Off the wall: getting to grips with graffiti

The recent riots across the UK highlighted that no matter how well buildings are secured, maintained and kept clean, there are sometimes unforeseen events which can cause extensive damage to both building structures and the environment. One type of malicious damage which can have a negative impact on your business or service is graffiti.

First impressions count in any business. Visitors such as customers, suppliers and staff expect premises to be kept in an immaculate condition and an unsightly office or shop could lead to a loss of business.

When malicious damage such as graffiti is allowed to remain on a property and is not promptly removed, it invites yet more markings and criminal activity creating an environment that deteriorates the quality of life further and fosters a general fear of crime. Experience has shown that dealing with damaged property quickly is the best way of preventing further malicious damage.

The cleaning industry played a key role in the restoration of damaged properties following the recent riots and can help businesses with on-going graffiti problems. Always ensure you use the services of a cleaning operative or company which has a level of accredited training. Not only will you notice much better results from a trained cleaning operative but it will also mean that cleaning tasks are safe for the environment, for themselves and for the users of the building. Cutting corners on standards is dangerous.

Training routes are extremely accessible and cost effective. For instance, the Cleaning Professionals Skills Suite (CPSS), the improved assessment scheme for accredited training in the cleaning industry launched this year with a minimum requirement of three essential skills to ensure the safety of operatives, safety of users of the building and sustainability of the building.

You should ensure the provider is a member of key industry bodies such as the British Institute of Cleaning Science, which has the principle aim of raising professional standards within the cleaning industry. Also, look for specialist companies that are members of The Anti-Graffiti Association.

Whether graffiti is on a small or large scale, using the correct products and techniques is vital in its removal and prevention. There are several different techniques and products that can be used for indoor and outdoor graffiti removal. The main objective with removal is to preserve the condition of the area as much as possible and to prevent future vandalism. To ascertain the appropriate removal technique you need to identify, if possible, the type of product or instrument that was used to apply the tag or graffiti. You will also need to consider the actual structure of the area affected and the material of the surface. Following are some of the most common techniques for graffiti removal:


Painting over graffiti is often considered to be the easiest solution for removal however there are some factors that you need to consider. It is recommended that you use a primer first as in many cases the graffiti will show through. One of the main obstacles when painting over graffiti is correctly matching the original paint colour. In surface areas where the colour can’t be matched, it may be better for the whole area to be repainted. This will help for spot fix ups should there be a recurrence but may end up being costly depending on the size of the area affected. Once the affected surface has been repainted it is advisable to also go over the area with anti-graffiti coating.

Sanding can be used to remove graffiti but it is not appropriate for many surfaces as this form of abrasive treatment can cause the material to wear down and damage the surface if the pressure is too hard. This method works best on outdoor fencing, although it may leave the area vulnerable should the vandalism happen again. 

Scraping is a method mostly used for internal areas on indoor surfaces such as tables, desks and toilet cubicles. This technique however is dependent on the materials that have been used to cause the graffiti. The scraping method can be effective on nail varnish and corrective fluid but spray paint and permanent markers will require a chemical based remover. Scraping may also cause damage to surfaces, especially if toilet cubicles are factory painted, as the paint is more likely to be removed.

Meanwhile, ordinary disinfectants and citrus based cleaners can be used for situations where pencil, non-permanent pen markers and ink have been used. It is important however not to rub (ink especially) as this can spread and make the affected area worse. It is recommended that you neutralise with water and dab at the graffiti to remove.

Chemical graffiti removers are used for harder-to-remove materials such as spray paint and marker pens. It is vital for environmental and personal warnings to be displayed and ventilation to be considered when using chemical-based products. The chemicals can be harmful and the safety data sheet must always be referred to. The safety data sheet highlights the hazards that the chemical presents, as well as emergency measures in case of accidents. It will also include instructions on how to correctly handle and store the product in a safe manner and note the previsions for disposal.

Power washing and abrasive blasting is one of the most effective techniques and is generally used for outdoor surfaces such as brick walls, fences, and concrete. It is highly recommended however that this method is only used by trained professionals, and not with DIY home kits, as too much pressure can wear down the surface. In many cases the runoff from the graffiti and from this technique is considered an environmental hazard as it can flow into water streams and drains.

Meanwhile graffiti removal gel is recommended for more fragile areas such as glass, however, depending on the instrument or material used to cause the vandalism, other forms of removal may be required such as gentle scraping.

That said, preventing is often better than curing. The most common method for prevention is by using specially designed anti-graffiti paint and products on surfaces. These protect and minimise the damage caused and can be used on most surfaces, however it is always important to check the guidelines as some surfaces are not recommended. Anti-graffiti coatings will allow for an easier removal of graffiti and in most cases it can be washed away with warm water and mild detergents.

If graffiti is a recurring problem at your premises you should consider installing security lighting and CCTV cameras. You should also report the problem to the local community police as this identifies areas that are graffiti hot spots and will make them aware of the situation.


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