Getting tree sap stuck in hair is a problem that most people will never have to deal with. If you’re reading this, there’s a high chance you’re not in that category — whether you, your child, or a friend fell prey, you’ve learned first-hand how stubborn this sticky goo can be.
You don’t exactly have to be a tree hugger to have an accident with sap. All it takes is for you to touch a tree trunk casually while out on a walk, then touch your hair with the same hand after, and boom — your hair is covered with sap you can’t get off.
If this dilemma sounds all-too-familiar, fear not. There are ways to get that annoying sap out of your hair, but it’s going to require a little work.
What Is Sap, Anyway?
Before we get started on the removal process, you might be curious about what exactly sap is, or what it contains. Know thy enemy and all that.
The sap of all trees is slightly different, but most types consist of minerals, hormones, nutrients, and sugars. These sugars are largely what makes it so sticky — the sap from maple trees is literally used to make maple syrup, something else that you definitely don’t want sticking to your hair.
Step 1: Stay Calm
Before I get into any methods, I want to give you a kind of pep talk so you can prepare yourself for the removal process.
When you first realize you have sap in your hair, your natural instinct might be to try and wash it out with water or pick it out with your hands. This is rarely a good idea. It could end up spreading the sap further around your hair, giving you a larger surface area to tackle.
Instead, separate the portion of your hair with sap in from the rest of it using clips or hair ties. And try to avoid touching your hair by accident.
But you do need to have some urgency in getting the sap out before it dries — so gather the ingredient(s) you’re going to use as quickly as possible.
Now we’ve got that out the way, we can dive straight into the seven substances you can use to get sap out of your hair:
That might sound like a lot, but since it’s wise to remove the sap quickly, it’s best to use something you already have lying around rather than spending the entire day shopping for something new. Or, if you’re out and about, grab whatever you can buy from a shop nearby.
Method 1: Oil
After your hair has already been infected with sticky tree sap, the last thing you’ll want to do is add a load more oil to it — another substance notorious for making the hair messy and being hard to remove.
Yet surprisingly, oil does a great job of removing the sap by softening and loosening it. This works best when the sap is dry.
I recommend using baby oil if you can get your hands on some. If not, any other oil you have around the house will do, including cooking oils like vegetable oil.
Apply a generous amount directly to the hair, massage it in, and leave it for at least ten minutes.
Unfortunately, just because oil can get the sap out, it doesn’t magically mean that it won’t leave your hair greasy afterward. Make sure you give your locks a good wash with a strong shampoo when you finish!
Method 2: Degreasers
Degreasers are chemical products designed for removing grease and other tough stains. They’re usually sold as aerosols and clearly labeled as being degreasing cleaners, making them slightly different from all-purpose cleaners.
It might sound rather heavy-duty to apply something designed for kitchen cabinets to your hair, but it’s certainly effective at getting the sap out.
Besides, you don’t have to use the aerosol variety.
Dishwashing soap is classed as a degreaser, and you’re more likely to have some of this stuff lying around the house. It’s slightly less effective than other degreasers, but if you’re lucky, it might just do the job.
If you have one, you could also opt for a mechanic’s soap (a special type of soap made of pumice that’s often used for exfoliation).
However, standard soap isn’t a great option. It might be worth using if you don’t have anything else available — just don’t expect it to be quite so effortless at cutting through the sap. A proper degreaser is the best option.
Once you have your degreaser at the ready, it’s time to start the removal process.
- Since these substances are so strong, it’s best to use gloves or apply the product to a washcloth first. Take care not to use much — a few squirts/sprays will do.
- Then, massage it into your hair. You should soon feel the sap begin to loosen up.
- Leave the product in for a few minutes (not long) before washing it out.
Method 3: Peanut Butter
Now, it’s time to move on to the more unusual substances. Although peanut butter is a less obvious choice than a grease-removing cleaning product, it does an excellent job at removing sap since it contains all those lovely oils.
Make sure you choose a smooth peanut butter — if you opt for the crunchy kind, you could end up lodging the nuts in your hair and leave yourself with the task of trying to get those out.
It can also help to put the peanut butter in the microwave for a few seconds to make it softer (and therefore more effective).
Next, apply the peanut butter to the part of your hair with sap in. Scrub it in so that the oiliness can start to do its work loosening up the sap, and then brush it out with a comb or your fingers. If you run into a clump of sap, try to dissolve it.
Method 4: Mayonnaise
I know it sounds like I’m recommending you apply any random food to your hair at this point, but hear me out. There’s some logic to all this!
Mayonnaise is an oily substance made of eggs and other oils, so it stands to reason that it would be just as effective as regular oils at tackling sap.
This method is practically the same as the peanut butter technique. Just apply the mayonnaise to the sap-infected region, massage it in, then brush it out with your fingers or a comb.
Method 5: Baking Soda
Baking soda is well-known as a DIY shampoo ingredient thanks to its cleansing properties. Luckily for you, this everyday baking item can also help with getting out that pesky sap — or just about anything else you happen to get stuck in your locks, for that matter.
- There are two main options for application: you can create a paste by mixing the baking soda with water, or you can apply the powder directly to your hair if you’re feeling lazy.
- I’d recommend the second option since the thicker consistency makes it easier to apply to your hair. To do this, add one or tablespoons of baking soda to a small bowl of water, and aim for a paste-like mixture. Then, apply it to your hair.
- Leave it in for a few minutes before you start to scrub or massage it in. At first, it might seem like the baking soda isn’t making much of a difference (especially if you apply it directly), but have faith.
- After five minutes or so, start brushing through your hair with a wide-toothed comb (or your fingers) to get the clumps out.
However, baking soda is very abrasive. If your hair is already dry, it might be best to avoid this method — or if you do go for it, make sure to use a deep conditioning treatment after.
Method 6: Alcohol
I’ve included alcohol as method number six rather than method number one for a reason. It’s extremely strong and can damage your hair — so don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Some people don’t even like to use shampoos or conditioners with tiny concentrations of alcohol, and applying alcohol directly is going a step further. But desperate times call for desperate measures!
If you’ve already tried the more moderate techniques on this list and that sap still isn’t budging, it might be time to get more militant.
You can use alcohol in the form of a high-alcohol-content spirit (like vodka), rubbing alcohol, or alcohol wipes. However, anything that contains alcohol as an ingredient should technically work, so you can search through your cupboards to find something suitable. Even hand sanitizer will do!
Apply a small amount of the alcohol-based substance (around a tablespoon) to a washcloth, then rub it into the sapped-up part of your hair gently, and brush through your hair.
Straight after, give your hair a nourishing wash with your most luxurious shampoo and conditioner to minimize damage to the hair.
Method 7: Acetone-Based Nail Polish Remover
Before going any further, let’s get one thing absolutely clear — nail polish remover should not be your top choice for getting tree sap out of your hair. It’s incredibly drying and can therefore be damaging for your locks.
Not to mention, you need to be very careful with how you use it. You don’t want that stuff in your eyes!
But if you’ve exhausted all other options and still the sap won’t budge, it could be worth a go as a last resort. Just make sure you proceed with caution.
Just as acetone-based nail polish remover does a good job at removing stubborn substances like nail polish, it can also get rid of just about anything (including super glue). Why? Acetone is an organic solvent that can remove any substance that’s soluble in an organic solvent.
Naturally, the higher the concentration of acetone in the nail polish remover, the more effective it will be at removing the sap.
Put a couple of drops of the nail polisher on a cloth and rub gently at the sap in your hair to soften it. Try not to scrub too hard. Once this seems to be doing the trick, brush through your hair to get out the remnants, and wash your hair after.
What if None of These Methods Work?
If you’ve tried all seven methods and your hair is still plagued with sap, it might be because the sap remained in your hair for too long before you started to remove it, meaning it dried and became more stubborn. Bad luck.
I’m no miracle worker, so I can’t give you a magic spell to get it out. But there is still one option on the table — to cut out the chunk of your hair the sap has infected.
That probably doesn’t sound particularly appealing, but it’s better than walking around with horrible sticky gunk in your hair forever, right?
Fed up? Sap Out of It
Tree sap might be difficult to get out of your hair, but it’s far from impossible — there’s no need to swear you’ll never climb a tree or go out in nature again! Just make sure that you’re on high alert next time you touch a tree, rest your head on one, or do whatever you did last time.
If there’s one silver lining to all this, it’s that you’ll never appreciate your hair quite as much as when you finally get the sap out. Its softness and un-stickiness will feel like a miracle!
At least, it will after you wash out the mayonnaise, vodka, and whatever else you used to get the sap out.