How do I remove spray paint from a maple tree?
December 21, 2004 4:44 AM   Subscribe

Some bright spark spray-painted the large maple tree in front of my house. I'm trying to figure out how to remove the white paint without damaging the tree or leaving a permanent impression of the tag in the bark. Any ideas?
posted by sagwalla to Science & Nature (8 answers total)
perhaps a pressure washer on a low setting? It may loose some bark, but it will grow back...
posted by jackofsaxons at 6:21 AM on December 21, 2004

I would think sandpaper. You'll do some damage, but it will be better than before and you'll have pretty good control of how much you take off.
posted by spaghetti at 6:51 AM on December 21, 2004

Goo Gone?
posted by Smart Dalek at 7:21 AM on December 21, 2004

The San Francisco Friends of the Urban Forest site says that painting over it will create problems for the tree, and the they haven't found any solvents safe for tree bark. They recommend letting it fade over time, and most other googled sites agree.
posted by occhiblu at 9:54 AM on December 21, 2004

Ooh, wait, here's something more hopeful. From a grounds maintenance site:

Jim Cortese of Cortese Tree Specialists Inc. (Knoxville, Tenn.) responded to the Researching Maintenance piece about removing paint from tree trunks by sharing his own remedy. Noting that he has used this technique with success on several occasions, Cortese provides the following description:

1. Take a knife or wire brush and lightly go over the painted or stained area, removing as much stain as possible without cutting into the cambium. This may not get all of the paint, especially that imbedded in deeper crevasses.

2. Put 2 or 3 inches of soil in a bucket (use as much as you need to cover the area) and add water to make a mud poultice. Paint this liberally over the tree trunk.

3. Let the mud poultice dry on the bark.

4. Let the mud wash off naturally by rain or rinse it off with a hose. It's not necessary to remove all of it. According to Cortese, "the mud poultice simply stains the trunk a natural color and blends in the vandalized part with the rest of the trunk."

Another page on their site also recommends:

Keep in mind that bark will wear and weather as trees age. Therefore, the graffiti eventually will disappear on its own. However, if you need to be more proactive, you have at least a couple of options.

You could try mechanical removal, such as with wire brushes or power washing. This might be a good strategy if the tree has thick bark that could stand to have a layer or two removed without reaching living tissue. However, some trees do not develop the type of bark that would allow this, so it depends on the species.

If mechanical removal isn't possible, you could paint over the graffiti with trunk paint. This is not exactly a subtle way to deal with the problem, and certainly not the solution you're looking for if you want to return the tree to a natural-looking state. However, it is one possibility.

You should avoid chemical removers in this instance. The suppliers with whom I checked all expressed concern that their products-even so-called "non-toxic" graffiti removers-could harm trees.

posted by occhiblu at 9:59 AM on December 21, 2004

Response by poster: Hmmm...a poultice. Sounds odd, but it might be worth a go - at least it's as organic as mud.

Thanks for that Occhiblu. I did Google around before I posted, but didn't come across anything as helpful as your last comment.
posted by sagwalla at 12:25 PM on December 21, 2004

I love Google challenges. :-)
posted by occhiblu at 12:59 PM on December 21, 2004

Perhaps a natural stain/dye? Walnut shells produce a very dark stain and they come from a tree, so I have a hard time seeing how they could harm a tree.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:34 PM on December 21, 2004

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