OUTDOOR BASICS

How to Get Sap Out of Clothes: Unstick Sticky Clothing

Jessica Bayne
Written by Jessica Bayne

Anyone who has spent a good deal adventuring outside has managed to get tree sap onto clothing, but knowing how to get sap out of clothes is a tricky story. It feels sticky and can adhere to clothing with great determination.

To your dismay, you have probably also found that the tree sap does not wash off in the machine, which can be extremely frustrating as outdoor apparel that is good quality can be rather pricey. Fortunately, there are a few easy ways to remove tree sap from clothing. Some of these methods can even be done using products that most of us already have at home!

The methods make use of ingredients that easily be acquired by visiting your local grocery store or drug store and will not cost an arm and a leg to buy. Some of the ingredients that are super effective at lifting that sticky tree goo off your gear are items you can carry with you in the outdoors and are great for a number of uses.

What is Sap

Oozing sap on trees is most common in warmer temperatures, as increased pressure built up inside a tree can result in sap oozing out through small crevices and damage points. So to any hikers going out in the summer time or early spring, that is the season to watch out for tree sap.

oozing sap on a tree

While this fluid may be an annoyance, this fluid is actually crucial to the survival of the tree. It is a mixture of sugar, water, tree hormones, and mineral and nutrients that the plant or tree needs to move from the soil to the rest of itself in order to be nourished.

Tree sap is almost to a tree what blood is to a human, an essential carrier system for all the vital parts that need to be distributed around the body. So even if you do get sap on your clothing, it’s not incentive for you to take your revenge out on the local plant life.

Hand sanitizer

One item that many people are bound to keep in their backpack while out on a hike is hand sanitizer. Not only is it an easy, waterless way of ensuring that your hands are hygienically clean and ready for mealtimes, but most hand sanitizers are lightweight, easy to carry and convenient to use. Hand sanitizer will easily lift tree sap off of any fabric.

hand sanitizer on grass

It can be used out on the trail, or it can be applied days later back at home just before the clothing is added to the wash. This method is great to use while you are not at home if you urgently need to get some sap off your clothes, especially if you have limited clothing for a trip and you are obviously unable to wash something.

  1. Add a blob of hand sanitizer to the spot of fabric that has sap on it.
  2. Rub the fabric against itself as if you are washing the fabric.
  3. Once you open the folds of the clothing after rubbing, the sap should be lifted at the very least, if not gone completely.
  4. For good measure, you can add another blob of sanitizers and repeat the rubbing action.
  5. The clothing or apparel can now be added to the wash and any traces of tree sap that are left on the item will be removed in the washing process.

adding clothes to a washing machine

Rubbing alcohol

Rubbing alcohol works by preventing the sap from being able to adhere to the tiny fibers that make up the fabric of clothing. It effectively causes the tree sap to melt off. Rubbing alcohol is available from most drug stores, and just like hand sanitizer, is easy and safe to use to remove sap from clothing. This method is effective at home and works for fabrics such as polyester, cotton and fleece.

  1. Dribble some rubbing alcohol onto the spot of fabric that has sap on it.
  2. Rub the fabric against itself as if you are washing the fabric.
  3. Open the folds of the clothing after rubbing to see if the sap has begun to lift.
  4. You can add more hand sanitizer and repeat the rubbing action.
  5. The clothing or apparel can now be added to the wash to remove the traces of tree sap that might remain as well as the rubbing alcohol.

holding rubbing alcohol bottle

Laundry detergent

This can be done as part of your prewash routine to any clothing items that are washable, and have had an encounter with the dreaded stickiness of tree sap. This is really only a suitable step to perform at home unless you happen to carry some laundry detergent with you on your hikes.

If you are on an excursion that will require you to wash your clothing, such as if you are staying at a sporting facility of some sort with washing and drying equipment, this step is easy to do and does not take up too much extra time. Having a clean set of clothes can really lift your levels of comfort during an outdoor trip.

  1. The best detergent to use is a powdered non-bleach detergent. Use the laundry detergent to make a thick paste with a little bit of water.
  2. Hand apply the paste to each affected spot, ensuring that the spot is thoroughly covered. It helps to lie the clothing out flat to better see the location of each spot and ensure that it is adequately covered.
  3. Allow the paste to dry, and then add the clothing to a normal load of washing in the machine. Most of the stain should have been lifted.
  4. If a small mark still remains, a follow-up using non-sudsing ammonia can be done. It is always recommended to test the ammonia on a seam or small corner first to ensure that the color will not spoil on that fabric.

laundry detergent with scoop

Thermal Methods

Temperature can play a significant role in many aspects of getting materials to adhere or to stop adhering to other materials. This idea is completely free of charge and only requires you to have access to a freezer, or a freezer pack and wax wrap. It utilizes the power of cold and the means in which to remove sticky tree sap from clothing.

This trick can be used at home easily but provided you have access to a freezer or a cold pack, it can be done out on the trail as well. It is really important to ensure that while the fabric is going into the freezer, the fabric isn’t touching itself. This is because these areas affected by the tree sap are still soft and gooey, and will spread to the unaffected areas it comes into contact with.

  1. Place the article of clothing into the freezer. If space is an issue, the clothing can be laid open with wax wrap over the affected area and an ice pack placed over that. The main idea in this step is to make the tree sap as cold as possible.
  2. Leave the cooling process to continue for 2 hours.
  3. After 2 hours the tree sap should have solidified and hardened.
  4. The hardened tree sap can now be scraped off or peeled away by bending the fabric beneath it and pulling it away.

jeans in freezer

Lighter Fluid

Lighter fluid is easy to get a hold of, inexpensive, and also manages to dissolve the sap off of clothing without causing any damage or further stains to the clothing. In fact, lighter fluid is a great tool to use to dissolve any greasy stains, including certain types of paint from clothing.

It is easy to use and relatively safe, provided you keep away from an open flame during the cleaning process. The lighter fluid should not harm most fabrics and simply evaporate from the clothing fairly quickly. An alternative to this with the same technique is using gasoline.

  1. Apply the lighter fluid to the spot of fabric that has sap on it. It is safe to soak the fabric quite well for better penetration.
  2. The sap should slowly begin to free itself from the fabric.
  3. For good measure, you can add another dab to the fabric and add the whole lot into the washing.
  4. The clothing or apparel can now be added to the wash and any traces of tree sap that are left on the item will be removed in the washing process.

lighter fluid on a rock

Sunscreen

Another handy item that most active outdoors people often keep on their person is sunscreen. Not only does a good sunscreen protect the skin from harmful UV rays and sunburn, but it can also be used to remove sticky substances like tree sap or even bubblegum from clothing. The best type of sunscreen to use is the type that sprays onto the skin.

  1. Spray the sunscreen onto the sap that is stuck on the clothing.
  2. Give the clothing a good rub over the area where the sap and the sunscreen are.
  3. Once the sunscreen has been rubbed in, the article of clothing can be laundered in the machine.

two tubes of sunscreen on a table

Peanut Butter and Other Oily Products

Any item that contains oil, or feels greasy and slick will probably help to break the grip on fabric that sticky tree sap has. The unfortunate element about this point is that most oily substances will leave a residue of their own on fabric, which makes the entire exercise feel completely pointless.

However, fabrics and items made using waterproof material may benefit from this technique, as the oil is not able to settle onto it very successfully. The other downside to the process of rubbing oil or peanut butter onto a raincoat or waterproof material is that it is a little bit less hygienic and clean that some of the previous points.

peanut butter and a spoon

However, if you are in a situation where you urgently need a way to lift the sap off of clothing that is made from waterproof material, any oil, mayonnaise or peanut butter can be used.

  1. Add a blob of peanut butter, mayo or dribble some oil to the spot of fabric that has sap on it.
  2. Rub the fabric against itself as if you are washing the fabric.
  3. The area will naturally appear to be dirty and covered with the food product.
  4. Once the food product is washed off, the tree sap should wash off with it.
  5. For good measure, you can add more of the oily substance and repeat the rubbing action.
  6. The clothing or apparel must now be added to the wash for hygiene reasons, and hopefully, all food and tree sap residues on the item will be removed in the washing process.

Conclusion

Tree sap can cling to any surface, even human skin can easily be a victim of the sticky and impossible gluey nature of tree sap. A few useful tips to keep in mind while trying out these techniques is to ensure that the clothing is never exposed to warm temperatures, like what you would expect from a dryer.

drying clothes on stools

The warmer temperatures can cause the sap to liquefy a little and start to run onto other areas of the clothing, or even onto other clothes that are also in the dryer. An item of clothing that has sap on it should be kept in a packet separate from other clothing until it can be seen to if you have nothing with you to combat the sap.

Do you have clothing items with tree sap on? You have been marked with the signature of the outdoors! Tell us where you got it, and how you managed to remove it from your gear in the comment section which you will find at the bottom of this article!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jessica Bayne
Jessica Bayne

Jessica believes that the only things you need to explore the world are a good backpack and a bit of courage to make the first steps. She also loves the beauty of a sunset seen from the mountaintop and the delicious flavor of a meal prepped over the camping fire. Ready to start a new adventure at any given time, Jessica knows how to be prepared for any situation and understands how important is to find the right gear. She also knows a lot about the type of gear to have and how to choose the products you actually need.

  • Neil Lukes

    What a very helpful article Jessica! I really love how you give out useful tips. I have experienced this problem so I can attest that hand sanitizer really works. Luckily, I always bring one with me whenever I go. I have never heard of the lighter fluid technique though, so I am curious.

    • Jessica Bayne

      Thank you!

  • Tom Carter

    Wow! I never knew that peanut butter can be used for tree saps. Although, just like what you have mentioned, it will surely leave residue on the fabric. So, I think the best ones to use are hand sanitizers and detergents. I will surely bookmark this just in case. Thanks!

    • Jessica Bayne

      You are welcome!

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