May 14

How to Remove Car Decals Without Damaging the Paint

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Last Updated on June 28, 2022

Stickers and decals pasted to your vehicle can be a great way to express yourself. That is, until the time comes to sell your vehicle.​ The next owner of your car may not care for those stick-figure decals of your family members. Then you’ll be wondering how to remove car decals without damaging the paint.

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Everyday cars are not the only vehicles with decals. Police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances in particular, have numerous stickers. Police cars generally have their police department logos splattered across both doors on both sides of the vehicle. They may also have squad numbers and stickers that denote the vehicle’s function like “Chief’s Vehicle” or “K-9 Unit.” Fire departments sticker their vehicles in a similar fashion to police departments. Ambulances add numerous stripes and other markings to the sides and rear of the vehicle, as well as department, vehicle, and function markings. 

When these vehicles stop serving their respective departments, they get sold off. The new owner must remove the decals before the vehicle can be considered street worthy

Removing decals is easy. Not damaging the paint behind and around the decal can be tricky. 

Here’s a list of items you’ll need to remove a decal:

what you need to remove a decal infographic
  • Bucket
  • Sponge
  • Soap
  • Warm Or Hot Water
  • Hair Dryer
  • Credit Card
  • Vinegar
  • Microfiber Cloths
  • Automotive Wax

Step 1

The first step is to clean the decal and surrounding area with warm or hot soapy water. You should clean the area so that no dirt or debris scratches the paint while you work. Also, the key to removing stickers is heat. That’s why using warmer water is a great transition into Step 2.

Step 2

Heat the decal. This is where the process can get tricky, because heat can also damage the surrounding paint.  

You have several options for heating, but the best option is also the most common tool found most people’s households—a hair dryer. A hair dryer can blow heat at a temperature high enough to dissolve the adhesive that sticks the decal to the vehicle and low enough to significantly decrease the chances of damaging the paint. Other heating options include a heat gun, a small blow torch, or hot water.

The key when applying heat is to only target the decal and to keep the hair dryer in constant motion. This way you aren’t targeting the same area for more than a few seconds. Equal distribution of heat is the aim. The hair dryer should be a few inches from the decal when applying heat and set to its highest heat setting. 

Pause after two to three minutes of applying heat and feel the area around the decal. If the area is too hot to touch or ever becomes that hot, you are applying too much heat. Pause until you can comfortably touch the area before applying more heat. 

Removing a decal with a heat gun or blow torch is completed the same way as removing it with a hair dryer. However, you just need to turn down the setting on the tool, and perhaps position the tool farther away from the vehicle. Move your arm more quickly when applying heat, so you don’t spend as much time applying heat to the same area. 

You can use hot water to heat the area as well, just make sure you have enough hot water on hand when you need it and be prepared to get wet. 

Step 3

Get underneath the decal. Again, the best tool for getting underneath a decal is a common, everyday item—a credit card. You could use your fingernails, a screwdriver, or a razor blade, but risk getting injured, gluey hands, or damaging the vehicle paint. A plastic card, such as a credit card, bank card, or government identification is strong and thin enough to get under the decal without getting damaged or damaging the paint. Use the card to scrape the decal off, or a large enough portion of it so that you can grab it with your hands and peel the rest. 

As long as the decal comes off fairly easily, keep using the plastic card to remove it. When you start feeling greater resistance while removing it, start heating the next section. 

How to Remove Car Decals - person's hand removing letter decal

Step 4 

Repeat Step 3 continuously until the entire decal is removed. This time, however, apply heat for only one to two minutes at a time and regularly touch the surrounding area to determine how much and when to apply heat. 

Step 5

Remove the adhesive. Once the decal is removed, you will see some of the adhesive stuck to the vehicle. This material is still sticky and small items will stick to it, which can make a vehicle look dirty. The residue also isn’t easily removed when washing your car. 

Again, there are numerous products that can be used to remove the adhesive, such as Goo B Gone or a paint reducer. Some are even marketed specifically for removing sticky items such as glues and other adhesives. But yet again, one of the best products is a common, everyday item—vinegar. 

Vinegar is mildly acidic, so it will eat away at the adhesive, but it’s not strong enough to damage paint. 

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Step 6

Repeat Step 1. You want to wash the area again once the decal is finally removed. 

Step 7

Wax the area after thoroughly drying it with a clean towel. The paint that was concealed by the decal is now exposed to the elements. Waxing protects the paint.

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How to Remove Decals from Windows

If the decal is located on a vehicle window, you don’t need to take the same sort of precautions as when it’s located on paint. You can simply scrape it using a razor blade, so long as the blade is clean and undamaged. Then remove the adhesive using vinegar or any of the materials referenced in Step 5. With a careful hand, you won’t scratch the glass. A safer option is a non-marring scraper, but it’s more time consuming and requires greater effort. 

Conclusion

If you want to get the most out of selling your vehicle, removing each and every decal is a must! With all of the aforementioned steps, a process that could be a big inconvenience is undoubtedly made easy. Or if perhaps, you’re not interested in selling but rather buying, then these steps will still help you reconfigure your vehicle’s aesthetic into something more pleasing, and sometimes legal. Take a browse of our online catalog featuring civilian vehicles, and those from first responders.


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