I do have some helpful tips to share about how to remove old vinyl lettering off an RV, but first I have to mention why we might take the graphics off our mobile headquarters that have been advertising Team Agreda everywhere we’ve been over the past seven plus years…
The cat is out of the bag.
The first time those words appeared in this blog, we had just sold our sticks and bricks business and not yet even picked up the brand new 2007 Arctic Fox 245N fifth wheel trailer we purchased with plans to travel the country for a year with Jerry. That rig served us well, very well. But as Rene eluded to in her recent rant about the evolution of our lifestyle, the time had indeed come for another major life upgrade.
So upgrade we did. But more about that to come, much more.
We don’t mean to be so secretive, it’s just that we’ve been pretty busy during this transition—preparing the old rig for trade-in and buying the new one, not to mention certain roadblocks, unexpected upgrades and bit of remodeling I’ll be writing about soon! Suffice it to say, we are pretty damn happy with our new (to us) 2010 Arctic Fox 275B.
But there I go digressing again. Back to that sticky issue of those graphics…
Removing Seven Year Old Vinyl Ghosts
After doing our homework, and finding our perfect next home office on wheels, we wanted to get the best trade-in value for our old rig. The dealer gave us a quote over the phone, with the usual “subject to inspection” disclaimer. Our first thought was that we shouldn’t show up with our websites and taglines plastered all over it with vinyl letters.
But after seven years on the road, we had to remove more than just the vinyl graphics—which are much easier to put on!
Without getting to technical, exposure to the elements causes oxidation of any vehicle coating. This can create a ghosting effect behind any applied graphics. Removal of the graphics reveals the original vehicle color, creating a ghost image of any vinyl that gets removed.
So, here are those tips I promised for removing vinyl lettering, graphic adhesive and ghost images caused by oxidation…
1. Use Heat to Help Release Vinyl
Many people recommend using a rotary vinyl eraser to quickly remove vinyl letters and graphics. After spending much of my previous life in the graphics industry, however, I believe the best tool to remove smaller vinyl letters without damaging the surface below, is your fingernail. Most lettering will peel up with ease once you get under an edge.
Using a hair dryer set on Hot will make the job much easier. Warm each letter for 10-20 seconds first. Pick at an edge enough to pinch the vinyl and start peeling. Keep the heat applied while slowly pulling up and follow the contour of the letter to avoid tearing the vinyl. Maintain a distance of at least a few inches to avoid melting the vinyl or damaging fiberglass beneath, if applicable
2. Use Professional Vinyl Adhesive Remover
Getting the vinyl off is only the first step. The adhesive will still remain. As tempted as you may be to use some industrial strength solvent, do not use harsh chemicals or abrasives. Chemical based solvents are potentially dangerous to use on painted surfaces, can damage fiberglass, and have numerous health hazards.
The best vinyl adhesive remover we found is Rapid Remover by RapidTac. Rapid Remover is a water-soluble non-toxic adhesive remover that works fast! Spray it on the exposed adhesive, wait a few minutes and wipe away the residue with a sponge or plastic squeegee.
Rapid Remover works fast without causing damage to most surfaces. After removing lettering, spray any glue residue with Rapid Remover and let it penetrate for 30-60 seconds. Rub the moistened adhesive with a sponge or rag, then rinse with water and wipe surface clean.
3. Get Rid of Ghost Letters
As I mentioned, vinyl lettering or graphics left on an RV for any extended period of time will leave behind a “ghost sign” image when removed.
You cannot remove these ghosts, since they are actually caused by the oxidation discoloring the area around them. You must remove the oxidation on the vehicle’s surface to match the color beneath the vinyl that has been protecting its surface area from oxidation.
Ghost Off Oxidation Remover does the trick! This product will restore weather-exposed surfaces, eliminating ghost sign images from vehicle surfaces covered by graphics. Just spray Ghost Off onto the oxidized surface, wait about a minute and agitate the area with a soft brush. Rinse from top to bottom and watch the the oxidation flow away.
Depending on how long the lettering has been applied that you are removing, you may need to repeat the application of Ghost Off—we had to do it a few times. That’s why I recommend getting at least a gallon! You may be able to save on other RV Oxidation Removers at Amazon.
Best Tips For Removing RV Vinyl Lettering
I have two final tips for anyone preparing to remove vinyl graphics or lettering from an RV, truck, trailer or boat.
1. Use Elbow Grease.
To avoid damaging the surface, take your time and use some muscle. But don’t be tempted to use abrasive pads or harsh cleanser. You can do it, put you back into it!
2. Don’t Put Vinyl Letters On Your Rig!
Most importantly, to avoid all the costs, effort and time of removing lettering and detailing your RV, the solution is simple.
Do not apply any vinyl graphics in the first place! If we add any lettering to our new rig, believe me, it will be discreet and only be applied to the windows where it can be easily scraped off!
The URL on our satellite dish is advertising enough.
13 thoughts on “How to Remove Old Vinyl RV Graphics and Ghost Letters”
Hi, I am in the process of removing decals from my RV. I have been using Goo Gone and WD-40 with a blow dryer. After tiring and elbow grease I decided to. Google for advise. Thank you so much for this article. I have ordered the Rapid Remover and the Ghost Off. Some of the decals are old and cracked with oxidation of course. The adhesive under the decals is what I am having an issue with the most. I will let you know how I am doing with these items. Thank you so much for your advice. Wish me luck. I am not a quitter.
Thanks for the comment and good luck with your project! Patience and perseverance pay off…
I live in a super heated environment (surface temp 180+) and media vinyl is baked on , even in the shade. RV,s can be a challenge to say the least ! Wrap or channel,d materials after time can still suck your time . With a thousand different glue,s it,s a gamble on the best product. TESTING is my go to , after my steamer ,I test . And 1st is 409 it melts most , then RAPID. THATS ALL I KNOW ,HOPE IT GIVES HOPE!
Thanks for the feedback. We too have used various cleansers in the removal process, and discovered that de-greasers do work best. Citrus Magic is another one. Glad to hear others agree that Rapid Remover helps remove adhesive residue!
I have an older RV with large, vinyl striping, and graffics. The larger grafic decal, approx 10” wide at its widest point simply refuses to come off.
I have tried heat gun with plastic razor blades, no go. I have tried the amazon eraser wheels that has worked to an extent, but it is burning the paint.
I have even tried the decal pneumatic removal tool to only burn the paint as welll.
Some of the fiberglass under the decals appears to be what I would describe as shattering looking.
Any suggestions or tips on what else I can try.
I’m into it now and have to remove it.
Yeah some of those big old graphics can be a bitch. The 3M eraser wheels work great, but they require finesse and patience. Too much pressure will just burn paint like you discovered, and eat up the wheels. Lighten up a bit and go at it very slowly. The last option would be test a very small amount of remover or acetone to see what kind of damage that does. Just the right amount may help remove the vinyl and only take off the finish without melting the fiberglass, which could then be restored with a good wax coat.
I’m a professional rvdecal fabricator, and installer. Rapid remover is top notch glue remover. It’s # 1.
It’s not safe to breath it in though. I wear a mask and gloves.
What do you use to remove ghost images?
That is what this whole post is about! 🙂 Did you see the title, and various links to Ghost Off?
People like graphics on their RV so if not vinyl decals, what do you advise?
I advise applying whatever graphics you feel are worth the effort to remove when the time comes, now that we’ve provided tips for removal here! 🙂