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Graffiti and gum removal requires specialist cleaning

04 December 2020

WHILE STREET art such as artworks commissioned on buildings, or beautiful murals that celebrate the history of communities or the people living in them are almost always welcome, other types of graffiti may not be welcome and can even damage commercial buildings as well as the reputation of an area.

Indeed, low-grade forms of graffiti are commonly carried out with the intent to cause harm. As such, graffiti is defined as criminal damage under section 1 of the Criminal Damage Act 1971.

When left, graffiti helps to create an unwelcome environment and can encourage other antisocial activity such as fly-tipping or vandalism. This is one of the reasons why transport secretary, Grant Shapps, commissioned large-scale clean ups of busy roads during the lockdown period. He said he wanted drivers to feel “proud” of the infrastructure they were using. He also said graffiti and vandalism put people off from returning to use the rail network after the end of the first lockdown, and topped up National Rail’s £3.5 million graffiti cleaning budget, by a further £1million.

With reports of lockdown in New York leading to a revival in unwanted street art, and research showing that Bristol is the UK’s graffiti capital, this article will look at how to remove unwanted graffiti. We’ll also explore techniques for removing chewing gum from surfaces as chewing gum stains and deposits left on pavements can be similarly damaging to an area seeking to maintain high standards of cleanliness and enhance its reputation. 

Why erasing graffiti quickly is so important 
The presence of graffiti has been associated with a wide range of negative side effects, including decreased footfall and sales for commercial businesses, and even with a decline in the property values in the local area as well. Its presence can also convey the message that crime is tolerated, which has a two-fold negative effect. Firstly, members of the community may get the impression that there are more serious crimes taking place which can increase fear and lower community morale, and secondly, it can encourage even more graffiti. Quick and effective removal often acts as a deterrent, because the offender may feel as though their efforts have been wasted if their work is erased quickly. 

It is also worth noting that under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003, the person responsible for the surface is liable for the cost of getting graffiti removed. This means that it falls to the owners or managers of a building to deal with the problem. If graffiti is left untouched for too long, local authorities can issue a Graffiti Removal Notice, which requires the property owner or manager to remove the graffiti in a certain timeframe or face the risk of prosecution.
Of course, it is relatively easy to simply paint over the offending material, but this is not always a practical solution. In fact, it can sometimes create what is seen as a blank canvas, inviting even more graffiti in the future. Luckily, the permanent and effective removal of graffiti isn’t as onerous or time-consuming as one might expect, but it does require professionals with access to specialist cleaning techniques.

The EcoBlasting removal method
EcoBlasting is one of the most successful ways to remove graffiti. The process enables graffiti to be removed quickly and professionally, without harming delicate surfaces, or leaving any marks or shadowing on the building. It works by using compressed air to blast an environmentally benign abrasive, such as bicarbonate of soda or recycled glass, on the surface to remove substrate layers. 

While traditional methods of graffiti removal can involve the use of aggressive corrosive chemicals and excessive amounts of water, EcoBlasting, on the other hand, is environmentally friendly and non-toxic.  This means it is safe to carry out in more rural locations without contamination risk to wildlife or watercourses that might be on or near the site.

The abrasive material used to help remove graffiti can be altered depending on the surface, location and the extent of paint being removed. Bicarbonate of soda is an effective material to remove paint from glass and rubber, without any permanent damage being caused to the surface. If the graffiti is on concrete or a less delicate surface, recycled glass is a quick and effective solution. The correct abrasive should be tailored to the specific requirements of the removal to optimise the cleaning process. For example, if the graffiti is near an electricity source, the process can be altered so it’s completely dry in order to comply with health and safety regulations. 

There are a lot of considerations with graffiti removal processes, so be sure to get in touch with specialist cleaners who can offer a full survey and assessment of the premises before any work takes place. EcoBlasting can be used on glass, wood, metal, brick and most stone surfaces, including soft stone, such as limestone, which would be eroded by an acid cleaner.  A survey will ensure that the correct abrasive is used when the cleaning work takes place, and will also take into account the hardness of the surface as well as any other environmental considerations in the location.

Following EcoBlasting, it would be wise to have an anti-graffiti coating applied to the surface. This coating prevents paint from being absorbed, so in areas prone to frequent targeting, any future graffiti can be quickly and easily removed with detergent and water. Treating the surface in this way should hopefully prevent any repeat offenses from happening, once offenders realise their future work can be removed without hassle.

When chewing gum becomes a problem
Chewing gum, like graffiti, leaves an unwanted mark when it is discarded on footpaths or other surfaces, leaving a spotty patchwork of discoloration. If there is a lot on the pavement or street it can leave visitors and employees with the impression that place is dirty and unhygienic. The current pandemic has enforced stringent hygiene measures and so finding gum that has been thrown on the floor is likely to become just as much a hygiene concern as it is an image one. 

On London’s Oxford Street alone there is estimated to be up to 300,000 pieces of discarded chewing gum on the pavement at any one time, and more recently Bath has tried to put a stop to people throwing away their gum by installing ‘Gumdrop bins’ around the town. Chewing gum takes up to five years to biodegrade and may take many months for local authorities to remove – making this problem an economic drain for councils and businesses, in addition to being an environmental concern. 
The use of innovative chewing gum removal equipment and procedures can provide a fast, efficient, and environmentally-friendly way to removing unsightly chewing gum from a range of surfaces including tarmac, brick, concrete and tiled floors.  

There are two common methods that could be considered to remove chewing gum waste, depending on the surface to be treated. The first is to use steam with a ‘gum gun’, which melts the gum quickly off the surface. Alternatively, EcoBlasting can also be used to remove chewing gum from some surfaces. Both methods can leave a discoloured speckled finish where the pieces of gum have protected the area they cover from the elements. In these circumstances tarmac renewal paint, such as our Regener8 surface restoration paint, can be used to rejuvenate the appearance of the surface. After chewing gum has been removed, a surface restoration paint may also be used to remove any stains or discoloured surfaces left behind. 

Final words
If your building is vandalised by graffiti or if you need to remove chewing gum from the pavements in your area, then  it’s best to get in touch with specialist cleaning professionals. They are trained to understand the latest legislative requirements in their area of expertise, and will be able to recommend the correct process to follow on a case-by-case basis. 

Jamie Woodhall is technical field manager at Rentokil Specialist Hygiene.

For more information visit www.rentokil-hygiene.co.uk