Grave Maintenance and Gravestone Cleaning

All about grave tending, cleaning gravestones and grave maintenance services when you buy a plot in a cemetery

Last updated: 1 August 2019

weeds growing over a headstone

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Many bereaved families choose a burial for their loved one so that they can remember them in a restful place they can regularly visit. If you're planning one, we have an extensive guide to burials that you would find useful.

Cemeteries and burial grounds may be owned and looked after by a local authority, private company, religious institute or a local trust. Each will have its own regulations to ensure that the graves and grounds are properly maintained, so that the memorial ground is a space which everyone can find peace in and respectfully share.

Who is responsible for a grave?

When someone buys a burial plot, they are paying for the exclusive right for a loved one or family members to be buried there for a given period – usually up to 50 or 100 years. They are a given a Deed of Grant, but do not own the ground that the plot is situated on.

The family which owns the Deed of Grant is responsible for the grave maintenance, subject to the rules of the authority which owns the cemetery and looks after the grounds. Some cemeteries can have quite strict regulations about things people are permitted to do and what is expected of them. These may vary according to the type of burial plot chosen, or be subject to additional cemetery fees and charges.

Most lawn graves, for instance, allow for just a headstone with a small flower border immediately next to the memorial, so that the surrounding grass can be mown. Many families choose traditional graves, which may allow them to personalise its entire length and breadth, in tribute to their loved one. If a loved one was given a public health burial in a public grave, no identifying marker may be permitted at all.

Grave maintenance, cemetery rules and regulations

It is wise to be aware of your chosen cemetery’s regulations, before arranging for features such as ornamental gravel, grave surrounds, plants and grave decorations to mark your loved one’s life.

Many cemeteries have a focus upon keeping the grounds orderly and tidy. Cemetery owners can reserve the right to remove items from graves for safety or maintenance reasons. They may have rules about the length of time that perishable tributes, such as wreaths and grave flowers, can be left before they are disposed of, for instance.

The given dimensions of every burial plot is very specific, to ensure that personal tributes do not encroach upon another family’s sanctuary, or onto open walkways

Some burial grounds are very strict. They may forbid grave decorations such as lights, wooden crosses, plant pots and plastic ornaments and can even remove them.

When this happens unexpectedly, it can be distressing for the bereaved. Most cemeteries provide details of their rules, which could help an informed choice to avoid upsetting circumstances.

Your funeral director may be able to advise you of your chosen cemetery’s regulations and the cemetery itself should be able to supply the information.

Gravestone cleaning

The type of equipment you use for gravestone cleaning may depend on the type of stone that is is made from. The memorial mason you bought it from should be able to advise about this, as well as on touching up lettering which has begun to fade.

Shiny surfaces can often be wiped over with a flask of warm water and a cloth or soft brush, when cleaning headstones. Some people add a little liquid detergent to the water. Be gentle and avoid using harsh scourers or brushes when gravestone cleaning. This will scratch the stone’s surface and can attract mosses or algae.

Headstone cleaner sprays are commercially available and claim to help prevent the growth of algae and moss. Many experts do not recommend the use of household products containing bleach or acid for cleaning gravestones however, as these can damage stone and make it vulnerable to erosion. If you are using more than soapy water for gravestone cleaning, it may be wise to first check with the cemetery that there are no regulations or conservation laws prohibiting your chosen headstone cleaner’s use.

Some people decide against cleaning gravestones at all and regard yellow lichens and gradual weathering as part of the story they have to tell.

Gravestone maintenance

It is the family’s responsibility to maintain their loved one’s gravestone and arrange for repairs. This should be done by an approved memorial mason and the cemetery may have restricted times when works may be carried out.

Most cemeteries reserve the right to conduct safety checks on private gravestones and monuments every few years, to ensure that they are stable.

Families will be notified by the cemetery owner of any safety issues regarding grave maintenance, but stones and tablets may be laid flat by cemetery staff, if they are deemed to be a toppling hazard.

Grave flowers and plants

Cemeteries can have different rules when it comes to planting bulbs, shrubs or flowers for graves. Where this is allowed, families are responsible for tending them and ensuring they do not become overgrown. Cut grave flowers should be disposed of when they die, or are generally removed by maintenance staff after a period of weeks.

The cemetery owner can also reserve the right to cut back plants it deems have become neglected. Trees are usually not permitted on graves, because the roots and branches could disturb nearby burials as they grow.

Some authorities place stickers or notices on graves to alert people to grave tending issues, which may involve the removal of personal tributes or grave decorations placed beyond the grave’s perimeter. This can be upsetting, so to prevent this, most request that Deed of Grant holders keep their contact details up to date, so they can be reached in person.

Grave maintenance services

Specialist grave tending companies located around the UK offer gravestone maintenance and other services for when you don’t live nearby. These can offer peace of mind to people who cannot visit their loved one’s grave as often as they would like.

Grave maintenance services include gravestone cleaning, the replacement of gravel chippings, delivering fresh grave flowers, weeding and tending living plants, as well as ensuring that a loved one’s grave is regularly cared for and tidy. They can also take and send photographs of the spruced-up grave, to provide reassurance and comfort.