Graffiti tags are a sore thumb for your place of business and can drive away potential clients and recurring customers. Graffiti is associated with dilapidated, poorly managed, and/or dangerous areas, and if you live in a city where the local government is not responsible for cleaning it up, that leaves it up to you to remove it quickly before the livability department slaps a notice on your front door. Graffiti removal should be left up to professionals, as we know the correct chemicals to use how to remove it from different surfaces such as brick, glass, painted surfaces, and concrete. If you are in a pinch for time or want to get started in professional exterior cleaning, this article may be of use to you as we are going to lay out how to remove acrylic paints, felt pens, and adhesives from stickers slapped on by disrespectful brand promoters.
Step 1 – Setting the Expectations
Graffiti on Painted Surfaces Should RARELY be painted over. Unless the tag is felt pen or a quick 1-layer coat of graffiti, and the color is not a bright blue, red, green, etc. you can paint over the graffiti in a matching paint. The only issue with paint-overs is that if you don’t apply enough coats, the graffiti can start to show through. Also, if you do a paint-over on concrete or brick, it will be a pain to strip both the coating of paint over the graffiti tag, as well as the original graffiti tag. Overall, it is a cheap alternative and a poor reflection of whoever maintains the building.
Pressure washing alone will not remove the graffiti. If it is fresh, you can get a lot of the paint off with a pressure washer. If the graffiti tag has dried and sat for a while, water pressure will get only a sliver of the paint removed, and in the process, damage to the surface the tag is on can be irreversibly damaged. The graffiti needs to be broken down and degraded by a chemical.
Step 2 – Grab your Chemicals and Tools
We work exclusively with the World’s Best Graffiti Removers products and have several recommendations based on what surfaces you are cleaning graffiti from.
- Bare Brick Remover – Best used on brick, concrete, limestone, and other hard porous surfaces, this is one of their stronger products made to pack a punch. We also recommend using this in painted, hard surfaces such as painted concrete and cinderblock walls. We will get into how to appropriately apply this product to painted surfaces, as using too much can remove the paint you wish to preserve.
- Sensitive Surface Remover – This is the gentler option in place of Bare Brick Remover. Best used on glass, signage, wood, delicate painted surfaces, granite, and metals, Sensitive Surface is less likely to etch surfaces and take off their natural finish. We have never had a problem with this product and do not expect ever to have problems, but it is always worth doing a test spot.
- Feltpen Fadeout – This product is niche and meant to remove inks and pen markings, but also doubles as an all-purpose graffiti remover if you do not have Bare Brick or Sensitive Surface on-hand.
- Muriatic Acid – We use muriatic acid, 1-part muriatic acid to 6 parts water, for removing shadows of thick acrylic graffiti on concrete and brick. Once you use Bare Brick on heavy acrylic tags, we notice that the mortar joints on brick still have shades of thicker black, blue, and red graffiti that shows the outline of the tag.
These four products should get you through just about any graffiti removal job that comes your way. World’s Best offers other products for more specific jobs, such as on historical buildings or to remove sun baked graffiti, but we find that these four products do the job every time.
- Tools – For tools, we recommend waterproof gloves, protective eyewear, a respirator, a 2-inch nylon brush and small bucket for applying graffiti remover, and either a pressure washer or garden hose with an adjustable sprayer. Counter to what many people think, you do not technically need a pressure washer, but it helps in removing pesky graffiti from brick and concrete. If you end up need muriatic acid, grab a pump sprayer to apply your 6:1 water to muriatic acid – always remember to add acid to water and not water to acid. Doing it the wrong way can cause an explosion!
Step 3 – Start Removing the Graffiti
The process of removing graffiti is essentially the same for every substrate, whether it be brick, marble, or glass. The main differences are 1) what chemical you use, 2) how many applications of chemical you do, and 3) how much water pressure you can apply to your surface. Here is a recap of which chemical to use based on the surface:
- Bare Brick – Brick, concrete, limestone, hard painted surfaces (we will specify how to best do this without taking off too much paint)
- Sensitive Surface – Glass, marble, signage, metals
- Feltpen Fadeout – Use if you you are unable to remove feltpen or inks with the above products
- Muriatic Acid – Use on brick if shadow from the tag is still visible
First, pre-wet your surface with water. Chemical should be applied 3 times in 3-minute intervals. Start at the left side top left of the tag, applying a generous coat of graffiti with your nylon brush in a swirling pattern. Work your way all the way to the right, and then continue down like you are reading a book. Once your 3-minute mark hits, stop where you are, and reapply the chemical over the same area you just worked on, using the same swirling motions. You should start to notice the graffiti will start running down the side of the building and some of it may be dulling in color. This is a good sign, as you have allowed the graffiti to start breaking down the acrylic paint. If you have thicker areas on brick or concrete that are not yet showing the substrate underneath, agitate with your brush during your time interval.
We are now going to make an important distinction – if you are removing graffiti from a painted surface, glass, signage, or marble, go ahead and rinse off your graffiti with the green tip on your pressure washer from about 8-12 inches away, or use a garden hose with a jet nozzle attached. If the graffiti has been removed effectively with rinsing, you can start working on your next section of the graffiti tag. If you are unsatisfied with the results, apply another coat as described above and rinse. We usually only do 2 coats on these kinds of surfaces.
If you are working on brick, concrete, limestone, or other hard porous surfaces, repeat one more chemical application. By now you should be seeing your substrate underneath the graffiti tag on the areas where acrylic was lightly applied, and the whole area you cleaned should be a runny mess of chemical and paint. Start by pressure washing your surface with just enough pressure to remove the graffiti. If you have areas where you still see graffiti, spot clean those areas with chemical while working on your next section of the tag.
Once you have removed all the graffiti, inspect the area for any remaining shadows of the tag. If you can still see the tag’s outline, add 3 cups of muriatic acid to 3 quarts of water in a pump sprayer. Put on your respirator, as the fumes from muriatic acid can irritate your respiratory system, apply the acid generously to the tag, let it sit for 5-15 minutes, and then pressure wash it off. You can repeat if the tag’s shadow is still visible.
Tip: If you have stickers slapped on your windows, doors, or signs, use Sensitive Surface and a putty knife to remove the adhesive coating. Rinse with a pressure washer or garden hose, or wipe away with a towel.
You are now ready to go in removing graffiti like a professional by yourself. Whether you are a commercial building owner with a graffiti tag problem or are getting start in a graffiti removal business, this article is a great starting point for removing most graffiti tags. If you have limited time on your hands, do not feel comfortable using the chemicals or tools, or simply just want professional results, give our team at Mount Pleasant Pressure Washing a call. We specialize in top-rated graffiti removal that restores your building’s exterior surfaces.
Give us a call at (843) 471-0799 for questions about graffiti removal services or how to get started in your own pressure washing business.