Got tagged? What to do now.


If you own property and any graffiti upon it is visible from the street or other private property,  your City will first, as a one time courtesy, ask you to clean it up . If you do not, or the problem is persistent, the City may clean it for you and give you a bill plus admin charges costing you several thousand dollars…. and you may also get a fine!

Most cities have a local ordinance that looks a lot like this and defines graffiti as…

” includes, but is not limited to, the writing, defacing, marring, inscribing, scratching, painting or affixing of other markings on buildings or structures including, but not limited to, walls, fences, signs, retaining walls, driveways, walkways, sidewalks, curbs, curbstones, street lamp posts, hydrants, trees, electric light or power or telephone or telegraph or trolley wire poles, fire alarms, drinking fountains, parking meters, or garbage receptacles”        … phew !

There is a notion called the “broken window theory“,  whereby something like a graffiti starts a chain reaction and takes a neighborhood on a down hill slide. Also, if a tag is there only for a matter of hours the “why should I bother with that wall” mentality kicks in. bottom line is to remove the tag as quickly as possible.

If you are a victim of graffiti, here are some remedies that work

Before you get tagged.

  • Lots of Light.

Graffiti is an after dark activity. You need to get lots of light into vulnerable areas. Motion sensor lights also frighten people off when they come on and will alert you if someone is intruding.

  • Video Security

This was a big dollar deal, but not any more. You can get a low light camera system that connects to your home or business computer a couple of hundred bucks in any downtown. Even if this is a hassal, screw up some fake plastic “scarecrow” cameras and put up a big sign.

  • Thinking Ahead

When buying paint for a project, buy a few extra gallons and keep them handy for touching up tagged walls. Paint bought at the same time ensures a perfect match and allows for invisible touch up. Also, try to use flat or low sheen finishes as they make for easier future touch up and wont leave a “flash” or shiny spot.

  • Commission a mural

It is startling how reluctant taggers are to paint over an existing piece of artwork. There seems to be a question of honor and respect at work here (finally!). There is a particular mural in downtown Oakland under the freeway at Grand ave. that should be a choice location for graffiti, but has been left alone for the past thirty years!

If you have a business this could also draw customers eyesight and make your building a landmark and a well spent tax right off!…. HEY, GIVE BIG PICTURE A  CALL!  Have your business support a community art project.

  • Plant a green screen

I love this option if available.

Plant fast growing perennial climbers like vines or ivy or thorny stuff like holly a couple of feet out. A bamboo screen will shield a wall in a hurry and if the wall is next to concrete, planter boxes can easily be built from pressure treated lumber that will last for years. Besides a making graffiti functionally impossible, a little splash of green goes a long way to brightening up a neighborhood, and helps reduce the carbon footprint.

  • Sacrificial Anti Graffiti Coatings

As the name suggests, the sacrificial anti graffiti coatings are mainly to make removal of any graffiti applied less difficult to do away with and then need re-application to protect the surface once again. The sacrificial anti graffiti coatings are less expensive but not suitable for every surface

  • Permanent Anti Graffiti Coatings

Much more complex a compound, often based on nano-engineering principles, and therefore a more expensive option in the short term, but for high risk areas can be very economical to use, and very easy to remove any graffiti. Rainguard make about the best one I know of.

It is essential to get professional help during applying these coatings to ensure even coverage and complete application. Coverage rates alternate depending on surface type, and while almost completely transparent, we recommend a test region and survey to ensure compatibility and acceptable aesthetics before commencing a project to apply these coatings to any buildings, prior to full application.

I have also heard of people spraying mineral oil on walls to make them graffiti unfriendly. It makes a gigantic mess. I don’t recommend it

  • Technical measures

There are systems now available, mainly by municipalities, that record tags electronically and store them in a shared database to log and compare serial offenders. The most amazing of these is G.R.I.P (graffiti reduction and interception programs).

Once you are tagged

  • Abrasives

Sometimes graffiti can be removed with an abrasive. Try steel wool ( “000” … ask for “triple nought”) or fine “wet and dry” sandpaper (400 grit).
If it is a brushed steel door that has been tagged by scratching you can use sandpaper starting with a medium 120 grit to get the scratches out and a finer 400grit to put the brushed finish back. Always go the direction of the original brushed finish or it wont ever look right. If it’s a glass window it may be “game over” but  if you are feeling lucky, you may want to call these guys first before a glazier.

  • Wire brush and elbow grease. 

This needs to be in every anti graffiti kit! Works real well on rough surfaces like fences and concrete.

  • Pressure Washers

These can be rented for the day and use a high pressure wand of water to clean by blasting. I think they are of limited value for a home or business owner and really are a professional tool.  They can also leave things a real mess if you have never used on before and can tear up a wall leaving if in far worse shape than when you started.  FOLLOW DIRECTIONS and if you point this thing at yourself or others you can lose an eye or “inject’ water into the body… bad deal!!

  • Paint it over it. 

If you got extra paint when you painted the building (as I suggest above) you may be in good shape.  If you need to match paint , take a chip down to a good paint store (the same paint company as the original paint if you know it) and they may have a paint matching computer to give an amazingly close match. If your touch up shows because of fading or bad match paint an area up to the next corner and it makes it less obvious than a spot touch-up. Also make sure they match the sheen level (flat, semi gloss etc)

Some materials like marker pens will “bleed through” even if you put several coats of paint over them. If you run into this you need to use a shellac based primer or a stain-block primer first, then your touch up paint.

  • Solvents and chemicals

Ok.. let’s get real here….. lets not make a bad thing worse!

These things are highly flammable and will hurt you if you get them on your skin or breathe the fumes and really should be done by professionals. You need gloves and a respirator, good ventilation and any rags need to be treated like nuclear waste and submerged in water when done. Rags full of solvent can burst into flames spontaneously … for real!! I have two friends who lost houses like this!!
Start with the least harmful to you and the environment and work up to the real nasty stuff. This is called “going from cool to hot”

1.  Soap and water.      Natures own solvent should be the first thing you try. Free and available everywhere this is the original  “green” solution.  You can always kick it up a notch with a mild abrasive like sand or a plastic dish scrubber… fingers crossed, you never know?

**** If you have been hit with an aerosol, water won’t touch it and we move in to harsher and “hotter” chemical solvents. Before you get too ambitious, experiment on a small area first and see if it is going to work before committing to a large job. Also, strong solvents work by liquefying a dry paint and will do the same to any paint, including paint you are trying to restore.

2.   “Graffiti Safe Wipes” are cool little towelettes that work well for many marker pens and sprays and use a safe biodegradable solvent.

3.   Graffiti removal kits are used by cities across the US and work well and can even be obtained free of charge if you contact your City Public Works Dept. However… Some of these contain some really strong chemicals and need to be used with the utmost care.

4.  Orange oil solvent.   “United 256” by United Laboratories is one I have used and it has been reasonably successful. It is far more gentle to both you and the atmosphere, but you should still wear gloves and a mask and follow all safety precautions.

5.   “GOOF OFF” The Ultimate Remover and GRAFFITI REMOVER “GOOF OFF Brand” (Atlanta Sundries, Lithonia, GA 30058) both work well and can be picked up at most hardware stores. They both contain zylene and toluline and are a serious toxic business. They are highly flammable and will hurt you if you get splashed or breath it in. Lots of ventilation and gloves and make sure you dispose of those rages like a pro… in a bucket of water.

6.  Acetone, lacquer thinner, MEK and paint stripper…. FORGET IT! It is just not worth the danger and hassle.

7.  Gasoline (I mention it here only because I have heard of it being used) … ARE YOU INSANE?  NO, NO, NO… and NO.

  • Graffiti Removal Contractors

When looking for a contractor that can remove graffiti Google the terms “graffiti removal” with your city and state. My initial efforts at Googling for US-based companies produced few graffiti specific companies. There are many cleaning companies and pressure washing companies that have added graffiti removal as a specialty.

(Note: In California, Pacific Gas & Electric Company does not want persons cleaning ANY PG&E equipment. Report graffiti damage to PG&E equipment to PG&E for cleaning.)


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