One minute you’re parked under an innocent-looking tree. The next? Your car is covered in drops of sap that won’t seem to come off. Luckily we found the insider tricks on how to remove tree sap from car windows and exterior — without impacting your car’s paint or your patience!
What is tree sap?
Tree sap circulates within a tree’s roots, trunk and branches to carry both nutrients and water throughout the plant, much like the circulatory system in people and animals, explains arborist Jeff Henderson, owner of Affordable Tree Service in Wisconsin, adding that when you cut a tree and see the “rings” in the stump, those rings are formed by that circulatory system. “Sap is produced by parenchyma cells, and the stickiness is mainly due to its composition, which includes sugars, water and various chemical compounds that travel from the leaves to the roots and back. When sap leaks out of a tree, these components solidify, creating a substance that’s very difficult to remove.”
The reason sap leaks is typically due to some sort of injury to the tree — a broken branch, a hole bored by a woodpecker, bark damage, insect infestations, etc. Much like how our own wounds heal, sap will initially leak, then eventually harden to form a scab so the tree can heal.
If that tree is yours, it’s important to note, a little sap leakage is normal, but if you have a tree leaking a lot of sap, or if the sap is any color other than a golden yellow, you may need to have the tree inspected by a professional.
Which trees are most likely to leak sap on your car?
Pine or any type of evergreen are the most prone to sap spillage since they produce larger volumes of it, but technically any type of tree can spill sap. Trees are more prone to sap dripping in spring and summer, when they produce extra to help fuel new growth, explains Henderson.
Why you need to remove sap from your car — and when
Even if you don’t mind a few spots on your car, it’s still important to have sap removed as soon as possible. “Sap will not immediately damage a car’s paint, but it shouldn’t be ignored,” says Lauren “The Car Coach®” Fix, host of Car Coach Report. “After some time, the sap can etch through the paint’s clear coat, leading to discoloring and staining. Removing it as soon as possible is the smart move.”
6 ways to remove sap from your car
But first! What not to do if you have sap on your car: “Don’t scrape it off with your fingernail, a knife, or anything sharp or too hard,” says Varda Meyers Epstein, detailing specialist for Kars For Kids. “That will just damage the paint.”
How to remove tree sap from car if the sap is still liquid:
If you caught the sap spot before it hardened, you can try
1. Good old soap and water
Simply use whatever soap you normally use to wash your car — this should be a brand made specifically for cleaning vehicles. When the sap is still liquid it will come off easily with a normal exterior wash.
One caveat: “Don’t use dish soap on your car’s exterior, since the grease-fighting agents it contains to clean your dishes can strip the protective layer off your car’s paint job,” says Fix.
2. Try laundry detergent
“A mixture of equal parts warm water and laundry detergent can work to remove liquid sap,” says auto mechanic Stanley Hawkin of VehicleChef.com. “Apply the solution with a soft sponge or cloth, then gently rub the affected area, and rinse thoroughly.”
How to remove tree sap from car if the sap has hardened:
1. Spray it with WD-40
WD-40 (Buy on Amazon, $11.98) is considered a water-displacing solvent as well as a degreaser — and all that means is it will do an excellent job at penetrating hardened sap, re-liquifying it and loosening its bond with your car’s exterior. Just spray the spot, let it sit for about 5 to 15 minutes and wipe clean with a microfiber cloth. If the spot is especially stubborn, you can also lift some of the softened sap up using a popsicle stick, which is soft enough that it won’t damage the paint. (Click through for more brilliant uses for WD-40.)
Watch this video from YourCarAngel to see the tip in action:
2. Blot it with bug & tar remover
This product works in a similar way as WD-40, but is specially designed for car exteriors. And while it mentions bugs and tar in its name, don’t worry — it’s also a very good method for removing sap. “Find the spot of sap and pour a few drops of the remover solution onto a clean washcloth or terry cloth, then rub over the sap,” says Fix. “If the spot is very stubborn, you can leave the product to sit on the spot for a few minutes, but if it’s not too thick the spot should easily wipe away after you’ve buffed it with the remover-soaked rag for a minute or two.”
3. Enlist alcohol
Alcohol is a solvent and will work to break down the bond the sticky sap has with your car’s paint. “Hand sanitizer is, by far, my favorite alcohol-based product for removing tree sap,” says Epstein. “Because it is in gel form, it stays where you put it. That means you can drop some over the sap and it will sit there working on the spot for as long as you leave it — I usually let it sit about 15 minutes, then just wipe it away with a soft cloth.”
No sanitizer on hand? You could also use rubbing alcohol, nail polish remover or even plain vodka, which all work similarly. Just dampen a cotton ball, then place the ball over the sap spot for a few minutes so it can soak in.
4. Plop on some peanut butter or other oils
Peanut butter, regular butter, mayo, olive oil — whichever fat-containing product you have on hand in your kitchen can also help you remove sap. The non-liquid oils are an especially great option since they can easily be spread over the spot and will stick there to soak in. The basic chemistry? Fats are “hydrophobic,” meaning they will push the water out of the sap, effectively softening and loosening its bond at the same time. After letting it sit for about 15 minutes, wipe off with a clean rag, then follow up with car-safe soap and water.
Watch the method in this video from @codyheikkenen4803 here:
After cleaning the sap off your car’s exterior, always re-buff the spot with some car wax, implores Fix. “Either the product you used to remove the sap or the sap itself, if you left it on too long, could have damaged the top coat on your car’s paint job, so re-waxing it will help replace that layer and protect the paint underneath.”
How to remove tree sap from the car window
Since there is no paint to be concerned with here, it is okay to gently scrape the sap off — you can use your handy ice scraper for this, or a paint chipper if you don’t have one on hand. “You can also apply a mixture of equal parts vinegar and water with a soft cloth, let it sit for a few minutes, and then gently wipe away,” says Hawkin. “Vinegar is an acid and will eat away at the sap, making it easier to wipe clean.”
For more car tips, click through the links below!
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