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How To Use A Pressure Washer To Remove Graffiti

How To Use A Pressure Washer To Remove Graffiti

Let’s be real.  Graffiti is an art.  I’m not disputing that.  But in most cases, from what we see everyday in our communities, graffiti is vandalism.  Why do I call it that? Because I bet most graffiti artists tag some building wall or surface without first asking for permission to do so.  How inconsiderate, disrespectful and ILLEGAL!

Fortunately, we have ways to remove undesired graffiti from our sight.  We can even do this without calling professional cleaners. I think the fastest way to clean graffiti is with a pressure washer.  You first apply a graffiti removal product on the vandalized area. Then you spray and rinse the surface with pressurized water. Cover large areas or reach high places that have been graffitied with ease.  You’ll save money and time by using a pressure washer for the job.

While the cleanup seems straight forward, there are some things that you should be mindful of before you start.  First, you should be familiar with what a pressure washer is and what it does. A pressure washer can be a dangerous tool if used improperly.  You should also be mindful of the surface you’re cleaning. Some surfaces are more delicate than others, and a pressure washer with the wrong settings or nozzles can damage whatever you’re washing.  Lastly, know that there are several pressure washer attachments and accessories that can speed up the completion of your project.

Steps For Pressure Washing Graffiti

Step 1:

Start by getting a graffiti removal solvent and spraying it on the surface.  Give it a minute or two for the solvent to loosen up the graffiti before wiping.  Depending on the surface, you might need to give it some scrubbing.

Step 2:

Set up your pressure washer.  The washer uses a high pressure water spray to clean objects and surfaces.  Pounds per square inch (PSI) is the metric you want to pay attention to when determining how much force the water you’re spraying comes out with.  Gallons per minute (GPM) is another metric you can look at. It measures the amount of water that flows out.  

I read that one way of thinking about the relationship between PSI and GSM is that PSI setting affects how forceful the water will strip away whatever you’re cleaning, and GSM affects how effective the washing will be.  Both are important, but you’ll see a lot of people talking more about PSI.

Just for comparison sake, a garden hose delivers out about 40 PSI.  You can marginally increase this by partly covering the opening of the hose with your thumb.  A basic consumer grade pressure washer can generate at least 1000 PSI. See the difference?

Setting up a pressure washer is easy.  If you’re using an electric pressure washer you’ll need to connect the unit to an outlet.  If you’re using a gas pressure washer then you’ll need to put in gas. Then, just connect the garden hose to the washer, the pressure hose to the wand, and lastly attach an appropriate nozzle to the wand.

Step 3:

Connect a pressure washer nozzle. A pressure washer nozzle will affect the water pressure to a degree.  If the fixed opening or orifice has a wide diameter, then the spray will be wide and the velocity of the water coming out will be low.  If the nozzle orifice has a small diameter, the spray will be concentrated, and the velocity of the water coming out will be high. High velocity of water can add to the pressure already generated from the water.  This combination can create a powerful focused spray.

For this job, select the green colored nozzle.  Pressure washer nozzles are universally color coded.  The green nozzle is used for general spraying and cleaning.  It has a medium sized orifice that lets out a medium level amount of water pressure at a decent 25 degree spray pattern.  You should be able to get some if not most of the graffiti off with just this nozzle.

Step 4:

Position yourself about 2 feet away from the surface.  Pick a small area to test the pressure washer with. Spray and check to see if there’s any damage.  Sometimes if the water blast is too powerful things can chip or crack, such as masonry materials like brick and stone.  If all’s good, you can continue. Aim the wand at the graffiti and start spraying, moving the wand back and forth using nice and even horizontal strokes.

Step 5:

Switch to a nozzle with high pressure spray for more stubborn stains.  I’d recommend selecting the next nozzle up in the chain with the yellow nozzle.  The yellow nozzle has a 15 degree spray pattern and a slightly narrower orifice diameter than what was seen in the green nozzle.  It’ll generate a more focused and more powerful spray. Be careful. Test out a small area first with this nozzle before moving forward.  With more water pressure, the higher chance there will be for damages because more force is being used.

Tips When Cleaning Graffiti

Hot vs. Cold

Hot water is more effective at cleaning than cold water.  It’s in the chemistry. The heat has energy that help to break up the chemical bonds in substances, and with water applied, things get washed off more easily.  Cold water works too. The force coming from the water alone will do a sufficient job of washing.

Start With Low PSI

Pressure washers that are capable of washing at 1000-3500 PSI are sufficient for most graffiti removing projects.  Always start with a lower PSI setting. This way you can test if the water pressure is too high to work with.

Also consider the surface you are pressure washing on.  You have to be careful when washing on soft surfaces like stucco.  There’s a chance you can damage it.

Positioning

Start off by standing 2 feet from the surface you’ll be spraying.  Aim the wand at an angle from what you’ll be cleaning and spray a small area to test the water pressure.  You do these two things for a couple of reasons.

Standing too close to the surface while spraying with a pressure washer might damage the surface.  You could end up etching, chipping or severely damaging the surface you’re cleaning with too much pressure.

Similarly, a direct spray might exert too much water force, pushing graffiti deep into the surface pores of the area you are cleaning.

Recommended Accessories

Extension Wands

Extension wands are basically really long pressure washer wands.  They come in different lengths. You can use one to spray high places without using a ladder or spray difficult to reach areas.  

Your safety should always be a priority.  Pressure washer extension wands help secure your footing by allowing you to plant your feet on solid ground.  Ladders should be avoided as much as possible because it’s possible to lose your balance on one. Plus, the recoil from a pressure washer as it’s blasting away is strong and sometimes unpredictable.

Check the price of this set of extension wands on Amazon.

Telescoping Wands

Telescoping wands are like extension wands but they’re adjustable.  You can slide the pole up and down to set the length you want. People usually pair telescoping wands with some sort of harness or belt for additional support.  So it’s like having an all-in-one extension wand instead of having multiple extension wands of varying lengths.

Check the price of this telescoping wand on Amazon.

Turbo Nozzles

Turbo nozzles are also called rotary nozzles.  They are usually black in color, sometimes they’re blue, but they all have a different shaped tip from the conventional flat faced pressure washer nozzles tips.  You’ll find that turbo nozzles are cone shaped instead.

Turbo nozzles essentially have the same function as red nozzles.  Both have small orifices that produce a zero degree spray pattern with very high water pressure.  The difference between a turbo nozzle and a red nozzle is that a turbo nozzle has a rotary action that spins many thousands of times a minute.  

Greater cleaning power is generated with the centrifugal force that’s produced.  With the increase in cleaning output you can wash off a lot of really stubborn stains.  However, the caveat is that there’s an increased risk of damaging whatever you’re cleaning.  Because the spray is so concentrated because of the small nozzle opening, the force coming out is very powerful.  Think of it like a laser beam. You could blast off pieces of material. You might even unintentionally carve or etch lines, almost like drawing lines as you move the wand and spray back and forth.

Check the price of this turbo nozzle on Amazon.

Water Broom

Water brooms are look and function like a typical push/utility broom.  The difference is that instead of a long bristle brush at the end there’s a bar with wheels affixed at both ends and several pressure washer nozzles attached to the bar.  So you push the water broom along a large open ended surface like driveway and you let the nozzles blast away on the ground. It lets you cover a large amount of area in minimal time.

Check the price of this water broom on Amazon.

Final Thoughts

I think it would be safe to say that most people think graffiti in general is an eyesore.  The fact that it’s often illegally placed in highly visible areas makes things all the more aggravating.  For little clean up jobs a graffiti removal spray will do. But for larger clean up projects it’s easier to use a pressure washer.  With the right tools a pressure washer can clean up unwanted graffiti in no time.

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