Graffiti Paint Removal: Tips For Getting Graffiti Off A Tree

Graffiti Paint Removal: Tips For Getting Graffiti Off A Tree

By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Image by Parker Merritt

We’ve all seen it on the sides of buildings, railcars, fences and other vertical flat services, but what about trees? Graffiti paint removal on non-living surfaces requires some serious elbow grease and some fairly caustic chemicals, but it can be accomplished. When graffiti “artists” hit your trees, getting the paint off can be a bit more challenging. We’ll give you some tips on how to remove graffiti paint from trees without damaging the plant or the environment.

Methods of Graffiti Paint Removal

Freedom of speech is an inalienable right, but does it have to occur on your trees? When graffiti taggers hit your trees, the result is not only unsightly but it can convey unsavory messages. Additionally, some paints can cause toxic damage to trees and clog the lenticels which are necessary for tree respiration. Getting graffiti off a tree safely requires some scrubbing and careful monitoring of the plant’s health.

There are many graffiti removers on the market, but some of them pose respiratory and even cancerous issues to you, and toxic or chemical problems with the tree. Removing graffiti paint on trees requires a more deft touch than simply blasting it off a building. You must be careful of the bark and outer tissue of the plant.

Traditional graffiti removers have caustic ingredients which cannot only burn the skin and respiratory system of the user, but can also cause damage to the tree. One that is deemed safe enough on most trees is Graffiti Gone. It claims to remove spray paint, marker, pen and other surface marring items without damage to you or the tree.

Methods such as scrubbing or pressure washing can be used on trees with caution. Smaller trees will need to be hand scrubbed while a pressure washer on low setting can be used to remove graffiti paint on trees with large trunk girth.

Mechanically Getting Graffiti off a Tree

It may take some practice to use a pressure washing tool to remove paint on trees. Step well away from the tree initially to make sure that each spray stroke is not doing any damage. The general rule is to use the washer on medium to low and step at least 3 feet (.91 m.) away from the trunk. If necessary, gradually step in towards the plant, always assessing for any bark or cambium damage. Only use a pressure washer on trees with thick bark such as hornbeam, chestnut, locust, oak and cottonwood.

Other than pressure washing and good old-fashioned scrubbing, another method to try is sanding. Use a light sandpaper, such as a 400 grit, and hand sand the painted area. Do not use a power sander, as more bark and wood will be removed than necessary. Use a polishing motion on the lettering until it fades or is removed completely.

How to Remove Graffiti Paint on Trees Naturally

Getting graffiti off a tree without doing harm to it or the environment is possible. Use a citrus based graffiti remover or degreaser which is widely available at hardware stores and some supermarkets. These have active ingredients which are completely natural, such as orange oil.

For recent graffiti, apply the remover and let it sit on the area for up to an hour before rubbing and rinsing. Older graffiti will need a longer soak and possibly several treatments to fade the letters completely. The treatment will work best if it is agitated with a nylon or other soft bristle brush.

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