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How to Safely Remove Wall Decals

You may be wondering “How can I safely remove wall decals?” There are several methods you can use and we will discuss all of them here.

Types of Decals & Adhesives

    First, decals and stickers are manufactured with one of three materials: paper, vinyl, or fabric. Each of these also has an adhesive coating applied and the adhesive on your print has a direct bearing on the method you need to use for removal. If possible, check with the company you purchased from to determine what type of adhesive they use.  Essentially, there are three types of adhesives:

  • Water-based removable adhesive (cleanly removable for up to 2 years)
  • Water-based repositionable adhesive (repositionable for up to 6 months)
  • Solvent-based permanent adhesive

   The methods used to remove decals or stickers from walls vary slightly and we are going to describe each method in the order from easiest and least likely to damage your wall surface, to most difficult and that may damage your paint or wall.  Patience will be required if you are attempting to remove and reuse your decal.

     Some digital printers, like Wallhogs, also offer wall prints that include a transfer tape for applying die-cut images to the application surface.  If your decal did include transfer tape instructions for removal are included toward the bottom of this post.

Water-Based Removable or Repositionable Decals (without  transfer tape)

     The vast majority of wall decals purchased today are printed onto vinyl materials. These removable media are intended to be installed and cleanly removed numerous times for up to two years or repositionable for up to six months, as long as they were installed in an area that is temperature-controlled. Here are the methods you can use to remove them:

Step 1:  First, simply attempt to peel them from the wall. To remove begin at the top by peeling approximately six inches of the decal from the wall and then folding it back 180° so the printed edges are touching (by folding so printed edges are touching it will reduce stretching or distortion of the material, as well as any paint peel, in case you wish to reuse it). Continue to slowly pull downward until it is removed. Place the decal or sticker back onto the wax side of its paper backing. If you discarded the backing, you could use wax paper. If this method does not work proceed to step 2.

Proper Way to Pell Decal from Wall Surface

180° Fold Back - CORRECT

Improper Way to Peel Decal from Wall Surface

90° Pulling - INCORRECT

Step 2:  Utilize a hairdryer, on the highest heat setting, to assist in softening the adhesive. You will need to heat small sections at a time and utilize the method in step 1. Begin at the top and hold the dryer approximately 2-3 inches (no closer as it may cause the material to deform and curl) from the decal for approximately one minute. Once heated use the method in step 1 and peel it as far as it will allow. Once you encounter stiff resistance you will then need to heat the next section so you may continue to peel until removed. If this does not work proceed to step 3.

Step 3:  This step requires a heat gun. Be extremely careful as these tools blow extremely hot air (about 700°) – 5 times hotter temperatures than a hairdryer. Also, be aware that applying these high temperatures will more than likely distort the material and it will not be reusable. You will follow the same method here as in step 2.

Step 4:  If you are still unable to remove the decal or sticker, even with a heat gun, you can then attempt the following method using olive oil, Goo Gone, or WD-40. Simply apply a small amount of your substance of choice to a soft cloth then rub it onto the decal – especially around the edges. Let it sit for several minutes so it can absorb into the material to loosen the adhesive. Wipe the oil from the surface and use step 1 to then remove it.

Remove Stubborn Decals with Goo Gone
Remove Stubborn Decals with WD-40

Step 5:  If the options in step 4 do not work your final solution will be a mixture of vinegar and rubbing alcohol. Mix the following and place into a small spray bottle:

  • 1 cup of distilled water
  • 1 cup rubbing alcohol
  • 2 Tbsp white vinegar

     Spray the entire decal and let stand for several minutes. Wipe dry and use step 1 procedures to then remove it.

Solvent-Based Permanent Decals

   Most small sticker sets are manufactured using paper and a solvent-based adhesive; however, larger graphics may be made of vinyl. Steps 1 and 2 from above are more than likely to result in damage to your paint or actual wall surface. You need to start with step 3 – utilizing a heat gun.  Once removed these types of decals need to be discarded as they are not reusable.

  • BEWARE:  heat guns blow extremely hot air - up to 700° compared to a hairdryer's 140°. Just as above hold the gun approximately 6-8 inches from the area to be removed. You will need to heat the area for a few minutes to get the adhesive to start to melt. Once this happens use step 1 to remove the section heated and continue this process of heating and removing a section at a time. This is your best solution for not removing paint or seriously damaging wall surfaces. If this does not work proceed to the next step.
  • Unlike water-based adhesives olive oil and WD-40 will not work on solvents. In this case, you will need to utilize something much stronger like paint thinner, acetone, or Goof Off. These chemicals will most definitely remove the decal, but also paint. Use the same method as in step 4.

Water-Based Removable or Repositionable Decals (with  transfer tape)

Step 1:  First, you will need to obtain your transfer tape that was included with the print when received.  If the tape was discarded Wallhogs offers Moving Kits you may order here.  Take the transfer tape and place it over your decal, centering it as best as possible, then use your squeegee or credit card, running it over the tape in order to adhere it to the sticker.

     To remove, begin at the top by slowly peeling back the transfer tape approximately six inches then folding it back 180° so the smooth edges are touching- just as pictured above for the decal folding (by folding so printed edges are touching it will reduce stretching or distortion of the material, as well as any paint peel, in case you wish to reuse it).

     Continue to slowly pull downward until you reach the edge of the decal.  NOTE:  You may need to assist it by peeling it from the wall and adhering it to the tape.  If your graphic has multiple pieces you may need to perform this at the beginning of each piece.

    Continue this method until it is removed. Place the decal/transfer tape or sticker back onto the wax side of its paper backing. If you discarded the backing, you can use wax paper.

Cleanup

     If any adhesive residue remains on the wall after the removal of your wall decal you can use warm soapy water to remove it.

     The techniques above can also be used for other ultra-smooth surfaces such as glass or plastics. They also work well for bumper stickers on vehicles.

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