3 Proven Methods To Remove Vinyl Decals And Stickers From A Boat

You just got a new boat, and it has out-of-state registration labels, or maybe it has some terrible vinyl decal on the side with an inappropriate name that you and your wife hate. Maybe, you just want to remove a faded pen stripe decal from your boat so you can put a new one on the boat.

Regardless of why you want to remove old vinyl decals and stickers from your fiberglass, aluminum, or even wooded boat, this article will provide you with proven methods for getting the job done with the least amount of effort.

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How Do You Remove Boat Decals?

Remove Vinyl Decals And Stickers From A Boat

There are three popular ways to remove old decals and stickers from a boat: an eraser wheel, a heat gun with a scraper (razor blade), or use a hot water pressure washer.

There are other methods you can use, but these three have proven effective over and over again.

Method #1 Removing Boat Decals and Stickers From A Boat

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I’m starting this article with what I consider to be the easiest way to remove decals from a boat. It’s called an Eraser Wheel.

Eraser Wheel

What Is An Eraser Wheel? An eraser wheel is a tool that connects to a drill that you use to remove stickers and decals. Typically you see these used in the automotive world to remove vinyl pinstripes from a car.

When I purchased my last boat, it had an out-of-state registration number on it, and I needed to remove the decals and put my new registration stickers on the fiberglass hull.

This is where I first learned of the eraser wheel. I did a bunch of research and felt this was my best option for removing the decals.

Here are a few photos when using the eraser wheel:

Eraser Wheel to Remove Decals from a Boat

The above photo shows where the eraser wheel has started to erase/remove the “E”. It almost looks smeared like it would if you used a pencil eraser to erase pencil marks.

The eraser wheel does leave behind a lot of small particles from the removed stickers. Not to mention they are super cheap to buy online. I tried a few different brands, but ultimately the 3M lasted the longest over some of the no-name or random brand names.

If you are doing a big project, you may want to go ahead and buy a bulk kit with multiple wheels like this one.

You can see it close up in this next photo, along with a sticky residue from the adhesives that were left behind from the decals.

Eraser Wheel to Remove Decals from a Boat

How To Remove Sticky Residue From A Fiberglass Boat?

This is how you remove sticky residue or glue from a fiberglass boat. Follow these six steps and your fiberglass boat will be clean and looking like new.

  1. Apply Solvent To A Rag

    Apply a small amount of acetone solvent (aka – nail polish remover) to a clean rag. The rag should be damp, but not soaked with acetone.

  2. Wipe Glue To Soften

    Wipe away the glue on the fiberglass using the moistened rag. The solvent causes the glue to soften, making it easier for you to wipe up and remove.

  3. Add More Solvent & Reapply to Boat

    Reapply acetone to the rag and continue to wipe the glue away until it is completely removed.

  4. Add Soap To Bucket

    Add a few drops of liquid dishwashing soap to a bucket of water (warm water works best if available).

  5. Wipe Fiberglass With Soapy Water

    Moisten a cloth with soapy water and wipe down the fiberglass to remove any dirt.

  6. Rinse Fiberglass

    Fully rinse the fiberglass boat with fresh water.

  7. Dry Boat

    Using a clean rag or microfiber drying towel fully wipe down the fiberglass to dry.

Alternative Method To Remove Glue From Fiberglass

If you do not have acetone (nail polish remover) available, you can also use rubbing alcohol. I prefer to use the 90% concentration to remove glue from fiberglass boats.

I have not removed the glue from an aluminum boat with acetone or rubbing alcohol before, but my assumption is it would be okay since you will clean the area well with fresh water when you are done.

With this said, you might want to research it a little further before trying it just to be safe.

Method #2 To Remove Boat Decals and Stickers

The second popular method for removing decals and stickers from a boat is the use of a heat gun or hairdryer along with a scraper or razor blade.

In the photos above, this is the method I first started using. I had used it previously to remove the name of a car dealership from a vehicle I purchased, and it worked well for those small letters on the tailgate.

However, when trying to remove the vinyl registration letters from my ten-year-old boat, it really did not work very well, and my fingers were yelling at me.

With this said, your experience may be better than mine, so let me tell you how to do it.

Let me first say be very careful using a heat gun. They get extremely hot, and you could damage your boat if you are not careful.

If this is the first time you have tried removing stickers with the heat on a boat (or any object for that matter), I suggest using a hairdryer because they do not get as hot as a heat gun but can still do the trick, only slower.

How To Remove Vinyl Decals With A Heat Gun

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1. Gather Tools

  • Heat Gun or Hair Dryer
  • Plastic Scraping Blade
  • Adhesive Remover
  • Decal Removal Wheel (optional but helpful!)

2. Heat

Warm the surface of the decal with a heat gun or hairdryer until the vinyl becomes more flexible.

3. Peel

Take a plastic blade tool and scrape vinyl from the surface. (Note: if the vinyl is old and brittle, it will most likely come off in small pieces. If the vinyl is not that old, you may be able to pull it off in bigger sections.)

4. Clean

Once you have peeled all of the vinyl off, you will have to clean the adhesive off the surface with a product designed to remove adhesive without damaging the paint. ALWAYS SPOT TEST AN INCONSPICUOUS AREA BEFORE APPLYING ADHESIVE REMOVER.

It’s possible that some cleaners with harsh chemicals could cause discoloration to the paint while removing the adhesive residue. Applying it first to a small area will ensure you don’t cause too much damage.

A Suggested product is the “General Purpose Adhesive Cleaner” by 3M Products Inc., part # 08947. This adhesive cleaner can be purchased at most hardware or paint supply stores. Clean the surface with soap and water, then check to make sure there are no remaining pieces of vinyl or adhesive stuck to it.


Method #3 To Remove Decals and Stickers From A Boat

The third method for removing decals and stickers from a boat is using a hot water pressure washer.

This works well because the hot water heats up the decals and the underlying glue.

When the decal heats up, it becomes more pliable. When the glues heat up, they are easier to remove.

As a result, the hot water makes the stickers easier to remove, and then the high-pressure water is able to force the sticker to come apart from the boat hull.

I have to admit, I learned this trick from a friend named Justin, who restores old Jeep Grand Wagoneers that have large vinyl woodgrain decals on the side.

Those Jeeps have a ton of vinyl, and using this method can help make the job go a little quicker.

Here’s a Photo:

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You can see the Jeep is in the process of having the vinyl woodgrain removed. The rear door vinyl woodgrain was blasted off with a hot pressure washer.
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Here is the finished process where all of the vinyl woodgrain has been removed using the pressure washer.

While I have not yet tried this method, you can see it clearly works.

Closing Thoughts

If you are trying to remove a vinyl decal or a registration sticker from a boat, definitely start with the eraser wheel.

From my experience, using the eraser wheel to get decals off of a boat is the best way for most DIY’ers (and professionals) to get off decals.

Just know once the decals are removed, you may still see an outline of where the decals were. To correct this, you will need to compound and polish the area with a rubbing compound prior to installing new decals.

This is caused by the oxidization of your boat over time, and that is why you can still see where the decals were previously installed.

Check out one of our articles about detailing your boat. There you can get greater detail on how to produce a mirror finish on your boat hull.

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