How to remove graffiti from different surfaces?

You could argue that graffiti is the world’s oldest art-form. From the first known prehistoric cave paintings to the modern-day social musings of a Banksy mural. Graffiti is as old as humanity itself.

But for most of us, graffiti is nothing more than a pointless act of vandalism.

Each year, cities across the US spend up to $12billion removing graffiti from walls. The single largest group of perpetrators are boys between the ages of 12 and 19. Boredom is a key motivation, particularly throughout the long summer months. As is lack of employment.

Recent studies suggest that removing graffiti straight away is your best approach. Leave it too long and it’s harder to remove. But worse still, it will attract more graffiti. Removing graffiti quickly sends a message of deterrence to would-be graffiti artists.

But how do you remove graffiti?

In many instances, the easiest option is to simply paint over the offending graffiti. But what do you when applying another coat of paint isn’t an option?

After reading this article, you will become an expert on how to remove graffiti from different surfaces, such as concrete, brick and wood. You’ll also understand what tools are required and how to use them.

But before we look at individual surfaces, we need to identify our problem.

What type of graffiti?

Graffiti can come in many shapes, colours and sizes. It’s often a combination of spray cans, marker pens and inks. You’ll be tempted to reach straight for the paint thinner, but before you do, know that using harsh chemicals can often do more harm than good.

It’s also important to know that water-based paints or inks are much easier to get rid of than their oil-based counterparts.

Now that you understand what you’re dealing with. Let’s work through how to treat the main surfaces.

1) Concrete


The simplest (and quickest) removal technique is a pressure washer. But before you blast away at the offending mural, make sure it’s outside and everything else is moved out of the way. Pressure washers are powerful and can do serious damage to cars and garden furniture.

If a pressure washer isn’t an option, try powdered trisodium phosphate (or TSP for short). A word to the wise. TSP is potent stuff. You’ll need gloves, goggles, a well-ventilated area and even a mask. So be careful.

Mix with water, scrub the graffiti with a hard brush and allow the solution to sit for 30 mins on the concrete. Then scrub off and repeat if necessary. Finally, rinse the effected surface, removing all TSP.

2) Brick

The problem with brick is it’s porous. It requires a gentle touch, otherwise, you’ll damage the brickwork underneath.                

A good graffiti remover paste or gel is your best bet. Simply apply with a cloth or soft brush to work into the brick’s pores. Leave for 30 minutes and rinse with a strong garden hose or water compressor.

You can also use a light sandpaper to remove spray paint. However, be careful as this can scratch the brick surface. If this happens, use a sealer after removal to protect the pores.

3) Glass


Shaving is the best way to remove paint splatter from glass!

That’s right, you can scrape paint from glass using a razor. At first, apply hot soapy water with a clean sponge or cloth. Let it soak in for a minute. Then scrape the graffiti off with your razor. If that doesn’t do the trick, then substitute hot, soapy water for paint thinner or white spirit.

Make sure you rinse thoroughly when finished.

4) Wood

Before applying liberal amounts of elbow grease, understand the state of your wood. Has it been sealed with a wood preserver or lacquer? If it has, then wipe the graffiti down with mineral spirits and a clean rag. Make sure you rinse thoroughly with water.

For weathered wood, it’s best not to use chemicals. The wood will simply absorb them and lodge the paint deeper into itself. Apply hot soapy water with a clean rag and plenty of effort. If that doesn’t work then try a water-based graffiti remover and use a power washer to rinse.

After cleaning the wood, consider applying another layer of lacquer or paint. This will make it easier to remove anymore graffiti in the future.

5) Plastic

As a general rule of thumb, solvents and plastic don’t mix. Think electricity and water, not a good idea! Avoid denatured alcohol or white spirits. They will melt away the plastic.

There’s an old wife’s tale that works pretty well. Grab the vegetable oil from the kitchen cupboard and apply it to the paint. Let it soak for 15 minutes and use a clean rag to wipe away the spray paint. Use a putty knife or plastic knife to scrape away the tougher spots.

If all else fails, then carefully apply nail polish remover to the hardest to remove areas. But make sure you clean it off straight away. Warm water and soap will do the trick.

6) Metal Surfaces

It’s pretty easy to remove paint from a non-porous surface like metal. The only complication is whether your surface is painted or not? I ask because it makes a big difference. But let’s start with the easy answer.

If your metal surface is without paint, then you can use pretty much anything to remove the offending patterns. But as ever, it’s best to start with the least harmful. So first up, and especially if the graffiti is fresh on, try hot soapy water.

All you need is a soft cloth (preferably a microfiber) to prevent any scratching. Make sure it’s clean. Apply the hot soapy water to the affected area and massage into the graffiti with your cloth. If this doesn’t work, then upgrade to lacquer thinner or even paint remover.

However, if you’re working with a painted metal surface – your car bonnet for instance – then solvents are a big NO. Try a water-based graffiti remover spray. It’s designed to remove difficult stains, but because it’s water-based, it won’t ruin the paint job you want to keep.

7) Masonry or Stucco

There’s no getting away from the fact that uneven surfaces are hard to clean. Your best option is a pressure washer. If that doesn’t work, and you have the resources, then sandblasting is another option. But be careful to not permanently mark the surface. Keep the tip moving at all times.

Finish the job off with a sealer or fresh coat of paint.


There are plenty of products to help remove graffiti from your property. The trick is understanding which one to use for which surface. As a rule, the more robust your surface, the stronger the product you should use for removal.               

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