This question may sound strange to those who have never tried to apply vinyl graphics to their cars before. I bet all your former experience tells you that a surface has to be clean and dry so that anything can stick to it in a reliable manner. That is usually true. However, on your vehicle, you can use soapy water to install vinyl wrap. This method of wrapping is called ‘wet installation.’ Done right, it will produce excellent results for years to come.
Is there anything wrong with the dry installation method?
Absolutely nothing. If you are a professional installer, you will usually use this method because it is both efficient and fast. But if you are not experienced in the process yet, the main problems you will most likely face are:
- Difficulties positioning a vinyl piece correctly
- Air bubbles trapped under the vinyl
As you can imagine, any of these problems will ruin the appearance of your car. But they are also potentially very dangerous. A wrinkle may become larger over time, and it will allow water to accumulate on the surface of your car, making it rust. If your vinyl wrap is full of tiny air pockets, as well as being moisture traps, they will be likely to crack during cleaning. And if you decide to remove the vinyl graphics to correct your mistakes, there is a high probability that you will damage it and need to order another set.
The wet installation method remedies these issues. If you wet the surface before applying vinyl graphics, you eliminate problems associated with dry application. You indeed increase the risk of some new kinds of problems popping up, but many who tried this method say they would never go back to using the dry approach.
How do you use soapy water when installing vinyl wrap?
You will need some additional supplies: water in a spray bottle, paper towels, and basic dish soap. You should avoid using any fancy liquid soaps with moisturizers or hand softeners because they may leave a residue that will affect the adhesion of the vinyl to your car. Instead, just use what you usually have in your kitchen to wash dishes. One drop of soap should be enough for a 12 oz spray bottle (or three drops for every one liter of water if you are preparing the solution in a larger container).
Be careful not to overuse soap as this will impair the stickiness of the vinyl. You can also buy a ready-to-use application fluid to make sure you use the solution with the correct concentration of ingredients.
The steps you will need to follow are pretty simple:
- As usual, you should wash your car and wipe it with rubbing alcohol to remove any impurities beforehand. Use a soft, lint-free cloth, being careful not to scratch the paintwork.
- Spray the water and soap mixture on the surface where you want to install your vinyl graphics. It must be wet enough to feel slippery, but not too much that water starts dripping off it. Crucially, there should not be any puddles of standing water as it may prevent the vinyl from sticking.
- Remove the backing paper and wet the back of your vinyl graphic as well. Again, it should be wet enough so that you can slide a finger across the surface without feeling any resistance.
- Position your graphic into place and start smoothing it from one corner to another with a squeegee. Keep moving over the surface until all wrinkles are gone, and there are no air bubbles and water trapped underneath it. You should collect soapy water coming out from under the edges of your graphic with paper towels. Be patient and do it slowly because you are more likely to scratch your car or rip the vinyl if you try to rush things.
- Leave the graphic alone for at least 24 hours before washing or otherwise touching it. You may notice some tiny bubbles under the vinyl film after it has dried. These may eventually go away by themselves, but you can speed up the process if you use a heat gun on them.
- That’s it! Your new vinyl graphics should stick really well and look great on your car for at least 3 -4 years.
What is the role of soapy water in this process?
The water is responsible for making the surface slippery, which allows it to slightly reposition the vinyl graphics and pull off air bubbles under it easily. If you decide to remove the vinyl piece right away and install it again, you can also do it without considerable difficulties if you use the wet application method. To sum up, this method is much more forgiving, so if you are a novice installer, wet installation is definitely your best choice.
What are the limitations of wet installation?
The main problem of this method is the presence of soapy water leftovers on the surface after the installation. So it is not applicable, for example, when the vinyl wrap is translucent because you will likely see streaks underneath.
You cannot use the method for significantly curved surfaces and some special kinds of vinyl films, such as air egress vinyl.
Never forget to leave your vinyl wrap for 24 hours to set after the installation for the water to evaporate. So if the new look of your car is for an auto party starting in a few hours, think of using the dry method instead.
And another important warning: if you are going to strip backing paper from your vinyl graphics piece by piece to simplify the installation process, be careful not to wet the backing paper which is still on your vinyl. Otherwise, removing wet backing paper will become an absolute nightmare!