How to remove tree sap from your car

13 October 2011 

We attended a recent car show with the Moffstang and Coca Cola transporter and thought we had done well when we scored a great shaded area under a tree, it was a hot day and the shade was well received, but a few hours later we realised something else, the car and truck were totally covered in tree sap.. Oh dear god no! So this quick article on how to remove sap quickly and safely has come from our misfortune.

The nice park that we paid for later!

Firstly, it is well worth pointing out that tree sap is not actually from the trees dropping sap, it is from a number of different varieties of insects, that are feasting on the tree. They call the dropping residue the nice name of honeydew, which is just another name for bug poo!  These insects really become active and swarm in the warmer months, much to our annoyance on that lovely warm spring day! 


Prevention is always best, so the ways to stop this happening is to not park under trees (obviously), if the park is at your home, look at investing in a carport, or getting rid of the offending tree (not always practical). You can look into getting rid of the insects, with a pesticide (usually not good for the trees) or with other bugs that eat the tree eating bugs, with ladybird bugs being a popular one with many female gardeners.

Casey threatens to do some creative pruning on the offending tree's.

Thankfully if you get to remove the residue quickly, it is not that difficult. The longer you leave any of the sap, the harder it can be to get off the paint, and if left long enough it will become black and sooty due to mould.  So with that in mind, we have our list of ways to remove these sap residues that are a few days old, to neglected cars with it left on for a longer period. It is worth noting that there are some types of tree sap that give the bugs an acidic excrement (that would be fun for the bugs no doubt), so it is quite important to remove it ASAP, otherwise it will etch into the paint surface, leaving small circular "water" marks after you have cleaned all the residue off.  If you do unfortunately get these marks after following our steps below, I would suggest you call your local professional detailer to remove these marks with a good machine polish.  


All the gear we used for cleaning the sap off while inside the shed.


For one to two days after tree sap falling- Wash with warm water and an Auto Body Gel car wash concentrate. Prepare a warm wash solution, in our 12 litre BOB Bucket, with two cap-fulls of Auto Body Gel and warm water (not hot enough that you can still put your hand in the bucket).  Hose the car down, then begin washing with one of our safe microfibre wash tools like our Wash Pillow or Shagamittastic Wash Mitt. A great tip is to leave the car out in the sun for 10 mins before you wash (Yes we know this breaks one of our cardinal sins of washing cars), as the heat from the sun will soften the residue and make it easier to remove. Dry the paint with the Big Green Sucker and inspect the car to  see if it is all gone.


Clean Detail is quick, clean and easy, if you get to it early.


  If you have a show car and do not like using water, try our Clean Detail spray, this is what we used on the Moffstang and it worked beautifully. Park the car in the sun for at least 10 minutes, then spray on the Clean Detail quite thick, let it sit for a 15 second interval then wipe clean with a microfibre cloth like our Big Softie, turning over regularly so you're not putting the residue back on the car. It can pay to have a few clean microfibre cloths on hand, to keep swapping them over to fresh ones in the cases where the residue is quite thick. 



Casey lovingly removing the residue from the Moffstang's spoiler.


If you have let it go a little bit longer than a few days and the above process did not work, our next level of cleaning is to use the Ta Ta Tar spray. This high end cleaner will quickly work at breaking down the residue and making it easy to remove. Wash or use the Clean Detail as above, then park the car in the sun to warm up the panels, then put back in the shade and while the paint is still warm, spray Ta Ta Tar on the areas affected, leaving it sit for a minute or two. Then wipe off in a gentle circular motion with our folded Dirty Deeds cloth, then wash it down clean with the hose. Once done, inspect the car to make sure you have got it all off, if there are still a few stubborn areas, or a heavy resin like deposit, spray the Ta Ta Tar directly onto the area and slowly massage it with the tip of your finger on the marks, this can slowly break down the harder deposits over the next couple of minutes. In our experience, this should remove nearly all but the hardest residue. If it does not, we have our final solution for the most dramatically covered and neglected cars out there.

Ta Ta Tar is safe with all the painted finishes, but you will have to re-wax the car after.


  If the tree sap has been on the car for a loooong time and dried hard to the paint, we have one final non damaging solution; FIne Clay Bar. Now this is only for hard dried sap on the car, as is it is soft the above procedures will be far more effective.  Basically use it as per the instructions with either the Auto Body Gel or Boss Gloss spray as the lubricant, read our in depth article on using it by clicking here.  We do not recommend keeping the clay after using it to remove sap, so throw it away. Our Claying Rubber is also an effective means of removing tree sap, and unlike the Fine Clay Bar, it can be washed and reused later. 


Clay barring the car is only for harder, older sap residue. 

Buff it down after finishing to get that beautiful smooth surface back once again.

 After doing these procedures, you should have no more sap, so be sure to then use the Paint Cleanse & Restore and then a coat of the Carnauba Body Wax, as the layer of wax will offer protection and make cleaning off the tree sap residue that much easier next time you're silly enough to park under a tree!  

All the microfibre cloths can be washed and reused as well, read about doing this here.

If you have any questions, please email or FREECALL our office on 1800 351 308.
Love your car,