How to get tree sap out of clothing

There’s nothing quite like the great outdoors and all the beauty nature has to offer. However, one downside to spending time in areas with lots of trees is the potential for getting tree sap on your clothing. Tree sap can be incredibly stubborn and difficult to remove once it dries and sets into the fabric fibers. If you’ve found yourself with a sap stain on your clothes, don’t worry – there are several effective methods you can try to get that sticky situation under control.

get tree sap out of clothing

What is Tree Sap?

Before we dive into sap removal techniques, it’s helpful to understand exactly what tree sap is. Sap is the liquid nutrient that circulates through a tree, delivering water and minerals to every part of the plant. Sap often oozes out when a tree is injured or during certain seasons when sap flow increases.

The main components of tree sap are:

  • Water
  • Plant nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium
  • Plant sugars like sucrose, glucose, and fructose
  • Resin acids and terpenes that give sap its sticky texture

When sap gets on fabric, the sugars and resins bind strongly to the fibers as the sap dries, resulting in a stubborn stain that’s difficult to remove through conventional washing.

Act Quickly for Best Results

The longer tree sap remains on clothing, the harder it will be to remove fully. Dried sap is incredibly tough to get out, so you’ll want to treat the stain as soon as possible before it sets in permanently. If you can’t address it right away, at least scrape off any excess sap gently with a dull knife or spoon.

Methods for Removing Fresh Sap

If you catch the sap stain while it’s still wet and fresh, you’ll have the best chance of getting it out completely. Here are some options to try on fresh tree sap:

Dish Soap and Water

One of the simplest ways to tackle a new sap stain is with dish soap and cool water. The grease-cutting properties of dish soap can help break down and dissolve the sticky resins in the sap. Work a few drops of dish soap into the stain with your fingers or a soft brush, then rinse thoroughly with cool water. Repeat as needed until no more sap transfers to the cloth.

Laundry Detergent

Applying a bit of laundry detergent directly to the sap stain can also be effective before washing. The cleaning agents in the detergent help lift and disperse the stain during the wash cycle. Work in a small amount with your fingers and let it sit for 15-30 minutes before washing normally.

Stain Remover Stick or Spray

Many stores carry convenient stain remover sticks or sprays designed to treat tough stains like sap, grease, oil, etc. Apply the stain remover product directly to the sap stain according to the product instructions, then wash as usual. These often contain solvents that can cut through sticky residues.

Some popular stain remover products for fresh sap include:

  • Shout Stain Remover – Contains oxidizing agents and solvents to tackle greasy, sticky stains.
  • Zout Stain Remover – Enzymatic formula helps break down organic stains.
  • OxiClean MaxForce Spray – Oxygen-based stain fighter is safe on colors.

Removing Dried or Set-In Sap Stains

If the tree sap has already dried into the fabric, you’ll likely need to use a bit more elbow grease to remove it fully. Here are some methods that can tackle dried, stubborn sap stains:

Soaking in Warm Water and Detergent

For set-in sap, a good long soak can help rehydrate and loosen the stain. Create a soaking solution of warm water and a scoop of laundry detergent, dish soap, or an oxygen-based stain remover. Fully submerge the stained clothing and allow it to soak for at least 6-8 hours or overnight before washing. Check periodically to see if you need to agitate the fabric or refresh the soaking solution.

Applying Mineral Spirits or Turpentine

Solvents that can dissolve and break down sticky plant resins include mineral spirits (paint thinner) and turpentine. These should be used with caution on fabrics, however, as they can potentially cause fading or damage. Test first for colorfastness.

Apply just a small amount of mineral spirits or turpentine directly to the sap stain using a clean cloth. Allow it to fully penetrate the stain for 5-10 minutes before flushing thoroughly with cool water and laundry detergent or dish soap. Wash immediately after this treatment.

Rubbing Alcohol or Hairspray

The alcohol or solvents in hairspray and rubbing alcohol can help dissolve dried sap. Use a clean cloth dampened with either product and dab firmly at the stain, reapplying as needed until you see the sap start to transfer out of the fabric. Be sure to rinse thoroughly after.

Freezing the Stain

An unconventional method that sometimes works for really stubborn, dried sap stains is to freeze the stain first. The freezing action will cause the sap to become more brittle and potentially crack or flake out of the fabric. Place the stained clothing in a plastic ziploc bag and put it in the freezer for 1-2 hours.

Once the sap is frozen, you may be able to scrape or brush off the sap residue before laundering as usual. This won’t work on all fabrics as freezing could potentially damage delicate materials.

Commercial Sap Removers

You can also find commercial sap remover products made specifically for dissolving and removing tree sap, pine pitch, asphalt driveway sealants, and other sticky plant residues. These often contain strong solvents along with other cleaning agents. Follow all product instructions carefully.

Some popular commercial sap remover products include:

  • Sap-Away Aerosol Spray – Formulated to quickly dissolve and remove tree sap, pine pitch, and asphalt.
  • Goo Gone Outdoor Formula – Citrus-based solvent blend for removing tree sap and other plant stains.
  • Zelco Gunk & Sap Remover – Industrial strength solvent for tough sap and tar stains.

Oxygen-Based Cleaners

Oxygen-based stain removers that contain sodium percarbonate are highly effective on organic stains like sap. The oxidizing components can help break down and lift the staining compounds out of the fabric fibers. Soak the stained item or pretreat with an oxygen cleaner before washing as usual.

A couple oxygen cleaner options:

  • OxiClean Versatile Stain Remover Powder
  • Nellie’s All-Natural Oxygen Brightener

No matter which method you use to remove tree sap, be sure to check that the stain is fully removed before putting the clothing in the dryer. The heat can actually cause any remaining sap residue to set permanently. With some diligence, you should be able to rescue your clothes from pesky sap stains.

Additional Tips for Stubborn Sap Stains

  • Pretreat with a prewash stain remover or make a paste with water and powdered laundry detergent. Let it sit for 30 mins before washing.
  • Use very hot water when possible as heat will help melt and dissolve the sap.
  • Don’t put stained clothes in the dryer until the stain is fully removed, as heat can further set the stain.
  • For extremely stubborn sap stains that won’t budge, you may need to take the item to a professional cleaner for more heavy duty treatment.

With some time and effort using the methods above, you should be able to rid your clothing of unsightly and stubborn tree sap stains. Don’t let a run-in with nature ruin your favorite outfits!

In-Depth Look at Tree Sap Stain Removal

While dish soap and laundry detergent can be effective for fresh sap stains, you may need to pull out the big guns if the sap has dried and really set into the fabric fibers. Let’s take a closer look at some of the heavy-duty stain removal methods:

Solvent-Based Removers

Solvent-based cleaners like mineral spirits, turpentine, and commercial sap removers work by dissolving and breaking down the sticky resins and oils that make tree sap so stubborn. The solvents are able to penetrate deep into the fabric to release the sap from the fibers.

When using solvents, here are some important tips:

  • Always spot test first on an inconspicuous area to check for colorfastness or fabric damage.
  • Use solvents in a well-ventilated area and avoid inhaling fumes.
  • Apply solvents directly to the stain using a clean cloth or sponge.
  • Allow time for the solvent to fully penetrate the stain before rinsing.
  • Rinse thoroughly with cool water and laundry detergent or dish soap after applying solvent.
  • Wash immediately after rinsing out the solvent.

Some commercial sap remover products combine solvent formulas with added detergents and surfactants to boost cleaning power. These can be extremely effective but also require careful use per product instructions.

Oxygen Cleaners

Oxygen-based cleaners rely on oxidizing agents like sodium percarbonate or hydrogen peroxide to break apart staining compounds through an oxidation process. This chemical reaction helps to lift the stain out from fabric fibers.

Oxygen cleaners can be very effective on organic stains like grass, food, and of course, tree sap. However, the oxidizing action can potentially cause color loss on certain fabrics, so it’s wise to first test for colorfastness.

To use an oxygen cleaner on sap stains:

  • Make a soaking solution by dissolving the powder or liquid cleaner in warm to hot water per product instructions.
  • Fully submerge the stained item and allow it to soak for at least 6-8 hours or overnight.
  • Check periodically and gently agitate or rub at the stained area.
  • Oxygen cleaners work best in hot water, so wash the item in the hottest temperature recommended for the fabric.

The combination of oxidation to break apart the stain, along with the prolonged soaking and hot wash, can eliminate even dried, set-in sap successfully. Just be cautious about letting the stain sit through the drying cycle before it’s fully removed.

Professional Cleaning

For sap stains that just won’t budge no matter what you try at home, it may be time to take the item to a professional cleaner. Dry cleaners and commercial laundries have access to more heavy-duty chemicals, equipment like steam cleaners, and specialized stain removal expertise.

Providing details to the cleaner about the type of stain (dried tree sap) and any home removal methods you’ve already tried can help them determine the best course of treatment. Professional stain removal services can be the answer for very stubborn or set stains when all your DIY efforts haven’t worked.

With the right stain removal method and a bit of elbow grease, even the stickiest tree sap stains can be conquered before they permanently ruin your clothing. Be sure to treat sap stains promptly and don’t tumble dry until the stain is fully removed. Your outdoor clothing will be sap-free in no time!

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As the founder of Clean It Spotless, I am Melissa Walker, a leading expert in removing tough stains from fabrics, carpets, and upholstery. With over 10 years of experience in the cleaning industry, I have developed my own natural, non-toxic stain-fighting formulas that lift stains while preserving the integrity of the underlying material. My stain removal tutorials are widely read online, and I have appeared on local TV segments demonstrating my techniques. I also present popular stain removal workshops at community centers and schools.