How to Remove Graffiti from Masonry

Renowned architect Frank Gehry, futurist designer of such landmark buildings as the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Guggenheim Museum, and the Louis Vuitton Foundation building, once said that “in the end, the character of a civilization is encased in its structures.” While Gehry has always been enamored with the idea of pushing the boundaries of modern architecture, choosing to focus on the naturalistic qualities of industrial form, he nonetheless encaptured the belief that we at Abstract Masonry hold towards classic structures.  Each day, we work with a variety of stunning old structures to preserve and restore their outer façade. Unfortunately, in many cases, these structures are in areas that have since become characterized by sporadic acts of vandalism, including damage to the historic masonry, either from deliberate scoring or graffiti. While city councils will try to combat this disturbing trend in order to preserve their community by shaping its trajectory through regulations, we strive to preserve the character not only of our own civilization but of those who came before us﹘not through civic action, but through building restoration in Salt Lake City and elsewhere.  Knowing that most, if not all, classic buildings will suffer at least some degree of vandalism through graffiti, we have worked hard to create a system by which we can remove any unsightly and unnatural paint. Below is an explanation of the various key methods we employ within our building restoration regimen. Organic Solvent Methods In terms of organic solvents, there is a variety of different cleaning agents that can be used to get graffiti off of brick, stone, and other historic masonry materials. Some examples include the following:
  • Alcohol (and Methanol)
  • Ethers
  • Acetone
  • Halogenated Hydrocarbons
  • Benzene
  • Toluene
Picking the right organic solvent is critical because the wrong agent could lead to more than simply removing the graffiti; certain chemicals when introduced to masonry could cause widespread discoloration of the stone, serving only to add more challenging problems than simply removing unwanted spray paint. Additionally, some organic solvents come with notable health risks and require special safety equipment to use and apply safely. Because of this, only a professional team of building restoration experts, like those in our Salt Lake City office, should attempt to use organic solvents as a method of graffiti removal. A Liquid Poultice An alternative to organic solvents, a liquid poultice is a specialized cleaning agent that is designed to treat acid-sensitive surfaces. This makes it an ideal material for cleaning historic masonries, such as brick, stone, and stucco. It is particularly good at seeping into more porous materials and clearing out unwanted paint particles. This method does not come without its own set of trials, however. Using a liquid poultice incorrectly, much like any other chemical treatment, can still result in negative side effects for both the health and appearance of masonry, especially if the person applying uses too much or doesn’t have a gentle touch. Preventative Coatings While graffiti may be considered a fact of life, not all methods need to be purely reactionary. One can mitigate the effects of paint-based vandalism by sealing the masonry by applying protective polymer coatings. This sealing agent does more than just make it harder for the spray paint to stick to the walls. It also makes it much easier to clean off graffiti in the future, to the point where you could train general cleaning staff to do so, rather than relying on a professional building restoration specialist.  Other benefits of these preventative coatings include:
  • Protection from mold and mildew growth
  • Protection from UV rays that would fade the stone
  • Protection from cracking under the elements
  • Protection from efflorescence, or the white powder that is often seen on brick or stucco.
Armed with the right team and the right methods, the character of our civilization as well as those who built the buildings we love today, can be preserved from those who would paint over it through vandalism.