How To Remove Tree Sap From Your Car (Without Damaging Your Paint!)

on August 10, 2021

Maple syrup made from the sap of a tree is one of Mother Nature’s finer gifts. But if you’ve ever gotten it stuck to your fingers or underneath the lid of the container, you know just how sticky that stuff can be.

Washing your hands is easy, but when tree sap gets on your brand new car, it can feel like the end of the world. Getting stubborn sap off of your glistening exterior might seem like a daunting task, but it’s actually a pretty simple process. You just want to make sure you’re doing it right so you don’t scratch your paint. 

The next time tree sap ruins your day, just follow these simple steps to get it off easily and safely.

 

What Makes Tree Sap So Sticky?

Tree sap is basically the blood of a tree. It carries energy to the branches and leaves, essentially keeping oaks, birches, and pines alive.

Sap is made of two main substances: xylem and phloem. Xylem helps to transport water, minerals, and hormones from the roots of the tree to the very top. When you cut down a tree and see the rings, those are actually the channels through which the xylem flows.

Xylem doesn’t stick, especially since it needs to flow through the tree. Phloem, on the other hand, is a sugary substance that’s responsible for the sticky inconvenience associated with the sap. It gives the tree nutrients during its growth period.

It’s important to clean tree sap off of your car as soon as you can because after a while, it will start to harden. When this happens, it can be a bit more difficult to remove it without damaging the exterior.

Now that you’ve got your biology lesson for the day, let’s talk about how to remove it from your vehicle.

 

Cleaning Sap Off of Your Car’s Exterior

In the short term, it’s hard to say if tree sap will really do much damage to your car. But if you leave it long enough for it to harden, you definitely increase the risk of chipping paint and dulling the finish over time.

To clean off your car sap, you only need a few materials:

  • Two clean microfiber cloths
  • Water and sponge
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Soap
  • Spray Wax

1. Wash Your Car

One good thing about getting sap on your car is that it gives you an excuse to give your car a good wash. Use a sponge, soap, and water to scrub your vehicle clean in the same way that you would normally.

Creating a clean surface to work on helps to reduce the risk of scratching or damaging your exterior. Plus, you might be able to wash away the sap with this step alone.

 

2. Soak the Sap

Locate the spot (or spots) of built-up sap and put a few drops of the rubbing alcohol onto one of your microfiber cloths. Lay the cloth over top of the sap and let it sit for at least 30 seconds.

Isopropyl alcohol, or rubbing alcohol, can be used to remove sap from pretty much any other surface as well. So keep it handy in case you get some on your clothes or shoes.

Note that you shouldn’t use rubbing alcohol on or around your tires. Instead, try using tire shine gel, as this will be less abrasive and will give your tires a better shine.

 

3. Rub It In

Gently rub the area until the sap dissipates. Depending on how long the sap has had to harden on the surface, it might be a bit more difficult to remove. You might need to repeat step two a couple of times, letting it soak in the rubbing alcohol before trying to scrub again.

Being conservative with rubbing alcohol is important, and using elbow grease to rub out the sap is a better option than adding more alcohol. Try soaking and scrubbing with the existing amount of alcohol before going ahead and adding some more.

There might be some leftover goo on the surface, so you might need to get your fingernail in there to gently scratch it up. This shouldn’t scratch your paint, but to be safe, you can use a multi-purpose brush instead.

 

4. Protect With Wax

After you get the sap off, you’ll probably never want to deal with it again. That’s why it’s important to finish off your sap cleanse with some wax.

Our Spray Wax Quick Coat can make this step easy and effective. It’s formulated using advanced science to give your car an ultimate shine while also protecting it from bugs, bird droppings, and pesky tree wax. And the best part is that you can just spray it on without fear of leaving streaks or residue.

 

Cleaning Sap From Your Car’s Interior

If you spend a lot of time outdoors, or you have some sneaky sap all over your hands, it’s possible to get some throughout the interior of your car as well. The good news is that getting it off of the fabric of your seats or your plastic dashboard is a breeze.

Rubbing alcohol is great for removing sap from fabrics. However, we recommend that you use slower rubbing movements to lift it off of your seats rather than vigorously going back and forth. This is so you can reduce the risk of the sap rubbing into the fabric further.

If you get sap on your steering wheel or dashboard, your best bet is to use some warm water to soak the sap until it is loose enough to be picked up with a microfiber cloth. 

If you have a leather interior, you’ll need to take extra care when cleaning the sap. For one, only use a proper leather cleaner and conditioner to make sure you don’t damage your seats. Additionally, don’t apply the cleaner directly to the seats. Rather, apply it to a cloth to prevent over-soaking.

 

Cleaning Sap Off Your Windshield

Cleaning sap off of your windshields or windows is pretty much identical to cleaning it off of the paint. In fact, it might be a bit easier.

This is because, on your windshield, you can use a razor blade to gently scrape the sap off the windshield if it’s really caked on. This isn’t something you can do on the rest of your car, as this can easily scratch the paint job.

Also, clean the windshields with a glass cleaner rather than soap and water to avoid streaks and keep your glass looking as pristine and perfect as the rest of your vehicle.

 

Tips for Removing Hardened Sap

If tree sap has sat on your car for too long, causing it to become hard as a rock, traditional cleaning methods just might not cut it. Luckily, there are a few different things you can try to help eliminate it.

Hot water can help to soften hardened tree sap and make it a bit easier to wipe away with a microfiber cloth. While you need to be careful that the water isn’t boiling, if you dampen a cloth with some warm water and scrub away with some alcohol, the sap should loosen up enough so that you can wipe it away.

If you notice that there are plenty of small splatters of sap on your car, the traditional cleaning method might be a bit tedious. An alternative is to use a clay bar, as this can be rubbed on the surface to pick up any loose debris from the exterior. These feel like putty and can pick up things like tar, dead insects, and more.

 

Don’t Let Sap Make You Sad

Tree sap is great in maple syrup but pretty terrible on your car. It can get sticky and harden, possibly chipping your paint upon removal. That’s why it’s important to clean it properly.

Rubbing alcohol is your best friend for cleaning sap, both on the paint and your windshield. Use gentle motions, and don’t be afraid to soak the sap until it becomes soft. Just remember to use wax afterward to protect your car from future damage.

There’s no way to stop trees from leaving their mark on your precious vehicle, but there are plenty of ways to fix the problem. The next time you’re stuck, use these simple tips and tricks to send sap sailing.

 

Sources:

Xylem and Phloem | Basic Biology

What Is Tree Sap and Why Do Trees Produce it? | The Tree Center

How to Clean Leather Car Seats | DIY

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