Stores paint their windows to celebrate holidays and advertise sales. Ever wonder how they get that paint off? Here’s how.
Window Paint Is Serious Business
I look at windows all day (it’s my job) and my favorites are the stores that paint hearts for Valentine’s day, Shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day, Basketballs for March Madness and Firecrackers for the 4th of July.
These seasonal graphics put me in a fun mood to celebrate and often reminds me that I haven’t bought flowers for my wife yet! (Thank you!)
Seasonal topics can be fun. For stores, these painted windows are serious business.
Reminding me to get flowers puts me into a psychological ”need mode“, and the advertised deal 20% off on a dozen roses entices me to enter the store and buy them (“action mode“). We all do this every day – no big deal – but what if it’s mid-March and a store still has Valentine’s Day decorations?
Am I supposed to get flowers to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? No. Get flowers for my wife so I can watch college basketball? It helps, but probably not necessary.
Now I’m confused.
And I begin to question if this store cares about me. It’s sending the wrong message, and I might be less likely to visit their store because of it.
Serious Business. Subtle, but serious.
Removing Paint is Messy
In response to one of my blog posts “First Impressions Matter…What Does Yours Say? (Nov, 2011)“, I received the following question:
Charles W. from Redondo Beach writes: ”My store’s image is very important and we paint our windows to keep up with each holiday and event. We change our windows graphics about 10 – 12 times per year and when we remove the paint it sure is messy. Any tips on how to remove it properly and efficiently – my son Matt really wants to know. Thanks! “
Well Charles, the least messy way to remove paint is to have someone else do it! If you are (or most likely Matt is) going to remove the paint, here are some pointers to remove paint from your windows without scratching the glass and without a big messy clean up job.
The following techniques address commercial storefront windows with standard metal frames.
In future articles I’ll provide information on removing paint, stickers, over spray, etc. from residential windows.
The removal techniques for commercial and residential windows are generally the same. The differences reflect the size and scale of the jobs, plus residential windows requires a lot more detail work since you live with those windows every day.
A Quick Word About Razors
For small paint removal jobs like drips, small lettering and over spray, start by using #0000 fine-grade steel wool.
Fine steel wool is safe, works great and it gets the job done fast.
You can also use a Mini Glass Scraper. They are safe and handy for small clean up jobs and you can get them just about anywhere.
For large jobs, you are going to need a professional grade window scraper / razor or you’ll be there all day and your arm is really going to hurt from overuse.
Using a Razor to Remove Paint From Windows
Warning! Using razors can be dangerous. Do not use a razor without reading the instructions and receiving proper training.
As with any project, it’s important to always start with the right equipment.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Bucket of Soapy Water - Dish washing soap works great. Use about as much soap as you would use when doing the dishes in a sink.
- Professional Grade Window Scraper – Your local hardware store carries many brands, we like the 6-inch Triumph Angled Scraper.
- Painters Tarp & A Broom – This tarp catches the paint “sheets” and shavings. The broom, well it’s a broom. What do you think it’s for?
- Window Cleaning Equipment – We recommend using a squeegee, mop and some clean dry towels. Have some #0000 fine steel wool handy too.
Got everything? Ok, let’s get started.
Step #1: Spread the Tarp & Apply Lot’s of Soapy Water
Start by laying down the tarp along the glass. Next, drench the paint and glass with soapy water. Wait about 2-4 minutes and then re-apply more soapy water before proceeding.
Always make sure the window’s surface is slippery or you can scratch the glass. Using lots of soapy water causes the paint to stick together as you scrape instead of flaking off in small pieces.
Step #2: Scrape in a Small, Inconspicuous Area First
Remove a little paint with your scraper to make sure the glass isn’t scratching. If you hear a coarse, gritty sound stop immediately and check your blade – it may be dull or broken. If so, replace it with a new one.
Also, if you see scratches, there may be imperfections in the glass and you should either stop the job or apply even more soapy water and proceed with extreme caution.
Important Note: As you stroke, always push your blade forward and lift it from the glass as you finish and reload for the next one. Scratching may occur if you drag the blade across glass during an unnecessary back stroke.
Step #3: Scrape Around the Window’s Perimeter
Angle your razor 30° – 45° away from window’s frame and remove the paint along the frames. The angle prevents the blade from catching and scratching the frame and caulking.
If the window has been drenched, you’ll notice the paint comes off in big pieces, or “sheets”, as you move across the glass.
Try to keep the “sheet” intact as you finish your stroke and gently put it on the tarp. It’s efficient and much cleaner.
Step #4: Scrape the Rest of the Window
Once the frames are clear, keep your razor’s 30° – 45° angle and use overlapping horizontal or vertical strokes to remove the remaining paint. If the glass/paint is getting dry, use more soapy water – you want big sections of paint to come off as described above.
Some newbies use their blade at a 90° or “right” angle to the paint as they try to “chip” the paint off. Do this and you’ll create flakes and probably break your blades frequently. Using a 30° – 45° angle efficiently “slices” the paint off the glass and reduces flaking.
Tip: If the paint is flaking, apply more soapy water and make sure you are keep the razor’s proper angle as you stroke.
Step #5: Clean the Glass and Clean Your Work Area
You’ve removed most of the paint off but small pieces remain. Re-apply soapy water and use a combination of the Razor and the #0000 fine steel wool to remove what’s left.
Once complete, remove & fold your tarp with the paint “sheets” and flakes, you should have caught about 80% – 90%. Discard the paint appropriately.
Use your mop and squeegee to clean the windows and remove any remaining flakes from the glass.
The remaining 10% – 20% of the paint flakes need to dry on the ground. Attempting to sweep them while wet only rubs them into the ground. It should dry in about 30 minutes.
Do you remember the broom? Good, let’s use it!
Follow these 5 efficient steps and you’ll have paint-free windows with less hassles!
Now Let’s Get Ready for the Memorial Day Sales!
Razor Safety Tips
As noted above, razors can be dangerous if not used correctly.
Because we use razors during our normal business day, we constantly train our cleaners on how to use a razor properly.
Here are some razor safety rules:
- All razors are to be inspected prior to each use and at the end of each day.
- All scrapers are to be carried in a safe manner or put in a safe place.
- All protective covers must be in place at all times when the razor is not in use.
- Two cleaners should never work side by side when scraping glass. A safe distance (approximately 5 feet) should be maintained.
- Razors should be discarded appropriately so no one can come in direct contact with the blade.
- If at any time a razor is broken it should be discarded in a safe manner immediately.
- If the protective cover is broken a new properly functioning cover must be provided prior to continued use of the razor.
- Razors should never be placed in buckets that have water in them or pockets without the protected cover.
- Razors must be kept away from children at all times.
- Always place the cover on the razor when not in use.
- If at any point your razor falls let it drop. Never attempt to catch a falling razor.
Be safe everyone!
About the Author
John Gran (@FishSouthBay) is an entrepreneur and former marketing and product development executive who has grown his successful Fish Window Cleaning franchise in the Los Angeles – South Bay area to become a leading professional in window cleaning services for business owners and home owners.
With his popular blog A Clear View Through Clean Windows, John shares his window cleaning expertise by addressing topics and answering questions that customers continually ask him during his day. He also uses window cleaning pictures, inspirations and stories about his business to demonstrate the fundamentals for building a strong, healthy, thriving business.
John lives & works with his wife Cynthia in Redondo Beach, CA (she runs the business too!)
If you have a question or would like window cleaning services click Here or Call 310-973-3474 for a Free, on-site written estimate.