How to Get Sap Off a Car – A Detailed Guide
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Trees in the Pacific Northwest are valuable to the environment and provide needed shade for cars. However, the price that comes with using a tree as a shade, especially during spring, makes you wonder if it’s worth it.
If you park your car under a tree during the tree syrup season, which runs from mid-January to late April, you are at risk of tree sap dripping down the tree branches and onto your car; and trust us, tree sap is bad news for your car’s paint job and windows.
The sap is not only difficult to remove, but it might also damage the vehicle within moments. If it hardens and sticks to the car, it may compromise the paint and window clarity. To make sap removal easy for anyone to do from home, we have put together a step-by-step process to clean sap off your car to prevent damage. Let’s get started!
Why Should You Remove Tree Sap Immediately
Tree sap is just as terrible as bug residue or bird droppings for your car’s windows and paint job, because it can disfigure the paint and damage the windshield wipers. This is why the chief mechanic of Consumer Reports Auto Test Center, John Ibbotson, says “Get the sap off as soon as possible because it will eventually eat through the paint, especially as the days warm up.”
Heat increases the rate at which the sap sticks to the car paint. This is why it is often advised to remove tree sap immediately when you find it on your car. An effective way to keep track is to regularly check for tree sap on your car and clean it as soon as you notice.
How to Clean Sap off Your Car
Cleaning sap off your car is easy as long as you don’t wait for it to bake into the paint and stick to it. The equipment you need to clean off a sap stain will be:
- Warm water
- Car wash soap
- Microfiber towels
- Isopropyl alcohol for stubborn sap stains
- A professional sap removal product for even tougher sap stains
Steps to remove a sap stain are as follows:
- First, wash your car thoroughly
- Next, gently but firmly rub the sap stain with warm water, soap, and a microfiber towel.
- After that, use a sap remover to get the sap off your windshield (go from least aggressive chemical to most aggressive)
- Then, give your car one more thorough wash.
- Finally, reseal your paint by applying a wax or polish in order to reinforce the clear coat.
Following this process diligently will restore your car’s paint to its original glory. Read below for a more detailed guide to removing sap from your car.
1. Give Your Car a Thorough Wash
This needs to be done before focusing on the sap stain. Washing your car with soap and water will isolate stubborn sap stains, making them more visible to the naked eye and preparing your car for an effective sap cleaning.
If you’re washing the car by yourself, wet it before applying soap to avoid getting the grime, dirt, and sap deeper into the paint rather than removing it. This will also help you avoid causing any swirl marks while washing the vehicle.
2. Apply Elbow Grease to Sap Spots
After washing the car, you should be able to easily see sap spots. The ones that are hard, sticky, or discolored will need a bit more work to remove them.
You’ll want to move quickly into this next step so that the sap does not dry up and get deeper into the paint. For each sap spot, gently but firmly rub the sap with warm water, soap, and a microfiber towel.
If the sap is fresh and has not baked into the paint, warm water and soap should do the trick. But if the sap stain seems stubborn to remove, apply a dab of isopropyl alcohol to it. Let it sit for at least 30 seconds, then simply clean it off with a clean microfiber towel. Repeat until the stain is completely off.
If the stain still seems impossible to remove, lightly apply a sap & tar remover. You will need some elbow grease and extra scrubbing effort, but not too much. You don’t want to damage the paint. If scrubbing does not work, you will simply repeat this process while using stronger chemicals like the ones that we discuss later in this article.
3. Getting Tree Sap off Your Windshield
When tree sap is on your windshield (or any other windows), you will still need to start by washing the entire area. After you have thoroughly washed with soap and water, you can apply rubbing alcohol. Let the alcohol sit for about thirty seconds. Clean with a microfiber towel and repeat this process until all of the sap stains is gone.
If the sap is sticking to the windshield, it means it has spent weeks on it. You will likely need to use a detailing razor blade to scrape this stubborn sap off. We recommend using the 2-in-1 Scraper Tool because it provides a metal blade as well as a safer plastic blade that will avoid scratching any windows or paint. Don’t forget to be gentle and take your time! Razor blades can be dangerous to you, as well as your vehicle if used improperly.
After getting the sap off the windshield, you should clean it with a high-quality automotive glass cleaner to ensure there are no residues. Here’s a list of our 12 favorite glass cleaners that you can choose from.
What if the Sap Is Still Not Coming Off?
If you live near lots of trees, you probably know that some trees, usually maple trees and evergreen trees, have especially sticky sap, making them harder to remove. In the case of extra sticky tree sap, use the process outlined below:
If you’re going with a DIY solution, start by getting an acetone-based nail polish remover, soak it in a cotton ball, then rub it on the sap in a circular motion. Do this until the sap comes off. Other stubborn tree sap spots might require rubbing alcohol or baking soda, which are also good for loosening sticky substances. After that, you can wash the car to completely remove the sap.
If you want to use a professional sap cleaning product, simply spray the sap cleaner on the affected area and wipe it with a microfiber towel. After that, wash the car again with soap and water to prevent the chemicals from staying on the car longer than necessary.
You can complete the cleaning process by applying a coat of wax to the car, reinforcing the clear coat, and adding a new layer of protection. If the paint does get damaged, you can paint it over the specific area using touchup paint.
How to Protect Car Paint After Using Harsh Chemicals
After applying chemicals to get rid of the sap, you will have stripped the clear coat, leaving the car paint vulnerable to scratches and general paint damage. Here are the 2 most common ways to reinforce the clear coat and protect your paint.
Polishing helps you get rid of any defects on the car paint caused by the strong chemical you used while removing the sap. Polishing restores your car’s beauty by filling in scratches and restoring faded areas. Here are the steps to polish your car:
If you’re polishing by hand
- Get a high-quality car polish (some of the best are Meguiar’s Ultra Finishing Polish, Meguiar’s Ultimate Polish, and Turtle Wax Ceramic Acrylic Black Polish).
- Wash and rinse the car under a shaded area.
- Apply the car polish to a microfiber pad, and spread it on the car.
- Apply to one small section after another in circular motions.
- After covering the entire area, buff off the polish with a clean, dry microfiber.
If you’re polishing using a machine buffer
- Apply a small dab of polish to the application pad on the machine buffer.
- Place buffer to the paint and spread polish before switching on.
- Move buffer slow and steady in an overlapping motion i.e. left to right and up and down.
- Start with a slow rotation speed and slowly increase speed. Stay within lower speed ranges to prevent damage to car paint.
- When polish begins to dry, use a microfiber cloth to remove excess polish.
Car wax can help get rid of light swirl marks while also creating a protective clear coat for your car’s paint (which is now exposed from the sap removal chemicals), preventing future scratches.
If you’re waxing by hand
- Get a high-quality car wax (some of the best are Car Guys Hybrid Wax, Meguiar’s Gold Class Carnauba, and Meguiar’s Liquid Wax).
- Wash your car and ensure that it is dry before applying the wax.
- Dab some wax on the applicator pad.
- Apply wax in small sections one at a time using small circular motions.
- Use a microfiber towel and moderate pressure to buff off the wax.
If you’re using a machine buffer
- Wash your car and ensure that it is dry before applying the wax.
- Apply some wax to the buffing pad and dab the wax across the car panel that you are working on before switching on the buffer.
- Turn on the buffer and gently move across the panel of the car that you are working on.
- Wipe any excess wax away with a microfiber towel.
If you want to dive deeper into whether you should wax or polish your car, as well as how to wax or polish your car, you can check out our Wax vs. Polish article. It dives much deeper into the two paint treatments.
Products to Remove Sap from Your Car
There are different options for removing sap from your car, depending on your budget and preferences. Store-bought cleaners are the easiest to use and provide the most consistent results; however, time is critical if you want to ensure that the sap does not damage your paint. If you don’t have a professional sap removal product on-hand, there’s a good chance that you already have some at-home DIY products laying around that can provide a quicker solution.
Store Bought Sap Removal Products
Bug + Tar Remover Car Wash Soap
This is a heavy-duty car soap that removes bugs, sap, and tar from the car. It is effective at removing sap if the sap is light and has not sat on the paint for too long; however, it will likely fail to remove the more “troublesome” sap that has sat on your paint or windows for a while.
Stoner Car Care Tar, Sap, and Asphalt Remover
This is a safe and effective car sap remover for moderate levels of sap. It dissolves stubborn sap stains layer by layer until it gets to the car paint. After applying it to the spot, you will gently rub the area with a dry microfiber towel. Continue doing this until the sap disappears.
This is a strong tar remover that is also suitable for stubborn sap stains. It works well for stains from bugs, tar, and tree sap. Simply spray on the affected areas, leave it for one minute, and wipe it off with a dry cloth. You do not have to apply too much effort if you are using this sap remover because it is a more aggressive compound.
DIY Sap Removal Products
Nail polish remover has acetone which is a strong solvent that can dissolve the sap, making it easy to clean. It has no effect on the car paint as long as it does not spend a long time (less than 15 minutes) on it. So, use a microfiber to apply the nail polish remover on the sap stain, and properly follow the steps above to remove the sap.
Rubbing Alcohol or Mineral Spirits
Rubbing alcohol works well to dissolve and remove sap from a car. Apply it to the spot with sap, and watch it dissolve. Then simply wipe it off with a clean microfiber towel. After cleaning the stain, wash the car with soap to clean off the alcohol, or else it might damage the car paint.
Adding baking soda to hot water will help you easily get rid of a sap spot on your car. You can also add a few drops of acetone-based nail polish remover to make this solution even stronger! Mix the paste and apply it to the sap stain; then wipe the area with a damp microfiber towel.
Hiring a Professional
Sometimes, all of your efforts to remove the stain remain futile. Other times, you might not have the material or time to carry out the steps above. To prevent the sap from sitting on your car for too long and baking into the paint, consider hiring a professional.
If you go down this route, we will be here for you! With Big’s, you don’t have to worry about bringing the car to a shop, we come straight to your house or workplace and can remove any finicky sap that is not leaving your car’s paint. So, if you don’t want to deal with this yourself, you can always give us a call at 425-243-9155, or schedule an appointment online.
This article is first published on September 29, 2021 and is updated November 2, 2022.
These blogs are meant purely for education and demonstration purposes. It contains only general information and may not account for specific issues related to your particular vehicle or situation. All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. Read full disclaimer.
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