(Updated on October 15, 2021)
Did you buy a car with the wrong politician stuck to it? Perhaps your local dealership thinks a license plate bracket isn’t good enough, so they’ve added an eyesore of a dealership sticker to the trunk instead.
Whether you purchased a car with a bunch of irrelevant stickers or simply changed your taste, it’s likely that you’ll want to remove a sticker from your vehicle at some point in your life.
Even if the sticker has been there for what seems like forever, it is possible to remove it without damaging paint. Any stubborn residue (or other nasty sticky things like tree sap) will also come off with a little elbow grease.
A car sticker or vinyl decal can be removed with the application of heat or chemicals that dissolve the adhesive. Use whatever method is most convenient for you and your vehicle.
Removing a Sticker With Heat
A hair dryer, a heat gun, a clothes steamer, or plain ol’ boiling water can each be used to break down the adhesive holding the bumper sticker or window sticker in place.
Step one is always to clean the surface.
It’s important to first wash the area around the sticker with soap and water to remove surface dirt and debris. This will both increase the effectiveness of heat on the sticker and lower the chance of debris scratching the vehicle’s paint during sticker removal. You may as well properly wash the whole car while you’re in there.
Grab an extension cord to easily use a hair dryer. Turn it on high heat and, starting from the middle of the sticker, hold it about 6 inches (15 cm) away from the sticker. Move it continuously so as to not damage the paint or plastic.
After about a minute, the edges of the sticker should start to lift slightly.
A heat gun (a Wagner or similar) also works well to dissolve the adhesive of the sticker. It’s much more powerful than a hair dryer, so use more caution if you go this route. Hold the heat gun about 1 foot (30 cm) away from the sticker and only leave it on any one area for 1 to 3 seconds.
Continue heating until the sticker starts to look a bit bubbly.
A steamer, like the Conair Steam Wand, emits hot water steam, so it’s a great option as well. Use this as you would a hair dryer, holding it about 6 inches (15 cm) away and moving around until the edges of the sticker start to lift.
Slowly pour about 2 to 3 cups of boiling water on all areas of the sticker, both the edges and the middle.
After using your chosen heat method to loosen the adhesive, try lifting up the sticker with a plastic scraper such as an old credit card or a plastic putty knife. If the sticker rips or any areas get stuck, heat again and scrape some more.
If there is any remaining residue after the sticker has been lifted off, use either a detailing spray or rubbing alcohol on a soft microfiber cloth to remove it.
Removing a Sticker With Chemical Solvents
Wait, don’t be alarmed… not all chemicals are bad for you or the environment! See the options below to find a method that works for you.
First, start by cleaning the sticker and the area around it with soap and water. This helps the solution to permeate the sticker and decreases the chance of debris scratching the paint.
This is a great option that is safe for you and not harmful to the environment. Saturate the sticker with white vinegar and let it sit for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the edges start peeling up.
A good way to do this is by saturating a sponge or small towel with vinegar and placing it over the entire sticker.
Carefully spraying this on the edges of the sticker and lifting, then spraying some more and lifting again, is a good way to loosen the adhesive enough to get the sticker off. Sometimes the WD-40 needs to sit for a bit before you try to peel.
Commercial adhesive removers, such as Goo-Gone Automotive, can be a great option for really stubborn or ancient stickers.
Read the instructions carefully before use, but usually the entire sticker is saturated in a similar way to the white vinegar and allowed to sit for about 5 minutes before attempting to peel it up.
Acetone (for Window Stickers Only)
Nail polish remover with acetone can be a great way to quickly dissolve the adhesive on window stickers. Be very careful, as this stuff will absolutely dissolve the paint on the car.
If your sticker is on the outside, don’t worry too much about your window tint; tint is almost always applied to the interior of the vehicle.
Razors or utility blades are some other effective options that can be used on glass only, as they will scratch the vehicle’s paint.
Once the sticker has been thoroughly loosened and dissolved with your chosen solution, use a plastic scraper such as a putty knife or trim removal tool to carefully lift the sticker. It may come off in pieces, so apply more solution as needed. You may be able to use your fingernail to help lift a corner as well.
If any residue remains, clean it away with either hot soapy water or rubbing alcohol and a microfiber cloth. Follow up by waxing the paint with a quality car wax to protect the newly exposed paint. This will make the whole area look even better.
The paint or glass should be good as new!