The Garage Cars 101

How To Remove Tree Sap From Your Car

Catching and cleaning sap early is crucial to protecting your paint.
Andrew P. Collins

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One of the primary rules for keeping a clean car is avoiding trees at all costs. Yes, trees are beautiful Earth sculptures that help us breathe and allow us to string up hammocks for warm days in the sun, but they’re also vessels for numerous things that could soil your vehicle. Birds poop, insects invade and shed, branches drop limbs, and certain trees ooze out a sticky substance that would be perfect for the Gorilla Glue Lady’s next YouTube video. It’s called sap, and it’s a major annoyance when it turns your car into a canvas for drip painting.

The sap we speak of is a substance that helps deliver nutrients throughout a tree. It’s primarily made of water, sugar, and minerals, with a few other substances that help a tree live and grow.

Sap cannot be easily wiped away like dirt or pollen, so it requires immediate special attention to remove it. Unfortunately, regular soap and water won’t do the job and will leave you with nothing but a sore elbow. If you’re dealing with this issue or know you’ll be forced to park under trees, it’s important to know how to remove the sap before it does too much damage.

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Why Is Tree Sap Such a Pain?

When sap is forced out of a tree, it’s typically in a slightly less viscous state. So, when it drops onto your car, there’s a good chance it will travel and create streaks or large blobs. Then when the temperature fluctuates, it hardens, then softens, then hardens again, each time cementing the trail it’s left and working its way into every nook, cranny, and crevice it encounters.

One spot might be fairly easy to take care of, but sap typically doesn’t restrict itself to one part of the tree, so it’s likely all over the car. Because it’s sticky, it grabs any and every piece of dirt and bug particles it can find. That also means you need to be careful not to rub it into the car while you clean. The longer it sits, the more damage it could do to your vehicle and the harder it will be to remove.


The risk of injury while removing tree sap is nearly non-existent, but there’s still a chance of getting some of the cleaning product in your eyes or on your skin. If you want to avoid that completely, grab some gloves and glasses.

The Tools and Products You’ll Need To Remove Tree Sap

Don’t let sap ruin your day, this equipment should help make removal fairly simple.

How To Remove Tree Sap From Your Car

Because everybody has different levels of access to different products, we’ve presented two options for cleaning, one with products designed for the job, and one with alcohol, a common household product many people will already have.

1. Get out of the Sun

Park your car in the shade and let the exterior cool down.

2. Wash the Entire Car

Clean the whole exterior of the car, or at least the spots where you see sap. Don’t worry about the sap during this process. If you’re unsure how to properly wash your car, our article How To Hand Wash a Car has all the details.

3. Remove Contaminants

Try to pick off or remove any large pieces of dirt, leaves, or needles that could scratch the paint.

4. Spray Your Cleaning Product or Mixture

Once it’s clean, lightly spray the area with the alcohol mixture or your bug and tar remover until it is coated.

5. Let the Cleaner Work into the Sap

If you’re using an alcohol mixture, let it soak for up to a minute. If you’re using bug and tar remover, let it soak for about five minutes.

6. Gently Agitate the Sap

With a clean microfiber towel, lightly brush the product-soaked sap to break it up. Don’t press too hard as any contaminants could scratch the paint.

7. Remove the Sap

Carefully wipe the residue off the car in an upward sweeping motion.

8. Repeat Cleaning as Necessary

Sap is one of the most stubborn things you will ever clean off your car. If spots, streaks, or particles of sap remain after your first attempt, tepeat steps 4-7 until the sap is gone.

9. Protect Your Paint

Reapply wax, if you choose, as the alcohol also removes any products previously applied to the paint. For more on waxing, check out our post, How a Pro Waxes a Car by Hand.

Learn More From This Helpful Video

Sometimes it’s easier to see how something works rather than try to read how it works. This video from Chris Fix is about as comprehensive of a test as it gets.


Based on common queries online and personal experience, we’ve selected a handful of frequently asked questions and provided the answer for each to tie up any loose ends.

Q. Is tree sap bad for car paint?

A. Yes, and the longer it stays, the worse it will be. When sap is left on your car, it slowly starts to eat away at the clear coat and could leave a “stain,” even after it is cleaned up and wiped away.

Q. What if the sap is on my windows?

A. Use the same processes above to remove the sap. Some people also let the sap harden and try to break it off with a scraper, but that could just take more time and could scrape the glass.

Q. Does nail polish remover remove tree sap?

A. We do not recommend using nail polish remover on your car ever. Depending on its chemical makeup, it could damage the car’s clear coat and/or paint.

Q. Is WD-40 safe to use on car paint?

A. The WD-40 website actually offers suggestions for using WD-40 on car paint, but we’d still avoid it. There are relatively cheap products designed specifically for the job you are trying to do, and using WD-40 is just cutting corners.

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Tony Markovich


Tony Markovich is a former Senior Editor at The Drive, departing in 2022.