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Do wall stickers damage walls?

Have you looked into decorating with wall stickers but still wonder about if they might leave lasting marks on your walls? This is a question we get a lot, and for a good reason, because who would not want to know what happens to your walls when it finally is time to remove the decals (specially if you are renting). If you are impatient or in a hurry, the answer in a nutshell is: they might. There is however so much to wall stickers that this needs a bit more explaining, so read on if you want to know more.

The good and the bad wall stickers

Wall stickers, like clothes, come in all shapes, sizes and materials. And just like in the fashion industry, many wall decal companies take the cheapest route and use materials that were never intended for home walls. The most important thing for anyone looking for wall stickers is to find out what kind of material the are printed on, because not all materials are equal. Two important questions are:

How strong is the glue? 

The producers of sticker films normally have a wide assortment of different glue strengths. Stickers made for use on indoor walls normally have less strong glue, while the materials for outdoor use might come with very strong permanent glue.

If a wall sticker company have chosen a material with a too strong glue then it is also likely that they will be hard to remove and leave marks when finally removed (you need heat to soften up a hard glue before removal). If you are in doubt, ask the seller more about what kind of glue they use in their stickers. You’ll want to hear words like re-positionable, low-tack, temporary, low-adhesive and/or removable.

You could also check with the seller if the stickers are re-positionable, because usually this means that the material is of higher quality with a milder adhesive that is easier to remove.

Keep in mind that most glues do harden with time, so even a removable glue can become more difficult to remove if it has been attached for many years. Often stickers that have been on the wall for a very long time will leave some light marking even with the right glue (usually these are more prominent on eggshell/matte surfaces, and less so on glossy paints). If you want to be absolutely sure, we recommend to use the stickers only for 1-2 years before removing or re-positioning them, no matter what the material or glue. 

What material is the sticker printed on?

PVC, polyester or paper stickers? These are the three main categories of materials most used for stickers. Sadly, a big part of the wall decals out there are printed on low-quality PVC plastic. PVC is still today the chosen material for much of the industry mostly because it is both cheap to produce and elastic thanks to the added plasticisers (so it can be used for uneven surfaces like cars). 

When talking about possible damage on the walls the material matters less than the glue, but it’s still good to know that the flimsier the sticker the more likely it is to rip and mess when removed. Paper stickers are notoriously bad, as they usually are not meant for home walls and as a result the laminated top part will separate from the glue when removed and leave a paper mess behind that might be close to impossible to get off. 

Polyester stickers are more rigid than PVC, as they do not contain plasticisers to make the material softer. This makes them less suitable for curved or uneven surfaces, but better for re-positionable stickers as the sticker won't bend or stretch when removed.

Usually the thicker the sticker is the easier it will be to remove cleanly (as long as the glue is right). For this reason we are using a sturdy UK-made polyester film with re-positionable adhesive as the material for most of our stickers. Besides being easier to use and remove, polyester is also fully recyclable making it several steps more environmentally friendly than PVC.

Frame spots

Have you ever seen marks left on the walls by poster or art frames that have been hanging in the same spot for a long time? These are called frame spots and look like the wall under the frame is of slightly different colour than the rest of the wall. 

Frame spots might happen with stickers too when left attached for a longer period of time. The rest of the wall gets bleached by the sun or dirty, while the area under the sticker remains like it was in the beginning. When you finally remove the stickers it looks like they have left marks, when it actually is the rest of the wall that has changed.

Frame spots are usually more easy to spot on coloured and matte walls. Semi-gloss white walls and other white surfaces (like doors) are usually not a problem, unless the environment happens to be exceptionally dirty. To avoid frame spots, don't leave the stickers attached in the same spot for more than 1-2 years.

How to use wall stickers with minimal risk

If you want to minimise the risk of stickers leaving marks on your walls opt for higher quality stickers where you know where and how they are produced. The thumb of rule with these (as with so many other things) is that you get what you pay for. If the sticker seems too cheap, it usually also means that it has been made of a PVC film of unknown quality and adhesive strength. 

  • Choose quality stickers made for indoor walls and temporary use.
  • Ask the seller if you are in doubt about the material of the stickers. Be vary if seller can't provide this information.
  • Get re-positionable stickers if available.
  • If the wall is other than white, if you have a wall paper or if the paint is eggshell/matte we recommend that you don’t leave the stickers attached for more than 1 - 2 years. 
  • Don’t use wall stickers on surfaces that are already peeling or flaky, or you might risk the paint coming off with the stickers. 
  • If you are going to use stickers on varnished surfaces we recommend you test it first with a smaller piece. There are many kinds of varnishes out there, and some of them might cause a reaction together with particular types of glue.

That's pretty much it. Wall decals are a great and easy way to create temporary interior decorations. If you are worried about possible damage to your walls try to choose quality stickers where you know they are made for indoor walls and don't leave them attached for too many years, and you should be just fine. Happy creating!

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