Installing Vinyl – Proper Prep

Installing Vinyl – Prep

Removing Contamination

Proper prep requires removing any contaminate that prevents adhesive bonding.  There are two major kinds of contamination and a couple of more unusual contaminates. Also, there is the problem of low surface energy which can prevent adhesion all together.

This blog will cover the routine contaminates a do-it-yourselfer is more likely to encounter. Future blogs will deal with exotic situations.

The two major contaminates are petrochemical and organic. Both are usually present on vehicles. You will need removers for each, plus terry cloth or microfiber towels.

Organic contamination: Dirt, tree sap, bird droppings, bug splatter, and skin oils classify as organic contaminates, i.e., containing carbon. They are easily removed with simple soap and water. I recommend a squirt of baby shampoo in a quart water spray bottle. Do not use pre-formulated glass cleaners or grease removers. They leave unwanted residues such as ammonia, silicone, or detergents that interfere with proper adhesive bonding.

Petrochemical contamination:  I group tar, wax, grease, and silicone under this level of contamination. Since they also contain carbon, they too are technically organic, but differ in complexity, polarity, and synthesis. They are very often found on vehicles of all types. Even if you have not used a silicone-containing product, it is likely still present due to road exposure from other vehicles.

The formula for removing petro contaminates is to use an automotive product designed to remove tar, wax, grease, and silicone. Purchase these from an auto supply store or look for it on the auto aisle of a big box store. There are waterborne formulations that claim to accomplish this, but experienced professionals prefer stronger petrochemicals for guaranteed results.

You can also make your own with mineral spirits combined with naptha, xylene, and toluene. These chemicals can be purchased from most hardware stores, but may not be available in some states. 1 gal. of mineral spirits plus 8 ounces of any or all three of the others. NOTE! These are volatile chemicals that should be handled properly (chemical resistant gloves) in well-ventilated areas. Keep containers tightly sealed. Prep rags should be disposed of properly after drying outdoors.

An effective but slower alternate is to use rubbing alcohol. Saturate one terry cloth rag and immediately follow with a dry one. Repeat 3 to 4 times. Keep turning the dry cloth as you pick up the wetted contaminates before the surface dries.

Do not use rubbing alcohol alone on acrylic plastic; it can cause cracking. Use the glass prep formula instead.

Glass Prep

Glass is easily prepped with a mix of baby shampoo, rubbing alcohol, and water. One quart of water with a squirt of the soap and 4 ounces of alcohol will work well.

If you ever scrape glass with a razor scraper, use stainless steel blades rather than carbon blades to avoid scratching the glass. And keep the glass wet with soapy water as you scrape.

There is a situation where soap and water may not be effective – hard water spots. This is likely where irrigation systems have sprayed the glass. This contaminate must be neutralized before it can be removed. I’ll include this info in a future blog on exotic contaminates and low surface energy situations.

On glass I prefer terry cloth, microfiber, or cheap paper towels over rubber squeegees which can leave rubber oils or silicone residues.

Adhesion Test

After prepping, test for adhesion with masking tape. The surface should readily hold the tape and release with a ripping noise.

If the prepped surface compared to an un-prepped area shows no difference in adhesion or worse yet, no adhesion, you may have a low surface energy substrate. This requires a totally different kind of prep that even many “professionals” may not know how to handle. This challenge will be discussed in an upcoming blog.

If adhesion is present and equal on prepped and un-prepped areas – prep again!  The masking tape should have a stronger grip on the prepped area. A dry prep rag should slip on the un-prepped spot and drag hard on the prepped area.

SignChef® deals with all kinds of prep situations. The advantages in having us install your graphics are:

  • You will know the surface has been made truly receptive to the application.
  • You will not have to replace at your expense any applications that go wrong.
  • Everything will be correctly positioned.
  • We will stand behind our work if there is a problem down the road.

 We look forward to helping you with your next sign and graphics project.