Tree sap is the fluid that transports the water and the nutrients produced by the roots throughout the plant. We sometimes think of it as just a drop of water if not easily spotted, most of the time, when it’s raining. It is a thick and tacky substance that is resistant to regular soap solution, making it difficult to clean off from surfaces of cars. Over time, when left unattended, the tree sap that sits on the top of your car, the protective clear coat, can eventually deteriorate as it starts to etch and penetrate through this layer, making it incredibly difficult to remove with regular car wash shampoo and techniques. Also, a huge nuisance when tree sap does get stuck on your car windows because they either smear upon contact with the wipers and solution or are heavily etched on that the wipers do nothing. Best to address this right away, as poor visibility is incredibly dangerous for any driver and their passengers.
Tree sap can be stubborn most of the time and will often require you to be more strategic on how to best remove it without further damage to your paint. Sometimes, removing tree sap from your car can be as easy as a simple hose and wipe down, but ultimately depends on how long it has been there. You will most often find that the car roof is amongst the most commonly affected areas due to its flat surface area, at which makes the most contact with falling debris, leaves, tree sap and what not.
Here are some ways you can tackle tree sap removal from your car starting with the easiest and least aggresive method that anyone can do.
Tree Sap Removal Methods
Hand Wash with Automotive Shampoo
The first thing you should consider is washing your car with car wash shampoo to see if it comes out as sometimes the pressure washer can be strong enough to remove them. If this does not work, then this is where you need to consider using more aggressive techniques.
Car wash shampoo acts as an excellent lubricant for cleaning the paintwork. You can opt for heavy-duty car wash shampoos that are slightly off a pH neutral formula for additional cleaning power, just note that these shampoos may strip off any existing car wax that you have applied on the surface previously.
Use an Alcohol-Based Solution
Using an alcohol-based solution such as diluted Isopropyl Alcohol, is one of those special components that a detailer will at times come equipped with for these sticky situations. It acts as an effective solution by breaking down the tree sap, so that when wiping with a clean microfibre, may come right off. Once again, if this fails to remove the tree sap, then you may need to use a clay bar. Just note that, it is crucial not to let the IPA sit on the paintwork for long or under the sun, especially across strong dilutions as it can damage the clear coat. This will often depend on how concentrated your IPA solution is as these can come in various strengths, best to be safe and dilute with water.
Use a Clay Bar
When using a clay bar, it is very important that you use enough lubrication between the surface of the paint and the clay bar. The clay bar will not move without sufficient lubrication and you don’t want to increase the chances of marring the paintwork. Also known as Cleaners Clay, the clay bar is a common tool Detailers use to address contaminants such as tree sap, bird droppings, road tar, bugs and road grime. You will notice that the clay starts to collect these remnants, at which you should fold and knead the clay like dough, to find a new clean side.
Use a Polish
Finding it difficult to remove the tree sap, still? Then this is where a polish is needed. From the least aggressive to most, it would be hand polish, machine polish and finally, the wet sanding. The polishing compound itself, already comes with abrasives in the formula itself and sometimes it is just a matter of using a little elbow grease to get rid of the more stubborn stains. If one fails, continue to proceed to the more aggressive technique, although it is best recommended to use someone who is proficient in the use of a machine polisher. The last thing you would want to happen is to create additional marring on the paintwork. If you plan to use the wet-sanding technique, where use grit sandpaper to sand out the sap, then it is most likely that you will need to finish off with a machine polish. This is because the sandpaper is very aggressive and will create micro marring and swirls marks in the process, that these blemishes will need to be corrected by machine.
All in all, the safest way for tree sap removal on cars, is to work your way up from least aggressive to most aggressive and to not dwell too far into techniques that you are unfamiliar with, eg. Machine polishing and wet-sanding. Nonetheless, the best solution is prevention. Try not to park underneath trees so often and if you have no choice, perhaps invest in a car cover. Another great alternative, is installing paint protection for your car in the form of graphene or ceramic coating. These will typically last many years and remove the need to wax or polish your car, making it super easy to clean and maintain your car. Thanks to their hydrophobic properties, it is able to repel contaminants such as tree sap, so that it is easily removed when washing the car. You will notice a significant difference in time when cleaning a coated vs non-coated surface. If you ever discover tree sap sitting on your car, always rinse off as soon as you can as to prevent it from baking underneath the sun.
Better yet, if you don’t have the time, expertise or equipment to perform this yourself, it is always best to consider a professional car detailer perform this service for you. Have the peace of mind of knowing that your car will be serviced by well-equipped hands.
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