Chemical graffiti remover products

The best approach for controlling graffiti depends on the surface: Masonry, metal, plastic, wood, or glass. The type of graffiti also makes a big difference: Ink pens, spray paints and adhesive stickers all require different approaches. When feasible, blasting systems are preferred for bare masonry or metal surfaces, and painting over is preferred for painted surfaces.  See a summary of best strategies

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When to Use

Chemical graffiti removers are appropriate for removing graffiti from some painted and unpainted surfaces.  Some products are also effective on adhesive stickers. There is no single graffiti remover that can accomplish all tasks and generally several graffiti removers are used, depending on the need. Products vary widely in their effectiveness on spray paint vs. paint markers. They are not appropriate for street signs or rough masonry. Blasting machines may be a better choice for unpainted surfaces, and for uniformly painted surfaces painting over with color-matched low-VOC paint is preferable.



Environmental & Health Information

Chemical graffiti removers often contain hazardous chemicals, and should be avoided when possible.  Two of the most common ingredients are methylene chloride, a carcinogen, and n-methyl-2-pyrrolidone, a reproductive and developmental toxicant.  Tert-butyl acetate forms tert-butyl alcohol as a metabolite, which is also a carcinogen. Nonyl phenol ethoxylates are endocrine disruptors.  Glycol ethers are central nervous system depressants and can cause organ damage. Exposure to these chemicals is compounded when aerosol formulations are used. 

Info on this product category: Graffiti Control

Why Go Green

Toxicity: Graffiti removers pose significant hazards to workers as well as potential environmental impacts. Chemical graffiti removers often contain methylene chloride, a Prop 65 carcinogen that is listed by EPA as a Hazardous Air Pollutant, and listed by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) as a Toxic Air Contaminant. CARB regulations forbid the use of this solvent in graffiti removers, but products are still available elsewhere.  Perhaps the most common ingredient is n-methyl-2-pyrrolidone, a reproductive and developmental toxin that is also listed on California’s Proposition 65 and classified as a VOC.  Another common ingredient in graffiti resistant coatings is tert-butyl acetate, which metabolizes into tert-butyl alcohol, a carcinogen. Finally, nonyl phenol ethoxylates are sometimes used in graffiti removers as surfactants; these are endocrine disrupting chemicals.

Volatile Organic Compounds: Despite CARB regulations, some commercial graffiti remover products contain levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) exceeding the legal limits of 30% (50% for aerosols). VOCs contribute to the formation of smog. Some paints used for painting over graffiti may also contain high levels of VOCs. Some blasting equipment can produce significant residues, which cannot be legally washed down the drain due to the potential presence of hazardous paint chips or other materials. 

Ingredients Disclosure: Most commercial graffiti removers tested do not disclose all ingredients.  Although manufacturers are required to disclose all ingredients classified as toxic by the US EPA, the EPA list does not include all chemicals that pose hazards. Look for products with the US EPA Design for the Environment label, or use custom mixed products.

Criteria for Graffiti Control

For graffiti removal on unpainted surfaces, dry ice or recycled glass blasting systems are preferred.

Chemical graffiti removal products or protective coatings should not contain methylene chloride, n-methyl-2-pyrrolidone, tert-butyl acetate, or nonyl phenol ethoxylates.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) must be 30% or less for non-aerosol graffiti removers and 50% for aerosol products, using the definition of VOCs listed in California Air Resources Board's (CARB) Consumer Product Regulation. Graffiti coatings must have a VOC content of less than 100 grams per liter. Paints for overpainting graffiti should either be certified under Green Seal GS-11, Green Seal GS-43, or should have a recycled content of at least 50% and VOC content of 50g/l or lower.

For all products, full ingredient disclosure is preferred, either directly or via certification by the US EPA's Design for the Environment Program, Green Seal, UL (under its EcoLogo Program) or Cradle to Cradle.

Last updated

Last updated: 
March 15, 2018


Safer Alternative Graffiti Management Methods for California,  a 2014 report by the Institute for Research and Technical Assistance, is an alternatives analysis of various grafitti control methods and products.  The report was funded by US EPA Region IX, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and the San Francisco Department of the Environment. 

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