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Why there’s art and science in graffiti removal

REACT’s graffiti removal services cover the use of graffiti-proof paint and environmentally friendly removal agents

Graffiti removal services from REACT cover graffiti-proof paint and environmentally friendly cleaning agents
Graffiti adversely affects urban environments everywhere, so graffiti removal is an important service

The fame of street artists such as Banksy is used to characterise graffiti as an art form. But graffiti can be problematic for property owners and communities more generally. Scrawled, spray-painted messages which affect so many cities and towns are clearly illegal – and they need to be addressed. Here at REACT, we have the expertise to deliver specialist graffiti removal services. Our Operations Manager, Dave Rudge, recently published a thought leadership article on graffiti in Cleaning Matters, so we’re capturing some of his insights here.

The costs and repercussions of the crime

Graffiti can seem like an inevitable part of the urban environment, as one of the most common forms of vandalism in Britain. Illegal street art can seriously damage the public image of a building or structure, as well as the area it’s in. Areas with lots of graffiti become less desirable than cleaner areas, which drives property values in those areas down. Graffiti’s appearance on public property like train stations, bridges, pathways, and other public buildings can turn people away from using these services. And for private property, like shop fronts and restaurants, it can have the same effect. The presence of graffiti can also attract more vandalism: criminals might see graffiti and assume that they can also get away with vandalising that area if nothing is done about it.

Graffiti affects almost everybody, and across the UK, there’s a high cost attached. For instance, Network Rail claims it spends about £750,000 every year to prevent and remove graffiti across Britain. And beyond removal costs, graffiti can also cause practical problems. A train that needs to go through a graffiti-removal service might need to remain out of service for an extended period. This could cause train delays, and even cancellations. Graffiti removal services in rail and motorway tunnels and on bridges can do the same thing.

Barriers to stopping the graffiti problem

Prevention of graffiti may be almost impossible. Even with harsher punishments for taggers under current government plans, graffiti will continue to be a public nuisance. Graffiti is quick and easy to apply, and the people doing it can often escape without notice. Police are often involved in a ‘cat and mouse’ chase, which saps resources that are most often directed towards more serious crimes. Post-application removal is often confused because of the patchwork of different authorities that makes it difficult to know who’s responsible.

But removing graffiti after it’s been applied to a surface can also prove difficult. Graffiti removal is often perceived as non-essential. When budgets are tight, graffiti removal moves down the list of priorities, especially for public infrastructure like the rail network. Yet this lack of priority in itself increases the cost of removal, because paint becomes more and more difficult to remove the longer it has been on a surface. Bricks in buildings, for example, are porous. Their pores suck paint into the structure over time. Chemical strippers that require lots of time and hard manual labour to apply are then needed to remove the graffiti. Getting rid of graffiti within 48 hours of application is ideal.

To clean or to paint? That is the question for many organisations

Here at REACT, we’ve noticed a significant shift away from traditional methods of treatment. Many of our clients have stopped asking us to remove graffiti; instead, they’re requesting paint-over services with graffiti-proof paint. These services were unheard of a few years ago. Now, about half of all our graffiti-related cleaning requests require graffiti-proof paint.

Graffiti-proof paints can make it a lot easier to remove graffiti from a surface - by up to 80% in some cases. That makes removal a lot easier in the long term. For both indoor and outdoor surfaces, non-stick, non-mark paints and coatings such as fluoro-carbonates often work well. For outdoor furniture, signs, and walls, fibreglass and porcelain coatings work best. Some people even glaze vulnerable surfaces and objects with plastic laminates.

These solutions are, nevertheless, imperfect. While they make the removal process easier, these chemical coatings can also damage the surfaces they’re applied to. A graffiti-proof paint can prevent wood from breathing, for example, which might cause the object to rot. There can also be an aesthetic sacrifice, affecting the building’s intended design. It’s sometimes difficult to find a graffiti-proof paint that matches the colour of a structure’s original paint.

Improving the environment

For those organisations that still require the complete removal of graffiti, there is rising demand for more ecological approaches to graffiti removal. Traditional cleaning agents, like hydrochloric acid or butyrolactone, can often harm the environment when applied improperly. They can also harm the lungs, eyes, and skin of the operative who is using them, which affects overall working conditions. Despite these facts, many cleaning companies continue to use them because they remain effective.

New ‘environmentally friendly’ products are changing that now. These products used to be ineffective, but a surge of market demand has fuelled innovation. Almost all the organisations that REACT works with now demand this as part of our service. There now exist several products that can produce the same results as traditional cleaning substances. For the moment, these products are typically more expensive than traditional options. But it’s important that cleaning specialists invest in them to meet client demands. Here at REACT, we’ll remain at the forefront of graffiti cleaning services for 2023.

>> For the full article by Dave Rudge in Cleaning Matters, you can click here

To find out more about REACT Specialist Cleaning and our graffiti removal services, contact one of the team today.

Post by Shaun D. Doak

Shaun is the CEO of REACT Group plc., a business dedicated to specialist cleaning, hygiene and decontamination. He is deeply committed to making sure that every one of our company’s clients receives the highest possible level of service. An expert in HVAC and commercial and industrial cleaning methodologies, Shaun has extensive experience in the facilities management and renewable services sector.


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