When your car has been parked under a tree it can get covered in sticky stuff, commonly called “tree sap”. There are two possible culprits, and they need a different approach to get them off your car paint without damaging it.
We’ll show you how to get tree sap off your car in an easy step-by-step guide:
Determining The Cause: Resin or Honeydew?
The sticky stuff that covers your car and is commonly called “tree sap”, can be two things: honeydew from insects or resin drops from pine trees.
Let’s see what’s what:
Looks like an ultrafine, colorless mist of minute sugar water droplets that cover your whole car. This sugar-rich sticky liquid isn’t actually tree sap but excrement secreted by insects as they feed on tree sap.
Looks like medium to large glue drops raining down on your car. Their color can vary from honey yellow to a brownish black depending on the type of pine tree and how long the resin has been on there.
Depending on how long your car has stood under the tree and the time of year, there may only be a couple of drops on it or it may be covered in drops of different sizes. In any case, they are separate drops, not a mist that covers the whole surface of the car.
How To Remove Tree Sap (Honeydew)
Although it is very unpleasant and looks nasty, honeydew can easily be washed off without damaging your car paint with the right technique and some quality products. Check out our full guide on How To Wash Your Car.
How To Remove Tree Sap (Pine Resin)
Pine resin can be very hard to remove. It can’t be washed off even when using professional car wash products. Even the specialized products you can find in auto parts stores and on the internet did not work satisfactory in our tests.
After testing all these specialized products and trying some household tricks too, we found that only one product works without harming your car paint: sanitizing hand gel with 75% alcohol content.
However, it’s very important to follow all of these steps and to not cut corners or you might scratch up or damage your car paint anyway.
To remove tree sap (pine resin) from your car without damaging your car paint, just follow these simple steps:
Step 1: Park Your Car In The Shade
Direct sunlight or heat from your engine will soften your car paint, making it prone to scratching. Also, when products dry too fast, they don’t have enough dwell time to dissolve contaminants.
When applied in full sunlight or on a hot surface, they tend to leave spots too.
Step 2: Wash Your Car
First thing you want to do is to thoroughly wash your car to remove all contaminants but the tree sap. You’ll notice that it won’t wash off no matter what you do. Don’t try to aggressively rub or scrub the tree sap off or you will scratch your car paint.
If you don’t wash your car before removing the tree sap, sharp sand and gritty bits will get caught in your towel and scratch your paint like sandpaper.
Check out our full guide on How To Wash Your Car.
Step 3: Products and Tools You Need to Get Tree Sap off a Car
- Hand Sanitizer Gel with 75% Alcohol
- Soft Edgeless Microfiber Towels
- Pressure washer, hose or Waterless Car Wash Spray
- Large Car Wash Drying Towel
Step 4: Apply The Alcohol Gel
Apply a little squirt of alcohol gel on each resin drop, just enough to cover it in gel. Give the gel a couple of minutes to soften the resin and you’ll see the solid tree sap gradually dissolve and even start to run off.
The gel will not harm your car paint.
The reason why 75% alcohol gel works so much better than IPA (Isopropanol Alcohol) or other types of alcohol, is that it has a much longer dwell time. It will stay put and won’t run off or evaporate. Other alcohols will evaporate almost immediately.
Rubbing the solid resin with a microfiber towel saturated with alcohol works too, but little sharp bits that are caught in the tree sap will scratch and mar your paint during the intense rubbing action. Not a good idea!
Step 5: Wipe The Gel Off
After a few minutes, very gently wipe off a single “test” gel dot in one straight sweep with a clean microfiber towel and see what happens.
If the tree sap has not dissolved completely, reapply some alcohol gel and wait a couple of minutes more before trying to remove the other dots.
When the tree sap has dissolved completely with the first swipe, you can go ahead and gently remove all alcohol dots, but don’t rush it and proceed with care.
You may notice that some larger drops of tree sap won’t come off completely with the first sweep. That’s OK, squirt some alcohol gel for the second time and move on to the next gel dot. When you come back after all the dots have been wiped off, it will come off easily.
Whatever you do, don’t rub!
Step 6: Remove All Alcohol Residue
Using a pressure washer, a hose or detailing spray, remove all alcohol gel residue. Remember, the gel is transparent and residue can hardly be noticed with the naked eye.
This step is very important and should not be skipped, because although the gel is 100% safe to use on car paint, given enough time and UV, any remaining gel might still start to affect your car’s clear coat. Better safe than sorry!
If you have used a pressure washer or a hose to rinse off any residue, wipe your car dry with a large car wash towel.
Great Job! Those awful sticky drops are gone and your car looks squeaky clean!
Can Tree Sap Damage Car Paint?
Yes, tree sap can damage car paint if it is left on for too long. However, most damage is inflicted by removing tree sap with the wrong products and using the wrong technique.
Check out How To Remove Tree Sap Off a Car for a quick, safe way to remove tree sap from car paint.