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How to Remove Tree Sap from Your Car

Natalie Josef
August 24, 2011

There are many wonderful things about living in San Francisco—diversity, good food, and the weather. And of course, there are drawbacks—rent that makes you want to cry, mainly. But one thing that is perpetually bothersome is parking on the street. Since I don’t have an extra $200 for a covered, secure parking space (see: rent), every day I take my chances with street parking.

Since becoming a vehicle owner in the city (which is barely a year now), I have had my vehicle stolen, which was horrible. And on the new vehicle, the paint has been scratched, the side view mirror has been cracked, and the car is eternally covered in a dirty sheen of crud. 

So, the other morning when I went to the car, low and behold, another calamity had struck during the night—the windshield and part of the hood had tree sap on it. I was already in the driver’s seat when I noticed and in my blind desire to just have it gone, like a fool, I turned on the windshield wipers. 

Big mistake. It just smeared it. Great, now it’s on the windshield wipers, too! I decided to just go to work and deal with it later, which made for a very amusing commute trying to see around three huge smears of tree sap.

I had done a little research online and was not looking forward to buying special products to deal with it, so I asked a coworker (thanks, Jim!), who recommended vegetable oil. Hmmm … made sense. I like the common sense approach.

When I got home, I used some wipes to clean up the sap as best as I could. Instead of a wiping motion, which would only smear it more, I used a pinching motion. When I got up all I could off the windshield, I dabbed some vegetable oil on the spots and then scrapped off the remaining sap with a razor blade. It worked very well. Then, on the body of the car, I just rubbed and rubbed the vegetable oil with my fingers until it came off. After that, I washed it with soap and water and I was done.

This worked well for me, but there are tons of ideas when it comes to removing tree sap from your vehicle. Here are some tips just in case it happens to you:

  1. Remove the sap as quickly as possible. The longer it sits, the harder it becomes.

  2. BMW recommends finger nail polish remover on a cotton ball. Once the sap is gone, they recommend making a paste of baking soda and water to wash the affected area. Once that’s done, they recommend waxing.

  3. Other recommendations: water-soluble paint brush cleaner, bacon grease or lard, Skin So Soft, hand sanitizer, lighter fluid, rubbing alcohol, WD-40, commercial grease-removing products, bug and tar removers, and believe it or not—mayonnaise!

  4. When removing sap from paint, use the least amount of pressure possible. I was able to get the sap off my paint by using my fingers.

  5. Auto experts swear by the clay bar. It will remove any contaminant stuck to your car’s surface. It can be used on paint, metal, rubber, vinyl, glass, and plastic.

  6. If the sap sits too long in the sun, it will bake onto the car’s paint job, making it even more difficult to remove.

  7. Remember to wash the spots with soap and water. You don’t want chemicals and oils sitting on your car’s paint. When using harsh chemicals, wash them off as soon as possible.

  8. Since using chemicals on your car’s paint can cause it to dry out, waxing your vehicle after removing the sap is always a good idea.
Natalie Josef

About the Author

Natalie Josef is an automotive expert at RepairPal, the leading online source of auto repair resources and estimates. With many ASE Master certified mechanics on staff who have decades of experience, RepairPal knows all the fine points of car repair.

1 User Comment

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By , October 22, 2011
My body shop gave me a good tip, and it works very well. Methyl Hydrate!!! Make sure your vehicle is clean, just dab some methyl hydrate on the sap, let it sit for a while, depending how hard it is, then wipe off with a soft cloth.... done. I would then wash the car again with a wax containing carwash,eg.Turtle wax wash. Good luck