The material used to make a monument is a key factor in how long its lettering and images will last. Typically, lettering carved into granite can last for decades and will not fade.
Laser etchings done by skilled monument experts will also not fade over time. However, traditional carved/sandblasted designs can be more susceptible to fading.
Algae & Moss
A major cause of black granite headstone fading is algae, moss, and mildew. Especially in humid, shaded areas, these organisms thrive on the surfaces of gravestones and other monuments. They secrete acids that can damage limestone, marble, sandstone, and other stone. They also trap moisture on and under the surface of the stone, which causes it to swell and crack. This is why it’s important to remove them before they can do any damage.
Biological growth can be easily removed from a black granite headstone using a non-toxic, natural cleaning product such as Wet & Forget. It’s designed to be gentle, reducing the need for scrubbing and damaging the stone. Simply apply it to the stone, let it sit for 15 minutes, and then rinse. Repeat as needed until the growth is gone.
Be sure to use the safest method for your specific situation. Using metal tools, scouring pads, pressure washers, or other harsh cleaners can damage the headstone. This is why it’s best to work with a professional conservator or skilled, historically trained craftsperson.
Once the headstone has been cleaned, use a new cloth to buff it. This will help ensure there are no streaks, as well as enhance the finish and shine of the granite.
A stone with extensive mold or mildew may need additional care to fully clean it. This type of growth can be very harmful to the stone because it sends rootlike structures into porous stone. These can swell and crack the stone, causing irreparable damage.
To remove the growth, gently brush or scrape with a natural-bristle brush or other soft brush. Be careful not to scrub, as this can damage the stone. Rinse the stone frequently as you go, and rinse completely when you’re done. It may look a little darker afterward, but it will probably lighten more over the next few weeks as the growth shrivels and falls off.
If you’re still having trouble with stubborn organic growth, try a biodegradable cleaner like D2. Though there are similar products on the market, D2 has been well-tested and recommended by the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. It works with water and sunlight to eat most organic growth, bleaching it closer to its original color.
Dirt & Debris
In addition to fading, dirt can also cause black granite headstones to look unattractive and, even worse, can damage the surface of the stone. This is why it is important to clean your loved one’s headstone regularly. To get started, you should gather all the materials that you’ll need to wash the monument: a bucket, several liters of water, a soft cleaning soap like Ivory or mild dishwashing liquid, cotton buds (e.g., Q-Tips), and rags. If the gravestone has mold, mildew, or rust stains, you may want to bring hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and a brush.
Once you’ve gathered all your supplies, start by removing any easily moveable branches, twigs, leaves, or old bouquets. Next, thoroughly wet the entire surface of the gravestone with clean water, making sure to wet the base as well. This will prevent the cleaning solution from drying too quickly and potentially damaging the stone.
When washing your loved one’s monument, using a rag with a soft and gentle cloth or sponge is recommended to avoid scratching the stone. You can use a hose or bucket with a nozzle attachment to increase the water flow, but be sure to apply the cleaner evenly over the whole surface.
Once the monument is wet, add your cleaning solution and work it into the surface of the stone using a soft-bristled brush. Be sure to scrub all areas, especially around the inscriptions and other carved details. Rinse frequently to prevent the cleaning solution from overworking the stone.
Be careful not to use a high-pressure sprayer, as this could harm the granite. In some cases, the water pressure could damage the underlying stone, which can be costly to repair.
Once the stone has been cleaned, dry it with a soft, fiber-free white cloth. This will ensure no streaks and help restore the luster of your loved one’s headstone. If the stone is etched or engraved with images or words, you should also wipe it down to remove any remaining sealant and protect the engravings from discoloration. Once the stone is completely dry, you should apply a new coating of commercial granite sealant according to your professional’s recommendation.
Fungi & Mildew
Many fungi, mildew, and mold types can grow on black granite headstones and create a discolored appearance. They also trap moisture on and under the surface of the stone which can lead to the loss of structural integrity over time. When fungi and mildew grow, they must be cleaned away as soon as possible. Using a brush and cleaning solution that is safe for stone is the best method of removing these growths without damaging the monument.
There are commercial cleaners that are safe for use on stone and other natural materials, but you can also make your own cleaning mixture. You will need a bucket, several liters of clean water, a gentle dish soap like Ivory, and some rags or cotton swabs. If the stone has a mold or mildew stain, you will also need hydrogen peroxide and baking soda to remove the discoloration. You should always test the mixture on a small portion of the monument to ensure that it does not discolor the granite.
Once the monument is clean, it should be rinsed thoroughly and wiped dry with a rag or towel. To keep the granite looking smooth and shiny, buffering the stone with a cloth is a good idea. This will remove any dirt streaks, enhance the polish and shine of the granite and help to protect it from future damage.
Another common problem with gravestones is rust stains. These are usually caused by minerals in the groundwater that leach into the granite, causing it to develop reddish or brown rust-colored spots on the surface of the stone. Rust stains cannot be removed by scrubbing alone. A commercial rust removal product, such as Iron Out, is usually required to get rid of these tough stains.
Using the right products and techniques to clean your loved one’s memorial will keep it looking beautiful for generations. Avoid scrubbing the granite with harsh chemicals and abrasive brushes. Household cleaners, such as bleach, ammonia, and vinegar, are inappropriate for use on a stone monument. Likewise, avoid the temptation to wash your monument with pressure washers; this can cause the buildup of soluble salts beneath the surface of the stone and result in permanent damage.
Black granite is popular for gravestones because it provides a striking backdrop for other colors and text. However, just like blue jeans and tee shirts, black headstones can stain from the natural oils and acids that come into contact with them. Depending on the stain’s severity, removing and repainting your memorial stone may be necessary. This is not a task that should be undertaken lightly, as it could permanently damage the stone. If you are considering repainting your memorial, we recommend contacting a professional to get expert advice.
A common concern for cemetery caretakers and family members is the condition of a loved one’s headstone. While marble and granite are resilient, they deteriorate over time. The good news is that you can choose a more durable material by selecting a memorial stone made from quartzite or sandstone. These materials last longer than traditional marble and can also withstand weathering, sun exposure, and other environmental factors.
Another option is a granite headstone color that’s more resistant to fading, such as chocolate brown or Santorini black. These colors offer a more subtle, earthy appearance and are typically less expensive than the more vibrant granite options. They’re also an excellent choice for laser etchings and carved designs.
Although many choose etched memorials, carved and sandblasted engravings are beautiful and long-lasting. The main difference is that carved and sandblasted engravings tend to be more intricate than etched designs, but they also require more maintenance and can become worn over time.
If you want a more detailed etching for your memorial, we suggest choosing a monument company that offers high-resolution laser etchings. These images will be much clearer than those etched by machine and won’t fade over time, especially if your memorial has a sealant applied on top.
Granite colors are categorized as standard relative to their cost and availability. Less common varieties are more expensive, but not as much as the rare and exotic options.