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Graffiti removal tips and techniques

preventing and removing graffiti blog by kleenit August 24, 2023

Fast graffiti removal is essential to prevent further vandalism of a site. Kleenit offers swift graffiti removal, and to help keep our communities tag-free, we’re providing some valuable tips for effectively removing graffiti from various surfaces.

While we’re not making any brand recommendations in this article, they may be mentioned as guidance on materials and methods to help tackle graffiti and explore further solutions.

 

Before we begin: The best treatment is prevention

While we’ve yet to find a surefire way to prevent vandalism, there are well-documented approaches for helping to stop graffiti before it occurs.

Crime prevention through environmental design, or CPTED, methodologies suggest that immediately removing graffiti, practising general upkeep, reducing potential ‘dark spots’ for visibility and preventing access to potential blank canvases all help to prevent graffiti. Additionally, CCTV, sensor lights and real or imitation security systems all have a part to play in communicating to would-be vandals that the risk is just not worth it.

Applying anti-graffiti coating may be a worthwhile investment for some types of surfaces. Anti-graffiti paint is a unique material that lessens another paint’s ability to permanently adhere to the surface, making rapid graffiti clean-up a breeze and further reducing ongoing maintenance costs. Unfortunately, “anti-graffiti paint” does not mean the coating will prevent graffiti from being applied.

The basic five-step process for cleaning graffiti is relatively consistent, though the detail and ingredients may change depending on the surface (read further for more on that):

  1. Prompt action is crucial — don’t leave it for longer than necessary.
  2. Start with the most gentle option to prevent further surface damage. If the ‘tag’ is fresh, mild soapy water and a sponge may be enough. Then try specific solutions suitable for the surface and graffiti medium.
  3. Get ready for runoff! Paints and solvents can stain or damage floor surfaces like concrete and bricks or contaminate your garden beds. Make a plan for where the water and chemicals will go. Don’t clean up your place and dirty the waterways.
  4. Test on a small area first. If you’re unsure of the material, call in an expert.
  5. Protect yourself with safety gear (PPE). Depending on the chemicals used, that may include a full-body chem suit, sturdy waterproof boots, safety glasses, face shield, respirator, and heavy-duty gloves.

How to treat graffiti on metal

Metal like Colorbond®, corrugated steel, and truck sides often attract graffiti — but thankfully, metal is one of the easier surfaces for paint removal. On plain, uncoated metal, you may try common paint thinners such as mineral spirits, lacquer thinner, or acetone on paper towels or a sponge, and dispose of these appropriately.

Aggressive solvents can harm the paint finish of Colorbond® steel, so read the instructions, contact the maker, and always spot-test somewhere less visible. In some cases, we’ve found that WD-40 can help break up and lubricate off certain types of marker paint pens without adverse interactions with metal.

Use extreme caution with abrasives such as steel wool, as scratching may just buff in the deviant’s ‘design’ to the metal or surface paint. Even a plastic sponge scourer or table salt can leave marks in finishes if you’re vigorous with them.

If paint thinners are not an option or do not work, consider power-washing the graffiti with a pressure washer. Be careful with your nozzle selection; the finer the jet, the more likely you are to etch the metal.

If all else fails, consider painting over the graffiti to restore the surface’s appearance, potentially with an anti-graffiti product. Note that with Colorbond®, some anti-graffiti coatings may yellow and flake off over time if applied to their coatings. Kleenit is happy to advise of what options may be most suitable for your surface.

Cleaning graffiti off metal, recap: 

  • Try water and household detergent first.
  • Test, then wipe with common paint thinners or graffiti removal products.
  • Light penetrating oil may work for fresh paint.
  • Nail polish remover works well for some marker pens (Sharpie).
  • Power-wash with caution or opt for repainting.

Wood surfaces: How to clean graffiti

Wood surfaces require special care to prevent damage. If the wood is sealed with paint, stain, or sealer and isn’t weathered, wipe the graffiti with mineral spirits. However, avoid this method on weathered wood to prevent pushing the paint deeper into the surface.

Low-pressure power washing can be effective, but ensure the pressure doesn’t drive the paint deeper into the wood grain. If these methods fall short, sand the wood and repaint it. If sanding or spraying, use caution on R3 and R4 treated pine (the green stuff) as this is treated with arsenic and perhaps other chemicals.

Cleaning graffiti on wood, recap:

  • Use mineral spirits on sealed wood.
  • Avoid mineral spirits on weathered wood.
  • Low-pressure power washing or sanding for removal.

Plastic: A gentle approach to graffiti removal

Avoid paint thinners on plastic surfaces as they can soften plastic, potentially causing clouding or tackiness. Instead, try wiping graffiti with light penetrating oil like WD-40, but avoid it on polycarbonate and clear polystyrene plastic. Fun fact: if you have sun-damaged security flyscreens, WD-40 can also be used to rejuvenate their blackness and shine.

A plastic sponge scourer is less likely to damage the area than a coarse scourer, though fine steel wool used judiciously may just do the trick.

If those steps haven’t worked, it’s time to break out the pressure washer, starting with the widest nozzle.

Unfortunately, painting plastic may not provide a sustainable long-term option due to low adhesion and the effects of weather. But depending on the type, a suitable product may be in your local hardware store.

Plastic graffiti cleaning recap:

  • Avoid paint thinners on plastic.
  • Use penetrating oil or gentle rubbing (checking the plastic type first)
  • Try an ultra-fine plastic scourer or steel wool for stubborn spots.

Graffiti on glass: A razor’s edge

A razor or flexible scraper may be the best option on un-tinted glass. Hold the razor blade at a 30-degree angle with an appropriate handle, and slowly scrape painted graffiti off the glass. For more prominent spots like an office window, you may find it quicker to use a paint thinner — just check which side of the glass is tinted before applying any chemicals.

If someone has used a sharp implement to etch into the glass, you’ll need to speak with a glazier about solutions. ‘Graffers” sometimes use tungsten- or diamond-tip drill bits to scratch their tags on glass. Still, some nifty solutions similar to windshield chip fixes may save an expensive replacement.

Glass graffiti solutions:

  • Carefully scrape with a razor blade.
  • Ultra-fine bronze wool for persistent spots.
  • Pressure cleaning, potentially with a suitable solvent.

Masonry graffiti: The pressure is on

If your building is older or heritage-listed, proceed cautiously, as any of the solutions below may lead to further damage in inexperienced hands. Graffiti removal from masonry usually requires power-washing under low pressure, under 700 psi.

Professional sand-blasting may be required in cases where the paint has been absorbed into the stone or mortar. However, this usually means a larger area must be treated to keep colouring and natural wear consistent. There are also considerations for public safety to prevent silicosis and environmental contamination when using a sandblaster.

Neither pressure washing nor sandblasting may be suitable for painted masonry, in which case, repainting may present the preferred path.

Graffiti treatment for masonry, recap: 

  • Power-wash under 700 psi.
  • Sand-blasting as an alternative.
  • Paint over if other methods fail.

Concrete graffiti removal isn’t hard with Kleenit

For concrete cleaning, opt for a high-strength paint stripper. Ensure your safety by protecting your skin, eyes, and mouth while working with chemicals. Prepare the surface by removing loose paint particles. Apply the paint stripper, wait a few minutes, and scrub with a stiff brush. If necessary, use pressure washing, followed by priming and repainting.

Brick cleaning requires a more delicate touch. Use a wire brush with warm water, gently scrubbing to remove graffiti. After scrubbing, use absorbent powder to soak up the remaining moisture, and once dry, apply a transparent protection layer. Diluted hydrochloric acid should only be used to remove mortar stains from clay brickwork and done so with great caution, as it can cause acid staining to the mortar. Rust stains from bore water have their own cleaning specifications.

Cleaning one spot of graffiti on a brick wall may also reduce the efflorescence, a powdery deposit of salts that forms on the surface of bricks and mortar. The wall may need to be sponged with a small amount of water to return a surface to a consistent appearance.

Brick and concrete graffiti removal recap:

  • Paint stripper gel for concrete.
  • Gentle wire brush for brick surfaces.
  • On bricks, use an absorbent powder to remove moisture.
  • Scrub, pressure wash (prime and repaint if required).

Safety Measures and Expert Guidance

Always read product labels and follow instructions. Commercial cleaning products often contain potent chemicals that can harm surfaces and pose risks to your skin, lungs and eyes. Graffiti removal experts possess the necessary protective gear and can offer eco-friendly solutions. If you’re unsure about the environmental impact, safety or efficacy, seek expert advice before starting.

Kleenit offers a specialised approach to graffiti removal, which is especially valuable for swift action to prevent copycat vandals. Where pressure-washing alone is insufficient, our “stripping gel” is carefully applied, adhering to the surface without running. This gel softens and blisters the graffiti paint, enabling high-pressure cleaning equipment to blast it off the surface. Our proven process is efficient and minimises mess.

A Graffiti-Free Future

Graffiti removal might seem daunting, but with the proper techniques, it’s manageable. Swift action, beginning with gentle methods, and leveraging expert advice are essential. Whether metal, wood, plastic, glass, masonry or bricks, options abound. Kleenit can help you to restore the beauty of your building and provide anti-graffiti paint for future protection.

 

For a no obligation free quote on graffiti removal or prevention, contact us today.