From “baby on board”, or “XXXX is my passenger” to racing strips, the chequered flag or flames on the side: all car stickers have one thing in common: their removal is often a lot of work and can even compromise the paintwork. Many methods offer assistance. There is a wide choice of household products and adhesive removers. We’ll tell you what really works and what is the best way how to get rid of stickers.
What is the typical sticker made of?
|Every sticker has its antidote. Once you know which adhesive was used, removal is easy. Unfortunately, the exact composition is rarely known. Nevertheless, informing yourself on this subject in order to develop the right strategy is always useful.|
|Most car stickers use plastic or coated paper for support material. This is important as they often come into contact with water (rain), dirt and dust. Plain printing paper would be useless after a couple of days. The sticker is applied to the support material with so-called 1 component glue, which needs no additional components.|
Different types are used:
|– Solvent-based glue was mainly used before the turn of the century, but can still be found today. The polymers responsible for the adhesion are contained in a solvent, which evaporates after application and allows the sticker to harden. The used solvent can be slightly toxic or inflammable, although the concentration used on the sticker is not dangerous. If a sticker is treated with a solvent, the polymer chains dissolve and the sticker can be removed without any residue. As all adhesives it is sensitive to cold and heat.|
|– Dispersion glue is nowadays widely used. This is on basis of polymer as well, but instead of solvent uses evenly spread water particles for binding. Dispersion glues need more time to harden; their adhesive quality is equal to solvent-based adhesives. Furthermore they pose no threat either to health or environment. They are susceptible to heat as well as cold.|
|– Contact adhesive is particularly used on places where the sticker is applied for a longer time span, e.g. for car advertisement or the decoration of a commercial car, and therefore needs to be sufficiently robust. Both versions, like dispersion as well as solvent-based adhesive can be made as contact adhesive. The difference lies in the polymers taking a crystalline shape, enabling a higher adhesive force. Contact glue is quite insensitive to heat or cold, can however be removed with the help of solvents as well as a lot of patience.|
How to get rid of stickers
Usually, car stickers are applied on the paintwork but this is no rule. Windows and even the bumpers and other plastic parts can be decorated with stickers. Therefore we should not only look at the different methods, but also their effect on the different materials.
Picking at the sticker with or without tool: no matter which surface, if you attempt to detach the sticker only with help of your (hopefully sharp) finger nails, you will probably fail. The reason is the support material. After many adhesive years, the different layers are only loosely connected. If you tear away the sticker, only the top layer comes loose, the rest remains on the car. If you use tools such as a screwdriver or a spatula, you risk scratching the paintwork. This method can be tried with necessary care on glass.
The household product: from eraser to edible oil, people get the most different ideas when it comes to removing stickers from the car. Although the methods such as soaking with hairspray, lemon acid or naphtha are often successful, being careful is recommended, as the aggressive chemicals can cause the paintwork and plastic to become dull. Applying edible or baby oil or in difficult cases penetrating fluid directly on the sticker and allowing it to soak in will cause the sticker to loosen. This only works with penetrable paper support material, because most plastics are oil-resistant.
Heat and cold – blow dryer and cold spray: Almost all stickers are sensitive to heat and / or cold. Stickers for cars are no exception to this. Most polymer-based adhesives are not heat-resistant and therefore applying the blow dryer is a good idea. With a bit of patience this is likely to work on all surfaces and a friendly method as well, as neither paintwork nor glass, nor plastic are affected. Cold spray can have a similar effect, but is more expensive as well as environmentally unfriendly. With normal car stickers you gain the best result with the blow dryer within an acceptable time limit as well.
Laboratory chemicals – professional removers: Most so-called sticker removers which can be bought everywhere function according to the solvent principle. The polymer chains are dissolved and the polymers are then bound by the solvent. This reverses the process which resulted in the original adhesion. It generally functions well and quickly, though is not cheap. You pay between £4 and £13 for a small bottle and it cannot be stored for a long time. Furthermore, not all products can be used on cars as they might damage the paintwork. Carefully read the product description and the user manual prior to purchase.
Tips and tricks for applying car stickers
Now when you know how to remove the car stickers, we want to pay some attention on what comes before, namely applying them. Just like removing them, this is a special skill and may pose some problems, especially if the stickers are large. The following method is recommended for stickers with a size of 0.5 m² or larger:
|Step 1: Clean the surface thoroughly and dry it with a microfiber cloth. No residue of oil or cleaner is to remain.|
|Step 2: Most large car stickers have a transfer foil. You only need to pull a small corner loose. Then put the car sticker in its right place.|
|Step 3: Now take a squeegee of if necessary a credit card and gradually remove the transfer foil while rubbing behind it with the squeegee. Little adjustments for positioning are still possible.|
|Step 4: If the entire sticker is now attached to the surface, check it for bubbles or folds. No panic! This is normal but should not be ignored. Folds can be rubbed outwards with both hands. For bubbles you need a utility knife or a needle. Make a small hole in the bubble (it won’t show later), and press the air out of it. Make sure that no new bubbles form.|
|Step 5: You can now remove the protective foil from the sticker. It should come off easily. Nevertheless start at the corners and work your way to the centre.|
|Step 6: Ultimately roll over the sticker a couple of times with a rolling pin or something similar. This contact re-activates the glue, enabling it to harden. Depending on the glue version this can last several hours. The car shouldn’t be driven during this period.|
Possible alternatives for the traditional car sticker
There are other ways, in addition to the traditional car sticker, with which the car not only can be decorated, but completely re-designed. Especially prominent is the so-called car wrapping. With this method you give the car an entire different look. Manufacturers prefer using these methods for hiding the exterior look of prototypes. The following methods exist:
Self-adhesive PVC: Although the synthetic foil used for wrapping is somewhat similar to the traditional car sticker, it is in all respects superior with regard to elasticity as well as temperature and UV resistance. The used adhesive is especially suitable to remain on the paintwork for a long period of time without damaging it. Wrapping can be partially applied, i.e. limited to a certain area on the car, as well as completely. This becomes increasingly popular and not only in professional use. Private persons as well prefer it for protecting the paintwork of their car in the long term. The foil can be eventually removed without leaving any traces. This should be done in a garage.
Static cling stickers: These stickers are relatively new. They do not use a layer of glue, but adhere by way of a static charge and can be applied to all kinds of surfaces, such as car paintwork. Presently these car stickers are not in production for use during driving. The wind can sometimes penetrate the depletion layer and dissolve the adhesive force. When this problem is solved, its use becomes possible.
Foto: Evannovostro, Ragne Kabanova, Kaikoro, FLM_Diffusion, F & J Attards, Ikonoklast Fotografie, Bhakpong / shutterstock.com