How to Remove Tree Sap From Your Car

Save the paint! Clean up messes quickly with the right tools.

Tree sap on carShutterstock

Article QuickTakes:

Sometimes you have no choice but to park under a tree. And sometimes that tree leaks sap on your car’s paint or one of its inhabitants drops dung on your windshield. This guide will help you deal with those unlucky days. We’ll cover the products you’ll need to clean up your ride, how to go about it, and what to do to protect your dropping-free paint.

Choose the Right Products

No matter what finds its way onto your car, you’ll want to start the cleaning process with a general hand wash. For that, you’ll need two buckets, a wash mitt, car wash soap, a drying towel, and a hose. A waterless wash-and-wax spray and a microfiber also works and is convenient if you need to clean only a small section of paint. Quick detailer spray is almost as good, and a small bottle of either runs around $15.

While those products should be enough to remove bird droppings, if you’re tackling tar or tree sap, you may need those items plus isopropyl alcohol, a clay bar kit (around $30), and/or a specific tar-removing cleaner (around $10).

How to Remove Stubborn Substances From Your Car’s Paint

Sap, tar, and bird poop can damage your paint if left sitting long enough, particularly in the sun. Droppings will shrink over time and pull the clear coat with them, causing cracks. So don’t wait; clean off the yucky stuff as soon as you can.

If you’re dealing with a fresh avian gift, grab a microfiber and some water or detailing spray and clean up as much of the mess as you can before it has a chance to bake in. Otherwise, as mentioned, the first step is to wash the affected area (or the whole car if it needs it). This will help ensure you won’t grind dirt into the paint when you’re addressing the caked-on spot.

If dealing with tree sap or tar, try using warm water to loosen the goo for easier removal. You can usually remove big globs of sap with some diluted isopropyl alcohol; pour it on and let it sit to break the bond, then wipe the area with a clean microfiber. If you’re working on a vertical panel, you can use hand sanitizer gel; it has alcohol in it and is less likely to drip than an isopropyl solution.

If there’s still some mess left, you can try a bug/tar/sap-removal product or go the clay bar route—just remember to lubricate the surface liberally with detailing spray to help the clay glide over the surface and do its job.

Protect Your Work

After removing the gunk, consider going over the cleaned spot with a clay bar anyway, as it will pull any remaining contaminants (including stuff you can’t see) out of the paint. Give the car a second wash to protect the pristine surface. If you didn’t use a wash-and-wax product, consider applying wax to the affected body panels. This should make it easier to clean the next time around. Because there’s always a next time.

This site is for educational purposes only. The third parties listed are not affiliated with Capital One and are solely responsible for their opinions, products and services. Capital One does not provide, endorse or guarantee any third-party product, service, information or recommendation listed above. The information presented in this article is believed to be accurate at the time of publication, but is subject to change. The images shown are for illustration purposes only and may not be an exact representation of the product. The material provided on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice or to indicate the availability or suitability of any Capital One product or service to your unique circumstances. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.
author photo
David Gluckman
David Gluckman has over a decade of experience as a writer and editor for print and digital automotive publications. He can parallel park a school bus, has a spreadsheet listing every vehicle he’s ever tested, and once drove a Lincoln Town Car 63 mph in reverse. When David’s not searching for the perfect used car, you can find him sampling the latest gimmicky foodstuffs that America has to offer.