Could Cleaning Headstones Be Your New Side Business?
Never use a wire brush when cleaning a headstone in a graveyard.
That’s one of the first things you’ll learn when becoming a headstone cleaner. Even bleach or high-pressure water can do permanent damage to the stone (also called a gravestone or grave marker).
It might sound like a stressful job — what if you ruin a client’s loved one’s monument? — but once you know the basics, the work isn’t too difficult. With a little self-education, you can make decent money cleaning headstones.
How to Become a Headstone Cleaner
It’s all about offering peace of mind. People don’t want their loved ones’ grave markers to be overgrown with grass or covered with lichens and dirt. But they might be too busy to properly care for a headstone, and the cemetery caretakers will do only so much. As explained by Headstone Butler:
Cemeteries are responsible for the general condition of the cemetery grounds… They don’t clean mud and dirt or trim encroaching grass off the flat stone (Brass, Marble, and Stone) grave markers.
The condition of your monument, mausoleums or grave marker, unless damaged by the cemetery, is the sole responsibility of the family.
That’s why families may hire someone to do basic maintenance and cleaning for them, especially if they don’t live in the city where their loved one is buried.
The work is easy enough to learn, but be sure to learn what not to do along with basic cleaning techniques. According to the heritage preservation organization Chicora and those in the headstone cleaning business, here are some of the do’s and don’ts:
- Use bleach or acid cleaners
- Sand blast markers
- Wash with high-pressure water
- Use wire brushes or other tools that are harder than the stone
- Yank plants from cracks without first inspecting for loose rock
- Use gentle cleaners
- Wipe with a soft cloth or plastic-bristle brushes
- Trim grass carefully
- Polish brass plaques with a cloth
- Use a lot of water
Chicora recommends D/2 Biological Solution for cleaning, while others recommend products made by Simple Green. Soap and water will also remove superficial stains, according to Headstone Butler.
How Much Do You Charge to Clean a Headstone?
Rates vary quite a bit around the country, and are also set according to the level of service being offered. First visits are usually priced higher because the initial cleaning can take hours if a headstone hasn’t been cleaned for many years. Rates drop for subscription plans that provide regular cleaning.
For example, Coastal Grave Cleaners in Brunswick, Georgia, charges $55 for the initial cleaning and $40 for follow-up visits within 18 months.Gravestone Cleaning Service in Bay County, Florida, charges $40 to $90 depending on the size and type of marker being cleaned.
Then there are the “extras” you can offer to boost your income. Here are some examples of extra services these companies offer:
- Flower Placement: $20 plus cost of flowers
- Engraving Detailing: $20 and up
- Flower Planting: $40 plus materials
- Grass Watering: $20 and up
- Resurfacing of Concrete Slab: $120
- Photography Service: $15 and up
- Basic Landscaping: $40 and up
- Repainting Letters: Varies
Prices can be quite a bit higher, too. Headstone Butler offers a package that includes trimming weeds and grass, cleaning and polishing the stone, and leaving flowers, all for $169.95. Subscriptions are presumably one of their best revenue sources. They offer packages starting at $29.95 per month with a one-year contract.
What you can charge depends (to some extent) on the local competition. Search online for “headstone cleaning services” or “grave maintenance” and add the name of your town and any nearby communities to see what others are charging.
Of course, if you have difficulty finding other local services, you’re in luck. You’ll not only have more power to set prices, but you should also be at the top of search engine results for your area soon after you build a website. Keep in mind that people don’t always live where their deceased loved ones are buried. If they need help, the first thing they’ll do to find it is to go online — so take the time to create a professional-looking site for your new business.
Many companies accept payment on their websites through PayPal. Some include emailed “before and after” photos as part of the service, while others charge a small fee for this.
In most cases the exact timing of the cleaning and related services is not important to the client, which means you can schedule the work around your other commitments. In other words, you don’t have to quit your regular job to start a headstone-cleaning business. You might make a nice part-time income doing a half-dozen $50 jobs each weekend.
Steve Gillman is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.