How To Remove Tree Sap From Your Car

Catching and cleaning sap early is crucial to protecting your paint.

Time Needed: 5 minutes to one hour, Difficulty: Beginner, Cost: $10-20 depending on how many towels you ruin

One of the primary rules for keeping a clean car is avoiding trees at all costs. Yes, trees are beautiful Earth sculptures that help us breathe and allow us to string up hammocks for warm days in the sun, but they’re also vessels for numerous things that could soil your vehicle. Birds poop, insects invade and shed, branches drop limbs, and certain trees ooze out a sticky substance that would be perfect for the Gorilla Glue Lady’s next YouTube video. It’s called sap, and it’s a major annoyance when it turns your car into a canvas for drip painting.

The sap we speak of is a substance that helps deliver nutrients throughout a tree. It’s primarily made of water, sugar, and minerals, with a few other substances that help a tree live and grow.

Sap cannot be easily wiped away like dirt or pollen, so it requires immediate special attention to remove it. Unfortunately, regular soap and water won’t do the job and will leave you with nothing but a sore elbow. If you’re dealing with this issue or know you’ll be forced to park under trees, it’s important to know how to remove the sap before it does too much damage. The editors at Car Bibles have all the tips and suggestions you’ll need to do the job. Let’s get started.

How To Remove Tree Sap From Your Car

Why Is Tree Sap Such a Pain?

When sap is forced out of a tree, it’s typically in a slightly less viscous state. So, when it drops onto your car, there’s a good chance it will travel and create streaks or large blobs. Then when the temperature fluctuates, it hardens, then softens, then hardens again, each time cementing the trail it’s left and working its way into every nook, cranny, and crevice it encounters. 

One spot might be fairly easy to take care of, but sap typically doesn’t restrict itself to one part of the tree, so it’s likely all over the car. Because it’s sticky, it grabs any and every piece of dirt and bug particles it can find. That also means you need to be careful not to rub it into the car while you clean. The longer it sits, the more damage it could do to your vehicle and the harder it will be to remove.  

The Safety Brief

The risk of injury while removing tree sap is nearly non-existent, but there’s still a chance of getting some of the cleaning product in your eyes or on your skin. If you want to avoid that completely, grab some gloves and glasses.

The Tools You’ll Need To Remove Tree Sap

Don’t let sap ruin your day, this equipment should help make removal fairly simple.

The Job: How To Remove Tree Sap From Your Car

Because everybody has different levels of access to different products, we’ve presented two options for cleaning, one with products designed for the job, and one with alcohol, a common household product many people will already have. 

Diluted Isopropyl Alcohol Mixture

  1. Park your car in the shade and let the exterior cool down.
  2. Wash the entire car, or at least the spots where you see sap. Don’t worry about the sap during this process.
  3. Try to pick off or remove any large pieces of dirt, leaves, or needles that could scratch the paint.
  4. Once it’s clean, lightly spray the area with the alcohol mixture until it is coated.
  5. Let soak for up to a minute.
  6. With a clean microfiber towel, lightly agitate the mixture on the sap to break it up. Don’t press too hard as any contaminants could scratch the paint.
  7. Carefully wipe the residue off the car in an upward sweeping motion.
  8. Repeat steps 4-7 until the sap is gone.
  9. Reapply wax, if you choose, as the alcohol also removes any products previously applied to the paint. 

Bug, Tar, and Sap Removal Product

  1. Park your car in the shade and let the exterior cool down.
  2. Wash the entire car, or at least the spots where you see sap. Don’t worry about the sap during this process.
  3. Try to pick off or remove any large pieces of dirt, leaves, or needles that could scratch the paint.
  4. Once it’s clean, spray the area until it is coated.
  5. Let soak for at least five minutes for penetration.
  6. With a clean microfiber towel, lightly rub back and forth to agitate the liquid on the sap to break it up. Don’t press too hard as any contaminants could scratch the paint.
  7. Carefully wipe the residue up and off the car.
  8. Repeat 4-7 until the sap is gone. This will likely take a few tries to completely remove the sap, and even after, there might still be a stain or mark due to damage.
  9. Reapply wax, if you choose, as the alcohol in the removal product also removes any products previously applied to the paint. 

Car Bibles answers all your burning questions!

The Tree Sap Questionnaire

Car Bibles answers all your burning questions!

Q: Is tree sap bad for car paint?

A: Yes, and the longer it stays, the worse it will be. When sap is left on your car, it slowly starts to eat away at the clear coat and could leave a “stain,” even after it is cleaned up and wiped away.

Q: What if the sap is on my windows?

A: Use the same processes above to remove the sap. Some people also let the sap harden and try to break it off with a scraper, but that could just take more time and could scrape the glass.

Q: Does nail polish remover remove tree sap?

A: We do not recommend using nail polish remover on your car ever. Depending on its chemical makeup, it could damage the car’s clear coat and/or paint.

Q: Is WD-40 safe to use on car paint?

A: The WD-40 website actually offers suggestions for using WD-40 on car paint, but we’d still avoid it. There are relatively cheap products designed specifically for the job you are trying to do, and using WD-40 is just cutting corners.

The Video Tutorial

The Products To Buy

CarPro Tar X Tar and Adhesive Remover

Turtle Wax Ultimate Car Care Kit

Sinland Microfiber Towels

Chemical Guys Woolly Mammoth Microfiber Dryer Towel

Tony Markovich

Tony MarkovichTony has a thing for pop-up headlights. His first car was a $3,000 1996 Saturn SC2 Coupe, and his current project is a 1970 Opel GT junker. When he's not daydreaming about the Cadillac Sixteen, he's watching the Chicago Bulls go undefeated on TNT. Contact the author here.