Using Shaving Cream to Clean Tombstones

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In Oct 2010, the topic of using shaving cream to clean tombstones, popped up on a list to which I subscribe <a title="" href=""></a> and the discussion quickly became very heated.  One side was claiming that it did not harm tombstones at all, and the other was claiming how horrible it was for tombstones.

The name "Gregg Bonner" popped up in the discussion, evidently he is an academic, perhaps in chemistry, and possibly it seems that he wrote an article about it.  So I thought I'd do a little research of my own.

I found that his name pops up in connection with this Urban Dictionary: hoaxer where he submits a definition for a Zohnerite (it's number 5).  I suppose someone named Zohner must have annoyed him in the past.  I find some relevant entries by Googling for:

"Gregg Bonner" shaving cream

Here is a link where Dr Gregg Bonner discusses the hoax that shaving cream harms tombstones.

Gregg gregg gregg... he hasn't learned how to cite his sources with inline links!  Or perhaps he doesn't care, but we care!  Now I have to dig.  Way back in Jan 1996, David Chapin posts this message to soc.genealogy.methods.  In his message, he cites an 'editorial in "Heritage Quest" by Leland K.
Meitzler', so the practice has been around at least that long.  David calls himself, "an activist AGAINST this practice, because the stearic acid in the shaving cream will dissolve MgCO3/CaCO3 that makes up typical marble stones. Since most people are not experts in the different gravestone types, as a geologist by training I suggested people stay away from shaving cream on tombstones altogether. If it's bad for a car finish, it's bad for a tombstone. I suggested using powdered inert substances, instead, such as talc, graphite, or ground limestone."

I don't know about you, but I find it just a trifle odd that David would suggest using ground limestone to clean limestone.... Hello?  Doesn't ground limestone have the same hardness value as limestone itself?  Wouldn't scrubbing it on a limestone tombstone essentially remove the polish (and the limestone) just as fast as using say... a piece of limestone?  I would think you would want to scrub a piece of limestone with a material which is softer, thus guaranteed to minimize the harm to the underlying material.  But that's just silly me.

In his posting, David, referring to Leland's article states "Mr. Meitzler was clearly referring to my Internet articles in his editorial." So David must have articles on this topic, somewhere, other than just in newsgroup postings.  At the time of his 1996 posting, David states that he lives in Plano, Texas and gives two email addresses, one being at  I wonder if this means he worked at that time, for Arco the gas station company ?  So next I Googled for:

"David Chapin", Arco

David Chapin is a published author, at least based on this article "Gravity instruments: Past, present, future" in a magazine called "Leading Edge", dated Jan 1998. So next I tried "Google Scholar" and got two more articles here:

Now finding that his middle initial is "A", I tried Google Scholar for "David A Chapin" without specifying Arco as well and got thirty four articles at this link, these are mostly related to ways to measure gravity.

Evidently there is a David Chapin, and a David A Chapin, and together, along with Ben Weinstock they wrote this book : "The Road from Letichev, Vol. 1 : The History and Culture of a Forgotten Jewish Community in Eastern Europe" (2000)  I'm going to assume this is a father and son, but I'm not quite sure yet, which is the father and which is the son, or even if I'm right.  Maybe it's just a mistake or extra indexing and there are really only two authors here.

David stated in 1996, that he lived in Plano, Texas.  This city is mostly in Collin County and I find a David Alan Chapin (since we already know his middle initial is "A") <a href="">having children in Collin County in 1985 and 1987</a>.  Googling for <a href="">"David Alan Chapin" I get more and different results</a>.  At least I've shown that David A Chapin does seem to write a lot (or did) about gravity, physics, geology... in that subject, and evidently worked for, or at least with Arco.

Now let's look at Dr Gregg Bonner.  He has one of the <a href="">free Rootsweb genealogy websites at this link</a>.  His email address, <a href="">as of Aug 2006, is at the bottom of this page</a>.  He has fuzzed it, but really what's the point?  It's already posted far and wide.  There is a person popping up in Google named various things like G G Bonner, G Gregg Bonner and Grady Gregg Bonner, and having publications related to chemistry.  I wonder if this is him?

An Echols family newsletter from 2003 gives us another email address for Gregg at  What is that?  Looks like something to do with the University of Michigan.  "Med" I suppose might be the Medical college or department, and then "MHRI" what is that?  Mental Health?   Okay here we go, evidently MHRI is the same thing as MBNI and <a href="">they are here on Facebook.</a>  Where we learn that it's "For current and former associates of the Molecular & Behavioral Neuroscience Institute or Mental Health Research Institute, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor"  Now let's try throwing Bonner in with University of Michigan and we get this Google search:

"Gregg Bonner" University of Michigan

Gregg wrote with two co-authors:

<a href="">"Selectivity of μ-opioid receptor determined by interfacial residues near third extracellular loop" (2000)</a>
Now knowing that his full name is Grady Gregg Bonner, I try Googling for that and get little results, but then I try Googling for:

<a href="">"G Gregg Bonner"</a>
and here's the result in Google Scholar:
<a href="">"G Gregg Bonner"</a>
and in Google Books
<a href="">"G Gregg Bonner"</a>

And just to be fair to David A Chapin, since I've pointed out details about his residence, "G Gregg Bonner" turns up living in <a href="">1993 in Tuscon, Arizona as reported in the U.S. Public Records Index, Volume 1</a>, and also <a href="">here in Volume 2</a>.  I can't believe "Grady G Bonner" is not a unique name, so this must also be <a href="">him living in 1988 in Norman, Oklahoma.</a>  Here is <a href=",ou=People,dc=umich,dc=edu">Grady Gregg Bonner's University of Michigan Online Directory listing</a> where we can see the listing was last updated in 2006 by him, so we have to assume that the description here is a self-description.  Be that as it may, it calls him : "World's leading expert in chemistry at boundary separating solid phase and solution phase".  Whatever that means.

If I Google for that phrase, I don't get anything, which shows us that these UMich directories entries, or at least this one, are not indexed.  What... is... the... point?  Hello?  Jeebus... these people.  What is this Wikipedia:Talk light?  Now you're indexed, welcome to today.

At any rate, back to the program.  I kept paring down this phrase, <a href="">until I finally got a hit here at SAR-TALK</a>.  (Sons of the American Revolution for those not in-the-know.)  Not sure if he wanted everyone to know that (in <a href="">this posting dated March 2007</a>) : "Dr. Bonner lives in Bethany Oklahoma now and does respond to email inquiries for any who wish to confirm his studies on the benign impact of shaving cream and stone."  Which seems odd because his U.Mich listings says he is currently in Egypt.  I guess that was in 2006.  Does this mean he is retired?

In that thread at SAR-L, they refer to something called "The Association for Gravestone Studies" And so Googling that <a href="">we get this site</a> which states that "The Association for Gravestone Studies (AGS) was founded in 1977 for the purpose of furthering the study and preservation of gravestones."  On that site they state : "Our professional conservators tell us it is definitely not a good idea to use shaving cream on porous gravestones".  They don't mention any names or sources, so I have sent an email message to the site to ask who these professional conservators were and what their sources were.  We'll see if I get any useful response.  I have also left a voice mail at the phone number listed there.  Their website states that their normal office hours are 9AM to 3PM Tuesday through Thursday, but the message says that "we temporarily do not have regular office hours".

I wonder if Grady is really the "world's leading expert".  Googling for:

<a href="">"solid phase and solution phase"</a>
enquoted just like that, I get 168,000 results.  If I add Gregg Bonner to it, not enquoted, I get seven results.  If I instead change it to Grady Bonner, again not enquoted I get five results.

If I use Google Scholar instead, <a href="">I get 749 results for the enquoted string</a>, but only seven <a href="">if I also add Bonner</a> to it.  And it doesn't look, at first glance, as if any of these seven are actually him.  If I use Google Books instead, <a href="">I get 776 results for the enquoted string</a>, but if I add Bonner to it, <a href="">I get only one, which isn't him.</a>  It would then seem that although Grady Gregg Bonner is truly a chemist of some caliber, he can't be the world's leading expert on anything related to solid phase and solution phase... whatever.

Who is Zohner and what's all this about DHMO ?  Read this blog entry <a href="">"Are We Gullible" on the Zohner Family Blog.</a>  So it wasn't that someone named Zohner annoyed Dr Bonner, it was that Zohner's science fair project showed just how gullible people are, believing that a substance he called DHMO was dangerous and should be banned.  Funny how "banning" it would kill us all in three days, by horrible deaths.  Perhaps this has some relevance to the whole shaving cream brouhaha.  Here's what <a href="">Snopes wrote about Nathan Zohner and DHMO</a>.  Warning: Snopes has decided to abuse it's readers by employing pop-up advertising.  Send them a note telling them exactly what you think about this practice. Here's what Wikipedia has to say, "<a href="">Dihydrogen monoxide hoax</a>", and please note the lack of pop-up advertising.  Wikipedia also tells us that when he did this study, for his Eagle Rock Junior High School science fair in 1997, Nathan Zohner was 14-years-old.  Somebody has created a website designed to alert us all to <a href="">the horrible danger of DHMO</a>
Zohner received "first prize at the Greater Idaho Falls Science Fair", which then led re-posters to identify him in hundreds of internet postings as an "award-winning U.S. scientist", which continues to be posted even up to today (Oct 2010) as some sort of indication of how gullible people are.  Although far above, I had stated that Gregg Bonner submitted that entry to the Urban Dictionary, Wikipedia tells us term Zohnerite was coined by James K Glassman  (<a href="" title="James K. Glassman">Glassman, James K</a> (1997). <a href="" rel="nofollow">"Dihydrogen Monoxide: Unrecognized Killer"</a>. <a href="" title="The Washington Post">The Washington Post</a>. <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a>. Retrieved 2007-03-08.)  Since we can't even trust the hoaxers not to hoax us, let's prove this report exists, by another citation to James Glassman's article <a href=",3576344&dq=nathan-zohner&hl=en">here on Google News, dated 24 Oct 1997.</a>

But back to our main story.  Is shaving cream dangerous to limestone?  W David Samuelsen in a posting to ROOTSWEB-HELP-L subject "Brock Way - the NOTORIOUS Shave guy", on 25 Oct 2010 (12:09:16 PM Pacific Daylight Time), email: <a href=""></a> states that the alleged reason that shaving cream is harmful to tombstones, is that it contains Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, he states there, that it "...breaks down anything in contact. Porous stone are not immune."  This chemical, as you may know, is found in most or all shaving creams, and most or all shampoos as well.  Let's see what Wikipedia has to say about "<a href="">Sodium Lauryl Sulfate</a>".  This chemical is a surfactant.  In lay terms this means that the agent will first grab onto any oily substances and then allow this detergent-oil compound to be removed by rinsing with water.  So Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is what most consumer's would consider the "soap" in soap, i.e. that part that has the effect of removing oil from your skin or hair.  The concentration levels of it, in these sort of products is low.  If it is concentrated at a higher level, it can be used to remove stronger oils such as motor engine oil.  Regular shampoo or shaving cream will not remove strong oils from your skin or hair, only the weaker oils.

By the way, who is W David Samuelsen and why would he state, about me, that : "<a href="">This is the same guy who got bashed on Gen-Medieval for espousing fake ancestry and phony research.</a>"  I think I should add that quote to my article : "<a href="">Why You Should Hire Me</a>".  But perhaps this is some kind of joke as he makes the rather amazing claim, in speaking of himself that : "I should know because I used shaving cream time to time if necessary to clean my very oily hair. It strips completely clean the body oil off the hair quite easily, hence I know the concentration is higher."  I'm not saying, mind you, that shaving cream can't be used to clean your hair... I'm just saying, it's amazing.  If you know what I mean.  Based on his email address, I expect that this is <a href="">his own website at this link</a>.  Trying to see, where apparently, he and I have crossed paths before.  So here's a Google search for his email address:

<a href=""></a>

I suppose that Mr. Samuelsen is still harboring a grudge over <a href="">this post he made in 2007</a>, and the subsequent hilarity which ensued.  It's true that he started his posting by asking us not to make fun of, or insult him.  Apparently the temptation was just too much.

Anyway, there's a claim made by David Chapin, way up top, if you can remember that long ago that : "...the stearic acid in the shaving cream will dissolve MgCO3/CaCO3 that makes up typical marble stones."  Here's a link to Wikipedia's article "<a href="">Stearic Acid</a>", showing that the awful sounding "Stearic Acid" is used in all sorts of products which you can eat without damage.  Not that you'd want to, but if it's in candles, it's hardly a thing to be all concerned about.

Dr Bonner makes short work of "Stearic Acid" in his article, and he cites his source : "It is true that some acids will dissolve marble and limestone. It is not true that all acids will do so. The acids that will dissolve the stone are the familiar strong mineral acids, like hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid. Weak organic acids, like the long-chain hydrocarbon acids (stearic acid and palmitic acid, for examples) found in shaving cream will not dissolve marble and limestone.  The fact of the matter is that stearic acid is actually less of an acid than is plain old water itself. The pH of pure water is 7, whereas the pKa of stearic acid is 10.15. Since the pH scale is log-based (i.e., each integer increment is a factor of 10), this means that water is 1,000 times more acidic than stearic acid. The hoaxers rely on you not knowing the pKa of long-chain organic acids, like stearic acid, and, moreover, rely on you never thinking to look it up, but rather simply believe what they say without ever giving it any thought.  Source: Journal of Colloid and Interface Science 256:201-207 (2002)."

Well shame on Dr Bonner for not fully citing his source here which is : "Kanicky J. R., Shah D. O., Effect of degree, type, position of unsaturations on the pKa of long-chain fatty acids, 2002, Journal of Colloid and Interface Science, 256, 201-207."

MgCO3 is <a href="">Magnesium Carbonate</a> and CaCO3 is <a href="">Calcium Carbonate</a>.  David Chapin says yes, Gregg Bonner says no.  Can we determine how acids affect these two chemicals, and what sort of acids and how much?

Magnesium Carbonate is most familiar to you as the chalk you dry your hands with when doing rock climbing, gymnastics or weight lifting.  It is not soluble in water (it does not dissolve in water).  Calcium Carbonate you know as a familiar antacid, it is also the main component in eggshells.  There are specific acids that can be used to remove "lime" deposits which are mostly calcium carbonate, however stearic acid is not one of these acids.  So stearic acid cannot be used to remove these deposits whatsoever.  And thus, it cannot harm a limestone tombstone.

Today (28 Oct 2010) I got a response from Tamara Conde the "Chair of the Conservation Committee at AGS".  If you remember, about the middle of this article, I had sent an email to them questioning the source for the statement on their site that "Our professional conservators tell us it is definitely not a good idea to use shaving cream on porous gravestones."  Tamara responds that there are ways to made a tombstone legible without the need for any substance at all, and if a substance is required you can use plain water or even mud.  In addition to this, she responds specifically on the shaving cream, on three points.  That it contains perfumes and colorings which if not completely washed off can harden and form a coating which she describes as "sugary".  She also again states that "Shaving creams have ... harmful chemicals which can interact with various types of stones."  I sent a new email, asking her for a source on that last claim.

Tamara Conde never responded to me again.

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