Introduction: Reverse Graffiti With Pressure Washer

Picture of Reverse Graffiti With Pressure Washer

Expanding upon other reverse graffiti instructables and works elsewhere this is how you can create bright and clear street art and engage the public on issues of importance in your community with the help of some friends and a pressure washer.

This technique is very effective for etching designs into sidewalk grime but also has that "What the hell are they doing?" appeal for direct dialogue with the public. We did not attract any unwanted attention from police or security guards as we put our messages on public property. We used this technique in broad daylight, issued a press release and there were 14 of us who spoke with passersby. Check with the laws in your area.

Step 1: Equipment

Picture of Equipment

This approach is more cumbersome than the bleach method but is non-toxic. The generator will produce air pollutants and carbon dioxide but is quite minimal when compared to the impact of a single-occupancy vehicle at rush hour. No SOVs were used in the making of this action. I looked into electric solar generators that are available in Canada but the largest is only 1200W- not enough for a 15-16 Amp washer. Sometimes you do gotta say it with hydrocarbons.

You will need a minimum of 4 friends to implement but a group of 8 or larger is far better. Some can speak to passersby about your issue while others get wet and wild.

We did this action in downtown Vancouver on foot. If you intend to use reverse graffiti in other areas, like freeway overpasses for instance, then you will require additional safety and other equipment. As ever- safety first.

Most, if not all, of the equipment could be borrowed from family, friends and local organizations that are supportive of your cause. The generator rental and the stencil lamination are the pricey items.

Equipment List:

- Consumer grade electric pressure washer (1200 PSI)
- Narrow spray nozzle
- Plastic/laminated stencil
- 20L/5 Gallon water jug
- 3/4" hose adapter
- 10' hose
- Plumbers putty or tape
- Bucket
- 3000W gas generator (quiet model)
- Dolly
- Extension cord
- 4+ traffic cones
- Rain gear and waterproof boots
- Eye protection
- Water source
- Costumes
- Leaflets
- Petitions
- Clipboards
- Pens

For stencil production:

- Exacto knife
- Hard surface
- Straight edge
- Basic graphic design software
- Access to printing and laminating services

The easiest way to make the stencil is to create your design, have it printed and laminated and then cut it out with exacto knives. Our stencils survived 20 applications at 1200 PSI but that was the limit. The paper inside the laminate will disintegrate through water entering the open edges but the plastic will remain intact. Avoid thin strips in your design.

I used a plastic hose adapter for the water jug but it bent slightly very early on which resulted in a small but bothersome leak. Next time I'll try a metal adapter. The generator and most of the equipment was moved on a dolly. A second dolly or handtruck would make water hauling more convenient if you do not have a water source nearby.

The pressure washer will require a feed water flow rate of 1.5- 2 gallons per minute (check the manual). I did employ a stand at first but the flow rate from waist height only resulted in middling performance, even when tipping the jug. Optimum performance can be achieved by using a gravity feed approach by holding the container at head height. You may have to increase the size of the air inlet hole in the jug.

Step 2: Site Selection

Picture of Site Selection

We opted to conduct our reverse graffiti action in full public view so we chose areas that not only had high foot traffic but could also accommodate our work crew safely and without much inconvenience to the public. We did tag a few locations overnight as well and found it more convenient to work, but for us, direct dialogue with the public was a key component- not many petition signatures to be gathered at midnight, not here anyway! We only worked on public property- most security guards are very clear about their responsibilities and will not bother you if you stick to public property, especially if you speak with them politely.

We designed a route through downtown that allowed us to easily move our equipment short distances on foot and were within close proximity of water fountains ( you will want to disinfect your water containers after use). You could re-fill from public washrooms if you had to. Our starting location was outside of the Premier's office, the politician we referred to in our clean graffiti as "Gordo". Major transit hubs and public squares were also on our route. Choose locations of symbolic significance as well as for visibility. A clean graffiti welcome mat at your political representative's office door can also be effective. Remember- your local representative acts as an early warning system for government so they are key for putting decision makers on notice. You'll want to follow-up with a meeting.

Design your route to have a end location that provides for easy loading into your van or trikes and is near a good restaurant or pub for you'll be wanting to celebrate!

Step 3: Logistics and Implementation

Picture of Logistics and Implementation

Getting the equipment to your location will likely require a van but it can be done using bicycles and trailers though you'll require a heavy duty trailer or trike for the generator. Moving the equipment on a dolly by foot is actually very easy, especially since you are a lively and energetic crew to be doing this in the first place.

In our event we rotated through the following roles:

- Washer
- Water feeder
- Stencil holder
- Water re-fillers
- Generator minder and big picture view
- Leafletters/Petitions

We also had a Spokesperson and a Photographer/Videographer. If you are expecting curious inquiries from security guards and police then assign someone comfortable with authority figures to liaise with them. The person watching over the generator will be a distance away and so will have a good big picture view of the event, ask that person to notify the group of anything that needs adjusting, be it for safety, efficiency or what have you.

It will be a sunny day so don't forget to drink plenty of water and wear sunscreen.

There are a lot of cords and hoses so keep them tidy, untangling cords from hoses every stop can really slow you down. Be sure to keep electrical cords dry.

20L of water will give you about 3.5 minutes of pressure washing. We had 6, 20L containers on hand.

Of course, you already know not to point the water jet at anybody.

If you decide to have a public outreach component, have your team spread out to cover all approaches. Working in pairs is best, one person can collect petition signatures while the other engages passersby. Pairing up is also safer. The vast majority of people got a kick from our action, even those few who disagreed with us, but there is always a chance that you may evoke an angry reaction.

If you invite media then choose a location of symbolic importance and which offers the highest chance of success.

Having a dress rehearsal the day before helps everyone feel comfortable with their roles and is a chance to iron out any last minute kinks to ensure that the main event goes smoothly.

Step 4: The Reveal

Picture of The Reveal

We spent about 3 hours etching our clean graffiti onto sidewalks, putting down about 20 tags in that time. We distributed over 600 leaflets and collected almost 200 signatures on our petition. There were lots of smiles and giggles and everyone had a fun time. We appeared on the two most popular radio stations, and on a few evening TV newscasts. 3 non-English media outlets also covered our event. Next time our stencils will have Mandarin and Punjabi versions.

If you time your action for a slow news day (tough to anticipate) then you can increase the likelihood that your event will get coverage. This technique is a little bit edgy and has the potential to put people off guard. In Canada, people tend to be very polite and don't like to rock the boat. Here in Vancouver, the birthplace of Greenpeace, we can get away with a lot more- lesson: know your audience. Keeping things friendly and even mirthful makes it fun for everyone and helps people be receptive to your clear message.

If you try this out for yourself I would love to hear about your experiences and your recommendations for improvement.

I hope you have enjoyed this, my first instructable.


Jimpix (author)2016-06-15

A very nice way to advertise! The focus on sustainability I appreciate enormously. Where I live, I also seen a company that deals with these media. But how effective is this exactly?

astrochimp (author)Jimpix2017-01-05

Sorry to take so long to reply to your question. How effective is this method for social marketing purposes? I don't have any data other than my own experience to share. For the event depicted in this instructable, we issued a press release and held a press conference to draw attention to the political message about a high profile issue. So, as part of a larger political/communications strategy I say that it was very effective in getting the word out. As we did the activity in broad daylight while collecting petition signatures we also created opportunities for direct dialogue. Now, if we conducted this activity in a more guerilla fashion I am not sure if we would have had the same impact in terms of audience reach. I think that this method of marketing can have good impact through any number of delivery models, given the right context and audience.

PatsyTate (author)2016-05-11

This is so nice use of <a href="">power
washing</a> and I'm glad someone came up with this idea, it's very enjoyable.

jetpressurecleaning (author)2016-02-26

Hmmm I have got real pleasure from your blog and also Derived a benefit from this information you imparted to us. Thanks.

ozwashing79 (author)2015-09-04

get your house or driveway Professional Pressure Washing?

Most likely there is a hardware store near you that can sell you a power wash
or even rent you one. That is an option but keep these things in mind. If you have
no previous experience with a pressure wash be sure to test it in an
inconspicuous area first to not cause damage to the things you are trying to
clean around your home. Other problems that you can run into is the fact that
the pressure wash might not have enough PSI strength to clean the surface
effectively. As always safety first! always wear eye protective gear and ear
plugs to keep from damaging your hearing. Pressure washes are very loud and can
damage your ears if around them for a long period of time.

pressureengineer (author)2015-07-19

Great post I've been searching around how to do this for my sisters coffee shop front area. Some decent marketing for cheap cost.

My comments:

Haha I'm curious why they're all wearing lab coats to do the reverse graffiti?

Did holding the water at shoulder level really do anything? It seems weird that it would have since you would need to raise it 10m up to create 14.6 pounds of pressure per square inch (1 atm). At the shoulder level height it would be like 2-3 pounds of pressure... which is like 5% the pressure of a garden hose... but if you say it helped then fair game.

Karcher makes siphon pressure washer models that you don't need any height/pressure for it to work from a standing water source.

We had a lot of fun doing this. The lab coats tied into the theme of our message- the science shows that expanding freeways increases local pollution and carbon emissions that cause climate change.

Holding the water containers at shoulder height did the trick. While the pressure was sub-optimal the pressure washers continued to work. They did sputter out at times but it was resolved by tilting the water containers and exhibiting patience.

The siphon model of pressure washer seems ideal for this kind of activity- thank you for the lead!

Have fun and all the best with your pressure washing marketing efforts- share a photo?

stuart.robertson.7161 (author)2015-02-26

Hi There,

Any chance you can elaborate on the Stencils the product & Material used, I've approached a Sexual Health Clinic who are continually promoting a variation of health campaigns and I've been asked to provide a mock up of a stencil as a test.

Not Only that I want to address certain issues with Gum & fag Butts being discarded at numerous sections of the Walkways leading to several well know

Night clubs in my town. Want to catch the eye of the Local Council Rangers, They're on a mission to hand out on the Spot fines - There's not been enough done to promote social awareness for disposing of these products prior to entering these clubs- by the time you get the front door your stuck to the floor !!! yuk

Plus there are several local shops owners that Love the idea, Two small franchise fast food chains and a coffee house- not only that a well-known cash converter chain have asked for more details

I have access to a printing company and want to take the idea to them rather than them getting wind of what I'm doing and jumping on the bandwagon.

I have a Jetting System on order ( not a jet wash from B&Q) this piece of kit is for industrial use.

Hope to hear from you

pm me please


Hi Stuart,

I am very happy to elaborate. PM you shortly.

cory.timmermans (author)2014-10-25


andrewdroper (author)2014-08-28

The best pressure washer is a cleaning tool that is capable of removing mold, dust, pain, dirt, mud and tough stain from objects and surfaces such as walls, concrete surfaces, vehicles, and the likes using pressured water. The machine is capable of producing about 5 MPa or 750 psi. But there are also other ones that can produce about 200 MPa or 30,000 psi. Pressure washer is measured in volume which is normally designated in liters per minute or in gallons. This tool features a motor which can be hydraulic, electric, pneumatic or internal. The high-pressure water pump is driven by the motor. Other important parts of pressure washer are the trigger gun-style switch and high pressure hose. The motor of the engine provides power to the pump which moves water at a very high speed via the hose and nozzle. The water is pushed out at a great pressure which is capable of getting rid of tough stain such as grease, dust, dirt, and grime from any surface.

Pressure washer is available in a number of brands and models. But just as the case with other tools, these products are not equally made and thus consumers’ experience which determines the review differs. Some models of pressure washer have been rated higher than others in Amazon by consumer based on the experience they have using the machine. Pressure washer is also available in a number of types designed to suit different needs. Given the availability of difference types of pressure washers in the market coupled with the fact that each product is unique in its reliability, functionality and available features, you don’t just buy any one you see in the market. There are some factors that you should take into consideration if you want to buy a pressure washer. These are some of the things that you will learn here.

fishph05 (author)2013-11-26

Power washing a street is a quick and efficient way to get it ready for painting or g raffiti, but the same effect can be created by using simple household cleaning products. Read information

lhuyghe (author)2012-08-30

where can I hire someone to do this service for my business in Vancouver?

astrochimp (author)lhuyghe2012-08-31

I don't have anyone to recommend, however, a quickie Google search yielded this possibility:

Good hunting.

typo3150 (author)2010-06-27

Wonderful and hope your transit goals are realized.

typo3150 (author)2010-06-27

Love how you discuss your strategy! I hope to try this.

Nice work, green advertising is the future. A typical advert would last around 3 months. But they can last 5 months or more!

Damage, Inc. (author)2009-06-01

I really like this. It seems a great way to convey your message without damaging the look of the area, as many people consider typical graffiti to do. How long did the messages last for? Also, did they evoke a significant response from people, or have much of an impact? Great idea and excellent implementation.

astrochimp (author)Damage, Inc.2009-06-01

Thanks! I have seen other examples of reverse graffiti around town since our action, even shops are allowing messages from charities to be etched in the grime at their front doors, some lasting for a couple weeks. Ours lasted a day or two in some cases, "removed" by some building owners, and others a week or so, busy sidewalks returning to their grimy state, to carry another message, another day. The response from folks during our event was great, many enjoyed the method and the message- we distributed hundreds of flyers to bemused passersby and several folks stopped to discuss the issue more (also why a quiet generator is important!). We got the message out through local and provincial media too. Our ask to the public was to sign a petition calling for the expansion of public transit instead of a mega-bridge and freeways, in the end, after a few more events, we collected over 10 000 signatures. On its own or as a means to build dramatic tension for another type of action or event, I think it is a fun and pretty effective, positive method to deliver a message and engage the public.

Damage, Inc. (author)astrochimp2009-06-01

Wow, that's awesome. I really like the temporary aspect of the whole thing. Out of curiosity, did the petition work?

astrochimp (author)Damage, Inc.2009-06-02

The petition hasn't worked yet, though the fight is still on. Neighbourhoods have organized and community groups are making a strong case for light rail transit. The current provincial government is beholden to the interest groups that want the freeways so more work ahead- perseverance furthers!

luvit (author)2009-06-02

i secretly reverse graffiti dirty cars with political statements

Gamer917 (author)2009-03-04

gordo means fat in spanish

aguness (author)2009-01-03

hi, this it great! Can you tell more on the stencil itself? Which material did you use and how did you laminate it?

astrochimp (author)aguness2009-01-07

I just had the stencils printed on poster size paper (100% post-consumer recycled) and then laminated at a small, local print shop. Not all small print shops can do such a large size (1m x 1m) but this one does and they offer discounts to fellow planet savers! Laminating can get expensive so print only what you need- they are pretty durable. After laminating the stencils, a dozen friends and volunteers helped me cut them out with xacto knives as we enjoyed some sun and each others company out on the lawn. It can be time consuming if you have a lot of stencils but in most cases it won't require much time- about 10 min or so per stencil. After cutting out the letters, the paper inside is exposed but is not a problem as it is no longer required. I found that each stencil lasted for a dozen or so applications before some of the letters broke. If you try it yourself, let me know your results.

cry_wolf (author)2008-04-17

I like it, but its too publicized and wanting attention in my opinion. I understand that you want to convey your message, but doing it in a way thats discrete and just seems to "pop out of nowhere" would grab more attention than an overly attention focused public display. I like it, but id rather do this in the night, or even during the day in a more casual manner. Then when someone would walk past, they'd see you're message which would allot time for them to think about it. This is similar to what graffiti artists do. Banksy for example lays down tons of political messages in discreet ways but gets tons of people to get the point. Nice instructable. :D

Valche (author)cry_wolf2008-05-04

...during the day in a more casual manner.

"Hey, uh, what are you doing?" "Oh, me? Just uh, you know, cleaning my stencil."

Toulouse (author)Valche2009-01-02

i guess it's just a different style of presenting your message... for my instructable, i just did it and got out of there

Toulouse (author)2009-01-02

wow! I'm surprised to see what a production you guys made! Awesome work! glad to have inspired some of it! :D keep up the great work, and if i get a hold of a pressure washer anytime soon, i will have to give it a try!

ramariel (author)2008-07-19

you could even pass out water bottles with custom labels that conveyed information about your message, instead of just pamphlets. goes with the water theme and people will find them useful and are more likely to hold on to them instead of just throw them away at the next corner trashcan lol. this would work splendidly in the summer.

astrochimp (author)ramariel2008-07-24

What an excellent idea!

It is particularly fitting here in Vancouver as the region considersconsiders banning bottled water, and also with people looking to replace their old plastic bottles that have been found to leachleach toxic compounds into their contents.

ramariel (author)astrochimp2008-07-24

geez, just trying to help =/

astrochimp (author)ramariel2008-07-25

Your idea to hand out water bottles is truly an excellent one and I hope to use it. I wasn't being sarcastic or being a nit picky greenie, I only intended to point out that your idea would be especially salient here in Vancouver and elsewhere as people are moving away from store bought bottled water and moving to their own personal water bottles (not made of harmful plastics) to carry tap water and other beverages. Distributing these personal water bottles with custom labels would be very popular and the design of them could be a fun project to develop with supporters and volunteers. You wrote about distributing "water bottles" and I made a connection to "bottled water" to try to illustrate why your good idea fits not only with the water theme but also with the broader environmental theme. Everyone wants to be "green" nowadays and helping people out with a refreshing drink and a container they can adopt into their new green lifestyle while delivering an action message is perfect for what we were trying to achieve in our street action. Sorry for causing confusion and thank you for your help.

ramariel (author)astrochimp2008-07-26

Ah I hear you. Hard to tell sometimes, especially with the way alot of people are on the internet. I apologize for being defensive and Im pleased that you appreciate my idea. Im always looking for different ways to deliver a message and Im surprised so many people stick to the old pamphlet-and-sermon method that usually just turns people off. Especially when I think about how all the swag that I usually hold onto are useful things. If anything, I am more inclined to give that company or that group's message a second glance because they at least demonstrated some insight into the audience they are targeting. Secondly, I meant to mention earlier that I am pretty excited about this method of 'clean graffiti' because its hard to take someones message about being green when they're using toxic chemicals to deliver that message. Just the kind of thing that their adversaries love to pick on. Keep up the good work!

astrochimp (author)2008-04-18

One could certainly do without the public engagement component, depending on what your objectives are. Working casually during the day is easy if you avoid the morning, lunch and afternoon rush hours. For us, social exchange was an important element so we used some street theatre elements to help break the ice. We were looking to deliver our message and collect petition signatures certainly but we were also interested in hearing what people had to say. Hearing how people from different backgrounds talk about your issue can be very informative and you never know, you just might meet a person or two who would like to join you next time! I am glad you liked the instructable.

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