How to Protect Vinyl Decals

Matt McKay

Vinyl decals, particularly those on outdoor signs and vehicles, require periodic care. A regular schedule of cleaning is often all that is needed to protect vinyl from the harmful effects of dirt and other environmental contaminants. Assuming the vinyl has been installed correctly--without holes, tears, air bubbles or loose edges--it will look good and last for several years under normal use. But keep in mind that extreme temperatures, non-rigid or porous surfaces, external abrasion and the application of fuels or chemicals will shorten the lifespan of vinyl decals.

  1. Mix a mild solution of dish or car soap with water in a bucket, avoiding excess suds.

  2. Rinse the decal with clear water applied with a sponge or hose. Do not apply excess sponge pressure, as your goal is to wet the surface only.

  3. Apply a soapy water solution with the second sponge, wringing out frequently. Avoid scrubbing the edges of the decal, and apply more pressure to the vinyl surface as dirt is visibly removed.

  4. Apply glass cleaner with a cloth or paper towel for stubborn areas. If an area will not come clean with glass cleaner, a small amount of rubbing alcohol may be applied with a cotton swab or paper towel. If cleaner or alcohol is used, clean the area again with soapy water after using these chemicals.

  5. Edges may be cleaned by applying glass cleaner or rubbing alcohol to a cotton swab. Use gentle pressure around the edges, change the swab when dirt becomes visible, and finish by washing the area with soapy water.

  6. Rinse all soap from the decal and application area with clear water and sponge, or with a hose.

  7. Dry the decal and surrounding area thoroughly by dabbing (not rubbing) with a dry cloth or paper towel.

  8. Tip

    If decals are exposed to harsh conditions, ask your sign installer about vinyl edge sealer application. Edge sealer prevents dirt and moisture from penetrating, which will eventually cause adhesion failure. Sealer may be added to new or existing installations. A light application of non-oil-based, natural wax (such as carnuba) may be applied to the decal surface as an added protective measure. Be sure to remove traces of wax from decal edges and seams with a dry cotton swab after application.


    Never use abrasive or aggressive cleaners or applicators on vinyl surfaces. Abrasion of the surface will cause the vinyl to wear faster, and eventually fail.

    Do not attempt to repair or fill chips or cracks in vinyl, as improper handling or repair materials will further damage the decal. Call the installer or local sign shop for advice.