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How to Remove Leaf Stains on Your Car

Autumn is here, leaves are falling, and you may have woken up this morning to find a few leaf stains on your vehicle. Not to worry!

If you catch leaf stains early, they are fairly simple to remove. If you have a few set-in stains, there are a few common ways to remove them safely.

In this post, I’ll cover how you can remove leaf stains and a few tips for preventing them in the first place.

Start by washing and rinsing your vehicle

washing a vehicle

Before you tackle the set in leaf stain, start by wishing your car as you normally would with car shampoo and water. Since leaf stains are typically organic compounds, a good lather may remove most of the staining.

As you wash, don’t apply pressure with your wash mitt. Let the soap do the work before proceeding to other solutions.

Use a cleaning wax or polish to remove set-in stains

wax to prevent pollen

Cleaner waxes contain abrasives designed to remove organic compounds like leaf stains. Most Carnuba waxes on the market fall into the cleaner wax category like my favorite by Meguiar’s you can pick up here.

Other liquid waxes contain abrasives as well, but paste waxes are my personal favorite for this type of job.

You can use a polish to remove leaf stains, just be sure to apply a small amount with a microfiber towel. You shouldn’t need a polisher to remove stains unless your vehicle has several noticeable stains.

Extreme cases: proceed with a compound

car compound

In extreme cases where a leaf stain has penetrated the clear coat, you may need to step up to a more abrasive compound to remove the stain, followed by a polish.

Whenever you use a compound, you must be careful not to remove too much of your vehicle’s clear coat; use a microfiber towel if the area is small.

If you have a ton of stains that won’t come off, I recommend using a polisher (if you know how) or finding an experienced auto detailer with experience in substance removal/paint correction.

Tip: Not all detailers use power tools, so find an experienced one!

How to remove tree sap from a vehicle

In some cases, you may also notice a sticky substance on your clear coat, most likely sap.

To remove tree sap from your vehicle, wash it thoroughly and use a product like Goo Gone Automotive spray. This stuff is pretty cheap and you can pick up here on Amazon. Most automotive bug and tar removers should do the trick as well.

In my experience, leaves typically only leave a tiny amount of residue on the clear coat that shouldn’t be difficult to remove. 

How to prevent leaf stains on your vehicle

Try to keep a layer of wax on your vehicle’s clear coat at all times to prevent leaf stains from penetrating your clear coat.

Wax is designed to protect the clear coat; the more wax or sealant on your vehicle, the easier leaf stains will be to remove or prevent altogether

You can use a car cover to protect your vehicle from leaves if you must park your car outdoors, but be careful taking it on and off. Leaves + friction are a recipe for scratching!

If you begin to notice leaves on your hood, carefully remove them if you have time. For wet leaves, it can be tempting to slide them off your vehicle—try to lift instead of sliding leaves to avoid scratching your clear coat.

Final thoughts

The best way to prevent leaf stains is to find shelter, but at minimum use a car cover if you simply want to avoid leaf staining altogether. I recommend you be proactive before winter comes, start now to get your vehicle ready for the harsh winter weather.

If you don’t already have one, check out my post on car wash carts; these carts are great to have if you need to wash your vehicle quickly when it’s cold outside.

I also love using a foam cannon instead of hand washing, especially in the winter. No one wants to dip their wash mitt in a bucket when it’s freezing cold.

Hope this post helps you keep your car looking fresh, and happy fall!

Baxter Overman is the founder of Carwash Country and has been been cleaning up dirty vehicles for nearly 20 years. Since 2017, he's helped thousands of beginners see better results by learning the fundamentals of washing and detailing. He's on a mission to make the car wash process more fun...and way easier.

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