How to Clean Graffiti

Three Methods:Using a Sand BlasterPainting Over the GraffitiGetting Help and Reporting Vandalism

For better or worse, graffiti is a fairly common element of urban living. Creative geniuses such as Banksy can turn it into an elevated art form. It can also be an effective and poignant medium to express consciousness or engage in social protest. Unfortunately, these factors usually aren't in play when you find your property or outdoor communal space defaced by a local "tagger". If they aren't much of an artist, you'll need to know how to fix the problem. There are several ways.

Method 1
Using a Sand Blaster

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    Select a sand blaster. Sand blasters are powerful pressure washers that project a blend of water and sand to clean a surface. There are different types of sand blasters, so you will make sure that you select one suited to removing graffiti. Beware, sand blasters can remove underlying paint as well, so you will usually only want to use a sandblaster on a plain surface.
    • Sand blasters can be used to clean a wide variety of surfaces including concrete, metal, brick, masonry, and wood.[1]
    • Sand blasters can be erosive! Be careful on old stone, brick, and wood, as a sandblaster can speed the deterioration of porous surfaces.
    • Sand blasters can remove paint, rust, and grease as well.
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    Choose the right type of sand. For most sand blasters, you'll want to be choosing round silica to clean graffiti from surfaces. It is effective and inexpensive.[2] Of course, make sure that the sand type you choose is suitable for both your blaster and the surface in question.
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    Set up your equipment. Place your sandblast probe into the sand you will be using and attach the dispensing end to your power washer nozzle. Make sure that your sand source stays dry and moisture free.
    • Your sand must be completely dry. Moisture could cause the sand to clump which would compromise functionality.[3]
    • Be sure to use safety goggles! Sand and debris can easily damage your eyes. [4]
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    Carefully test your equipment. Before you begin to work on cleaning the graffiti you may wish to familiarize yourself with the sand blaster by doing a trial run on a similar piece of material.[5] Once you are confident that you have the hang of things you'll be able to get started.
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    Start cleaning the graffiti. When you first start, you'll want to sandblast the graffiti at an angle. Firing directly at the graffiti at a 90 degree angle is extremely powerful and can also cause damage to the underlying surface.[6] Begin at an indirect angle and move from there.
    • You're looking for an angle that removes the graffiti without harming the underlying surface.
    • Once you find that angle, move back and forth methodically. Generally cleaning a square foot at a time is a good way to start.
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    Keep going until it is clear. Now that you are set up and know how to use your equipment properly, blast away! Continue to use even, methodical sweeps with the sandblaster and you will have the offending graffiti gone in no time.
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    Evaluate your work. Once you are done, take a step back and assess your work. Sometimes you'll spot areas where the graffiti is faded but still visible. Get back to work and repeat your prior sandblasting until the surface is clean.
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    Wrap up. Once you are done, carefully pack up your equipment. If you are storing extra sand make sure that it is completely dry and clump-free. You'll also want to inspect the surface for damage. Re-caulk or re-seal any porous corners or seams that may have been compromised by the sandblasting.

Method 2
Painting Over the Graffiti

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    Assess your surface. If you are resigned to handling the job yourself and don't have a sand blaster, painting is another option. For the most part, you'll only want to be painting over graffiti on surfaces that were painted in the first place.
    • Painting is a good option for smooth surfaces like fences and some walls.
    • If the wall is a smooth and fairly non-porous surface, painting over the offending graffiti is much easier.
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    Match your paint. Ideally you'll know exactly what paint was originally used.[7] If you don't, you may want to test your potential match against a small section of the surface. You wouldn't want to paint over graffiti on an ivory white fence with eggshell white - you'd end up needing to paint the rest of the fence eggshell white as well.
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    Clean and prime the surface. Even though you are simply painting over an eyesore, you'll want your job to last. You will want to clean the surface, let it dry, and then apply a paint primer. If you need to be careful not to get primer or paint on other surfaces, be sure to line the edges of those surfaces with painter's tape.[8]
    • Some paints do not require a primer. Primers are also more often used on porous and non-uniform surfaces.[9]
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    Get ready to paint. As the primer dries, pour your paint into a paint tray. Once the primer is dry, it is time to get your brush or roller ready.
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    Paint over the graffiti. For small jobs a brush will suffice, but for larger jobs you'll want to use a paint roller. You'll want your tool covered in a heavy coat of paint that isn't so thick that it drips. Using slow and even strokes, paint over the offending graffiti. Depending on the colors involved you may need to use several coats - perhaps even allowing your first coats to dry and then re-applying.
    • Don't squeeze the paint out while brushing or rolling. Just roll or brush it out! Pushing too hard and squeezing the roller cause lines in the paint and damage to your roller. [10]
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    Evaluate the finished product. After the paint dries you'll want to step back and get perspective on your work. Often (and particularly with white surfaces) you may see an outline of the graffiti under your paint. If so, apply another coat. Store your tools in case you need them again in the future.

Method 3
Getting Help and Reporting Vandalism

  1. 1
    Find out about Graffiti Abatement Programs (often known as GAPs). Almost all major cities and municipalities have some type of GAP. GAPs are usually a joint effort between communities, the police, parks and recreation, community associations, local companies, and public works to combat graffiti and vandalism.
  2. 2
    Contact your local Graffiti Abatement Program. Many GAPs (or whatever your local anti-graffiti group is called) provide assistance for graffiti removal and coverup, even if the graffiti is on private property. While services vary between GAPs, you'll want to contact them and see how they can help you.
    • Some graffiti abatement programs will either clean or paint over graffiti for you outright, especially if you are disabled or elderly.[11]
    • Some GAPs will either provide you will free cleaning and painting supplies or come and help you in your cleaning efforts.
  3. 3
    Contact your HOA, property management, or landlord. If you live in an area that does not have a GAP, or in which the GAP provides limited assistance, you may want to consider other avenues of assistance. Depending on the terms of various contracts, your HOA, property management, or landlord may be responsible for the cleanup.
  4. 4
    Call the police. You will also want to report the matter to local authorities. If you are reporting a vandalism in progress, dial 911.[12] To simply report vandalism or graffiti that has already occurred many cities and municipalities will designate a different number - often 311.[13] Provide police with details about the location of the graffiti and when you observed it.
    • Reporting to the police will enable them to better target their enforcement efforts and catch the perpetrator before he or she vandalizes again.
    • Police are also a valuable source of information for local anti-graffiti efforts.


  • Before you clean any graffiti, consider taking a picture in case you are ever asked for evidence of the vandalism.
  • The sooner graffiti is removed, the more the offending vandals will be discouraged. They'll be less likely to return if the graffiti is promptly removed. [14]


  • Use caution with a pressure washer and sand blaster. Never point it at yourself or another person.
  • After you clean graffiti you may want to touch up on any sealant or caulk that may have been compromised. This is especially true if you used a sandblaster.

Article Info

Categories: Cleaning | Graffiti