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How to Remove Tree Sap From Your Car If You’ve Parked Under A Tree

Have you ever woken up to find spots of tree sap covering your car?  Have you ever inadvertently parked under a tree and got “sapped” as a result?  If so, you already know what a sinking feeling this can be—a feeling of knowing that you may have to spend hours of your precious time scrubbing the tree sap away just to get your vehicle back to its pre-sap cleanliness.  And while it’s true that cleaning sap from your car can be very difficult without the right materials and strategies, there are some methods that actually work better than others for this process. To help you understand these more clearly, in the following article we will discuss some of these successful strategies in more detail—strategies that range from simple soap and water to a bevy of commercial and household items and products that are, surprisingly, very effective at removing that sap.

Soap and Water Can (Sometimes) Cure the Sap Problem

The soap and water method of cleaning tree sap from your car may not always be the best strategy, but because most people have these two items readily at hand we have decided to begin our article here before moving on to some of the other methods.

When the tree sap on your car is fairly new, meaning it has not had much time to dry and cement itself to your automobile paint; hot soapy water can often do the job quite well.  Plus, since you will have the soap and water out already, this method gives you a perfect excuse to go ahead and wash your entire car, leaving it looking clean and entirely sap-free.

When using this method, it is crucial that you remember that the longer tree sap is left to dry and solidify on the surface of your car or truck, the more difficult it will be to clean.  The same holds true for many other problem stains and substances, such as bird droppings. Therefore, try to get to the tree sap problem as rapidly as you can for best results.

To complete this method, place one or two ounces of a non-abrasive soft soap into a bucket and fill that bucket up with hot water.  Set the bucket aside.

Next, using a regular garden hose with a spray attachment, spray the entirety of your automobile with clean water.  Take some extra time focusing on the problem spots of sap, using the most forceful spray setting available.

Wet a sponge or microfiber rag of some kind by dipping it into the bucket of hot, soapy water.  For best results, attack the stains of sap first, before washing any other part of your car. By attacking these stains first you can ensure that the water remains VERY hot.  Use the hottest water you can stand—even if you have to use gloves—as hotter water will be much more effective against the sap. Using a circular motion with a lot of pressure, scrub each spot of sap until it is loosened and completely washed away.  Continue washing the rest of your car and truck, and thoroughly rinse the entire vehicle.

Washing sap away using soapy water may not always work to perfection, and in some cases, a bit of sap may actually remain.  However, by employing this method first you can ensure that the surfaces on your car are clean before trying other methods.

If the sap does indeed come loose and washes away during this process, dry the car thoroughly and then park it in the shade to prepare for waxing.  Remember, scrubbing sap away from a vehicle requires a lot of pressure and effort, and through that effort you will almost certainly wash the previous wax job away.

Commercial Sap Remover Should Do the Job

The next and perhaps best method for removing sap from an automobile is to use a commercial tree sap remover.  Unfortunately, it is also one of the most expensive methods, as these commercial sap removers tend to be a little pricey.

To employ this method, you will first want to thoroughly wash your vehicle with hot, soapy water, just as you did in the previous strategy.  Be sure to focus a lot of your efforts on the problems areas and the areas directly surrounding the spots of sap, being sure to lift off all of the dirt and grime.

After you have purchased a commercial tree sap remover of some kind (from a hardware store, nursery or home improvement center), carefully read the directions for use.  In most cases you will need to wear gloves to protect your hands from the chemicals used in the remover; and you will need to shake the bottle well to mix the product properly and thoroughly.

Using a clean, non-abrasive microfiber rag or towel, place the recommended amount of the sap remover onto the rag (and not the car).  Hold the rag atop the sap stain while applying plenty of pressure. Not only will this help to break down the sap into a more liquefied form, it will also help loosen the sap underneath from the surface of the vehicle.  Next, use a circular motion to scrub the stain, making sure every part of the stain has been lifted up as you’re simultaneously being careful not to spread the sap to other parts of the vehicle.

Once all of the problem spots of sap have been lifted away and cleaned from your car’s paint, you will definitely want to finish by washing your entire car with hot soapy water, drying it with a non abrasive towel or chamois, and waxing it in a shady or covered area (not under the same tree that produced the sap in the first place).

Get Creative with Household Products

There are many household products and items that have proven very successful against tree sap on a vehicle (and other surfaces).  However, before you try any of these creative remedies it is important to first wash your vehicle thoroughly as we have explained earlier.  All of the products we have listed below have been proven safe against your car’s paint, but dirt and friction is another story. For that reason, it is crucial that all dirt and grime is washed away from your vehicle’s surface before attempting any of these methods.

Alcohol Wipes

The alcohol used to make alcohol wipes is completely safe against your car’s paint and highly effective against sap buildup.  These wipes can be found in first aid kits, drug stores, auto parts stores and most big box stores. Simply remove the alcohol wipe from the packaging and, using a circular motion, begin to scrub the various areas in which sap is present.  The type of alcohol used in these wipes will break down the sap and significantly loosen it, making it extremely easy for you to clean it away. If you do not have ready-made alcohol wipes, you can always improvise with rubbing alcohol or mineral spirits.  Just place a few drops of the solution onto a clean, non-abrasive rag and employ the same circular scrubbing motion until all the sap has been lifted.

Hand Sanitizer

Many of us carry hand sanitizer these days to protect against germs, especially during the winter months when colds and the flu are real risks to our health.  These sanitizing products contain the same type of isopropyl alcohol found in alcohol wipes and rubbing alcohol and are thus very effective against sap stains, breaking down the chemicals that cause sap to harden and stick.  When using hand sanitizer, simply follow the same steps we outlined for the alcohol wipes or rubbing alcohol.


WD-40 is one of those products with a million uses—one million and one if you count its effectiveness against sap on vehicle surfaces.  WD-40 can loosen bolts, bring shine to certain metallic surfaces and, yes, clean sap off a car. One of the best things about using WD-40 for this purpose is its handy applicator, which can deliver a dose of the product right to the stain.  Be sure to shake the bottle of WD-40 carefully, aim the applicator at the stain, and shoot. Then, wait about two to three minutes to allow the WD-40 to penetrate and break down the stain. Once that time has expired, simply wash the WD-40—and the sap—away.

Nail Polish Remover

Last but not least, in the same way nail polish remover is very effective against removing nail polish, it can also be an enemy to sap stains on your vehicle.  To use this product correctly, simply dab some nail polish remover onto a clean cotton ball. Once doused, place the cotton ball directly over the sappy area and hold it there for about a minute, allowing the chemicals in the remover to break down the sap.  Scrub the stain once or twice and the bulk of the sap will be removed. To pick up the rest of the now-loose sap, use a combination of clean water and baking soda on a rag to clean the area, and then rinse the area thoroughly.

image by Prasanta Kr Dutta from Pexels