How to Remove Graffiti Safely
Graffiti has been around since at least the Roman Empire, although it was carved into stone instead of spray painted on back then. In fact, the English word comes from the Italian word graffere, meaning “to scratch on the surface.” In modern times, it started becoming widespread in the 1960s, mainly used to make political statements and mark gang territory.
Now, graffiti is everywhere. Cities and towns across the country spend around $12 billion per year cleaning it up. Los Angeles alone cleans about 30 million square feet of it annually. And despite the fact that creating graffiti is an illegal act, many graffiti artists—or “writers,” as they prefer to be called—have achieved worldwide recognition. Banksy is the most famous example, with works that sell for hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.
But as a property owner, that doesn’t help you much when you discover you’ve been vandalized. What’s worse, you’re 62% more likely to be tagged again once you remove it the first time. It may seem innocent enough, but graffiti can be frustrating, expensive, and infuriating. That doesn’t even mention how it makes your home or business look neglected, sloppy, and disheveled.
When graffiti goes up, it must come down. Quickly and completely. But how?
How to Clean Up Graffiti
The short answer? A little elbow grease.
But DIY graffiti removal depends a lot on where it is—bathroom stalls, concrete, brick wall, wooden doors, plastic, glass windows, and so on—the type of paint used, porosity, and surface finish.
The main trick is to get rid of it as soon as possible. The longer it stays, the harder it may be to remove. This is especially true with a porous surface like a brick wall, which will absorb the paint over time.
Generally speaking, graffiti removal methods fall into one of three categories:
- Painting over it
- Chemical removal
- Mechanical removal (e.g. sand or water-blasting)
No matter which method you use, test a small, inconspicuous section first to see how well it works and what, if anything, it does to the surface itself.
Painting over it may seem like the easiest option, but unless you use a very dark color, the graffiti may show through again. You could try to match the paint color to the predominant color of the graffiti, but there’s still no guarantee. (Plus, you might not like that color.)
The only way to truly get rid of it is to remove it completely.
How to Remove Graffiti from Painted Surfaces
The major obstacle to overcome when removing graffiti from a painted surface is that you want to get rid of the vandalism without damaging the paint underneath.
Some simple household cleaners like dish soap can remove water-based paints. Mix a little dish soap in warm water and wipe away with a cloth or rag. Another home remedy is a mixture of four parts white vinegar to one part lemon juice, or five parts white vinegar to one part baking soda.
Always test first.
If those don’t work, you’ll have to up the ante with a stronger solution. Some manufacturers make specific products for this purpose. Options include Graffiti Safewipes, Sensitive Surface Graffiti Remover, or something similar. You can use these products on most painted and smooth surfaces without causing damage.
As a last resort, a little acetone applied to a clean cloth may wipe it away. Acetone is a key ingredient in nail polish remover, and 100% acetone polish remover may be available at your local drugstore or big-box retailer. Just remember that the longer the acetone is on a surface, the greater the risk of damaging the paint.
On larger outdoor surfaces, you could try a power washer on the lowest setting to remove the bulk, then spot clean with one of the methods mentioned above.
How to Remove Graffiti from Concrete
The harder and smoother the surface, the more likely you’ll be able to remove graffiti successfully. Concrete falls under that description.
Sand-blasting, power-washing, or using a power wire wheel (drill attachment) can safely deal with most graffiti on concrete. A mix of baking soda and vinegar is also great for this.
But remember to test first. If you’re not testing, you’re guessing.
If all else fails, you may need to finish with a specialty product like SafStrip gel, which is effective against acrylics, spray paints, markers, oil-based alkyd paints, and lacquers on a variety of hard surfaces.
How to Clean Graffiti from Metal
The good news? Metal doesn’t absorb paint like brick and concrete do.
You can start with a simple penetrating oil like WD-40 and a gentle brush or cloth. If that’s not strong enough, upgrade to turpentine, acetone, or paint thinner. A home remedy? Try that can of oven cleaner under the sink.
If you need something stronger, a specialized product like Goof Off Graffiti Remover might be the answer. It’s safe and effective at getting rid of spray and latex paint from metal, concrete, stone, glass, brick, and oil-based painted surfaces.
A good power wash at the end should eliminate any lingering outlines or splotches.
How to Remove Graffiti from Wood
For unweathered wood that has been sealed with paint or stain, reach for mineral spirits—a clear product used to thin oil-based paints—before anything else. But never use it on weathered or unfinished wood.
Otherwise, a low-pressure power wash is also appropriate, but experts suggest nothing over 700 psi, or you risk pushing the paint into the wood grain.
The baking soda treatment is not recommended for wood surfaces.
Many municipalities use power sanders to remove graffiti from wood. That can work for you, too. Sand the graffiti until it’s gone, then repaint and/or reseal the wood as necessary.
How to Clean Graffiti from Plastic
Just like metal, plastic won’t absorb much and the paint doesn’t stick well to the smooth surface.
Start with the gentlest option first—ordinary household cleaners like dish soap or laundry detergent—and only move on to stronger solutions like WD-40 or rubbing alcohol as necessary. A paint scraper or razor tool will come in handy here. But be careful not to scratch or mark the plastic.
Avoid harsh paint thinners. They can cause clouding and even soften the plastic itself. For truly stubborn graffiti, you may have no choice but to try ammonia for acrylic and latex paint or mineral spirits for oil-based paints.
But as always: test, test, test.
How to Remove Graffiti from Brick
Most bricks are porous, so time is of the essence. The longer the paint sits, the harder it will be to remove.
In general, if it’s safe and works for concrete, it should also work for brick. That includes sand-blasting, power-washing, and wire wheels.
Poulticing—an absorbent material and cleaning agent combined into a paste—is another option. It’s left on the brick, allowing it to permeate the surface, break down the paint, and absorb the pigment.
And of course, when in doubt, test.
How to Clean Graffiti from Glass
Your home or business probably has a lot of windows. These could be attractive canvases for vandals.
Glass is obviously very smooth and non-porous, so removing graffiti should be easier than most other surfaces. Try soaking it with glass cleaner and then scraping it off with a razor blade in a holder at a 30-degree angle.
If it doesn’t remove it completely, try an ultra-fine bronze or steel wool with water and gently scrub it off.
But what’s the best method for removing graffiti off any surface? Don’t let it happen in the first place.
How to Prevent Vandalism
The best prevention of all is live monitoring by Deep Sentinel.
With solutions for residential homes and a wide variety of commercial properties like construction sites, retail shops, and office buildings, Deep Sentinel can watch over your property and stop vandals before they strike.
The system combines several critical components for a unique crime-stopping solution. Next-gen security cameras are the unblinking eye in the sky. AI dismisses non-threats while notifying human guards of suspicious behavior. And LiveSentinel surveillance guards intervene and engage live via 2-way audio and sirens. That’s often enough to send would-be vandals running for cover before paint hits any surface. And if not, Deep Sentinel can notify the authorities of a verified crime-in-progress in less than 30 seconds, minimizing the damage and time available for the culprit.
It’s a modern solution for an ancient crime.