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How To Remove Car Decals Without Damaging Paint

Perhaps your aesthetic taste has changed. Perhaps you just don’t think that your favourite rock band is so cool anymore. Or maybe you need to sell your car. Whatever it is, you want to restore your vehicle to its virgin state and find yourself wondering, “how to remove car decals without damaging paint?” After all, what goes on must come off sooner or later.

You might be surprised, or annoyed, to find out that stickers are made to hold up over the long haul, through all kinds of weather, and they in fact stick far better than you want them to. Taking them off isn’t meant to be a simple task, especially when you risk ruining your paint job if not careful. Removing car decals the right way will save you a lot of money restoring your car’s exterior after the damage is done.

Rest assured that it doesn’t have to be an all-day project, as long as you follow the correct methods detailed in this guide on how to remove car decals. It will include environmentally friendly methods and pro tips on removing stubborn and large decals that have stayed on for too long.

Types of Car Decals

Just a few years ago, decal decorations or advertising on vehicles was limited to single color, vinyl typography and simple graphics. Nowadays, decals are only limited by one’s imagination, and can even extend to vehicle wraps, where the entire vehicle can be literally “wrapped” in full color graphics. 

best way to remove car decals
Removing full vehicle wraps will be an intensive job.

In other words, vehicles of every imaginable shape and size can become colorful rolling billboards. Compared to small sized decals, full vehicle wraps surely require more effort and special tools to get the job done beautifully, all the while maintaining your precious paint job.

How To Remove Car Decals: What You’ll Need

Depending on which decal removal method you might choose, here are some things you will need:

  • Hair dryer or heat gun – this can be used to help loosen up the adhesive on the decal.
  • Plastic cutter: this will be used to run through underneath your car’s decal.
  • Rubbing alcohol: helps soften up the adhesive on the decal.
  • Adhesive removing sprays, for instance Goo Gone: to remove any residue from car decals. 
  • Electric drill: one that you can attach a disc to, used to tackle large and stubborn decals or full vehicle wraps. 
  • Cloth, ideally microfiber cloth: for removing residue and cleaning the surface to prepare for waxing. Use microfiber cloth to avoid scratching your car’s exterior.
  • Car wax: regardless of how you choose to remove decals or stickers, you will need a car wax to apply on the affected area afterward to keep your vehicle paint as good as new.

The Decal Removal Process

Regardless of the type of decals you are removing, the process is generally as follow

  1. Removal of the top material layer and then the underlying adhesive glue. For decals that have stayed on for too long, it is most likely that the first time you peel, what comes off is only the top layer. The adhesive glue underneath this top layer will still stick to your car.
  2. Removal of adhesive glue residue:
    After entirely removing car decals, that is both the top layer and the adhesive glue, you will need to remove any residue left with the adhesive remover spray. You can buy these products at your local grocery stores, supermarkets or hardware stores.
    Do not ignore this crucial step on how to remove car decals if you want the peeled off surface to look as sleek as the rest of your paint job. Simply spray some adhesive remover like Goo Gone and wipe or scrub off the residue with a clean cloth. The solvent will take some time to work. If you rush the process, you may end up scratching the paint. 
  3. Apply protective wax on the peeled area: To finish off, use a swirl mark eliminator or any mild polishing compound to remove minor scratches. Do not forget to apply wax on the affected area and the area surrounding it as well to keep your paint job in tip top shape.
removing decals from car
When you peel the decal, the adhesive glue underneath will usually remain.

Refer to our comprehensive library of maintenance tips for suggestions on how to upkeep your car’s paint job.

How To Remove Car Decals On Windows 

A razor blade can come in quite handy for removing unwanted decals from windows. However, note that you should never use one to remove a sticker on your car’s paint. Doing so can gouge and chip your vehicle’s finish, which is indeed quite expensive to fix.

Nail polish remover is also a cheap yet effective method for removing stickers on glass, and is something you probably already have at home. Like razor blades, do not use this solution on anywhere else other than glass though. Various chemicals found in most formulas, such as acetone, can harm or remove your car’s paint.

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How To Remove Car Decals: Environmentally Friendly Options

In case you want to stay away from manufactured cleaning solutions for health or environmental reasons, below are the best way to remove decals from car for you.

Blow Drying

This is one of the most convenient and safe ways to remove decals, stickers and pinstripes from your car, or from any smooth surfaces really. Rather than scratching or knifing it, make use of a blow dryer or a heat gun to loosen up the adhesive of the pinstripe

This is also something you should do before anything else due to its non-abrasive nature. An important note is while this method is excellent if done on old cars, it is no ideal if your vehicle is relatively new.

how to remove car decals hair dryer
Heat is effective in loosening the decals’ adhesive.

Simply heat the surface of the decal at the lowest heat setting for 30-40 seconds. Keep the blow dryer at a distance of 5-6 inches from the car surface. Remember that very high heat is likely to chip the paint off. 

Now start peeling off the decal from a corner with the help of a rubber or silicone spatula. Never use any sharp objects. Peel slowly and repeat heating if necessary to take off the entire decal. 

Make sure that you wipe off the residue with some adhesive remover like Goo Gone or rubbing alcohol dabbed on a lint-free cleaning fabric. Best to top it up with some protective wax to restore your paint job to a glossy shine.

An old credit card

To peel a sticker off of a painted surface on your vehicle, take an old credit card or plastic scraper and place it under the edge to start peeling the sticker and adhesive away. Make sure it’s not a current credit card, as the process could damage the card that you can no longer use it. 

This should get the job done without damaging your car’s paint, given that you are not using something that is too sharp. Continue and work slowly until the entire sticker is removed. It’s common for the sticker to rip during this process, but that’s OK.

After the sticker is peeled off, use a microfiber cloth and Goo Gone or another adhesive remover and give the area a final cleaning to remove any remaining adhesive.

White vinegar 

remove car decals vinegar
Soak the decal with vinegar or other solution and let it sit.

White vinegar is a super versatile and affordable cleaning solution. You can get a bottle of vinegar enough for this decal removal project for less than two dollar. That’s much cheaper than buying a commercial adhesive remover such as Goo Gone or WD-40, and is much more environmentally favorable as well as hypoallergenic.

Reach into your pantry for some white vinegar. Use a paintbrush or paper towel to soak the entire bumper sticker, and then wait a few minutes for the vinegar to penetrate and loosen the adhesive. The sticker should be easier to remove with a plastic card. If you find it difficult still, apply some more vinegar and let it sit some more.

Boiling Water

Simply wet a cloth with boiling water and let it soak the decal for a minute or so. Just make sure that you don’t burn yourself. Try to peel off the decal from a corner. It should be easy hereon. You can also pour boiling water repeatedly over decals, just like you do for fixing car minor dents at home.

This method might work well on newly attached decals. If it cannot fully remove an old decal, read on to learn how to remove car decals in case of stubborn decals.

The basic idea behind all these methods to remove car decal is to safeguard the paint underneath the sticker. If you take care of the riders that we mentioned in the beginning, you can do the job without any damage at all. So, peel away.

How To Remove Car Decals: Stubborn Decals

Adhesive remover

Adhesive removers such as Goo Gone are ideal for the tedious task of removing a car decal, especially old or particularly stubborn ones. Goo Gone is a high quality and versatile automotive spray gel specifically formulated for the task. It also can remove gum, bird droppings, tree sap, spray paint, brake dust and asphalt.

Apply a generous amount of Goo Gone to the decal and the area immediately surrounding it. Let the solution sit and penetrate for a few minutes. The longer you let it sit, the easier it should be to remove the sticker. Once the sticker is gone, simply clean the area with soap and water.

Solvents

If you cannot find Goo Gone, you can opt for WD-40, another versatile and popular auto maintenance solution. Just pour a small amount on a clean cloth and start rubbing on the edges with moderate pressure. 

The decal will start coming off from the edges. Take it from here and slowly peel it off with your fingers. Wear rubber gloves if you have sensitive skin. As for the adhesive stains, continue to clean with rubbing alcohol. 

Kitchen Cleaners

If the decals you are dealing with are not particularly old or stubborn, mild kitchen/dish cleaning soaps can do the magic if you let the diluted solutions soak into the decal for a few minutes. Shampoos and conditioners can also work. 

After you let the solution seep in for a short while, you can simply pull out the stickers. Just make sure that if you are using a kitchen cleaner, it is not too harsh as it can damage the car paint. Look for those with, for instance, “Mild dishwashing liquid” on the label.

Electric Drill 

Equipment such as an electric drill or Dremel tools will be ideal if you are dealing with a large decal or full vehicle wrap. It can be the last resort for stubborn decals once you have tried another method.

The greatest advantage of using this technique is quick, excellent results without too much hard labour. The Dremel or electric drill is designed to attach discs to its end for different purposes. We will be using a disc designed specifically for removing car decals, stickers and pinstripes.

remove car decals electric drills
Electric hand drills are ideal for stubborn decals, stickers and pinstripes.

Step 1: Clean

Before you start with the process, make sure that the car’s surface is clear from the accumulation of dust or dirt. This step is essential when it comes to securing the car’s paint

Clean the surface area of the pin striping first as well as the area surrounding it. You can use gentle car paint cleaners and specialized cloths to do the job.

Step 2: Attach the disc to your electric drill

Dremel tools or other electric drills allow you to connect different types of disc depending on the purpose. Make sure to connect the most suitable one for removing decals. An example is the “Stripe Off Wheel” from 3M. It is a disc attachment that you put on a low-speed drill. 

Use a blow dryer first to loosen up the end of the pinstripe. Once it loosens up, you can use the drill to make your way through its entire length, until it comes off completely. Take your time doing this to avoid doing any damages to the paint.

Again, whatever method you choose to do, always use adhesive remover and wax after the whole procedure to keep your car paint looking shiny, new and scratchless. 

How To Make The Chore Easier Next Time 

The next time you want to decorate your bumper, there are a few steps you can take beforehand to make the removal process later on much easier:

  • Avoid the bumper altogether and put the sticker on a window instead. Getting a sticker off glass is a much easier process, and you won’t have to worry about damaging your vehicle’s paint.
  • Peel the backing off your bumper sticker and affix it to a bumper magnet. Place the magnet on a metallic part of the rear of your car, such as the back of the trunk lid. When you no longer want the sticker, just take off the magnet.
  • Apply a layer of car wax to the surface where you plan to put your sticker. That often makes removal a simpler chore.