What causes granite tombstones to deteriorate?

Written by c.a. rubino
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What causes granite tombstones to deteriorate?
Weather damage to tombstones can make them deteriorate over time. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Human cultures have used grave markers for thousands of years in order to commemorate the final resting place of its people. Stones have often been used for this purpose because of their apparent permanence, giving the sense that the grave marker will stand the test of time. This is not always the case, however, as grave markers are exposed to harsh elements, and even very durable stones such as granite are susceptible to deterioration over time.

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Granite

Granite is a common ingenious rock formed from slow cooling magma. It is composed of feldspar, quartz and mica minerals. Granite is a very tough and durable rock that comes in a variety of colours. It is not generally used for building construction because it is not heat resistant and has very poor thermal conductivity. It is, however, perfectly suited for constructing monuments, memorials and tombstones because of its toughness, hard to scratch surface and resistance to weathering. Even with its durability, however, granite is still not immune to the effects of the environment and time.

Water

Water is a very damaging element. It has the power to erode even entire mountainsides given enough time. Just being exposed to the damaging effects of rain and water runoff over enough time will wear the surface of a granite tombstone down. One of the specific effects that water can have on granite is that the potassium feldspar, one of the components of granite, turns into kaolinite, a claylike mineral, when exposed to water. The transformation breaks down the original crystalline structure and releases potassium ions and silica into the water. This process is very slow but will eventually show wear on the granite. Heat accelerates this type of deterioration, so granite tombstones in hot and humid environments are more susceptible to its damaging effects. Certain types of granite may also contain iron elements that produce rust.

Contaminants

Granite is not immune to the ravaging effects of pollutants. Sulphur dioxide in particular is damaging as it is produced by the combustion of fossil fuels and can form acid rain. While acid rain has the strongest effect on marble tombstones, causing them to flake and break apart, granite is not completely immune from the damaging effects. Sulphur dioxide particles can also become embedded into the stone's surface, blackening it and lowering its resistance to other pollutants. Other contaminants such as microorganisms from bird droppings and algae can also deteriorate a granite tombstone over time.

Restoration

Keeping a granite tombstone clean of contaminates and plant life will help prevent the stone from deteriorating and help restore its original look. You can use water, non-ionic soaps and natural-bristle brushes to clean the surface of the tombstone. While granite is more durable than marble or limestone tombstones and can be scrubbed more aggressively, you should never use metallic brushes or household detergents, as they may further damage the surface.

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