Chapter 63: How to Clean Pitch (Resin) and Tree Sap From Your Gear or Hands

When you backpack ultralight and don’t use a ground cloth, it’s easy to get a little pitch on the bottom of your tent. If you take a break and sit in the wrong place, you can get pitch on your pants. There are many products that can remove pitch.

I have an old tent that has a few small spots of pitch. So, I looked up a bunch of pitch removal products. The information seemed incomplete, especially concerning cleaning pitch from nylon. So, I bought some polyurethane-coated nylon to imitate camping gear, added pitch from a leaky Douglas Fir tree, and graded the results for your convenience. I got a little carried away and tried over 130 products, so the following results represent by far the most complete study I’ve found on pitch (or resin) removal.

Sap and pitch aren’t the same thing, so you may have been confused by information you’ve seen. Sap is water based and usually quite runny. When dried, it can be more difficult to remove.

Pitch is hydrocarbon based and is found only in some conifers. It is a defense against the larvae of pests that bore into the tree. Our testing was done primarily for pitch, since it is the most difficult to remove.

You probably have quite a few of these items around your house. Remember, if you use a food-based solution, wash it out well with mild soap or something that will remove that food smell so you don’t attract chipmunks, or worse.

I found a definite theme among the things that work to remove pitch. You’ll find a lot of oil and alcohol. A lot of the household products worked because they were part oil or alcohol. If you’d like to play the part of a mad scientist, you might try putting some of these together. The possibilities are endless.

Here are the products I tried, the grade they earned, and some comments. I’ve arranged them with the products that work best first. Generally, the lower the grade, the more time and effort it took to get the pitch out. Your results will probably vary depending on the type and age of your pitch.

May the wind always be at your back, and may your pitch be easily removed.

Cutex Nail Polish Remover (with acetone) – Super fast and easy. Be careful. This stuff can remove furniture finishes

Goo Gone – Like the name says…
S-L-X Denatured Alcohol
HEET Gas-Line Antifreeze
Old Spice Classic Cologne – Spendy and surprising, but works great
WD-40 – Smelly, but one of the best

Aqua Velva Musk After Shave Cologne – Surprising, and you can appeal to 1970s ladies
Liquid Wrench Penetrating Oil – Dark gray, but quick and easy

Brute After Shave – You have some buried in the bathroom somewhere
Cascade Dishwashing Liquid – A nice surprise
Charcoal Lighter, Royal Oak Brand
Johnson’s Baby Oil
Peanut Butter, Skippy, Creamy
Silicone Lubricant, Prestone Brand – A bit of a surprise
Tar & Bug Remover, Gunk Brand

3-in-1 Oil
Canola Oil
Fast Orange Hand Cleaner
GoJo Mechanic’s Hand Cleaner
Kenra Shine Hair Spray – A total surprise, that’s why we test for you
Olive Oil Spray
Olive Oil Liquid
Paint Thinner
Saffola Oil
Simple Green

Cutter Sensations Insect Repellent – A surprise, and you might have some with you
Isopropyl (Rubbing) Alcohol – Clean to work with, but took some effort
Lip Balm, ChapStick SPF 15 – Better than expected
Mequiar’s Step 1 Paint Cleaner
Mineral Oil
Resolve Carpet Cleaner
Ronson Lighter Fluid
Weiman Glass Cook Top Cleaner

Ben’s 100 Tick & Insect Repellent – It’s so oily that it works pretty well
Citrus Gel Grease, Adhesives & Tar Remover
Coghlan’s Plus 50 Sportsman’s Soap – A pleasant surprise, and it’s biodegradable
Coppertone Moisturizer
Distilled White Vinegar
Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Soap – Better than expected
Eucerin Dry Skin Therapy Calming Crème
Meguiar’s Bath & Kitchen Cleaner/Polish
Motor Oil, Pennzoil 30
Murphy Oil Soap
Pantene Classic Hair Spray – Cleans pitch and holds hair in place, too!

Burt’s Bees Milk & Honey Body Lotion
EZ Clean Hand Cleaner
Germ-X Hand Sanitizer
Hand Sanz Hand Sanitizer
Ivory Bar Soap – Worked better than expected
Jergens Ultra Healing Moisturizer
Orange GOOP Hand Cleaner
Purell Hand Sanitizer
Shower Power Bathroom Cleaner
Woolite Cold Water Wash

Afta After Shave by Mennen
Campsuds – Works with some effort, and it’s a popular item to carry
ChemDry Carpet Spot Remover
Glycerin Soap
Olay Body Quench Body Lotion
Tide Liquid Laundry Detergent
Wishbone Fat Free Italian Dressing
Windex – Worked fairly well, and you always have some around

20/10 Windshield Cleaner
409 All Purpose Cleaner – Started well, but didn’t finish well
Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Lotion
Cetaphil Skin Cleanser
Dove Extra Hold Hairspray
Kraft Ranch Dressing – I guess it’s not oily enough
Kraft Thousand Island Dressing
Lemon Juice
Lime Juice
Listerine Cool Mint Mouthwash – Expected better results because of the alcohol. Regular Listerine has more alcohol, may work better
Palmer’s Cocoa Butter
Palmolive Dish and Hand Soap with grease cutter
Pledge With Lemon Oil
Suave Cocoa Butter Moisturizing Body Wash

ACT Mouthwash – Expected better because of the alcohol
Bacon Grease – Listed elsewhere as effective. Disappointing, but the bacon was great
Banana Boat Aloe After Sun Lotion
Butter, Tillamook Brand – Listed on other sites, but disappointing
Cortizone Cream
Crisco – Thought this would do better. Thinner cooking oils seem to work much better
Dep Hair Gel
Litehouse Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing
Noxzema Deep Cleansing Cream with Eucalyptus Oil
Off Insect Repellent – Oily enough that it worked a little
Orange – Citrus listed some places as effective. Not for Douglas Fir pitch
Orange juice – Didn’t work well at all
Scope Mouthwash - Expected better because of the alcohol
Scrubbing Bubbles Bathroom Cleaner
Spray ‘N Wash
Vaseline Intensive Rescue Cream
X-14 Mildew Stain Remover

Baking Soda/Water Paste – Definitely not worth the effort to make
Banana Boat Aloe After Sun Gel
Glade Powder Fresh Air Freshener
Head & Shoulders Shampoo
Johnson’s Baby Lotion
L.A. Looks Hair Gel
Magic Pre-Wash Laundry Soil & Stain Remover
Margarine, Blue Bonnet Brand – Listed some places as helpful. Big disappointment
Mayonnaise, Best Foods – Same as butter and margarine, a big disappointment
Miracle Whip Light – Doesn’t work either, but lowers your fat intake
Shout Advanced Gel for Stains
Turtle Wax Upholstery Cleaner
Ultrathon Lotion Insect Repellent
Ultrathon Pump Spray Insect Repellent

Aquafresh Toothpaste
Banana Boat Sunscreen SPF 30
Benadryl Itch Relief Cream
Colgate Toothpaste
Coppertone Sport SPF 30
Crest Toothpaste
Cutter Advanced (Picaridin)
Fabulous Kitchen Cleaner
Gillette Shaving Cream
Hunts Tomato Sauce
Lindhaus Organic Alcohol Extraction Cleaner
Nivea Cream Oil Body Wash
Pert Plus Shampoo
Sawyer Controlled Release DEET Repellent
Triple Antibiotic Ointment
Turtle Wax Rubbing Compound

Incomplete (These were listed elsewhere, but didn’t live up to the hype)
Cold water – Got the top layer well, but left a thin, sticky layer
Ice cubes – Hard to work with, didn’t even do as well as cold water
Put in freezer, then remove pitch with duct tape – Clever, but left that thin, sticky layer