Wraps Removal

Let’s Talk Shop: Wraps Removal

Charity Jackson is owner of Visual Horizons Custom signs, a full-service commercial sign company based in Modesto, Calif.  She has been in business since 1995 and specializes in vehicle wraps, design and project management and workflow. You can visit her Web site at www.vhsigns.com.

I live in a household full of Dallas Cowboys fans, so I hear a lot about game plans and strategy. While I can’t compare the act of removing vinyl graphics to a professional football game, both do require a game plan and the right strategy.

Tool Kit

There are a few things you will need to do a wrap removal. Having a well-stocked tool kit on hand will make the process much more efficient. Here’s what you’ll need:

Heat—A heat gun and extension cord or a propane torch with an on/off trigger ignition. I personally prefer a torch for portability without the worry of needing an extension cord or access to an electrical outlet. We use a BernzOMatic heat shrink torch attached to a propane cylinder.

Scrapers—Typically, scrapers are used to start lifting the graphics. I use my fingernails most of the time, but the Lil Chisler or orange plastic scraper tools are handy to use as well.

Orange scrapers, plastic squeegees and plastic razor blades are helpful when lifting the corner of the graphic for peeling, and to scrape up sticky adhesive.

Chemicals—These are used post-peeling if there is left over adhesive. Rapid Remover, Goo Gone, 3M Citrus Base Cleaner, Windex or Zep glass cleaner and Denatured Alcohol are a few of the cleaners we keep on hand.

Also include—Paper towels or cloth rags for applying and wiping up the cleaners. We also keep economy squeegees in stock to scrape up the gooey adhesive after it starts to gum up from the Rapid Remover.

Elbow Grease

There’s no substitute for good old elbow grease. I’m sorry, but there is no magic chemical or secret technique that will simply cause the graphics to fall off with little effort. I’ve removed plenty of wraps over the years, and I see only a varying degree of difficulty, depending on the material that was used on the wrap I’m removing, and the condition of the vehicle’s paint.

The game plan, or approach, to a wrap removal should always include heat and a bit of patience. If you’re removing the graphics in the summer or on a warm day, park the car out in the sun for a while before starting your removal. Use a good heat gun or propane torch and heat only a small area at a time.

Work with different cleaners to find the one you like best for each stage of adhesive removal and clean-up.

Work one section at a time. Heat a section and peel the vinyl by gripping it close to the vehicle and then pulling it down flat. Keep the heat going as you peel, sweeping it from side to side. You want enough heat to make the vehicle quite warm, but avoid burning or melting the vinyl.

The Stripper Pole

One of the newest tools on the market for vinyl graphics removal is called, interestingly, The Stripper Pole. The concept is fairly simple, peel up about four inches or so of the graphics and attach to the pole in a 48" wide panel. The graphics are removed horizontally. As the material rolls onto the pole, start ratcheting the pole using a built-in ratcheting mechanism, rolling the material onto the pole. Heating as you go can help with easier removal. Check out videos and more information on www.thestripperpole.net.

On a past install we didn’t have one of these poles, but were facing a particularly headache-inducing removal job. My husband wanted to try a similar concept, albeit with a bit more muscle needed.

My husband and one of our employees teamed up on this one, working vertically instead of horizontally. They used the cardboard tube from one of our media rolls, peeling back and attaching a few inches of graphics from the top of the 4’ wide wrap panel.

They heated a couple feet by the width of the panel and then working together, rolled the cardboard tube down the truck, pulling and rolling the vinyl as they went. Your fingers stick and pull against the adhesive back of the vinyl and they found that they were starting to get blisters so they put on thick gloves.

Is this more effective than just peeling down? I think it depends on your muscles and technique. In the case of this box truck, it helped get some particularly stubborn graphics off in larger pieces.


If you’re particularly lucky you’ll remove all the graphics and have no adhesive left behind. Unfortunately, I do not have this kind of luck. Sometimes there is just a small amount of adhesive—and sometimes there are huge patches.

On newer paint jobs the vehicle wrap may come of fairly easy using only heat, and leaving behind very little residue.

I’ve found that the condition of the vehicle’s paint job is directly related to how much adhesive is left behind. An older, chalkier finish to the paint is not only more of a pain to clean before applying graphics, it’s also harder to remove adhesive.

Smooth, glossy, factory paint jobs appear to have the best removal results. Plenty of heat and peeling the graphics off in large panels also seems to help. Lots of starts and stops and peeling small sections seem to leave behind more adhesive than removing larger patches.

There are a lot of adhesive removers on the market. I always encourage that people try different products to see what works best for their company. We’ve found the best results with Rapid Remover, followed by a wipe down with Zep glass cleaner and a final wipe down with denatured alcohol (not watered down).

Adhesive Removal

Once we’ve removed all the graphics, we spray down the leftover adhesive with a fair amount of Rapid Remover. I find it best to swipe a paper towel along the bottom of the vehicle or along areas where I don’t want the cleaner to drip onto body panels, bumpers or other plastic pieces.

After the adhesive remover has been on a few minutes, grab a plastic squeegee and start scrapping the adhesive to loosen it up. You’ll literally have a gooey mess on your hands. You can spritz on a little more adhesive remover for stubborn areas and then wipe it down with paper towels, pinching up the sticky mess.

Sometimes it takes a few passes to get the majority of the adhesive off. We follow this initial removal by another light spray of Rapid Remover and lightly scrub with a paper towel to loosen and remove any patches of adhesive.

We will usually spritz down a whole side at a time and start removing the adhesive before spraying down the next side. I like to have the adhesive remover sit for a few minutes before starting to scrape, but not long enough for it to dry on the vehicle.

Residue Removal

After the adhesive has been removed there will be an oily residue left on the vehicle. It’s important to remove all the oily residues before applying new graphics.

If you’re set up with an area to wash the vehicle down with soapy water and a hose, this might be a more efficient way to remove this residue. Use a soap that removes grease or oily films and scrub down the vehicle paying close attention to crevices, like gas tank areas, bumpers or around moldings, and any areas where the adhesive remover may have dripped.

If the removal sections are smaller, or if you’re not set up to wash the vehicle down, you can also use Windex, Zep or another glass cleaner. We spray down a side at a time and follow up with paper towels to wipe it all down. These are fairly mild cleaners that cut through the oily film. Again, pay close attention to the crevices removing any oily residue.

If we are going to be reinstalling new graphics we try to do the removal of old graphics and cleaning the day before installation to allow the vehicle to completely dry overnight. Just before installation of the new graphics we do one more wipe down with denatured alcohol.

Some people prefer isopropyl alcohol, some prefer an isopropyl and water mixture. We prefer straight denatured alcohol. Use whatever works best for you, as long as it leaves no residue or spotting behind. Once the adhesive and cleanser residues have been removed the vehicle should be ready for the new graphics.

Due Diligence

Prior to starting any removal job, be sure that you’ve inspected the vehicle and talked over any liability issues with the customer. Look for flaking or bubbling paint, areas with missing paint, chalky finishes or other spots that raise any concerns.

Either use a vehicle template, draw a rough template or print out a photo of the vehicle and circle and note on the template what the concern is. Documentation of problems is critical; be sure to specifically point these areas out to the customer as well.

Whether the vehicle has any obvious areas of potential failure or not, let the customer know—prior to removal—that you cannot be held liable for any paint that may come off during removal of the graphics.

Generally, factory paint jobs on newer vehicles do not have any issues, but you cannot guarantee the paint, especially on older vehicles, since you did not paint the vehicle. If you also did not do the original wrap that you’re removing, you cannot be liable for any cut marks or prior damage done by another company during the initial install.

The chances of major issues are slim on most installs or are at least understood by the customer when explained. Be sure to get the customer’s signature on the invoice or template documenting that you’ve explained the possibility of damage and they understand. A stamp or printed waiver with a signature will go a long way in covering you in case a problem does arise.