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How Do I Remove Tree Sap From My Car?


How on earth do you remove both hardened and fresh sap from your vehicle?  Recently I have had several tree sap removal jobs come into the shop, so a “how to” article on this topic seemed fitting.  Much like compounding and polishing, you need to test out various products to see which will work best for the job.  Several options are available such as Stoner Tarminator, Carpro Tar-x or isopropyl alcohol (IPA) and one may work better then the others in certain situations.

I recently had a Honda Pilot come in which has been continually parked under a tree where the owner lives.  The vehicle was covered in sap from front to back all over the exterior, many dried and were rock hard.  The owner tried removing the sap in some areas with a razor blade, however as you could imagine this caused damage to the finish of the vehicle.  After taking a look at the vehicle with the owner and discussing the process and what would be required for removal, we settled on following up the removal process with a single step polish afterward to clean up the finish.  Below are a few photos of the vehicle just after being dropped off.

As you can see the sap was on the glass, trim, light and paint.

  1. Spray the sap with the product of your choice (in this case the IPA), in some cases I will spray the area first with my pressure washer or wash the area first to remove some of the loose debris prior to treating the area with a product (this is really personal preference)
  2. Let the product sit on the tar for a few minutes to break down and soften the debris on the surface
  3. Use a sponge or microfiber towel to lightly scrub the area
  4. Rinse the surface clean with your hose or pressure washer
  5. Since this is tar and not bug splatter, it can be stuck on the surface pretty well. Repeat the steps above as needed until tar is removed.
  6. Proceed to your standard two-bucket method wash or your wash method of preference to remove any IPA, degreaser, etc.

After a few hours of sap removal followed by a quick polish, we were left with a nice looking finish once again.

Kevin M. George
KMG Detailing
Lebanon, PA

14 comments on How Do I Remove Tree Sap From My Car?

  1. Ryan Laufer says:

    Best sap remover I have ever used…….. HAND SANITIZER!!!! Yup!! It’s just thick IPA that you can let dwell without it evaporating. Just put a glob of it where needed, and let soak.

  2. I glob on Dawn dish soap and let it sit. It’ll soften the tree sap and can be removed gently with a towel. A light polish following as you mentioned is always helpful. I’ll have to try the IPA next go round.

  3. Bob Smith says:

    For dried sap I scrape it first with a plastic razor blade then use 90 percent IPA.
    Thanks for the hand sanitizer tip. I look forward to trying it.

  4. Ron Ayotte says:

    I’ve been using hand sanitizer gel for a while now. For ultra hard pine sap, I have had to use a razor blade to cut the top off the blob, then use the gel to soften and remove.

    I always tell my clients that the sap is highly acidic and that the paint may be stained after removal. I also advise them to avoid parking under trees during “sap season”.

  5. Vincent Brewer says:

    xylene mixed with 5% cooking oil using a microfiber towel works well also.Carefully cutting off the top of the pine sap as in Ron”s post helps.

  6. Ron says:

    What polish / pad combination was used to do the “quick polish”…. looks really nice.

  7. Rigo says:

    Wow! I really like the hand sanitizer idea. Makes sense. I love this. Good idea’s from everywhere. Going to try this out.

  8. David Bailey says:

    You went from talking about sap to talking about tar halfway through the article.

  9. Joe Silvestri says:

    A fast wipe with using lacquer thinner or paint thinner followed with cleaner wax on those areas is by far the fastest – safest method.. As fast as you can wipe a soft towel containing paint or lacquer thinner is as fast as the sap is coming off.

  10. Jen Silvestri says:

    Hopefully no one is going to argue about this method on the grounds that any of the thinners are going to cause damage to the paint or clear . It certainly will not . I know this simply bcuz thousands of sap spotted vehicles show the proof. Soft cotton cloth along with just a few fast – light wipes is all that’s required.

  11. Sukhoi31m3 says:

    Got this idea from YouTube and it works on my Italian Cypress sapped cars – ice. Wet the panel with a soapy slurry, car shampoo will do. Let the ice cube sit on the panel and melt to the profile of the sheet metal. Then gently glide it across the panel slowly and you’ll feel the sap spots dislodge. As it melts the ice softens and is quite gentle on the paint.
    Don’t know why it works but I suspect the temp differential coupled with the pushing by the perfectly contoured ice is how it works.
    The roof seam on our Expedition is delicate and I’d written that area off as ever being clean again. I let the ice cube melt to the contour of the seam and the sap was gone in about 10 minutes a side. Try it, you have nothing to loose and it hasn’t damaged my paint in the least, just go slow and don’t exert pressure.

  12. Ray Scott says:

    I use lacquer thinner on cars I detail. If it is a heavy deposit I scratch the top of the sap which will let the lacquer thinner penetrate better. It it etches into the paint compounding may help. Clay barring also works but it takes longer.

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