What Can I Use to Remove Tree Sap From an RV?

by John Cagney Nash

Given the primarily leisure-related purpose to which most RVs are put, the chances are great that tree sap, called "pitch" in some parts of the U.S., will drip onto the surface at some point. Removing the sap is important for the look of the vehicle, and because it can eventually atrophy paint finishes.

Removing Tree Sap from Paintwork

Removing extremely sticky substances from paint without scratching is difficult; even plastic razor blades sold for the purpose can leave marks. Various chemicals are produced for car care that work well, and most are available from the autoparts aisle of supermarkets, department stores and home improvement warehouses as well as from auto stores. Detailing clay, tar remover, paint cleaners and mineral spirits all work to a greater or lesser degree, and isopropyl alcohol -- rubbing alcohol -- melts even the hardest sap away in seconds. Apply the chemicals according to the manufacturer's instruction, using a clean microfiber cloth. If the sap does not lift within a few seconds of rubbing, simply fold the soaked cloth and hold it over the blob of sap for a few minutes, then rub again. As soon as the sap is removed, neutralize the chemical with car shampoo and dry the area.

Removing Tree Sap from RV Roofs

Rubber RV roofs -- properly called EPDM, or ethylene propylene diene monomer -- should be washed normally and allowed to dry. Follow up with a mildly diluted solution of bleach and water, applied with a rag. Use protective gloves for this process, and do not breathe in the vapors. Rub the sap with the soaked cloth but do not pour the solution on the roof; if the solution runs down the side of the RV it will almost certainly permanently discolor the paint. For RV roofs that are cast from fiberglass, painted or unpainted, use the procedures in Section 1.

Removing Tree Sap from Awnings

For cleaning tree sap from RV awnings, use special products designed for the vinyl or acrylic material the awning is made from; regular household chemicals can make the material brittle over time. Fit a scrubbing brush attachment to a garden hose and use the combination to remove atmospheric dirt, then allow the awning to dry. Follow up by applying mechanic's hand cleanser, available from most hardware stores. If this does not work use a proprietary aerosol freezer spray -- sold for removing chewing gum from carpets -- to the tree sap and flake it off the awning. Read the instructions and warnings on the container carefully; if in any doubt about the spray, using ice-cubes can be as effective, although the process may take longer.

Hints for Removing Tree Sap

Tree sap should be removed as soon as it is noticed; its gluey consistency only makes it harder to lift if left. Allow the chemical you are using to penetrate the sap; vigorous rubbing as soon as the chemical is applied is unnecessary, and may damage the surface finish. Test chemicals on non-critical areas first. Using the chemicals will also remove any wax or finishing polishes from the paint surface. Replace the finish as soon as practicable both for appearance's sake and to protect the paint from UV rays and atmospheric leaching. Removing tar is an entirely different project: Tar is petroleum-based, and the chemicals used to break down its structure must necessarily be far more aggressive. Follow all manufacturer's instructions and observe all warnings.

About the Author

John Cagney Nash began composing press releases and event reviews for British nightclubs in 1982. His material was first published in the "Eastern Daily Press." Nash's work focuses on American life, travel and the music industry. In 1998 he earned an OxBridge doctorate in philosophy and immediately emigrated to America.

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