Three Ways to Remove Window Tint

old bubbled window tint
You Might Want to Remove Old Tint to Improve the Looks of Your Ride.

There are plenty of good reasons to install window tint, such as privacy, daytime visibility, and ultraviolet protection. At the same time, there are at least a few good reasons to remove window tint, such as if it exceeds the law, you don’t like the color, or it has started to bubble or fade.

Even if the film has been there a long time, years or over a decade, there are at least three ways to remove window tint without ruining your windows. Here they are, in order of difficulty, more or less.

Thermal—Expensive, but Clean

clothing steamer has multiple uses around the home and garage
This Clothing Steamer has Multiple Uses, Such as Softening Old Window Film Adhesive.

By far, the easiest way to remove window tint is to use heat, specifically via a steam cleaner. Hot steam will soften the adhesive, allowing the window tint to separate from the glass. The only drawback is the need to acquire a clothing steamer, which may or may not be useful in the rest of your life – it’s great for last-minute touchups on your Sunday best, club swag, or disinfecting the cat box.

  1. Obtain a clothing steamer, long extension cord, and a couple gallons of distilled water—some steamers may specify salt for maximum efficiency. Handheld steamers are cheaper, but the ones with the hose attachment make it easier to reach into the cramped areas of a rear sedan window.
  2. Protect the interior of your car with a plastic tarp or garbage bag and an old towel.
  3. Work the steam over the entire window, not just one spot, to heat up the window tint and soften the adhesive. Take care not to burn yourself with the hot steam.
  4. Use your fingernail or utility knife to pick at the edge of the tint.
  5. While continually applying steam to the exposed window and window tint, peel off the window film. You might need a razor scraper or plastic scraper to help, but adding more steam is usually enough.

Mechanical – Cheap, but Labor-Intensive

peeling off old window tint
Window Tint Might Come Off in Pieces, but Patience Will Win the Day.

Of course, you could simply rip off the window tint with brute force, which this method describes. It’s the cheapest option but will require a little more effort to get a clean window.

  1. Using a utility knife, lift a corner of the window tint and start pulling.
  2. You can use a razor scraper or plastic scraper to cut the adhesive and ease removal.
  3. This method is likely to rip off the window film in smaller pieces, but you should be able to remove everything with a little patience.

Chemical – Effective, but Messy

plastic scraper scraping window
A Plastic Scraper Won’t Damage the Defroster or Antenna Grid.

This is a simple chemistry hack: Window tint adhesive is soluble in ammonia or alcohol, which means you can use those substances to break down the adhesive bond. The most straightforward way to do this is to spray ammonia or 70% or 91% isopropyl alcohol directly onto the window film. The tinted film isn’t 100% impermeable, and will allow the chemical in to do its work.

  1. Because ammonia is toxic, make sure to use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Alcohol is slightly less dangerous than ammonia, but similar PPE guidelines apply for maximum safety.
    1. Safety glasses or goggles protect your eyes from overspray
    2. A respirator, rated for ammonia (or alcohol), will protect your nervous system from fumes
    3. Latex or vinyl gloves (nitrile may not be effective), will prevent chemical absorption through your fingers.
  2. Open all the windows and doors to allow for ventilation. Protect all interior surfaces from overspray. You can use a plastic tarp or heavy-duty garbage bag—think contractor bags—and an old towel to collect overspray.
  3. Spray the interior of the glass with your weapon of choice, then plaster old newspapers or paper towels to the glass. The spray will hold the paper to the window tint and prevent it from drying out.
  4. Build up 3 or 4 layers of paper, using ammonia or alcohol to keep everything wet.
  5. Wait about half an hour for the reaction to work, making sure it doesn’t dry out—mist it lightly every few minutes or so.
  6. Peel off the paper and set aside, useful if you have more windows to de-tint, then use a utility knife to pick at a corner of the window tint.
  7. As you peel back the window tint, mist everything occasionally to keep it from drying out. You might need a razor scraper to help with the removal process.

A Couple of Notes

tinted rear window of an suv
Never Use a Razor Scraper on a Defroster Grid.

Never use a razor scraper on a rear window defroster grid or antenna grid. The razer will literally cut off the grid, and you’ll be left with no defroster or no radio reception. Instead, use a plastic scraper in these areas.

Depending on the situation, you may have to try out all three methods, or even combine them, to figure out what works best for your vehicle.

Final Cleaning

using steel wool to remove window tint adhesive
Use New (Clean) #0000 Steel Wool and Soapy Solution to Remove Old Window Film Adhesive.

Once the window tint is removed, some original adhesive may remain. Use new #0000 steel wool—rub lightly!—in warm soapy solution to remove it. Dish detergent or liquid car wash are both good ideas for this part of the project.

Finally, clean the glass with the glass cleaner of your choice and a microfiber cloth.

In the end, once you’ve removed the old window tint and cleaned the glass to clear and streak-free, you can enjoy clear vision again, or consider installing new window tint to your liking.