How to Remove Tree Sap From Car

Remove Tree Sap From Car

Life at the cabin would not be the same without the majestic 100+ year-old white pines on our property. As awesome as these soaring, scented, swaying beauties are, they do present one big problem – that is; how to remove tree sap from cars parked under them?

After more than a year under the pines, our go-to cabin car was a mess. Knowing it was going to be a total pain in the butt to get the sap off, I did what every serious car enthusiast would do – I ran it through the service station wash a half a dozen times and hoped for the best.

By the time I finally realized the sap wasn’t coming off, most of it was very hard and really difficult get off. I did a bit of reading and after trying a few things, I found that a two step process worked best to remove the tree sap.

The first step was to use denatured alcohol and the second was to finish with automotive detailing clay. The alcohol removed the bulk of the sap and the detailing clay cleaned up the inevitable haze that the alcohol sap mixture left behind.

I found that the two step approach was much better than either step by itself. If I used just the solvent (denatured alcohol), the diluted, liquefied sap and alcohol mixture left a nasty, sticky haze that was hard to remove.

If I used just the detailing clay, it took too long to remove large, hard dried deposits, and each deposit used too much of the clay. The answer; use both.

Automotive Detailing Clay, Say What???

If, like me, you had never before heard of Detailing Clay here is a quick description of what it is: Automotive detailing clay is a putty-like compound embedded with very fine abrasives used to clean car finishes. Detailing clay or clay bars are used in the automotive industry to remove fine contaminant from car finishes.

Detailing clay does an excellent job removing contaminants from car finishes and for this project was the perfect solution to remove the trace residue of tree sap left on the car finish after using alcohol.

So, here it is, the CabinDIY 2-step tree sap car removal formula:
  1. Denatured Alcohol – dissolves and removes most of the sap
  2. Automotive Detailing Clay – removes residual sap (haze) 
The entire process start to finish:
  1. Wash and rinse car
  2. Use a denature alcohol (ethanol) soaked rag to liquefy and remove tree sap deposits
  3. Re-wash car to remove the alcohol and sap solution
  4. Use automotive detailing clay (clay bar) to remove trace amounts of tree sap (haze)
  5. Apply car wax or sealant



How to Remove Tree Sap From Car – Preparation

Removing Tree Sap From Car – Preparation and Materials

Project Overview

  • Level: Easy
  • Time: Hours
  • Cost: $20 +

Removing Tree Sap From Car – Project Big Picture

  1. Wash car.
  2. Rub denatured alcohol over sap deposit.
  3. Wash off alcohol and sap solution.
  4. Finish sap removal with detailing clay.
  5. Seal or wax car.
Removing Tree Sap From Car – Materials
ItemWhat I used
Denatured Alcohol
Car Detailing Clay
Car Finish Sealant or Wax
Removing Tree Sap From Car – Tools
  • Microfiber Cleaning Cloth
  • Buckets
  • Sponge
  • Hose

How to Remove Tree Sap From Car – Step by Step

  1. Wash car

    Using car wash detergent or similar, hand wash car to remove dirt and contaminants. Use two buckets, one for wash and one for rinse, to keep wash soap water cleaner. Thoroughly rinse car after washing.

    Dirty car prior to initial wash before beginning tree sap removal.

    Dirty car with tree sap deposits

    Washing buckets ready for pre-clean before tree sap removal.

    Two buckets – one for wash and one for rinse

    Wash car prior to tree sap removal process.

    Hand wash car prior to beginning tree sap removal process

  2. Use denatured alcohol to remove tree sap deposits

    Using denatured alcohol and a microfiber cloth, rub tree sap deposits to remove. Turn cloth frequently and re-soak with alcohol to reduce residual sap haze left on car finish. Continue removing deposits until all deposits are removed including those on the windshield and glass.

    Denatured alcohol and microfiber cloth to be used to remove tree sap.

    Denatured alcohol and microfiber cloth used to remove tree sap

    Rubbing tree sap deposit with alcohol soaked microfiber cloth.

    Rub alcohol soaked microfiber cloth on sap deposits

  3. Re-wash car over areas where alcohol was used

    Using fresh soap and water, re-wash the car over the areas where the denatured alcohol was used to remove sap.

    Re-washing car in area where alcohol was used to remove tree sap.

    Re-wash car finish to remove residual alcohol and sap

  4. Use detailing clay bar to remove residual tree sap haze

    Open clay bar packaging and form detailing clay into a flat pad by kneading bar. Apply soapy water or clay bar lubricating solution prior to using clay on car finish. Once wet, rub clay pad back and forth across car finish using light pressure until surface feels smooth and no longer “catches” on paint surface. I found it helpful to lightly spray water on the car as I used the clay bar. Rinse with clean water after using the clay bar.

    Use clay bar on windshield, chrome and plastic trim as well – it works well on remove tree sap haze on most surfaces on the car.

    Clay Magic brand automotive detailing clay bar - used to remove residual hazy tree sap.

    Automotive detailing clay used as second step to remove tree sap haze

    Sap haze of hood of car.

    Car finish after initial sap removal with alcohol – notice remaining hazy sap residue

    Clay bar treatment on car hood to remove tree sap residual.

    Clay bar rubbed over area to remove sap haze – wet surface prior to using clay

    Haze on windshield after alcohol used to remove tree sap.

    Hazy sap residue on windshield

    Clay bar use on car windshield to remove remaining tree sap haze after removal with alcohol.

    Use clay on windshield to remove sap haze

    Residual tree sap showing as haze on car trim after using alcohol to remove sap.

    Tree sap residual haze on car trim

    Clay bar used on car trim to remove sap haze.

    Use clay bar on trim too!

    When using detailing clay, understand that dirt and other contaminants stick to the clay. Refresh the clay surface by folding it over and kneading during use to keep clay surface clean. Also, use clay on cleaners surfaces first to help prevent moving dirt and other abrasives to car surfaces. If you use a clay bar on wheels or similar surfaces, you should probably have a dedicated clay bar for those relatively “dirty” surfaces. If the clay falls onto the ground, remove and contaminants or discard clay to prevent damaging paint surfaces.

  5. Apply car sealant or wax

    Restore car finish by re-applying wax or sealant. Follow the directions for the product you are using. I used a silicone based sealant, which can be whipped on, then buffed off once it dries to a slight haze. I used a microfiber cloth to apply and remove the sealant.

    Car sealant re-applied after tree sap removal.

    Apply car wax or sealant after tree sap removal as alcohol and clay bar use can remove wax and sealants

    Tree sap removal complete.

    Finished, clean and re-sealed car finish after tree sap removal



Tree Sap Removal Image Gallery



  • Richard February 2, 2018   Reply →

    Thank you for sharing you’re knowledge, much appreciated, as have been seeking a way to get rid of tree sap that marked up my beauty, a 2006 Lincoln Town Car, black in black with tented windows in fantastic condition,with of course the tree sap.
    Thank you again.

  • Richard February 2, 2018   Reply →

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge.
    I just purchased a beauty, 2006 Lincoln Town Car, black over black in black with tented windows in fantastic condition.
    to my shergrim I noticed tree sap and have been seeking ways to rid it from my ride.
    Will do as you suggest, looks I have finally found the right answer to my question, thank you again.

  • Jason P March 12, 2015   Reply →

    Interesting. Why denatured alcohol (ethanol)? I’ve been using rubbing alcohol. First I gently pop the sap off with my finger nails than use the alcohol to get up the last underlayer. I do all this right before the car wash!

    Any advantage to one kind of alcohol over another? I’ll definitely look for the detailing clay.

    • Cabin DIY March 13, 2015   Reply →
      Cabin DIY

      Hey Jason,

      Both Isopropyl alcohol and denatured alcohol (ethyl alcohol) will work and are generally accepted as safe (especially if diluted with water) on car finishes (they do removal waxes and sealant though).

      Many suggest thinning isopropyl alcohol with water prior to using. Both can be mixed with water before use, reducing their solvent characteristic and potentially making them safer to use on finishes. Bottom line is both are probably safe with modern car finishes, and even safer if diluted with water.


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