Tips and Tricks for Removing Tree Sap From Cars

bearded man loading christmas tree into the trunk of his car, inside view.

It may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s also the time when tree sap from the Christmas tree you hauled home gets all over your car. Still, your family looks forward to that beautiful fir every holiday season, so a fake tree just won’t cut it. Thus, the question becomes: How do you remove the sap those lovely branches leave behind?

And not just from car roofs, but from other things, too, like hardwood floors, your hands, or even your favorite ugly Christmas sweater. Admittedly, removing tree sap from your car and other surfaces is no easy task, but it can be done. Depending on the severity and location of the sap, a handful of creative, unlikely solutions exist to get rid of it. If your holiday season is suddenly marred by tree tar, consider the following to remove it:

Hand sanitizer

Believe it or not, the most commonly suggested solution to remove tree sap is alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Yep, we mean the kind you keep on your desk or in your purse. It should be noted that other sanitizer — the type that isn’t alcohol-based — won’t do the trick. Luckily, the most popular and available sanitizer is alcohol-based, and its main ingredient (isopropyl alcohol, or rubbing alcohol) is what helps remove sap from your car without taking the paint with it.

To remove tree sap from your car using alcohol-based hand sanitizer, begin by soaking a cotton ball in the liquid, then holding it in place for one or two minutes onto the sap. Afterward, rub gently and slowly along the problem area so as not to harm your car’s surface. The sap should begin to loosen up and, eventually, break free from your vehicle.

Hand sanitizer is also a suggested solution for removing sap from other areas, including clothing, skin, and even pet hair (it happens!).

Olive oil/cooking oil

Because of their chemical makeup, oil-based solutions are naturally good at removing substances like tree sap, but the conditions must be just right: Using oil to combat still-wet sap won’t work, but using it on fully dried sap is often successful. While olive oil/cooking oil is the most recommended solution, even peanut butter or salad dressing work in some cases.

And of course, commercially made, oil-based products like WD-40 can also remove pesky sap stains from certain surfaces. And believe it or not, substances like olive oil work especially well when it comes to removing tree sap from hair (humans or pets).

Heating or freezing the tree sap

Consider returning the tree sap on your car back to its natural, viscous state by heating it up with a blow-dryer. Once it’s drippy and reaching a liquid state, wipe the sap away using a towel. We suggest putting a dab of hand sanitizer onto the towel first, however, to help fully remove the tree sap.

Conversely, freezing the sap so that it hardens completely may allow you to chip away at it. This isn’t always the recommended option, however, because you could damage your car (or its paint job) in the process. Still, if you’d like to try the freezing method, apply ice cubes or blocks of ice to the problem area, moving it back and forth along the sap to ultimately solidify it.

Avoid a blue Christmas this year: Remove the tree sap from your car before it becomes a permanent feature (or from your floors, dog, or snowman sweater).