If you’ve found graffiti on your property, you’ll know the gut-wrenching feeling of frustration and annoyance it can inspire. 10 mindless seconds of vandalism with a spray can may end up causing you hours of cleaning work – and, if it’s on a commercial property, it may very well cost you business by putting off passing trade.
The truth is, graffiti is vandalism – but, unless caught in the act, it’s very difficult for the police to find the people responsible. As such, dealing with the clean-up is something most people handle themselves – choosing elbow grease over legal action and a potentially sizeable insurance excess.
If you’re planning on tackling graffiti yourself, a big part of the battle is understanding which methods are going to work – and to work that out, you’re going to need to take a closer look at your newly acquired street-art.
Identifying spray paint
Identifying spray paint is usually fairly easy – not least because it’s the most common type of graffiti property owners will encounter. Spray paint goes on to surfaces quickly and dries quickly – and specialist providers who create aerosol paint designed for graffiti make sure it provides solid coverage, even with just one light application.
Graffiti that’s been created with an aerosol can will often run and drip, although it’s not uncommon for vandals to use stencils, allowing for ultra-quick neat application.
Removing spray paint from glass
If you’ve found spray paint on glass, you’re in for an easier graffiti removal job than most. The smooth, non-porous nature of glass means the spray paint will only ever sit on top of the surface – making removal fairly simple. You should begin by purchasing a scraper blade. Make sure it’s one that’s designed for windows – as floor and wall scrapers tend to be a little too large for the job.
Related: How to Clean Windows Like a Pro
Start using your scraper at the edge of the graffiti and angle the blade as if you were peeling the paint off like a sticker. If you look carefully, you’ll see that the paint lifts as you apply pressure, not unlike scraping the ice from a car windscreen on a winter morning.
Although removing paint from glass isn’t overly hard work, it can be time-consuming and fiddly – so give yourself plenty of time to do a good job. It’s also worth wearing some protective gloves and, to be safe, some eyewear too – as you’ll find yourself applying a fair amount of pressure to a sharp and sometimes brittle blade.
Removing spray paint from UPVC windows and doors
Although vandals tend not to specifically target the UPVC frames around windows and doors, it’s not uncommon to find that paint that’s been aimed for glass over-sprays and ends up on the surrounds. Of course, fascias and shopfronts sometimes involve UPVC panelling, and such large plain sheets can provide an enticing canvas for a budding Banksy.
Again, you’ll need a scraper to remove spray paint from UPVC. Unlike glass, you’ll need to be a little gentler with your scraping – as UPVC will mark more easily than glass. Rather than simply scraping, it’s a good idea to use a solvent to soften the paint first. Acetone is ideal for this job – and it can be bought very cheaply. Acetone and similar solvents can be harsh on your skin – so wearing gloves is a good idea – and you should make sure you follow any warnings on the container.
Solvents like acetone evaporate very quickly, so don’t be tempted to daub it all over the graffiti before scraping. Instead, apply it with a cloth to the small area of paint you’re working on, some sprays are more stubborn than others, so you may need to leave the solvent on for anywhere up to a minute before you follow up with your scraper.
Removing spray paint from brickwork and stone
Since around 90% of most building’s exterior is brickwork or stone, it’s no surprise to find this is the most commonly graffitied surface to deal with. The trouble is, it’s also one of the trickiest – and the wrong approach can lead to further, long-lasting damage.
In almost all cases, spray paint on brick or stone will require the help of a professional to put right. The cleaning company you use will treat the graffiti with professional grade chemicals to begin to draw the paint out of the surface – then, they’ll carefully work the paint off the wall with low-pressure, superheated water. This careful approach means the paint breaks down and come away from the brickwork – and is not driven further into the porous surface.
Although it might be tempting to simply blast the paint with a pressure washer, doing so will almost certainly cause further damage. The high-pressure water drives the pigment deeper into the stone – effectively ‘tattooing’ the wall, as the ink can no longer be effectively reached by chemicals or water.
Although the idea of graffiti conjures up images of rattling spray cans, ink markers are also an extremely popular medium – and they come in a variety of designs. Some markers leave sharp clean lines and are often used on metal or UPVC surfaces to avoid damage to their nibs – whereas other, ‘mop’ bottles squeeze thick paint out through a cloth or foam nib, and produce extremely hard-wearing results.
If you’re confident that you’re looking at ink-based graffiti, you’ll need to take a slightly different approach to removal compared to spray paint.
Removing ink from glass and UPVC
If you’ve been the victim of ink-based graffiti on glass or UPVC, you’re in for a much easier cleaning process than you would be facing on some other surfaces. Again, like spray paint, the non-porous nature of both glass and UPVC means the pigment will sit on the surface, rather than being absorbed deeper, staining more seriously.
Ink on glass or UPVC should come away quickly and effectively with a solvent like acetone and a soft cloth. Again, you’ll need to make sure your hands are protected as solvents can dry your skin and cause irritation – but soaking part of your cloth and rubbing the ink in a circle motion should shift it pretty quickly.
Removing ink from brickwork and stone
If you suspect you’ve got ink-based graffiti on brickwork or stone, you’re almost certainly going to need to seek professional help to effectively remove it. Ink on stone is especially troublesome because of the way ink acts; rather than drying like a layer on top of a surface, it’s designed to be absorbed into the brickwork. As such, scrubbing or scraping simply won’t touch the stain.
Dealing with ink on stone can even be difficult for professionals – as it tends to require a specialist ‘poultice’ to be applied to the ink. A poultice is a thick paste that oxidises traces of pigments by breaking down the oils and greases, drawing them out of the brickwork. When the ink’s pulled to the surface, super-heated steam can be used to carefully coax the pigments out of the porous surface completely – leaving no ghosting or shadowing behind.
Again, it might be tempting to attack the stain with a pressure washer – but, if you do, you’re likely to drive the stain much deeper into the stone, causing the kind of permanent staining that simply cannot be removed.