Graffiti Removal 101
Graffiti can look pretty cool when it is on something that you don’t own. Some of it is real street art that could be shown in a gallery. When it’s on your car, graffiti isn’t so charming. In this post, I’ll go over how to completely remove graffiti from your car. Let’s remove that unwanted artwork without removing your paint.
I had a customer bring his new car into the detail shop one day covered in red spray paint. It was pretty much the f-word everywhere. He explained that he had gone to a paint and body shop to see if they could remove the graffiti. The body shop told him they would need to repaint the entire car. The price for their version of graffiti removal sent him into shock. So, he poked his head into my detail shop to see if there was another alternative. I felt pretty confident that we could help remove the graffiti without painting the entire car or ruining the existing paint job.
Choosing Products for Removing Spray Painted Graffiti
If you are doing it yourself, the first step is to try some different mild solvents on the car. Visit a local auto paint supply store and have them choose the mildest product they have. Brand doesn’t matter. Test your solvents under the bumper or in an inconspicuous place, in case the solvent takes off your paint. In this case, a mild, fast-drying lacquer thinner did the trick. Based on the amount of work required, I quoted him between $250 and $300 to remove the graffiti and restore his car’s paint job. He seemed extremely relieved after getting that wild quote from the paint shop.
How to Remove Spray Paint From Your Car’s Paint and Glass
Start with a car wash – you don’t want to do any rubbing, waxing, or buffing with any dirt and grit on the car. This would scratch the paint. At my auto detail shop we pulled the car inside the shop and dried it off. At home, you will want to bring your car inside a garage or car port. You can’t use solvents on a car’s paint in the sunshine. These types of chemicals react with sunlight and can cause them to bubble the car’s paint off. I learned this the hard way in my early detailing career. I was trying to get some yellow road striping paint off of a new Volvo and it caused the paint to come right off the side of the car! So, take my advice and work in the shade.
The next step is to spray a 1-foot by 1-foot section of the car down with the solvent. Then, spray a little solvent on a soft cotton towel. Rub the area gently and the graffiti will slowly wipe off. Repeat this step on every section of the car that was spray-painted – including any paint on the glass. Keep any sparks or flames far from the work area because the solvent is extremely flammable.
Now that the paint is off, we need to wash the car again to get any solvent residue off the paint. The next step is to go over the paint with an electric polisher to restore its original luster. For more details, see my article on using this type of car polisher. To finish, we hand wax the car to lock in the restored finish.
Removing Graffiti is Hard to do Yourself
Graffiti removal isn’t a job I would generally recommend you try at home. It requires knowing how to pick the right chemicals and how to use an electric buffer. You would also need a special respirator as well as chemical resistant gloves, eye protection and clothing you don’t mind ruining. If you don’t have an exhaust fan in your garage to provide proper ventilation, the fumes could make you sick. It can also be hard to choose the proper chemicals needed – and to dispose of the contaminated towels and residue that comes with the job. If you can afford it, I recommend having a graffiti removed at an auto detail shop.
If you do this at home, be careful – use a respirator, chemical-resistant gloves and eye protection. You just don’t want solvents to get on your body or in your lungs or eyes. I’m not trying to discourage you from tackling the graffiti removal yourself, but you need to be very careful.
If you decide to have a professional auto detail shop do the job, it is a good idea to get a couple of quotes. If you have three estimates from detail shops and don’t know which to choose, drop me a line. I’m happy to help you out.