Tools and techniques for removing graffiti

The following are some suggestions for a graffiti fighter’s tool kit:
1. Aerosol solvent
2. Clean cotton painters rags
3. Trash bags
4. Inexpensive paint brushes, rollers and paint containers
5. Paint matching various surfaces around your neighborhood
6. Paint scraper
7. Dust mask
8. Safety glasses
9. Kitchen cleaner and water in spray bottle

Solvents and Cleaners
There are a number of graffiti removal products on the market. It can help to become familiar with each one. Learn about safe use and safe handling. Some of the better known solvents available at major hardware stores can be hazardous to your health. Using a respirator is probably safer than using a dust mask. Breathing this stuff is obnoxious and NOT healthy.

You need to be aware of wind conditions. You need eye and breathing protection when you use it. Rags used with solvent should be discarded properly. DO NOT KEEP FLAMMABLE RAGS in containers in your vehicle or garage.

Know the product you are using and HOW TO HANDLE AN ACCIDENTAL INJURY when using the product.

Some of the markers the vandals are using are not permanent. We’ve been able to clean some signs with soap and water.

Safety Glasses
Safety glasses keep paints, solvents, and dust from entering the eyes. Always use caution. Never compromise eye safety.

Cleaning Smooth Surfaces
Test an inconspicuous area of the surface with your cleaning material. Most modern signs clean quickly. Start by cleaning with soap and water first then proceed to solvents.

Cleaning from Rough Surfaces
Many times paint on a rough surface causes permanent damage. The character of the surface will change because, in some cases, it is virtually impossible to remove all of the paint from a porous surface. A perfect example is a cinder block wall. You may be forced to paint the wall---the entire wall. Simply framing the damaged area leaves you (and the vandal) with an ugly blotch.

We have found that pressure washers, using sand, can actually etch a cinder block wall, further hastening the wall’s demise. A wire brush is somewhat limited in effectiveness as well. Our city, instead, uses a power washer with a biodegradable emulsifier approved by our sewer department. In most cases, we have been able to completely remove the vandalism. However in some cases, because of the porous surfaces involved, a slight hazy remnant of the graffiti still remains.

Elbow Grease and the Wire Brush
An inexpensive wire brush is excellent for removing paint from many surfaces. The surface will look like someone has wire brushed it but the vandal’s message will be history. Any surface where you use a wire brush should be a surface, that will over time, weather back to the original color or texture. Every graffiti fighter needs a wire brush in his or her tool kit.

Use the wire brush on:
Telephone poles
Street curbs
Some rough metals
Smooth stone surfaces
Decorative rocks
Wood fences
Concrete

TIPS ON REMOVAL
1. When you engage in graffiti removal, you become very aware of how much more difficult it is to remove it than it is to apply it. This is especially true in the case of rough, unpainted brick surfaces. Painted surfaces are probably best repainted, though it would be wise to have a supply of graffiti removal solvent ready for rapid response. This is also true because recent graffiti seems to be easier to remove than old graffiti.

2. For surfaces like mailboxes, utility boxes, steel roll-up doors, lampposts, etc., liquid graffiti removal solvent (Savogram) is the way to go. This graffiti should be removed as soon as it appears. This requires only some light duty steel wool, a small spray bottle of solvent, and a cleaner like TSP to wash the area down after removing the graffiti. Very little solvent should be used if the graffiti is recent. Just spray on some solvent, lightly rub with steel wool (or even heavy duty paper towels) and then wipe clean. You’ll want to use rubber gloves and lightly wash the affected area after removing the graffiti. Spray solvent such as Jasco, is not recommended for mailboxes or other painted surfaces since it will cause so much paint to bubble up that the “cleaned” area may look worse than it did with the graffiti.

3. For a brick surface, especially red brick, we recommend a professional cleanup, using a biodegradable emulsifier. This method minimizes the toll on the surface. It is generally too difficult to tackle a very rough surface with wire brushes and solvents, and the finished job will still bear a fair amount of the evidence of the graffiti.

4. For routinely painted surfaces like fences and some wall, it would be wise to have plenty of matching paint available for immediate cover-up within a day or two of the appearance of graffiti. In a business district, we recommend that some standard colors be employed in locations that are graffiti-prone and that an understanding be developed among property owners and business managers to allow for painting over graffiti quickly without having to secure permission from all affected parties. Rapid response is the key and this is only possible if the job is made as easy and automatic as possible.

Graffiti removal is not always a simple “spray it on, wipe it off” affair, especially when it involves brick or other rough surfaces or when paint has been there for a long time. You should expect to encounter examples where the best you can do is reduce the graffiti to an unrecognizable fade, even if it is not possible to completely remove it. Try both solvents if one doesn’t seem to do the trick. Don’t give up too soon. Sometimes, several applications of solvent or allowing to sit for a longer time will take care of things.



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Dept of Public Works

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Cambridge MA 02139

Phone:617.349.4800
TDD:617.499.9924

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