How To Get Tree Sap Out Of Clothes (and Shoes)

If you have ever got tree sap on your clothes, you already know how frustrating it can be. That’s because trying to get tree sap out of your clothes always seems like a losing proposition.

Odds are, if you are an avid outdoors enthusiast, you have probably even thrown an article of clothing or two in the trash after giving up on trying to clean off the tree sap. However, this is not actually necessary.

To illustrate this point, below we have outlined several methods for getting tree sap out of clothes, and provided step-by-step directions for each of these methods. Next time you get sap on your clothing from a hike or camping trip, give one of these techniques.

The Freezing Method

You may never even consider the sticky and stubborn side of tree sap until you get some on your clothes, outdoor furniture or even sleeping bag—and by that time it is too late. While the stick and the slime of pine tree sap, as well as the sap from other types of trees, seems to adhere stubbornly to almost everything it touches, there are a few ways to remove this ugly substance.

One of the tricks to removing tree sap from your clothes and other items is to treat it much like you would stuck-on chewing gum. Like with chewing gum, the strategy for removing tree sap is to make the stuck-on sap take on a hard and brittle texture so that the lion-share of the stain can just be snapped away.

After doing this, you can just liquefy or dissolve the rest of the tree sap to the point that it is easy to erase completely from your clothes.

So how do you make the tree sap on your clothes and other fabrics hard and brittle? One easy way is to freeze the stain. To help you get a better idea of how this strategy works, just follow the steps we have outlined below.

What You Need

Although you may not require all of the items on this list when relying on the freezing method to remove tree sap from clothes, it’s a good idea to have all of them at the ready just in case they are needed at some stage of the process. These items include:

  • A freezer
  • Ice pack or ice cubes in a zippered bag.
  • Plastic knife (or some other largely dull utensil)
  • Scotch tape (packaging tape and masking tape can also be substituted here)
  • Dampened cloth
  • Citrus-based tree sap remover—or Goo Remover
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Dry white cloth
  • Mild dish soap
  • Water

How to Freeze the Stain

  • Make note of the stained areas. Before you do anything, you should make a visual note about each place on your clothes that is affected by the sticky tree sap. You should do this because once the garment is placed into and later taken out of the freezer, you want to be able to tackle every stain the first time.
  • Place the article of clothing in the freezer. The next step after identifying the stain or stains is to put the article of clothing in the freezer, provided it is small enough to fit in the space you have available. If the article of clothing or camping item is too large for your particular freezer, simply cover the tree sap affected area with a piece of wax paper and then set an ice pack or zippered freezer bag full of ice cubes atop the wax paper and the stain.
  • Wait for the tree sap to harden. This method of removing tree sap will only work if you get the tree sap to completely harden. If you put your items into the freezer, this process will usually take about 2 hours. However, if you use the wax paper and ice pack strategy, you will need to check the stain periodically to check on its progress.
  • Break or crack the sap. Once the tree sap has been frozen and thus made brittle, you will need to break it up. To accomplish this, simply wiggle the fabric underneath the stain or press down on the stain until you see pieces breaking apart.
  • Scape off the sap. Using a plastic knife or some other utensil that will not rip your clothing, gently scrape off the broken-up sap. This will get the bulk of the stain up and off your clothing. For any remaining pieces, wrap your fingers in tape with the sticky side facing out, and dab it over the stain to pick up any remaining remnants of the sap.

Removing the Leftover Tree Sap Stain

Now that most of the tree sap has been removed from the clothing, you will find that a lingering stain will still appear. This is completely normal and nothing to worry about.

To tackle this stain, begin by applying a small amount of the citrus-based goo remover, such as the type that is used to eradicate any residue from stickers and the like, directly on the tree sap stain. Wait about 5-10 minutes for the goo remover to completely soak into the stain. Once it has, use the damp cloth you have readied to wipe away the sap.

Although the goo remover will remove most of what is left of the stain, there are still a few other steps to ensure there is no remaining residue. To begin, apply a small amount of rubbing alcohol to the corner of your dry white cloth.

We specify “white cloth” here, as this will ensure that no dye from the cloth transfers over to the clothing you are attempting to clean. Next, dab the rubbing alcohol-soaked cloth over the tree sap stain until it is virtually invisible. You can then finish by adding some of the mild dish detergent to another corner of the white cloth and dab the same area.

Rinse your damp cloth thoroughly and use it to wipe away any remaining alcohol or detergent. You may have to complete this step once or twice to ensure all of the residue has been cleaned off. Allow the article of clothing to air dry.

And that’s it—a fast and easy way to remove stubborn tree sap.

Once you have removed the stain, machine wash the garment using detergent and hot water, and once again allow it to air dry. Placing it in the dryer may cause the heat to set the stain if there are any remaining remnants.

This strategy is very effective, but there are some tips of which you should be aware. First and foremost, when placing the article of clothing in the freezer, it is very important that you do so in such a way that the sap doesn’t touch any other parts of the clothes.

This will only transfer the stain and make your work that much harder. Also, when using the goo remover, it’s always wise to test this sort of stain remover on an inconspicuous area of the clothes beforehand just to ensure it will not stain the fabric.

The Laundry Paste Method

If you have some powered laundry detergent, then you can use it to make a paste that soaks up the tree sap.

For this method, mix a very small amount of the powdered laundry detergent (non-bleach) with just enough water to create a paste-like consistency. Apply this paste over any remaining sap stain and allow it to remain on the stain for about 20-40 minutes.

Once again, use a damp cloth to wipe away any soap—one to three times—and allow the fabric to air dry.

The Cleaning Solution (only) Method

If you do not have access to a freezer, you can always skip that step and move right on to cleaning the stain using some type of cleaning solution. There are many DIY tips on the Internet about how to remove tree sap from clothes, and just as many suggestions as to the cleaner you should use.

Some of the most popular agents for cleaning tree sap from clothes are:

  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Peanut butter
  • WD-40
  • Cooking Oil
  • Goo Remover
  • Nail Polish Remover

Feel free to try one of these (or two or more in combination) to tackle your stubborn stuck-on tree sap.

To employ this method of tree sap removal, start by removing as much of the sap as you can using a plastic knife or utensil. If the sap has had time to dry it might just be hard and brittle enough to allow you to get a large portion of it off your clothes.

Select one of the cleaning solutions from the list above and dab some on a damp white cloth and then onto the stain. Allow about 15-20 minutes for the cleaning solution to work, and then wipe it away with a now-rinsed damp cloth. Continue this process, using different cleaning solutions if you like, until the stain has been removed.

Once the stain has been thoroughly removed, simply launder the article of clothing as you normally would and allow it to air dry. If any sap remains after completing all of these steps, repeat the steps outlined above.

Clothing Tree Sap Removal FAQs

Let’s clear up a few questions you might have when it comes to getting the tree sap out of your clothing and outdoor gear.

Can rubbing alcohol remove tree sap?

Yes, it can be a successful way to get the tree sap out of your clothing and gear.

Do these methods work for removing pine tree sap from a Christmas tree?

Yes, you can apply these methods for any kind of tree sap that has left a stain on your clothing.

Can I use these methods to remove tree sap from shoes?

Yes, the same methods work on getting that sticky sap and tree tar from your shoes. We find that the freezer method is the most effective when cleaning tree sap off shoes.

What if you tracked in the tree sap and got it into your carpets at home?

Don’t worry, you can use the same methods to get tree sap out of your carpets. You just need to amend the freezer version since you can’t put the carpet in the freezer. Instead, put some ice in a ziplc baggie and lay it on top of the affected carpet area to freeze it for easy removal.

How can I remove tree sap from my skin?

Usually you need is something like an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to get it off your skin. You can also use nail polish remover to get tree sap off your skin, or even something like Crisco or Dawn dish liquid.

How can I remove tree sap from my hair?

If you’ve ended up with tree sap in your hair, then I feel your pain. So, trust me when I say that peanut butter is your miracle cure here. Get yourself a big jar of Jif and work that greasy spread into your hair so that you can comb out the tree sap. Regular mayonnaise will also do the trick.

Did you know that tree pitch is actually the problem?

Even though we all think that tree sap is the culprit here, it’s actually the tree pitch that causes the sticky mess that stains our clothes. So, there’s your science for the day!

Tree sap does not have to be a “death sentence” for your favorite articles of clothing. Just use one or more of the methods outlined above and your clothes are sure to look like new again.

Shawna Newman

Shawna currently lives in Las Vegas where she gets in lots of great hiking at Red Rock Canyon and Valley of Fire State Park. When she has time, she visits National Parks in a quest to visit each one in the U.S. Shawna’s favorite outdoors activity is hiking and her favorite National Park (so far) is Badlands National Park in South Dakota.

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