How to Remove Tree Sap From a Car Without Damaging its Paint?

We all had this happened to us. You park your car under a tree to take advantage of its shade during a hot day. When you come back, the windshield and the car paint are all covered in some sticky material. That’s called tree sap. It’s a fluid used by trees to transport nutrients, water, and other stuff from their roots to all the branches. Unluckily for us, it doesn’t flow in veins and arteries like human blood, but in layers, so it’s likely to leak out.

Don’t worry though, removing tree sap without damaging the car’s paint is a simple process. These are the steps you need to take to do it:

  • Start with a simple car wash. Take action as soon as you can. If you work the sap with soap and hot water before it gets baked, you could remove it without using additional products. In any case, this step is necessary to prepare your car for the next one;
  • Apply your desired product on the baked sap, let it do its thing, then remove the tree sap once it breaks up;
  • Wash the car again to remove any products left on top of it.

How to Remove Tree Sap From a Car Without Damaging its Paint?

Now, we’ll talk about each step thoroughly. I’ll also give you some advice on products you could use to remove the most stubborn sap. Alright, let’s get to it!

how to remove tree sap without damaging paint
“washing car” by STORM Outreach is licensed under Creative Commons Public Domain Mark 1.0 License

1) Wash the Car as Soon as Possible

Before using any specific product for sap, it’s good to start with a simple car wash. This will remove any dirt that isn’t as sticky as tree sap, making your life easier in the next steps. On top of that, you won’t risk scratching your car’s paint by rubbing dirt over it. Chances are a good portion of tree sap will also come off.

If you can, don’t wait until sap gets hard. That way, you can easily remove it with this step only. Once it gets harder, it will be much more difficult to remove, plus you’ll risk leaving scratches on the paint while you are at it. Use soap and hot water for this step.

2) Remove Stubborn Sap (Carefully!)

At this point, you should have removed the majority of the dirt and sap. If you didn’t take prompt action, chances are there’s still a lot of baked sap on top of your car. This also depends on the tree type. Some of them leak out stickier sap, which tends to be harder to remove.

So how can you remove baked sap without doing damage? Follow these steps:

  • Apply a product that softens the sap. There are professional and household alternatives. Check out the list below;
  • Work the sap slowly, without applying too much pressure;
  • Apply the products as many times as necessary; sap should come off easily. Don’t force it if it doesn’t. Hard sap can scratch your car’s paint when dragged on it.

What products to use to remove baked sap? Here are some alternatives:

  • First, you could try using one of these household solutions: bacon grease, WD40, mineral spirits, just to name a few. The procedure is the same with all of them: apply it on top of the car’s paint, then let them do their thing. When the sap starts going soft, remove it with a clean rag. Apply as many times as needed.
  • If you don’t trust household options, you can choose between any of the tree sap remover products available online or at your local shops. For example, I had good results using the Tar and Sap Remover called “Tarminator” from Stoner Car Care. It works pretty well on tar and asphalt too, plus it’s safe for any type of paint. Using it is pretty straightforward, simply follow the instructions on the bottle. Apply it, let it work for 30-60 seconds, then remove the dirt with a sponge or a clean rag.
  • If you didn’t have any luck with the previous alternatives, try using isopropyl alcohol. Soak a portion of a towel in it, then let it sit on top of the though sap for at least 30 seconds. The alcohol should be able to break down even the most stubborn sap. After that, rub the area with a clean rag soaked in alcohol until it’s clean.
  • For the same purpose as the previous point, you could try using an acetone-based product, such as nail polish remover. Careful with these, though! These products are rather aggressive. You definitely want to try them in a small, hidden spot of your car to make sure they don’t damage the paint before applying them to larger areas.

3) One, Final Wash

Finally, you’ll have to wash away all the products you used in the previous step. This will also be used to identify any dirty spots that you might have missed. Use hot water and soap to remove any grease or liquid sap left. Finally, you can enjoy your restored car!

FAQs [Frequently Asked Questions]

How do I remove tree sap from a car windshield?

“Windshield wipers” by State Farm is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Removing sap from a windshield isn’t very different than removing it from other parts of the car. You should start by cleaning as much as you can with soap and water. Then apply alcohol (or an alcohol-based product) to the hard sap to make it soften up. Use a towel soaked with alcohol for that. Let it work for some moments, then rub the spot until the sap comes off. It might require several applications before being able to remove the tree sap.

Finally, use your favorite glass cleaner to clean up any leftovers from your windshield.

Does Goo Gone damage car paint?

No, it doesn’t. Goo Gone is safe for car paint; actually, it works pretty well for removing tree sap. If you have any available, it’s a good alternative to the options I gave you earlier. If you need to buy it, consider getting the “automotive” version of the product, which is also good for other cleaning activities on your car.

Will vinegar remove tree sap from the car?

Vinegar is another common household option to remove tree sap from a car. It’s certainly good for fresh sap; you might need a more aggressive product to remove very stubborn sap. It’s worth it to give it a try. Follow the steps I mentioned earlier and you should get good results with it.

How to remove tree sap from the car with WD40?

WD40 is safe to use on cars to remove sap. Its penetration characteristics are ideal to make tree sap come off the car paint/windshield. Apply it on the area and give it some time to break up the sap; then use a clean rag to remove it. Wash the residues with soap and water.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, dealing with tree sap is rather easy. The key here is taking action as soon as possible; it’s easier to remove liquid sap than crystalized sap. Plus, there’s a higher chance you’ll damage the paint by attacking stubborn paint. To avoid that, make sure you use the right product. Choose between one of the alternatives I gave you.

Decide if you want to use a professional cleaner or a household option. Any oil-based solvent should do the trick, just make sure they don’t damage your paint by trying in a hidden spot first. And be careful when handling them, since they are toxic most of the time. Using rubber gloves is always advised.

If you got your car covered in tree sap because you parked under a tree to take advantage of its shade, consider getting a windshield sunshade. That way, you will protect your car interiors and yourself from the sun heat without having to deal with sap again.

If you will happen again to have tree sap on your car, make sure to address the problem as soon as you can!

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