Graffiti culture has its own terminology, so we’ve prepared a handy list of key terms used by artists: Bomb: painting many surfaces in an area. Burner: larger, more elaborate version of a ‘piece’.


Graffiti is a constant challenge for councils and private businesses, but what can be done to counter it? Martin Wharmby investigates.

Despite a slight downturn in the early 2010s thanks to a large number of high profile arrests and prison sentences, graffiti has been on the rise again in recent years. In recent numbers revealed by Freedom of Information requests, the average London borough had to spend more than £95,000 on graffiti removal per year – with the most demanding areas needing more than £200,000 annually.

While many simply see graffiti as an annoying public menace and a side-effect of urban decay, many spots can often become the scene of more extreme examples, with offensive or threatening gang-related graffiti blighting locations.

These cases are far more time sensitive than a simple unsightly act of teenage vandalism, and require immediate removal. As such, when teams meet up to plan out the day’s work, these offensive jobs take priority – although a lot of the time, they can be treated as an emergency and need to be dealt with as and when they are discovered. Sometimes, depending on the content and appearance of this graffiti, teams may require an escort from the police just in case any unsavoury types take umbrage at the sight of their tagging being removed.

There are many different approaches and methods of removal. ‘Paint out’ is the most basic solution, where graffiti is simply painted over so that it can no longer be seen. However, for many surfaces, this is a short-term fix, especially if the location is at high risk from repeat vandalism.

Chemicals are frequently viewed as both the most effective and most risky way to remove graffiti. The results can be impressive, but with incorrect application, painted surfaces can be damaged as more than just the graffiti gets stripped away. There has also been a rise in more environmentally sustainable organic products taking precedence over the chemical approach.


Ghost: outline or mark left from graffiti that hasn’t been completely removed.

Heaven spot: daredevil graffiti, painted in hard-to-reach spots like ceilings, rooftops or overpasses. Landmark: a difficult to remove piece left in place for years.

Piece: short for ‘masterpiece’, this is a large and more complex project, requiring a large time investment from the writer.

Scribe: hard-to-remove graffiti caused by scratching or incising a tag into an object.

Slash: a line or tag placed over another writer’s graffiti, considered a massive insult.

Tag: the simplest, most common graffiti type, usually a single colour stylised signature.

Throw-up: a larger form of a tag, simple and quick to execute.

Wildstyle: stylised, three-dimensional and often interlocked text that can be hard to read.

Along with laser cleaning, abrasive and agitation processes, the other main method of removal is through pressure washing. This course is effective but has to be carefully controlled, starting out with low pressure and finding the perfect distance and pressure level to wash away the unwanted ‘art’ without damaging the surface beneath. On the other hand, more durable surfaces like brick or masonry can even take the extra pressure from a turbo nozzle attachment, taking a chunk out of removal time.

Each method has its own benefits, disadvantages and suitability for the locations and surfaces that require cleaning, and many companies will champion one method over the other. Anti-graffiti coatings do exist, but they can be prohibitively expensive and unsuitable for many situations and surfaces. And even with these coatings in place, many ‘writers’ are daring enough to reach remote and perilous locations on high that wouldn’t be covered, making removal a hazardous task that could be deemed too risky, or require expensive specialist working at height equipment to reach.

Novel approaches to graffiti, such as creating dedicated city spaces for artists to freely practice and show off their skills, can have a positive impact, but there is no quick fix or permanent solution to eradicate the threat entirely. However, thanks to the variety of reactive, proactive and preventative options available to counter the unsightly scribblings, the fight against this kind of anti-social menace is at least a fair one.

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