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How to remove tree sap

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The term tree sap refers to several different type of contaminants that, generally, originate from the same source: a plant and/or tree. The most common use of the term “tree sap” is used to describe the resin that can seep through the bark and fall onto surface underneath the tree. Tree sap is incorrectly also used to refer to the fluids excreted by aphids.

Why remove tree sap

Tree sap is a fairly common source of contaminants, although it is mostly used to refer to resin from trees, it can also be used to refer to leaves, small pieces of plants, tree bark, dust and dirt flushed from the leaves by the rain and other particles that come from a tree and/or plant in any way or form. These organic particles are unwanted and affect the cosmetic look of the vehicle. Resin in particular has a tendency of being sticky, making it easier for dirt to cling on the surface. Cleaning resin with dust/dirt stuck onto it is difficult and increases the chance of moving sharp edged particles over the sensitive painted surface, thus creating swirls or other imperfections. Removing tree sap as quick as possible is considered part of maintainance and helps to prevent the situation getting worse.

How to remove tree sap

There are many different ways of removing tree sap, this largely depends on the type of contaminant the word refers to. Simple organic particles such as small pieces of plants, leaves, insects, dust and small pieces of broken of bark are easy to remove and usually don’t require direct attention. They can often safely be removed during the weekly wash. In some cases, the contaminant can even be blown away by the wind in a matter of days.

Tar and glue remover

The most common way of safely removing tree sap is the tar and glue remover. This product is largely based on Orange Oil, which has a similar property to terpentine, without the harsh affect it has on the surface of paint. This product would only work if the tree sap is resin.

Terpentine

Terpentine is slightly stronger then Tar and Glue Remover, and its use is a matter of debate. The chemical strength of terpentine can have a negative effect on paintwork, so it should be used with caution. The first signs will not be visible from the first use, but can show it effect in the long term.

Clay and claylube

In cases where the amount of tree sap is very small, a clay and claylube can be sufficient in removing the contamination from the surface. Be careful though, if the tree sap has a large volume, the clay can actually stick to the resin turning into a larger mess then it was before. Using clay with a solvent often results in the clay falling apart and leaving smears.

Plastic razor

If the resin has settled and hardened, the detailer could try a plastic razor to break off the resin particle from the surface.

Different solvents

There are more then one solvents that are capable of removing tree resin, but the negative impact on the paintwork is difficult to judge. In many cases you’ll see that the most negative effects only show after a long time.

Where does tree sap comes from

There are 2 most common sceneraio’s that can be the cause of tree sap on a vehicle. Although parking underneath a tree uncreases the risk, it can happen that a car is covered in tree sap without any tree being close to the car.

Carried by rain

When rain comes into contact with resin on the surface of the bark of the tree, the rain can carry small particles of resin. When these drops of rainwater fall on the surface of a car, it can leave behind the heavier, sticky resin it carries. When the rain dries up, all residue is left behind, including the resin.

Carried by insects or other animals

When a tree or plant is (locally) covered in resin, several types of insects and animals can be drawn to it. When these insect come into contact with the resin, they often carry parts of it with them. When the animal or insect lands on a surface, its resin covered feet leave small spots of resin on the surface.

Only in very unique cases we see actual resin drops falling directly from the branches of a tree. This only happens on very warm days when the amount of resin has grown to such a volume that it runs down the branches to a low spot.

Correct and incorrect use of the word

Although the visual difference between resin and aphids excretion is very subtle, the word “tree sap” should not be used in this case. Aphids, that can be found in many different plants and tree, excreed a substance during spring. When the aphids suck fluids from the tree, the excess sugar and liquid sucked from the sap of the tree is secreted by the insects. These tiny drops form on the outside of their bodies and can be carried by the wind. The result is a very fine mist of tiny droplets of sugar, mixed with tree sap and sugar. Although the source of this liquid is still tree sap, the liquid excreted by the aphids has chemically changed slightly. In the same way as water and urine are different, although the later is made with help of the first one.
Aphids secretion can generally be washed off by a slightly stronger cleaning liquid. An APC or degreaser is usually sufficient in dissolving the liquid and removing it safely.

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