The solvents used to remove graffiti work with varying degrees of success. No individual chemical can be considered the best at removing graffiti because different chemicals work better on some surfaces than others. Some commercial products contain a combination of chemical solvents. The best way to successfully remove graffiti is to clean it up soon after it happens and to match the right solvent to the right surface.
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Methylene chloride is the primary chemical used in many commercial graffiti removal products. While it is effective at removing graffiti on many surfaces, do not use it on plastic because it can cause clouding of the surface known as etching. Methylene chloride is highly toxic: only use it while wearing personal protective equipment.
Lacquer thinners usually contain acetone, which is an effective solvent for removing graffiti from fibreglass. Like methylene chloride, acetone weakens plastics including plastic vinyl.
White spirit can remove graffiti from wooden surfaces as long as the graffiti has been recently applied and the wood is not weathered. Older wood will have absorbed some of the paint and white spirit may simply seep into the wood as well instead of removing the paint.
In a 2003 report published in partnership with the city of Portland, Oregon, the Center for a New American dream, a national non-profit organisation dedicated to ecological stability, stated that nonchemical, soy-based, biodegradable graffiti removers produced similar results to chemical graffiti removers.
Many contractors begin the graffiti removal process by using the least abrasive method. In some cases, they don't use any chemicals. Instead, their first attempts at removing graffiti may involve power sanding, power washing with water, scrubbing with steel wool or sandblasting.
Successfully removing graffiti is largely dependent on the length of time between its application and removal attempts. Paint is made up of pigments, chemical binders and oil or water. As the paint cures, the moisture evaporates, allowing the pigments to form a tight bond with the surface. The longer the paint remains on the surface, the tighter the bond. Therefore, it is sometimes difficult to remove graffiti without harming the surface beneath it.
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