The marker is a lasting memorial of honor and remembrance, sometimes simple and other times intricate, and it reminds us that the individual departed lived among us and with purpose. 

The embellishments artistically created and found on bronze or granite plates often represent life accomplishments. They present a welcoming and inviting testament of one’s life to share with loved ones or with curious others.  

The grave marker, upon approach, presents and releases all the built-up emotion and feeling we hold for the memory of our loved on. As in a moment of “awe,” our souls become grounded and at peace to be reunited with our loved one(s).  

But what happens when that beautiful grave marker starts to show age and damage over time from the ravages of weather and the elements? I have watched with great sadness as parents and grandparents visiting a child or grandchild anguish over the condition of the marker wondering what more they can do to reverse the ravages of time. 

Damaged or aged markers not only serve to hide the beauty that lies beneath but they also adversely impact the look of your cemetery property. 

Safety First 

Cemeteries can perform regular care and cleaning of the material surfaces using safe and responsible chemicals and applicators, or they can allow their families to do so. But the key word here is “safe.” The use of aggressive acidic cleaners is not only potentially dangerous to the user, by direct skin contact or inhalation of vapor gases, they can immediately damage stone finishes and painted highlights. 

For examples, Bronze and granite can be damaged if not treated properly. Bronze is a classical, enduring metal steeped in history—an alloy mix of earth metals, namely, copper, aluminum, or zinc and a non-metal such as silicon. Bronze’s composition with copper is responsible for the “green” or Verde appearance that oftentimes occurs on plates and sculpture composed of this metal.  

Environmental contributors affecting bronze can be atmospheric, such as air pollutants (jet fuel, fire ash, UV), surfaces gases including oxygen, water, calcium, and other mineral salts like iron. 

Granite, while a natural occurring stone, can be affected by some of the same villains. Mineral salt content in water as well as extreme variations in temperature across the polished surface of granite can bring about severe changes in its presentation and beauty. Harsh chemicals can degrade the clear coat found on bronze plates and gain access to the copper mineral beneath the coating by migration from under the plate. This stimulates corrosion leading to a Verde color while facilitating the breakdown of the protective finish.  

Common Damage 

The more frequently observed and troubling damage to these materials is hard water mineral deposits seen as a white film buildup that occludes the beauty beneath. In the case of bronze plaques, mineral salts from irrigation sources and UV degradation of the clear protective finishes found on these plates can result in a Verde or green corrosion. 

We’ve all seen a copper penny in a wishing well or fountain that has developed a green, crusty corrosion or buildup on its surface. In fact, years ago, I was told that Caesar’s Palace’s maintenance folks would extract the many coins found in the fountains. But before they could roll the pennies into a bank sleeve, they had to chemically soak them to remove the crusty nodules from the surface. I know this to be true as I was the one to supply them with the solution.  

Calcium Deposits 

All water is composed of minerals. These minerals and their Parts-Per-Million (PPM) concentration in water affect its taste and leave their mark elsewhere. When we see a white film deposit built-up on our pool tiles, shower heads, vanities, windows, and grave markers, it is calcium, a salt that will build up overtime as water is deposited and evaporates.  

Keep in mind that calcium is a rock mineral and will return to its natural state given the chance.  

The source of water impacts the hardness of the calcium deposit. If water is from a city source, a ground aquafer, mountain stream, or a well, they directly affect the ability to remove the calcium. In fact, and I have experienced this, calcium deposits at a memorial park on one side of a highway were easily removed while those on the other side were almost impossible to remove all due to the difference in water source. 

Calcium is a salt and, as such, contains chlorine. It is very acidic to substrates including metals, glass, stone, and cement. Left to linger, it will facilitate the breakdown of these surfaces. Chlorine will create a very strong bond with metals and cleaning with water alone does not break these bonds nor remove these salts. 

Best Practices 

Available solutions for families are limited. Park owners want to be sure that anything a family does to a marker won’t cause collateral adjacent damage, such as the killing of grass or unsightliness for other visiting families.  

To achieve the desired results, one needs to break down the composite mineral buildup using safe available acids such as Acetic or Citric acid. 

Among solutions available and found on Google searches are acid washes usually containing some percentage of muriatic or hydrochloric acid and vinegar (Acetic acid) to address hard water and stains; biological cleaners for the cleaning of stone; and mineral-oil based conditioners to help revitalize or optically enhance bronze plates.  

Unfortunately, each of the above solutions carries with it a set of issues in the long run. Keep in mind, acids can only affect the surfaces they can touch; therefore, the removal of heavy or thick calcium may require the use of abrasive materials.  

Working in concert, the acid breaks down the deposit while the abrasive safely removes the layer exposing a new layer until all is removed. This is particularly important when addressing a bronze marker as we do not want to compromise the clear protective finish. 

Educating your staff and families on proper marker care and getting them started early will ensure happy families, while also helping to maintain the beauty and sales ability of your properties.  

Barry Feinman is President of Barry’s Restore It All Products and chief restoration expert at Restoration ArTechs, Inc. Carlsbad, CA. He has been a leader in the field of surface restoration for over the past 25 years with clients among cemetery, architectural, commercial and government entities including national cemeteries, Golden Gate Bridge Authority, the U.S. Naval Academy, and the American Battle Monuments Commission. His field expertise has led to the development of safe, proven and consumer-friendly DIY cleaning kit solutions for stone, metals, glass, tile and more found at He can be reached for consult at 760-846-3323.