How To Remove Decals And Stickers Without Ruining Your Paint

Remove those stubborn decals in five steps.

Frankly, I've never understood why some manufacturers plaster those safety stickers all over the fuel tanks of their motorcycles and not someplace a little more inconspicuous. We all know the dangers of drunk driving and riding without a helmet, but just a reminder: Don’t do it!

The good news is that with a little patience and the right tools, those tricky little decals can be peeled right off. They are designed to be removed, something not everyone may realize. You can follow these same steps if you want to remove a dealership sticker, badge, or emblem from your car too.

Removing The Decal Or Sticker

If you want to jump right in, here is our foolproof way of getting the job done:

  1. Spritz the sticker and the surrounding area with a little WD-40 or Goo Gone, letting it soak in for a minute.

  2. Warm up the decal or sticker and the immediate vicinity with your heat gun or hair dryer.

  3. As the sticker warms up you'll feel the surface become more pliable. When it does, start at one corner and slowly and carefully peel up the edge.

  4. As the sticker lifts, apply a little heat to the leading edge. If the sticker starts to melt, ease up the heat. If it tears at some point, don't panic; you can remove the remnants later.

  5. Once the sticker has been removed, wash down any leftover adhesive with WD-40 or Goo Gone, then use a clean rag to wipe the residue away.

What To Watch For When Removing The Decal Or Sticker

The problem is that the stickers, which are thin pieces of plastic with an adhesive backing, can be tenacious little buggers, particularly when cold. What we need to do is make them pliable, which makes them easier to get a grip on, and gets the adhesive to release its hold.

Most emphatically, the wrong way to remove a sticker is by scraping it with a sharp object. Do it that way and all you'll get for your troubles are strips of the half-peeled sticker and a ruined paint job. In my experience, the easiest way to remove the offending sticker without doing damage to your nerves or paint job is by applying a gentle combination of heat, the right solvent, possibly the edge of an old ID or credit card, and gentle persuasion.

So long as the heat doesn't come from an open flame, you don’t risk the possibility of blowing yourself up. I use an inexpensive heat gun, the same type you'd use to strip paint, but hair dryers work perfectly well and have the added advantage of not getting so hot that they blister your paint.

As to the solvent, while there are plenty of sticker-adhesive-dissolving solutions on the market, the two best things I've ever found and that I know are perfectly safe to use on painted surfaces are WD-40 and Goo Gone.

The persuasion comes from your fingertips or fingernails, which, when wielded gently, won't scratch the paint, yet will get a grip on the sticker. If I’m having a little trouble gripping the decal, I’ll slide an old credit card along the edge to help loosen the adhesive.

Note that most tank emblems—and some of those on tanks and fenders—are also applied with adhesive, and this approach will also work with them. The same goes for car decals and emblems.

Last bit of advice: As with most things, slow and steady will get it done. Trying to force things along generally just makes a mess!

Tools Used To Remove Stubborn Decals And Stickers From Your Motorcycle Or Car

Decal And Sticker Removal: A Visual Guide

Soak The Decal Or Sticker

Removing a stubborn sticker with WD-40 to help the adhesive release from the motorcycle tank.
After committing the sticker's warning to memory (there will be a test later), hose it down with WD-40 or Goo Gone to loosen the adhesive.Motorcycle Cruiser

Heat It Up

Heating a decal or sticker with a heat gun to aid in its removal.
A heat gun or hair dryer will soften the sticker and reduce the glue’s adhesive properties. Note that it will also soften the paint.Motorcycle Cruiser

Peel Off The Decal Or Sticker

Removing a stubborn sticker with WD-40 to help the adhesive release from the motorcycle tank.
After committing the sticker's warning to memory (there will be a test later), hose it down with WD-40 or Goo Gone to loosen the adhesive.Motorcycle Cruiser

Clean Up Any Residue

Clean the paint and surrounding area after a decal has been removed.
With the sticker removed, clean off any remaining residue with WD-40 or Goo Gone.Motorcycle Cruiser

For more articles on how to maintain and modify your motorcycle, see our tech section.