How to Remove Vinyl Letters From a Vehicle

Written by matt mckay
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Removing vinyl letters and graphics from a vehicle can be a tedious, time-consuming process. Fortunately, it can be done safely and successfully with the right tools and patient attention. While a number of commercial solvents are available for removing vinyl decals, they may contain harmful fumes and could create a sludge-like mess, especially when removing large decals. The key to removing vinyl lettering is remember that the vinyl and the adhesive used with it become weak and pliable when exposed to high temperatures.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

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Things you need

  • Hair dryer or heat gun
  • Plastic putty knife or scraper
  • Paint-safe solvent remover
  • Clean rags

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  1. 1

    Apply steady heat from a hair dryer to any vinyl edge for a minute or two.

  2. 2

    Continue to apply heat while you slide a plastic putty knife or scraper under the edge of the vinyl decal. If the vinyl hasn't softened enough to allow you to insert a scraping tool, then apply heat with a heat gun.

  3. 3

    Grasp the edge you've lifted away from the vehicle's surface with the scraper, and then peel it away from the automobile.

  4. 4

    Allow the vehicle's surface to cool slightly as you move from one section to the next. Then, apply more heat as needed as you peel away other sections of the lettering.

  5. 5

    Once you've removed all the vinyl lettering, remove the lingering adhesive residue with automotive paint solvent, such as a tar and bug remover or a WD-40-type product. Spray or wipe the cleaning solvent over the area, allow it to soak in for about 30 seconds and then wipe away the solvent and the adhesive residue with a clean rag.

  6. 6

    Wash and wax the vehicle to remove the last traces of the cleaning solvent. Remove small areas of adhesive left behind by rubbing it off with a finger or by gently using the plastic scraping tool.

Tips and warnings

  • Remove vinyl on a warm day or in a heated indoor area.
  • The adhesive used in vinyl lettering forms a stronger bond over time, and so if the lettering has been on the auto awhile, it may be more difficult to remove than vinyl decals applied within the last several years.
  • Avoid exposing the vehicle's paint to the heat gun for a long time to avoid damage.
  • Wear protective gloves when handling heated vinyl to prevent burns.
  • Work in a well-ventilated area to dissipate fumes from the heated vinyl and cleaning solvent.

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