How to Effortlessly Remove Pesky Tree Sap From Your Car

You live in a tree-lined avenue in a beautiful neighborhood, and it's nice and wonderful until you realize that there's a downside that you have to live with: pesky tree sap all over your shiny ride. If you don't know how to remove tree sap from cars properly, chances are you might damage your vehicle's paint job. Sometimes even a trip to the car wash might not help solve the problem.

Some people might think that, when it comes to their cars, removing tree sap should be the least of their problems. We strongly disagree! We want you to gain a better understanding of why tree sap can pose serious problems for your car's paint job in the long run and why ignoring it can cost you a lot of bucks.

The process of removing tree sap from cars is actually not that difficult. There are several methods on how to remove tree sap from cars that have been proven to be effective. You'll be surprised that some cleaning agents and products you can use are readily available in your home.

What Is Tree Sap? 

This can quickly become a lengthy topic of discussion, so let's just focus on what's relevant. Your utmost concern is to get out of a sticky situation (literally), so we'll give you a clearer idea about what you're dealing with, a tree sap's components, and how to break it down in order to be able to remove it without damaging your car.

sap on a brunch of a tree

Image via Pixabay


Tree sap is actually the “blood” of a tree, sustaining it with essential nutrients necessary for growth. There are two kinds of sap found in trees: the xylem and phloem. The xylem is responsible for moving water, minerals, and hormones around the tree from the bottom to the top. That sticky substance that we all dread seeing on our cars is called phloem. The stickiness of the phloem comes from sugars which are generated through the process of photosynthesis.


A tree also produces sap for other reasons, too, like pest infestation, disease, or damage. The tree sap acts as a defense mechanism to get rid of pests which burrow into and can cause severe damage to the tree.


One solution to prevent getting tree sap on your car is to avoid parking under trees that drip a lot of sap, like pine trees. If getting tree sap on your car can't be helped, there are ways to learn how to remove tree sap from cars without compromising your vehicle's paint job.

Why Do You Need to Remove Tree Sap From Your Car?

tree sap flowing down

via Giphy

While a fresh drop of tree sap won't immediately damage your car, allowing it to sit and dry for an extended period will only make the task of removing it considerably harder. If left untreated, tree sap can affect your paint's clear coat and even the paint itself. It may also cause some staining or discoloring.

Pine trees are known for their exceptionally sticky sap. When pine sap drips onto your car, heat compounds its bad effects even further. The sap solidifies into a resin-like substance, making it more difficult to remove. If left untreated, the hardened pine sap can seriously damage not just the clear coat but the paint as well.

You're probably wondering how tree sap damages your paint job. As tree sap dries, it also shrinks over time, bonding with your car's paint as it does so. This causes stress on the vehicle's finish, and the tension will eventually cause the paint to crack. Once this happens, you will observe signs of deterioration around each spot of dried tree sap.

The rule of thumb is to remove tree sap at the soonest possible time so cleaning it off won't be difficult. The hot summer months can be especially harsh because the heat expedites the damage that tree sap can inflict on your car's paint job, so it is essential to remove it immediately and completely.

Tips for How to Remove Tree Sap From Cars

Knowing how to remove tree sap from cars will come in handy, especially if it's a recurring problem that you have to deal with from time to time. There are several ways on how to remove tree sap from cars, and their efficacy will depend on the extent of the stickiness or on how long the tree sap has been left untreated. Some of these methods are not 100 percent foolproof, so we advise you to practice caution when using a cleaning product and to test them first when necessary to find out how to remove tree sap from cars most effectively using each.

Soap and Hot Water

This is the safest way to remove tree sap, but it is only effective if you act quickly.

  1. Wash and rinse the whole car with clean water to remove dirt and other debris. This way, you can concentrate on removing the tree sap later on.
  2. Soak a clean microfiber cloth in hot and soapy water and then rub the affected surface of your car with it. Use the hottest water temperature you can handle because it will weaken the stickiness of the sap better. Make sure that the cloth is clean and debris-free before using.
  3. Rinse the soapy water off with hot water to see if the sap will come off. Do this several times if you have to until all residue is removed.
  4. When all the tree sap has been removed, dry the surface of your car thoroughly and then wax it for added protection.

Common Household Products

If hot and soapy water doesn't do the trick, you might want to try using some household products to do the job. However, most household products are not designed to be used on a car's surface, so it's best to take precautionary measures. Test a product first on a hidden part of your vehicle's paint job before using it.

pink spray bottle

Image via Pixabay

Mineral Spirits

Mineral spirits (also called mineral turpentine, turpentine substitute, paint thinner, or petroleum spirits) is a clear, organic solvent commonly used in painting. Exercise care when using mineral spirits because it can potentially damage your car's paint job. Apply lightly on the sap with a soft cloth to break the adhesion but avoid rubbing too much or too long to prevent damage. 

Isopropyl Alcohol

Make sure to use 91 percent isopropyl alcohol to remove the tree sap. Wet a clean cloth and make sure to keep it damp (the alcohol evaporates quickly) then apply light pressure on the tree sap. Isopropyl alcohol is usually effective in removing both fresh and dried tree sap. If necessary, use your fingernail to scrape off the remaining residue.

Hand Sanitizers

woman using a hand sanitizer

via Giphy

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are typically less harsh than isopropyl alcohol. Apply a small amount directly on the tree sap and let sit for a few minutes before rubbing with a clean cloth to wipe the tree sap off.

Nail Polish Remover

Wet a cotton ball with nail polish remover and wipe it on tree sap. It should come off instantly. Mix baking soda and water into a paste and apply on affected spot to remove any remaining residue.

Bug or Tar Remover

Wet a clean cloth with a bug or tar remover then place on the tree sap. Let it sit for a minute and then rub gently to remove. For stubborn sap, repeat the process until the sap is removed completely.


Spray WD-40 on tree sap and allow to sit for a few minutes so that it will be absorbed completely by the sap. Lift the loosened sap with a rag to remove it.

Cooking Oil

coooking oil in a bottle and a small bowl

Image via Pixabay

If the sap is still fresh, you can use cooking oil to remove it. Cooking oil is safe to use and will not damage your paint job. Apply it directly to the sap and allow to sit for a few minutes before you wipe it off. Clean the area with soap and water after the sap has been removed.

After using any of these household products, wash your car thoroughly; or, better yet, go for a regular car wash to remove any residue left by both the cleaning agent and the tree sap completely. Make sure to wax your car after to replenish its protective coating.

Ice Cube

Ice cubes have been proven to be effective in removing tree sap. Using them is fairly simple:

  1. Give your car a good wash first to remove any dirt or debris on the surface. Dry it with a clean microfiber cloth after washing.
  2. Place 4-5 large ice cubes in a glass of cold water to start the melting process. Take an ice cube and move it across the affected area. This will cause the tree sap to solidify quickly, making it easier to remove.
  3. As the ice cube melts, a small puddle of water will form on the surface. Rub the wet area to remove the sap and then wipe it off.

Commercial Tree Sap Remover

If the tree sap has dried and hardened, soap and hot water may not be enough to remove it. However, washing your car with hot and soapy water will still weaken and soften the sap for easier removal. Use a commercial tree sap remover to finish the job. You can get easily get one from an auto-parts store.

  1. Read instructions carefully before using the commercial tree sap remover. Use as directed.
  2. Use a clean microfiber cloth when applying the tree sap remover. Place some tree sap remover on the cloth and then hold it on top of the affected area while applying gentle pressure for a couple of minutes. This allows the sap remover to soak into the sap and break down the adhesion.
  3. To remove sap from the car's surface, rub the cloth in a gentle, circular motion. Lift the sap quickly off the surface and avoid spreading it further.
  4. Wash your car thoroughly and put a fresh coat of wax to renew its protective coating.

Auto Polish

Using auto polish is one of the more conventional ways to get rid of tree sap (especially the worst kind) because it removes a thin layer of clear coat from the paint, allowing you to rub the sap off without causing any damage. Apply polish on a clean microfiber cloth and work on the sap with circular motions. This will remove the sap a bit at a time; just keep working on it until the sap is removed completely.

Rubbing Compound

Rubbing compounds are often used as a last resort because they remove not just a layer of clear coat but the paint as well, which can cause swirl marks to appear. Rubbing compounds are mostly used by professionals, so if this is the only option you're left with it's best to leave it to the experts to do the job.

Clay Bars

The lesser-known clay bar is actually capable of removing tree sap. However, it's designed to remove paint overspray, brake dust, and metal particles from the paint. When using a clay bar, you might need to make several and repeated passes before the tree sap can be entirely removed. Make sure to dispose of used clay bars. Don't use them again as the contaminants can be abrasive on your car's paint job.

Sharp Box Cutter or Razor Blade

When you have tree sap sticking on your windshield or car windows, you can use a sharp box cutter or a razor blade to remove it. Remember to use the blade ONLY if the tree sap is on the glass. Some professionals use blades on tough tree sap that has dried and hardened on the car's surface, but we highly recommend against it since it can cause serious damage to your paint job.

If there is a fresh batch of tree sap on your windshield, do not use your wipers to clean it off as it will only spread the sap further and will make removing it even more difficult. Let the sap dry for a day or two before scraping it off with a blade. Keep the blade flat along the surface of the glass so as not to scratch it.

Glass Cleaner

Glass cleaners keep your windows clean and clear. Use a glass cleaner after removing tree sap from your windshield or car windows.


While these methods on how to remove tree sap from cars have been tried and tested by some to be effective, we would still seriously advise you to proceed with caution when using them. To summarize the key takeaways, remember to keep these points in mind:

man washing a black car

Image via Pixabay


The best way to remove tree sap from cars is to be diligent about checking and getting rid of them right away. Nothing beats removing that fresh drop of tree sap on the get-go. If you can avoid parking under trees that drip a lot of sap, then do so.

Wash First

Any method will tell you to do so, and for good reasons: dirt and debris can make the problem worse. It always pays to start with a clean slate.

Start Safe

Using soap and water is still our best bet. Any other cleaning agent can potentially damage your paint job even in the most minor way. Always begin with the gentlest way of removing sap and save the nuclear options for when nothing else is working.


As we've previously advised, take precautionary measures before using any method by first by testing a cleaning agent in a hidden part of your paint job and do it in a very small area to prevent major damage.

Wash and Wax

Whichever method you use, always finish the task by washing and rinsing the surface thoroughly to get rid of any remaining residue. Get a complete car wash if you have to. After you're done washing your vehicle, wax it to replenish the protective coating that was lost in the process of removing the tree sap.

Knives for Glass Only

Use a sharp box cutter or razor blades for glass ONLY. Using them on the car's surface can seriously damage the paint job. You have to wait a day or two before using a blade to remove the dried and hardened tree sap. Always keep the blade flat along the surface of the glass to prevent scratches.

Keep Up With Washing

Lastly, give your car a complete wash regularly. Tree sap stains can be overlooked sometimes; having it cleaned on a regular basis will subject it to closer scrutiny.

Knowing how to remove tree sap from cars is a very important part of car care. Don't underestimate the damage that tree sap can cause to your vehicle. Car maintenance and repairs are already costly as they are; you don't want to end up paying more for paint job problems.

If you love your car to bits, keeping it well-maintained, clean, shiny and tree sap-free will definitely make it last for a long, long time.

Featured Image via Pixabay

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