How to Remove Spray Paint from Your Car

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Options to remove spray paint from your car include soap and water, non-acetone nail polish remover, WD-40, and more.
Petty vandalism to your car or other property can be extremely frustrating—especially if it’s spray paint. But it’s possible to remedy the situation yourself if you work quickly with the right tools.
If you’re leery about removing the paint yourself, or if the vandalism goes beyond just spray paint and causes more serious physical damage to your vehicle, your car insurance might cover the repair costs.
Jerry can help you find the right comprehensive car insurance policy to protect your car in the event of vandalism.
Here are six ways to remove spray paint from your car.
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How to remove spray paint from a car

Spray paint usually takes about 24 hours to dry completely, which means it’s easier to remove if you work quickly.
No matter which method of removal you choose, do a spot test on a small section of your car’s body—preferably one that’s somewhat hidden. Some materials may damage the paint on your car, so use at your own risk.

Soap and water

Everyone has soap and water on hand, which is helpful when time is of the essence. Soap is also non-abrasive, which means it’s the least likely to cause damage to your car paint.
This method is most effective when the spray paint is still wet, or at least tacky. It will not work if the paint is dry.

Equipment

  • Bucket or receptacle for water
  • Clean rags (microfiber cloth is preferable)
  • Concentrated detergent soap
  • Warm water
Before you start, make sure the cloths and water you’re using are as clean as possible. Rinse your bucket or receptacle before filling it, and use microfiber cloths if possible. This will reduce the number of abrasive particles in the cloths or water that can scratch your car’s paint.

Method

1. Prep the mixture Rinse and fill a bucket with clean, warm water and enough soap to make the mixture sudsy. Soak your cloths in the mixture.
2. Scrub the paint Use a soaked cloth to scrub at the paint with firm pressure and small, circular motions. It’s best to work from the edge of the spray paint towards the center. Rinse the cloths often to avoid smearing the paint elsewhere.
3. Wash the car After you finish, there will likely be some paint smears left over. Mix a fresh batch of soap and water and, with a clean batch of rags, wash and rinse your car thoroughly. This should remove any remaining traces of paint.
Key Takeaway Soap and water is the safest method—but it’s only effective if the spray paint is still tacky. If the damage happened within the last 24 hours, this should be your first option.

Non-acetone nail polish remover

Acetone-based nail polish remover is harsher than ethyl acetate nail polish remover and can damage the paint, so you want to only use ethyl acetate nail polish remover on your vehicle. But remember: even though it’s gentler, it can’t distinguish between spray paint and your vehicle paint—so be careful.

Equipment

  • Non-acetone nail polish remover
  • Clean rags
  • Bucket
  • Soap
  • Water

Method

1. Prepare Mix the soap and water in the bucket and set aside. Apply nail polish remover to a clean cloth. Don’t apply it directly to the paint! Use as little as possible to start, adding more if needed. Don’t soak the cloth in the remover.
2. Apply the remover-soaked cloth to the spray paint Work in small, tight circles and frequently check to ensure that you’re not picking up your car paint. The remover helps revert the spray paint to its “wet” state, so use soap and water to take up excess—especially if you notice the spray paint being smeared around.
Swap rags when necessary, as dirty rags can smear the paint back onto the car. Work from the edge of the spray paint lines to the centers.
3. Wash the car Give your car a good wash and rinse after you’re done removing the paint. This will remove any lingering traces of spray paint, as well as any leftover nail polish remover that can damage your car paint if left unchecked.
Key Takeaway Solvent-based solutions like nail polish remover should be as mild as possible to avoid damaging your car’s paint. Wash your car after using solvents to get rid of any traces.

Gasoline or WD-40

If you’re going to try removing spray paint from your car with gasoline or WD-40, be careful, Both are flammable and should therefore be handled with appropriate precautions.

Equipment

  • Gasoline or WD-40
  • Clean rags
  • Bucket or receptacle
  • Soap
  • Water

Method

1. Prepare the materials Mix up the soap and water in the bucket and set aside. Apply your solvent to a cloth, not directly to the paint. Both gasoline and WD-40 are powerful compounds that can break down the molecules in spray paint—but they can damage the vehicle paint underneath if not used quickly and carefully.
2. Carefully remove the spray paint As with the nail polish remover, work in small, controlled areas. Swap out rags when they begin to smear the paint instead of picking it up. Start at the edges and work your way to the center.
3. Wash and rinse your car Use soap and water to wash your car thoroughly and rinse completely. Again, both solvents are flammable, and washing your car will remove any lingering traces that can cause problems or damage your paint if left unchecked.
Key Takeaway Gas and WD-40 are the most readily available solvents you can use to remove spray paint—but both are highly flammable, so handle with care.

Automotive rubbing compound

Automotive rubbing compound contains no detergents or solvents, but uses abrasive particles to remove stubborn sediment. As such, it’s quite effective at removing spray paint.
Note that rubbing compound does not distinguish between your car’s paint and spray paint, so it requires a gentle hand. Check frequently to ensure you’re not causing any damage.

Equipment

  • Rubbing compound
  • Clean cloth
  • Water
  • Wax

Method

1. Apply compound to cloth Don’t apply the compound directly to the paint. Use as little as possible and reapply only when necessary.
2. Remove the spray paint Work the cloth on the paint in small, controlled circles. Check frequently to make sure you’re not scratching your car’s paint. If you are, stop immediately and switch to another method.
Work slowly and don’t try to cover a large area. It can be tempting to try to tackle as much as you can as quickly as you can, but this can court disaster for your car paint. Be patient and cover small areas one at a time.
3. Wash and wax the car After you’ve removed the spray paint, thoroughly rinse off any remaining rubbing compound and wax the affected area. This can help protect your car paint from further damage and restore its shine.
Key Takeaway Rubbing compound is abrasive and can damage your car paint, so be careful and use a light hand.
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Graffiti remover

Graffiti remover, true to its name, is designed specifically to remove spray paint and can be quite effective at removing it from cars. Do a swatch test on a small section of your car before attempting the entire project. It is one of the pricier options out there, but it’s very effective.

Equipment

  • Graffiti remover
  • Bucket of clean water
  • Clean cloths or rags

Method

1. Apply as directed Spray or sponge the graffiti remover either directly onto the spray paint or a cloth, depending on the manufacturer’s instructions. Let sit for one to two minutes to allow the product to penetrate the spray paint. Do not exceed the recommended time frame or the remover may damage your car’s paint.
2. Wipe away After the product has penetrated the spray paint, simply wipe it away with a clean, wet cloth. A second application may be necessary to pick up anything that’s left.
Key Takeaway Graffiti remover does what its name suggests, but it can be a pricier option. Follow the recommended usage instructions to avoid further damage to your vehicle.

Clay bar removal kit

This is sometimes known as Meguiar’s clay and is often considered the best method for removing spray paint without damaging the car paint beneath. It’s also one of the most expensive options.
You can purchase a clay bar removal kit or get the items separately.

Equipment

  • Clay bar removal kit (Meguiar’s clay bar + microfiber cloth + lubricant spray)
  • Wax

Method

1. Mold and prep the clay Cut off from the bar only as much clay as you need. Mold it to an ergonomic shape, leaving a smooth, flat surface for working with. Spray lubricant onto the working side of the clay. You can be fairly generous with the lubricant, as it won’t damage your car paint.
2. Remove the paint Rub the clay bar over the affected areas with firm pressure. If the clay begins to skid over the paint, apply more lubricant as needed. Repeat until all of the spray paint is removed.
3. Clean the car Using the microfiber cloth, wipe away any excess lubricant from your car. Wash it if you prefer, but this step isn’t necessary like it is with other methods. Apply wax to help restore your car’s shine and further protect the paint.
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Finding affordable car insurance

If removing the paint yourself isn’t an option, remember that vandalism falls under the comprehensive coverage umbrella. Any vandalism done to your car is covered by comprehensive insurance, so you can hire a professional to remove spray paint and restore your car’s finish.
The trick is finding comprehensive coverage with a premium that you can afford. Jerry is always on hand (or in pocket!) to compare rates from dozens of different insurance providers and find you the right comprehensive coverage at the right price.
“Cheapest price for best coverage. It gives you lots of options to choose from. I got the best comprehensive policy at the cheapest price. Well done, Jerry!” — Satisfied Jerry user

FAQ

What kind of car insurance covers vandalism?

Comprehensive insurance will cover vandalism—be it spray paint, a cracked windshield, slashed tires, or otherwise. Repairs covered by comprehensive insurance tend to be less costly than those covered by collision, so opt for a lower deductible.
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