Here I focus on the tools and techniques required to keep automotive vinyls and stickers squeaky clean using the dusty decals of a MK1 facelift Ford Capri.
And because the car had been sat uncovered in a garage for quite some time the transformation they can help bring about when properly put into practice should by the end of the video hopefully be clear for all too see.
Unsurprisingly attending to potentially delicate visual enhancements like these does call for a certain amount of common sense yet it’s really not difficult to employ and once done so it will help you safely make the most out of your stickers.
To begin with then it’s advisable to avoid the use harsh chemicals such as traffic film removers, tar & glue dissolvers or iron out products as they could not only serve to discolour and stain stickers but also soften up their adhesive backing which in turn could lead to them lifting off.
Instead it’s safer to clean them using a selection of more mild products like snow foams, pH neutral shampoos and diluted all purpose cleaners which if used correctly should have no adverse effects whatsoever.
If you do need to decontaminate around stickered-up areas though instead of spraying potent products directly onto the exterior as you would normally, apply them to a towel and gently work over the affected areas by hand to prevent the decals from being unnecessarily saturated in solution.
Snow foam is ideal for decal detailing because despite being designed to sit and soak on the surface for extended periods of time its gentle ingredients won’t harm them in any way, which is why it proved to be the perfect product for safely softening up the years with of dust and debris on this car.
If the stickers are heavily soiled like some of the Capri’s were here you can take a clean soft detailing brush and gently agitate around and over them to help draw out the dirt but this is only really necessary if they’re particularly grubby as generally speaking the less they’re touched the better.
If decals are of decent quality and have been applied to the car properly then general pressure washing shouldn’t be an issue however it does makes sense that if you have an adjustable machine you lower the pressure somewhat to reduce the hydraulic impact around their edges which is especially important on older vehicles like this which may not have been attended to for some time.
If you’re not confident using a pressure washer on stickers you can of course rinse down with a hosepipe and suitable spray nozzle instead, yet either way be sure to hold the lance or nozzle at a sensible distance from the panels while keeping the stream moving to prevent water from being unnecessarily driven into the decals.
Again provided the stickers are in good shape you can go ahead and wash the car in the normal manner although one thing I would advise is to use a non-fibrous wash mitt. Soft synthetic and lambswool types are kind to the paintwork but their wispy fibres are likely to get caught under the corners of the stickers so my preference is to go with a ‘noodle’ style mitt that leaves no fibres behind but still gives a decent quality clean.
When washing over the decals themselves try to follow the lines and contours of them instead of drawing the mitt across their edges but if this isn’t always possible then just be as gentle as you realistically can letting the weight of the wash mitt do the work instead of any pressure from your hand.
That being said, suds and a saturated wash mitt are far less detrimental to the edges of decals than dry gritty dirt is so you still want to ensure all areas see an adequate clean to thoroughly remove any stubborn accumulations of it.
Claying a car covered in decals can be tricky, while larger un-stickered areas can be quickly covered with a clay towel or mitt you’ll need to be careful around any edges if you’re to avoid the rubberised coating they rely on to pick up contaminants leaving unsightly black residue behind.
A clay bar is probably the better choice for this as it can be folded and moulded to access more intricate areas ensuring no stubborn spots are overlooked.
And although it can be done I wouldn’t personally advise claying the decals themselves as the vinyl material they’re made from tends to marr very easily, so if there is bonded dirt contaminating the stickers I’d spot clean them with an appropriate product instead.
On to drying then and much like how I suggested using a non-fibrous wash mitt I’d also suggest the use of a waffle weave towel over a microfibre one for the exact same reasons. While great at safely sucking up water a plush towel’s tiny fibres can become embedded in the sticky edges of the decals causing them to dry out and appear unkept.
And while you don’t often see me patting dry as I dislike the mottled water spotting effect it can leave behind it is probably the safest and least intrusive method of drying a stickered-up car water marks or not.
Once dried you may then want to go on to cleanse or polish the paintwork and to continue on with the non-fibrous theme you should ideally choose a relatively short piled buffing towel again to prevent threads from catching under the decals. Although plush towels like the double density blue one shown here are nice for removing polish and wax residue buffing over stickers with one is just asking for unsightly tangled trouble.
Another simple thing you can do to protect the edges of the stickers becoming damaged or caked in product residue during polishing is to mask or tape them off similar to how you’d mask any exposed trim.
Once concealed so long as you don’t get too cack handed and creep over the tape you’ll be able to achieve a decent finish right up to the edges of the decals without having to worry about any product getting caught up in them.
After the polishing and buffing has been completed the tape can be removed and any remaining residue lightly wiped away to reveal a crisp smear-free finish that should contrast nicely with the stickers.
The same goes for machine polishing especially if using a heavy compound as the rotating or oscillating pad and polish combination are likely to make a mess of the stickers so taping them off means you can confidently work the machine right up to their edges.
The decals themselves can also be polished using a few different techniques depending on their size and what you want to achieve but because the soft vinyl is prone to marring I wouldn’t advise attacking them with anything other than an all in one product or finishing polish to avoid frustrations with fine scratches.
An applicator pad can be used to evenly polish larger more open areas of vinyl simply spreading, working and buffing the product as you would when polishing paintwork but for more intricate areas like the individual letters here, a rudimentary finger polishing approach with some product dabbed onto the end of a microfibre towel can be helpful in enhancing them individually – just treat it like when you were colouring in as a kid, try not to go over the lines but don’t cry about it if you do!
And just to show how hardy decals can actually be when it comes to polishing I gently machined over a couple of the Capri’s Valvolined panels to enhance all surfaces in one fell swoop. Obviously you want to ensure the stickers are in decent shape before attempting this and it’s not something I’d recommend doing on a regular basis but if you really want to get the best out of your decals it can be a useful way of simultaneously enhancing them and the surrounding paintwork in equal measure.
The secret of course is not to be too aggressive with the polish and pad combo or your technique and to ensure any heavy residue is thoroughly buffed off once the machining has taken place.
One last thing you can do to ensure decals are as tidy as possible is to use some thin wooden skewers to gently release any overlooked stubborn dirt or compacted polish residue from their edges. The soft wood won’t scratch the paintwork and if handled gently enough won’t lift the stickers either but it will quickly remove any concealed crud.
Once worked loose the debris can then be gently brushed away and the area buffed over one last time to leave it as clean and residue free as possible prior to protecting.
The key to keeping decals in decent condition is to ensure they’re adequately shielded from the elements and while waxing over them is an option the smarter, more straight forward approach is to go with a no-buff synthetic sealant such as this Zaino Clear Seal.
A light mist over the freshly enhanced decals followed by a gentle wipe with a cotton pad to spread the product evenly seals in the stickers providing an invisible barrier to the elements and with no buffing required there’s minimal contact meaning less likelihood of fresh marring being inflicted post-polish.
Once treated the decals (including their susceptible exposed edges) will effectively be locked in under a semi-permanent layer and then a simple maintenance wash once in a while will be all that’s required to keep them looking as if they’ve just been applied!
And that about wraps it up – no pun intended! It’s really not rocket science, you essentially clean the car as you would normally just in a slightly more gentle manner while taking a few simple measures to prevent the stickers from being unnecessarily damaged.
At the end of they day though they are just that – stickers and unlike expensive paint jobs they can be relatively easily and cheaply replaced yet it’s still sensible to try and treat them as if they were an intrinsic part of the car in order to get the best out of them and avoid any inconvenience.
Due to the fact this car wasn’t currently running which obviously meant no sound clips to share I thought the least I could do was to leave you with some shots of the 2.0 litre Pinto lump, which despite not being touched by me still looked pretty damn clean!