How to Remove Road Tar, Tree Sap & Bugs

It’s easy to deal with tar, tree sap and those darn bugs. You just need the right products!

Summer is tar, sap and bug season.

Are you ready for this time of year? Insects are at full population. Trees also produce more sap.

Last, but not the least of your problems, intense summer heat softens asphalt.

Tar balls on tires! Terrible.

The Best Way to Remove Insect Splatter From Your Car
This insect splatter on your windshield is just nasty to look at, but on your paint it can be damaging.

Truth be told, tar and tree sap can be difficult to remove.

A silver lining:

Thankfully, they do not usually pose a significant threat to your car’s paint.

That is, IF you address these annoyances in a timely fashion.

Something to keep in mind:

Bug stains and bird droppings are very acidic. These 2 terrors can be a danger to paint and trim.

Removing Road Tar

Your car is always being bombarded with small specks of asphalt, tire rubber, grease and oils.

Most of these are kicked up on the roads. It’s the cars and trucks in front of you!

Here’s the thing:

You have to get them off of your car’s finish.

Petroleum-based contaminants will affix to every exterior surface. Soap-and-water often can’t remove these ugly black spots.

You need a solvent or strong detergent to get rid of tar.

Here’s why they work.

Commercial tar removers contain kerosene, or mineral spirits or petroleum distillate. These lubricate to surround (and buffer) road tar from your paint.

But, you don’t really need to know that technical stuff.

Let’s get right to it. I recommend Griot’s Garage Bug and Smudge.

There are other solutions too. For one, detailing clay can actually remove tar.

Is your tar extremely stubborn? OK, here’s another option:

Use a paint cleaning polish, like Klasse All-In-One.

Removing Tree Sap

Removing tree sap from a car’s finish is a bit more difficult.

Incorrectly removing hardened sap can scratch paint. A friend of mine learned this the hard way!

How to deal with tree sap without causing damage?

Hand rub the sap spots with mineral spirits. It will act as a solvent!

You see, the key is to break up and dissolve. No force.

Of course, it’s not all smooth sailing.

It can be a lot of work if there’s a large amount of sap, or an extended period of time has passed.

The One-Two Punch

Try this:

Go over the affected areas with a micro-abrasive compound. This usually removes hardened sap surfaces fairly easily.

Then, hit the sap with the mineral spirits. The compound softens so the mineral spirits can do their job.

Guys, the goal is to use the least pressure possible.

In other words, minimize any risk of paint scratching.

When the job is done, do this:

Buff the treated areas with a good polish. This will clean up any marks that may have been created while rubbing.

Note: Obviously the treated area must also be re-waxed.

Removing Insects (Darn those bugs!)

What’s the last thing that goes through a bug’s head when it hits your windshield?

His rear end, of course!

All joking aside, those bugs have exoskeletons. They explode on impact.

What happens is acidic fluids get firmly embedded in the surface of your car’s paint.

Did you know that shellac is a bug byproduct?

Think of it, that beautiful old antique table you love is covered with dried bug juice (yuck!).

I’m not joking!

Bug splats on your car amount to little more than shellac mixed with nasty bug parts.

The important thing is this:

You must avoid scratching your paint. DO NOT attempt to remove calcified insect remains without a special cleaning solution.

Here I’m using a paint-safe insect sponge and cleaner to remove tar and bug specks from the front of this Porsche Boxster.

The secret to removing insect remains is: loosen and dissolve them with a cleaner or solvent.

You can’t cut through the “shellac” without this technique.

Ever notice that some dead bugs have that extra grip? You are not alone.

The solution:

Agitate the paint with a paint-safe insect (road kill) sponge.

Use a pre-wax cleaner like Klasse All-In-One for a particularly large bug mess.

Apply a small dab to the offending bug splat. Next, cover the spot with a wadded-up tissue.

Let it sit for a few minutes. Be patient.

Then, pinch up the mess and give it a soft wipe with the back side of the tissue.

Voila! The bug mess is gone.

Dried-on Insect Paint Etching

Again, acid will etch paint. This is especially true if heavy insect debris remains your vehicle’s paint finish for awhile.

Yes, really!

Cleaners will remove the insects. But the paint will have etch spot (dimples) damage.

The only real way to fix this is to polish the paint with a dual-action polisher. Get a Porter Cable 7424XP.

Want to polish by hand?

Unfortunately, you’ll find that you can’t get insect etch marks to go away 100%.

Don’t cheap out. Utilize a dual-action car polisher.

You’ll also need a foam cutting pad, a foam polishing pad and Meguiar’s Ultimate Compound.

Spend Money to Save Money

Trust me, you can’t do it by hand.

You’ll rub, and rub without perfecting those darn etch marks. Modern clear coat paint is just too hard!

Get either a Griot’s Garage Polisher Kit or a Porter Cable Polisher Kit.

Of course, you can also hire a professional detailer to do the job.

Fact is you’ll save lots of money (long term) by doing it yourself. Learn as much as you can here…

Check out our Dual-Action Car Polisher Guide to learn more about safe car polishing.

After Removing Tar, Sap & Bugs

What about your waxes and sealants?

Plan to spot wax or re-wax your vehicle after removing tar, sap or bugs.

Don’t have the time? Join the club. Use a quick spray wax like Meguiar’s Ultimate Quik Wax.

This product is great for touch-ups. I use it for quick waxing after the weekly wash.

The next topic in our Paint Repair Clinic series: How-to Remove Swirl Marks!