How to Remove Tree Sap Stains From Clothes, Shoes, and Carpet

Carrying The Tree
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Tree sap is one of the many things that finds its way to your clothes and shoes when you're out hiking or camping. But unlike other stains from the outdoors, the sap is particularly problematic because it's so sticky. As soon as you get a smear of it on your pants or jacket, it begins picking up dirt, turning into a dark stain that seems to grow on its own. And sap residue continues to attract dirt until the sticky substance is completely gone—all the more reason to tackle this stain once and for good.

Removing sap is not difficult and does not require special cleaners, but it may need a few steps and some soaking before it's completely gone. As with many types of stains, it's important not to dry clothes in the dryer unless there's no trace of the stain. The dryer's heat can set the stain, making it much more difficult to remove.

Stain Type Tannin-based and Gum-based
Detergent Type Heavy-duty laundry detergent
Wash Temperature Hot or warm

Removing Sap From Clothes

  • Working time: 5 minutes
  • Total time: 20 minutes plus washing time

What You'll Need

Supplies:

  • Enzyme-based stain remover
  • Heavy-duty laundry detergent

Tools:

  • Soft-bristled brush
  1. Pretreat the Stain

    Start by treating the sticky component of the stain with an enzyme-based stain remover. If you do not have a stain remover, use a bit of heavy-duty liquid laundry detergent that contains enough enzymes to break down the stain. Tide or Persil are two leading brands that have enough cleaning power and enzymes to break apart the sap from the fabric fibers.

  2. Brush It In

    Work the stain remover into the tree sap stain using a soft-bristled brush ( an old toothbrush) and allow the product to work for at least 15 minutes.

  3. Rinse It Out

    Rinse the stained area with hot water. If you still see significant evidence of the stain, treat it again. You may need to work through multiple layers of dried tree pitch.

  4. Wash In Hot

Wash the fabric in the hottest water temperature recommended on the garment's care label. Check the stained area before tossing the item in a clothes dryer. The high heat of the dryer can fuse the sap or pitch with the fibers and make it even more difficult to remove. If the stain remains, repeat the stain removal treatment steps. 

Emergency Sap Stain Removal

If you're not at home to wash a garment, rub some clear hand sanitizer into the stain (only if the fabric is colorfast). The alcohol in the sanitizer will help dissolve the sap. Blot with a rag or paper towel to remove the bulk of the stain.

Removing Sap From Shoes

  • Working time: 5 minutes
  • Total time: 20 minutes to 3 hours

What You'll Need

Supplies:

  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Paper towel or cotton balls
  • Ice cubes
  • Plastic bag

Tools:

  • Butter knife, spoon, or scraper
  • Freezer
  1. Freeze the Sap

    Place the shoes in a plastic bag and set them in the freezer for a few hours. Alternatively, put some ice cubes in a small plastic bag, and set the bag onto the sap to harden it. Freezing is helpful when there is a large blob of sap on the shoes;

  2. Scrape off the Sap

    Check the sap to make sure it is frozen hard; if not, freeze it some more. Scrape off the bulk of the sap with a butter knife, a spoon, or a hard plastic scraper. Ideally, you want to pop off the sap blobs; don't overwork them, which can melt the sap and spread the stain further.

  3. Remove the Residue

Apply rubbing alcohol to a paper towel or cotton ball, then dab the stain to remove the residual sap. Move to a fresh area of the towel as it becomes dirty. Repeat until the stain is gone. You can also use a variety of oily substances, such as WD-40, mayonnaise, or peanut butter, to remove the sap, but all of these leave their stain that must be removed from canvas shoes.

Note: Do not use this technique on suede shoes.

Removing Sap From Carpet

  • Working time: 15 minutes
  • Total time: Overnight

What You'll Need

Supplies:

  • Ice
  • Plastic bag
  • Liquid dishwashing detergent
  • Paper towels

Tools:

  • Butter knife or spoon (Optional)
  • Soft-bristled brush
  • Vacuum
  1. Lift the Sap

    Check the stained area: If you can see beads of sap or tar, put some ice in a plastic bag and place it over the stain. Let the ice harden the sap for about 15 minutes, then remove the ice and try to pull up as much of the hardened sap as possible by hand or by scraping with a butter knife or spoon.

  2. Apply Detergent

    Mix a solution of two teaspoons of liquid dishwashing detergent with one cup of hot water. Use a soft-bristled brush to work the solution into the carpet. 

  3. Blot and Rinse

    Use a paper towel to blot away the soapy solution as the stain is loosened. Next, wipe the area with a towel dipped in plain, cool water to remove the soapy residue, and then blot dry with a paper towel.

  4. Vacuum the Carpet

Allow the stained area to air dry completely (usually overnight; don't apply heat), then vacuum the carpet to lift the fibers.

The same solution and technique for carpet can be used for upholstery. Take extra care not to use too much solution, which can cause mold and mildew problems in the cushions. If the upholstery is silk or vintage, consult a professional cleaner, especially if you need more stain removal tips