Graffiti Management

Tips For Public Interest Group Projects

Graffiti is a form of vandalism that can cause permanent damage to both man-made and natural structures. Graffiti-ridden neighborhoods appear lawless and uncared for, which can make guests and residents feel unsafe. Graffiti is also associated with reduced property values. The presence of graffiti encourages the production of more graffiti by rival gangs and can lead to an escalation in crime.

Graffiti should be removed as quickly as possible, preferably within 24 hours of discovery. The immediate removal of graffiti is a disincentive to artists since their work is not on public display for any significant period of time, and it also eliminates the effectiveness of tagging.


Volunteers should be required to attend a safety briefing where the risks of the activity are explained to them and where they can ask questions. Insurance or liability waivers should be obtained. All volunteers should be fully versed in the proper operating procedures for any cleaning equipment or materials deployed. The project leader should check to make sure that all volunteers have appropriate safety equipment.

If you see someone actively producing graffiti, Beautify Virginia recommends that you do not confront them. Instead, call the police.

Before removing graffiti, you should always inform local authorities and obtain written consent from the property owner.

Local Authorities

Beautify Virginia recommends that you contact the local public works department. Many counties and municipalities contract with professional graffiti removal companies. Others rely on volunteers to staff community-run graffiti removal programs. Unfortunately, some localities have not taken steps to combat graffiti. While the production of graffiti is illegal almost everywhere, the property owner is not always legally required to remove it.

Property Owners

Beautify Virginia recommends that you obtain written permission from the property owner to remove graffiti. A waiver form can help establish expectations and ensure that you are not held liable for any damage to the structure. Not all property owners are private. For damage to community property in a subdivision, contact the homeowners’ association (HOA). For damage to sidewalks, road signs, and other public infrastructure, contact the government.


The most commonly used method to remove graffiti is to paint over it. Scrape off any dried, peeling paint already present before painting over the graffiti. Choose a paint color that matches the rest of the wall or structure. To avoid rapid weathering, the paint should be formulated for exterior use. Multiple coats may be necessary to ensure that the graffiti is not visible.

Power Washing

Power washing requires a truck to transport the power washer as well as the availability of a water supply on-site. Power washing is best suited for hard surfaces like stone, metal, brick, or vinyl siding. Wood can be damaged easily by the force of the water stream. Even brick may be vulnerable if the masonry is crumbling.



Beautify Virginia generally recommends against the use of chemical agents to remove graffiti. Corrosive chemicals are expensive, are often of limited effectiveness, can damage the base material underlying the graffiti, and can pose an environmental danger if washed away. If you do need to use chemicals, select environmentally friendly phosphate-free options. Spot test them on surfaces to be treated to ensure they perform as expected.

Other Circumstances

Graffiti GrinderIf graffiti is sprayed on glass, wear gloves to reduce the likelihood of injury and use a razor blade to carefully remove the paint. If graffiti is carved into wood, the wood can be repaired with a wood filling product and then sanded. If graffiti is carved into stone, a grinder can obscure the damage as depicted in the image to the left. For graffiti applied to landmarks or structures of historic value, Beautify Virginia recommends contacting a professional restoration company.

Because there is an increased risk of graffiti reoccurring in an area where it has previously appeared, Beautify Virginia recommends the institution of a maintenance program once graffiti has been removed. Cleaned areas should be inspected with increased frequency to ensure that graffiti does not reappear. Property owners are often willing to conduct many of these inspections themselves to save time and money for volunteers.

If repeat offenses become a problem, you may wish to consider applying an appropriate sealant to the structure to reduce damage from additional graffiti. Sealants are available for a variety of surface types. A police report with photographs should be filed after each incident of graffiti to aid law enforcement in establishing patterns helpful for apprehending and charging suspects. The police will typically agree to conduct more frequent patrols in affected areas. If the damage merits the cost, the installation of deterrents such as gates, lighting, or video surveillance systems may also be an option.

While most forms of graffiti have no recognized aesthetic benefit, a few of the more complex pieces may have artistic value. Works by the famous graffiti artist Banksy, such as the child’s mural below, can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars each. Other works may have value for the neighborhood or local community.

Graffiti Banksy

Graffiti management policies vary greatly from one place to another. The need to protect against lawlessness and community degradation should always be weighed against the potential merit of graffiti as a legitimate art form. The local citizenry’s wishes in striking this balance should be respected.

Removing graffiti is a noble and worthwhile endeavour. We hope this basic orientation will contribute to your project’s success. Always remember to use your judgment in determining whether this advice is appropriate for your circumstances. If you desire additional advice, feel free to contact us.