More tips on removing vinyl graphics

By SignCraft Magazine

Posted on Thursday, April 2nd, 2020

Casper Cox uses a razor blade to scrape off softened vinyl adhesive. He rounds the corners and dulls the edge on a sanding block.


After our recent post, How do you remove old vinyl graphics—and price it?, several readers told us they agreed that removing old vinyl graphics was slow, messy and hard to price. Some said that they give the price as a range and explain that it is based on the time involved with the removal. Others said they don’t do removal at all. They tell the customer how to do it or refer them to an auto body shop to have it removed.

We also got a few good tips from these two sign makers that will hopefully help make your next removal project a little easier:

Casper Cox, Prizam!, Chattanooga, Tennessee:

I’m often enough stuck with doing this drudgery, so I know that time, patience, knowledge, experience, tools and tricks are all required. It’s a nasty, messy job, and I get sick of that smell after an hour or so. I prefer to do it outside or with a fan blowing across the floor to get the smell out of the bay.

After the vinyl has been removed, you’re left to deal with the adhesive. One trick that I came up with is to spray on the adhesive remover and cover it with kitchen plastic wrap. This keeps the adhesive remover from evaporating, especially in the summer, and lets it do its magic. I work from one area to the next, moving the plastic along as I progress.

A van covered with graphics generally takes about a day, and I’ve done several of them. I’m unsure of how much time it would take to do a wrap.

I’m also a big fan of using a steamer. It can make an amazing difference when you’re dealing with old, brittle vinyl. Over the years I’ve had to repair mine a couple of times and find that putting some white vinegar in the steamer helps to break down the internal mineral deposits.

I see no other way than to use the citrus-type chemicals to strip off the adhesive. Some work better than others, but this is also determined by the type of adhesive. Some adhesives are water-based; others are solvent-based. Experiment with different brands. I use Rapid Remover, which costs about $70 a gallon. The Goo-Gone household brand is generally the least efficient of chemical options.

I use a dulled razor blade in a metal holder to remove the softened adhesive goo. I round the corners then dull the blade by razor strapping it over some fine sandpaper in a sanding block, as you see in the photo. You need a metal blade holder because the adhesive solvents will melt a plastic one.

As I scrape off the softened goo, I wipe it on a corner of a Job Squad paper towel, folding the towel as I progress. You do not want to drop this nasty stuff on the floor. If so, wipe it up immediately.

When all the goo is removed I wipe the area down with a clean paper towel. I follow that with a Windex and alcohol wipe until it’s squeaky clean. Then I’m finally ready to apply some new graphics.

Removing old vinyl graphics takes time and patience, so be sure and charge appropriately. Include your materials cost and allow for the “nasty mess factor.”

Dic Bason, Bason Signs, Lebanon, Oregon:

I often use the heat gun to soften and remove old vinyl lettering, and have had to use the steamer method at times as well. If one approach is not working well, try the other. I once had to change the address on more than a dozen trucks and vans for a customer, from fairly new to quite old. Some—particularly the newer ones—came off with the heat gun, but others did not do very well. I switched to the steamer, which worked better on the very old vinyl.

The amount of glue residue left behind seems to vary quite a lot from rig to rig. I use the 3M Adhesive Remover that comes in a rectangular red and white quart can. It works very well without attacking the paint.

It does, however, require staying wet on the surface for a few minutes to do its work. That can be a problem on vertical surfaces like truck doors and sides of vans. I first remove the vinyl and then place a piece of newsprint over the adhesive that is left. Then I soak the paper, but just a bit at a time. It’s easier to keep it wet that way. After a few minutes I remove the paper, and most of the adhesive comes off with the paper. What is left comes off easily with a clean rag and more of the remover.