How to Remove Vinyl Graphics from the Paint of an RV

Vinyl lettering, accents, and pinstripes are often used on RVs for decorative or other purposes, but these vinyl graphics can lose their usefulness or become outdated. Removing adhesive vinyl from an RV isn't a difficult job, but it requires patience and careful technique to avoid scratching the underlying paint. Below is how you can remove vinyl from your RV's exterior:

1. Wash the RV before you begin - It is a good idea to begin your vinyl-removal process by washing the RV in order to get rid of loose dirt or other particles that could inadvertently scratch the paint. If you rub against fine grains of sand or road dust, they could leave tiny but noticeable scratches. You don't need to wash the entire RV, but be sure to wash in the vicinity of whatever vinyl graphics you wish to remove.

2. Heat the vinyl to loosen the adhesive - Once the RV has been washed and dried, you can begin the process of loosening the adhesive that binds the vinyl to the paint. For this, you may use either a hair dryer or a heat gun.

With the dryer or heat gun, hold the nozzle above the vinyl and keep the gun or dryer moving in a circular or back-and-forth motion to heat the vinyl. If you use a heat gun, be sure not to hold the nozzle too closely to avoid the possibility of the paint bubbling. As you move the heat output over the vinyl, take the edge of a razor blade and very carefully attempt to lift a corner of the graphic. If the corner comes up fairly easily, then you know you have sufficiently loosened the glue. If not, keep heating until you are able to lift the vinyl at one corner.

3. Pull the vinyl free from the paint - Next, grasp the loosened vinyl by the corner and slowly pull it away from the paint at no less than a 90-degree angle from the surface of the RV. If any tearing occurs, begin pulling from another corner; this will help prevent your leaving multiple fragments of vinyl and hasten the process of removal. Apply additional heat from the dryer or heat gun if you believe the adhesive has hardened again.

4. Remove residual adhesive with mineral spirits - After removing the vinyl graphics, there will still be a thin layer of adhesive on the paint; this will need to be removed, or the adhesive will be visible, especially when a layer of dust adheres to it.

To remove the adhesive, apply a liberal amount of paint thinner onto a soft microfiber cloth or other scratch- and lint-resistant material. Next, begin rubbing the adhesive with the dampened cloth to dissolve the glue. It may take a few minutes for the adhesive to begin breaking apart, but patient and firm rubbing will eventually cause the adhesive to disappear. Never use a tool to attempt to scrape the adhesive, as this will likely cause scratching of the paint. Once you have finished, allow the mineral spirits to evaporate from the paint.

5. Remove oxidation to eliminate ghosting - Even though it may not be easily visible for a long time, the paint on an RV slowly loses its luster and shine due to oxidation. However, the area underneath vinyl decals is protected from oxidation, so whenever these graphics are removed, there are traces of the decals, called ghosting, in the form of non-oxidized paint. Therefore, you will need to remove oxidation in the vicinity of the now-removed graphics in order to make the paint surfaces match.

To eliminate oxidation, you will need to apply polishing compound, which can be bought at auto parts and supply stores, with a buffing pad. If the area is relatively small, a hand applicator will work well, but you may wish to consider using an orbital polisher if the area is large. In any event, the polishing compound will need to be applied with plenty of force and deliberate intent to take away the oxidation that has formed. Be careful that you don't damage the paint with polishing compound, especially when using a power-tool applicator.

For help or more information, consult an RV collision center or other RV repair shop.