How to Remove Tree Sap from Your Car & Prevent It from Coming Back

Did you happen to park your vehicle under a tree as of late? Or perhaps you do this on a regular basis out of habit, or simply because you have no other choice but to do so?

Is it now covered with a sticky substance and you’re stuck wondering how to remove tree sap from your car? You know, you want it completely gone so you don’t, well, feel disgusted about your car anymore.

Don’t worry about it, we’ve got you covered! (Not covered in sap, though – you already have enough of that to worry about as it stands!).

The sap in and of itself isn’t so easy to clear, but luckily, you do have many options at your disposal to detach the residue.

Wiping a car's headlights and completing the tree sap removal process with cloth and spray

First things first: ideally, the sooner you get this done, the better. The longer tree sap stays on your vehicle, the harder it will be to take off and the more elbow grease it will require, potentially damaging your car paint in the process and costing you a fair chunk of cash and time down the line.

Knowing your enemy is only half the battle. In this article, we’ll discuss what this sticky substance is, what it’s made of, and where it comes from. We’ll also cover – in detail – the different efficient strategies you can employ to remove it from your car exterior.

After that’s all said and done, though, it’s very important that you remember the following: preventing these stains from occurring in the first place is much easier than spending hours upon hours removing the syrupy substance from your vehicle.

So, we’ll also describe some of the most important tips and pointers you can take into consideration to avoid all of this situation from happening in the first place.

What Is Tree Sap?

Tree sap is a transparent, fluid substance produced by most trees. Slightly more fluid than honey, its color is often close to amber.

We’re not going to get too much into the biology of things here, so this won’t turn into a boring lecture that reminds you of your good old school days, but know this: A tree feeds from the nutrients found in water. It also makes sugar by photosynthesis, creating this sticky substance called sap.

The sugary substance travels through the xylem and phloem cells of the tree, carrying the nutrients, hormones, and water throughout. For this reason, it’s found within every part of the tree: the trunk, but also the leaves, flowers, and needles.

In a sense, it acts similarly to the blood in a human body, but at a much slower pace.

The sap is produced all year round, so you’ll always have to stay vigilant. Some trees, however, produce more of it than others, and its chemical compounds can also slightly differ.

How Does Tree Sap End up on Your Car?

In order to know how to prevent and keep tree sap as far away from your vehicle as possible, it’s important to know how it can possibly get there in the first place.

From Trees

Carbon dioxide circulates through trees. The pressure Co2 creates can accumulate, pushing the liquid to any openings available.

Heat increases the amount of pressure, which is why sap is more prevalent in spring and early summer.

From Insects

You’ve got a sticky substance on your vehicle’s paint, but is it really sap?

Trees and leaves are full of life. One of the largest insect populations living on trees might be the aphids. An aphid is a tiny green insect that mostly thrives on the leaves.

These insects feed on the sugary liquid and secrete honeydew. Aphid infestations are common. When out of control, honeydew can drip off the leaves, making one think that this is pine sap.

In short, what’s on your vehicle may not be sap per se, but rather insect droppings. Just like sap, it’s difficult to remove and should be cleaned right away.

From Dead Leaves

When winter comes, leaves fall due to water and sunlight shortage. When parked under a tree, your vehicle might be quickly covered with a blanket of dead leaves.

You’ll soon realize that these leaves are quite sticky, as they still contain the sugary substance. They’re difficult to remove from the windshield and car paint.

In this case, not only will you need to remove sap, but also the leaves stuck to it, which makes all of this an even tougher challenge.

Why Should I Remove Tree Sap From My Car?

So, why exactly should you remove pine sap from your car, anyways?

What could possibly happen if you decide to leave the substance to accumulate on your vehicle? (Besides driving something that looks ridiculously awful, of course).

Damages Your Paint

Tree sap is acidic. It might not damage your car right away, but after some time, the chemicals in sap will create etching and permanent damage.

It starts by attacking your clear coat, making its way to the paint.

Now, here is the tricky question: How long does it take before this substance attacks a car’s paint? Well, sap made by different trees varies in chemical composition and concentration. Each substance might, therefore, affect your vehicle in a different way.

Pine trees, for example, create a substance that becomes resin-like when it dries. Once dried, it becomes almost impossible to remove.

Weather also plays an important role in all of this, as heat and sun accelerate the deterioration of the paint.

Reduces Visibility

This sticky liquid doesn’t only aim for your car paint – it falls all around your vehicle, including your windows and windshield. And no, it’s not as easy as turning on your windshield wiper and watch tree sap go away (even though I sure do wish it was!).

A windshield covered with this sugary substance reduces visibility, and can become dangerous while driving.

How Can I Remove Tree Sap From My Car?

Depending on how long you’ve had the substance on your car, there’s a bunch of different options and methods available which you could use to remove it.

Hot Water and Car Wash Soaps

Washing and drying your vehicle should be the first step to remove any stain, new or old.

The following is a list of steps you should follow at first:

  1. Park your vehicle inside your garage or in the shade.
  2. Using a bucket, mix hot water with soap or other car cleaning product.
  3. Place some plain hot water in a different bucket to rinse your mitt while cleaning your car.
  4. Using a hose, ensure that your vehicle is wet throughout.
  5. Hand wash your vehicle with a clean mitt. It’s best to start with the wheels.
  6. Use the hose to rinse.
  7. Dry the entire vehicle with a clean microfiber cloth. This part is important, as wet droplets can create water spots and raise other issues.
  8. Apply a layer of protective wax.

Washing off your car should be enough to remove fresh stains. If stains remain, they’ll be weakened and softened by the water and heat.

Washing and drying your ride are also a prerequisite for all the cleaning methods mentioned below.

Alcohol Home Remedies

Rubbing alcohol can be very efficient in removing this sticky substance from your car’s exterior.

  1. Wash your vehicle with soap and hot water as previously described.
  2. Try the alcohol solution on a hidden part of the car paint first. These alcohol home remedies aren’t primarily made to remove sap stains, nor are they professionally tested for these purposes. So, test it on a small hidden area first, as you know what they say: better be safe than sorry!
  3. After applying the tree sap remover solution, rinse, and apply a coat of wax.

For this purpose, five alcohol-based home remedies can be used:

  • Bottle of Hand sanitizer: Spray or apply a small amount of hand sanitizer to remove tree sap off your car on the stain. Let the liquid sit for a few minutes and wipe it off using a clean microfiber cloth.
  • Nail polish remover: Apply the liquid on a cotton ball and rub again the stain until it comes off.
  • WD-40 solvent: Spray generously over the stain and let it sit for a few minutes before rinsing and drying.
  • Alcohol wipes: Apply the wipe directly on the stain and rub the sap until it comes off.
  • Isopropyl alcohol, 91 percent: As it evaporates fast, you’ll need to apply it on a clean microfiber cloth and rub against the stain right away. Gentle circular motions should be enough to dissolve the stain.
  • Mineral spirits: Also called paint thinner, this should be your last home remedy to resort to, and it’s really preferable not to reach this stage if at all possible. Mineral spirits are very efficient, but can also cause great damage to the paint when used incorrectly.

Pour a small amount of the liquid on a soft cloth and apply it on the stain for only a few seconds.

Clay Bar

A car detailing clay bar works great with fresh or soft sap. Hopefully, you already have one at home if you’re into detailing your car at all. The residue attaches to the clay, making it easy to remove.

It’s crucial not to use an old and dirty clay bar for these purposes, and it’s also very important to ensure that the area is wet before using the tool.

  1. Wash and dry your car thoroughly.
  2. Spray the troubled area with a clay lubricant.
  3. Soak the clay bar in warm water.
  4. Rub the bar gently in small circular motions until the spot comes off.
  5. Rinse and dry the area.
  6. Apply a layer of protective wax.

Commercial Removers

Commercial removers are specifically designed to remove stains such as pine sap, without damaging your vehicle clear coat or paint.

For example, popular commercial cleaners that do an excellent job at this include Turtle Wax Bug & Tar or Goof Off. In fact, they might be one of the safest options out there, as they’ve been tested for this very specific purpose.

No matter which commercial tree sap remover product you purchase and use, though, it’s important to read the instructions on how to best apply the product first.

Typically, these are the steps you’ll need to follow:

  1. After washing and drying your car, apply a small amount of the product on a clean microfiber cloth.
  2. Press on the stain for at least 60 seconds, then rub the stain gently until it dissolves.
  3. Wash the area again.
  4. Dry and apply a layer of car wax.

Polishing

If your stain is still resisting, you’ll need to pass to the next plan of attack: polishing.

A polisher is an electronic device that features a rounded end piece.

  1. Wash and dry your vehicle.
  2. Use a polisher device with light pressure.
  3. Wipe down the area.
  4. Apply a layer of protective wax.

Steam Cleaners

Steam cleaners are increasing in popularity these days, are they’re an efficient and eco-friendly cleaning device that can be used for most surfaces of your car.

Steamers produce a hot vapor (over 212 degrees Fahrenheit), and should therefore able to soften even the driest residues.

  1. Plug your steamer in and wait until the water is hot.
  2. Use the appropriate accessory: large and flat, or pointed.
  3. Pass the steam over the troubled surface, and avoid staying too long in one specific area.
  4. When steaming a window, make sure it isn’t cold, or else it might crack.
  5. Rinse and apply wax.

Ask a Professional

If nothing has worked for you so far, or maybe you don’t have the time to test all these methods we’ve mentioned above, don’t worry – there’s still hope!

Bring your vehicle to an auto repair shop, a car wash, or a full-service station, and they’ll be able to remove these stains for you.

Of course, the quote would depend on several factors such as the city and area you live in, how dry and old the stain is, which type of repair is needed for the situation, etc … So, costs associated with having a service provider clean sap on your car will vary accordingly.

The surface needed to be cleaned also needs to be taken into consideration. For example, fixing a small stain will be more affordable than treating half of your vehicle.

We recommend shopping around several shops before making your final decision.

Also, don’t forget that car shops sell commercial removers. Their first advice might be to give it a try on your own first (if you haven’t already done that, of course).

How Can I Prevent Tree Sap From Coming On My Vehicle Again?

Staying away from tree sap is often easier than trying to remove it from your ride, so – prevention is the best medicine!

While it’s certainly true that this might be easier said than done, there are nonetheless a few tricks you can keep in mind that will most likely be very beneficial.

Don’t Park Under A Tree

Alright, this might seem obvious, but it’s really the #1 best prevention tip there is. Avoid parking under a tree!

Nowadays, most of us are multi-tasking and often in a rush. We’re racing time to go for lunch, and this rare, perfectly located parking spot just frees up – what a chance!

The only problem is that there’s a tree above. But you don’t really care about that right now, you just want to get to where you need to be in as little time as possible, right? That’s how it is with all of us these days.

In summer, and in hot weather, parking under the shade of a tree can be tempting as well. You might only need to make this mistake once, however, to learn the lesson the hard way.

Some trees produce more sap than others. The ones producing an excessive amount are maple, honey locusts, elm, and birch trees. Some others are also more prone to aphid infestations than others.

Here are a few tips to recognize a tree potentially producing a large amount of pine sap, which is bound to be problematic for you and your vehicle:

  • A trunk containing many tiny holes.
  • Damaged or broken branches.
  • Freshly pruned tree in spring or early summer.
  • Dead bark either on the trunk or branches.

Applying Wax Regularly

Ensure that your vehicle always has a fresh coat of wax, as this creates a protective layer between external contamination and your paint job.

Without such a wax layer that protects your cars, this sugary liquid will sneak through the clear coat to the paint.

Wax is able to protect your vehicle for a couple of months, assuming you’re using a good product, of course. However, if you wash your car often and if it’s exposed to sunny or rainy weather, you might want to apply wax more often than that.

Invest in a Car Cover

A car cover might be one of the best ways to keep all of this trouble and headache away from your paint, as well as not having to deal with removing sap from your windows. Most are compact enough to keep inside your vehicle until needed, so this shouldn’t be much of an inconvenience to you at all.

Multi-purpose car covers protect your vehicle from this substance, but also protect it from other stuff such as water drops, wind, debris, and potential scratches.

Different types are available for you to choose from, depending on which one suits your needs best. It’s also very important to choose one that will best fit your vehicle model.

Keep the Necessary Equipment in Your Car

Last but not least, keeping all the necessary cleaning items and accessories in your vehicle should help you remove sap on cars as soon as it appears.

We cannot stress this enough: The sooner you take care of tree sap that makes its way on your car, the easier of a task this will be. The longer you wait to address the problem, the more difficult it will become.

Keep a tree sap first aid kit in your car at all times. If you’re not familiar with what that is, it should basically contain a commercial remover, a microfiber towel, a small bottle of water, and a clean sponge or mitt.

Wrapping it Up

Tree sap can be tricky to remove from your vehicle, but the solutions and remedies we’ve discussed in this article should really help you get rid of this sticky substance.

From home remedies, commercial cleaning products, to heavy-duty equipment, these stains can be attacked and dealt with in a variety of different ways and methods, all depending on their resistance and just how stubborn they are in your situation.

Car shop professionals can also guide you on what you need to do, or remove the stains for you (for a charge) if you don’t have the time/desire to do so yourself.

At the end of the day, though, the key remains to do your best to avoid tree sap altogether.

The first few times, you might have time to remove the substance right away. If this happens on a daily or even weekly basis, frustration or simply a busy life might mean you have to wait longer and longer before removing the sap spot – which ends up making the task a more difficult one to deal with.

Sometimes, spending an extra five minutes finding the right parking spot might save you hours of cleaning later.

For now, enjoy getting your clean car back!

Kyle Palmer

From childhood go karting and motocross, to collecting and obsessing over scalextric, matchbox and radio controlled cars, I've always had an obsession with cars. Learning through manuals, books, trial and error, and more knowledgeable family members, I've also enjoyed tinkering with the mechanics and electronics of any vehicles I've owned. Now, over 3 decades later, I've started this site as a place for me to share my knowledge, to teach others how to care for and maintain their vehicles themselves, at home, so they can get the most of their vehicles and save a pretty penny compared to always seeking out professional help.

Leave a Comment