How to Clean Sap and Pine Needles Left Behind from Your Holiday Decor

This favorite holiday decoration can leave behind needles and sticky sap on the car, floor, furniture, and more.

Evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands are traditional to the Christmas season. But live greenery can make a mess, leaving tree needles and sticky sap everywhere. 

The good news is that there are a number of methods for cleaning the messes left behind from Yuletide greenery. But there also are some common pitfalls to avoid, as well as oddball tricks that can help take the frustration out of this seasonal chore. Ahead, we've rounded up 12 tips that make cleaning sap and needles a cinch.

white front porch with christmas decor and antiques sign
Jay Wilde

How to Remove Sap

1. Use Oils to Remove Sap from Skin

There are many ways to remove sap from just about any surface it gets on, but the critical thing to consider is what will be safe for the item in question. For example, paint thinner and mineral spirits will remove sap, but you might prefer something gentler for use on your skin.

Cooking oils, like olive, canola, and coconut, also take sap off of skin. Oily foods, like peanut butter, will also do the job, as do oil-based personal care products like hand cream or makeup remover. Elsewhere in the kitchen, salt can also be used to slough away sap; pour some salt in your palms, rub them vigorously together, and the sap will come right off.

2. Or Turn to Hand Sanitizer

Rubbing alcohol and alcohol-based products like hand sanitizer or nail polish remover are also great at removing sticky sap from hands. Hand sanitizer, in particular, is a smart choice for the job because it is so ubiquitous.

3. Remove Sap from a Car's Exterior

When sap gets on the exterior of a car, it's important to use products that won't ruin the paint job (paint thinner, for example, would not be a great choice).

Spray-on bug and tar removers can do double duty to safely remove sap from a car's exterior. Gel hand sanitizer is another good option for removing sap. Rub the sanitizer on the sap using your fingertip; it will dissolve the sap almost immediately. Go over the area with a damp microfiber cloth to remove residue from the hand sanitizer, which can lift the wax, creating a dull spot. If any smudges or dull spots remain, use an instant detailer to polish the area to a nice shine. 

4. Remove Sap from Hair (or Fur!)

You might think this one is a little too out there to be real, but rest assured that sap from the holiday tree can and will make its way onto hair or even the family pet. If that happens, don't go for the scissors; there's no need to cut out the chunk of sticky hair. Instead, reach for one of the oils that work to remove sap from skin and use a small amount to loosen the sap from the hair. Using your fingers, work the oil in the direction of the shaft of the hair to avoid tangling or breaking it, and shampoo well to remove the oil once the sap is dissolved.

5. Use WD-40 to Remove Sap from Leather

While alcohol and alcohol-based products can be used for the job, WD-40 easily takes sap off of leather. After removing the sticky sap, go over the leather with a slightly damp, sudsy rag or a pre-moistened wipe to remove the WD-40 residue from the leather.

6. Clean Sap on Floor mats, Carpet, and Upholstery

During transport and setup, Christmas trees, wreaths, and strands of garland can leave sap on fabric-covered surfaces, like car floor mats, cloth car seats, carpet, and upholstered furniture. Rubbing alcohol or products like hand sanitizer that contain a high concentration of alcohol can safely remove sap from fabrics.

small Christmas tree by window
Jay Wilde

How to Clean Up Tree Needles

1. Maximize Your Vacuum's Power for Needle Cleanup

This sounds counterintuitive, but before using a vacuum to clean up pine needles, empty the canister or bag. Pine needles are bulky, and the vacuum will perform better if you start with an empty chamber. 

2. The Right Way to Vacuum Pine Needles (and Confetti!)

Sticky needles can do a real number on your vacuum, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't use the appliance for cleaning up a holiday mess. If you want to use a vacuum to clean tree needles, switch to the hose attachment for the job, which allows the needles to travel directly into the bag or canister without obstruction; using the standard brush attachment will result in needles getting stuck in the bristles. The same thing goes for vacuuming up confetti!

3. When to Skip the Vacuum

While vacuuming makes quick work of cleaning up tree needles, the sticky, bulky needles can do a number on standard vacuum cleaners. If you have a very expensive vacuum, you might not want to use it for this particular job. Similarly, do not use a robot vacuum for tree needle cleanup.

4. The Right Broom for the Job

In the event you don't want to use a vacuum to clean up tree needles, a rubber broom is the best alternative. Avoid using more traditional rush-style brooms, because sap-coated needles will stick to the rushes. A rubber-bristled broom, however, allows you to easily sweep up sticky needles. Rubber brooms can be used on carpet as well as hard flooring and outdoor surfaces.

5. The Right Sticky Roller for Pine Needles

Sticky rollers designed to lift fur, hair, and lint from clothes also work well for picking tree needles off of other fabrics, like upholstered furniture. But standard lint rollers can be tedious to use on large surfaces, which is why it can be helpful to utilize an oversized lint roller or a lint roller fitted with an extra-long handle.

6. A Weird One to Tell the Kids

There's an old loggers' remedy for sap-covered hands—and it's true!—that involves using urine to dissolve the sticky residue left behind from sap. Now, this technique isn't strongly recommended for obvious reasons, but it's a fun one to tell the kids.

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