The best bug and tar removers for that stubborn residue

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When I was younger, I used to attend car shows all across the state of Florida. One thing my friends and I used to do before driving 300 miles to our destination was use blue painter’s tape and mask off our entire front bumpers. Why? Well, if you live in the Southeast you probably already know the answer: bugs. And lots of them. The last thing we wanted to do after pulling up to a car show was try to get rid of bug residue off our front bumpers.

But taping up your front bumper every single time you go on the road isn’t a realistic thing to do. And more importantly, most people aren’t able to wash their cars immediately after a long trip to get bug splatter off right away. As a result, that residue ends up sticking to your front bumper and sometimes it can be a real pain to get those stubborn stains off your car.

Thankfully there are bug and tar removers for cars, which can safely get all that mess off with a lot less effort. If you’re finding yourself getting frustrated with scrubbing dead bugs and other residue off your car, grab yourself one of our recommendations below.

1. Top pick: Goo Gone Automotive

goo gone automotive

There is a very good chance you’ve heard of or used Goo Gone before in your life. It’s a popular household adhesive remover and the company’s automotive version makes it safe to be used on cars. Although it’s mainly marketed as a goo and sticker remover, it works well to get all sorts of residue off your vehicle, including bugs, tar, bird droppings, tree sap, and more. It can also be used inside your vehicle to get rid of that leftover residue from those warning stickers new cars tend to come with now. You can even use it on your floor mats if there’s something stuck to it — like gum.

Sure, Goo Gone isn’t exactly a car care brand, but it’s hard to argue with results. Throughout my life, I’ve used Goo Gone around the house, and Goo Gone Automotive is my preferred choice when it comes to anything sticky on my car.

2. Runner-up: Meguiar’s Bug & Tar Remover

meguiar's bug and tar remover

Popular car care brand Meguiar’s unsurprisingly has a bug & tar remover in its vast lineup of products and it gets our runner-up nod because it’s not only effective, but affordable. Given the brand’s expertise in car care, this is a heavy duty bug cleaner that is safe for use on your paint and other exterior surfaces, like your windows.

It’s an easy product to use too, since it has a foaming action to loosen stuck bugs or other residue. Just spray it onto the affected area, let it soak in for about 5 minutes, and then rinse it off with either a pressure washer or a hose. For particularly stubborn stains, you may have to scrub a bit with your wash mitt. I’ve gotten the best results by spraying it on my car before washing it.

Now, depending on how often you need to clean bugs off your car, you can go through a can of this stuff pretty quickly. For most car owners however, this is the most cost-efficient way of getting dead bugs off your car easily.

3. Best car wash soap: Chemical Guys Concentrated Bug and Tar Remover car wash soap

chemical guys concentrated bug and tar remover car wash soap

If your bug problem isn’t a major one and you’re noticing just a few splattered bugs each time you wash your car, consider using this car wash soap from Chemical Guys. It’s the brand’s concentrated bug and tar remover soap and you can use it with a foam cannon or a traditional bucket wash. Just remember since it is concentrated, you’ll want to dilute it with plenty of water. Chemical Guys recommends 1 gallon of water for 1 capful.

This is a specially formulated car wash soap designed to break down dried bugs and tar residue from the surface of your car. It essentially makes it easier to get all that gunk off while you’re washing your car. If you’ve ever found yourself having to scrub for a long while to get rid of a lot of bug splatter while using normal car wash soap, you’ll want to try this one out. It may seem like a gimmick, but it works surprisingly well.

If you want to use it for spot removal, you can dilute it 6:1 in a spray bottle.

4. Premium pick: Adam’s Bug Remover Combo

adam's car bug remover combo

I love and use many products from Adam’s Polishes and its bug remover is one of the most effective ones I’ve tested. It does however, cost a bit more than competitors in the market, so it may not fit everyone’s budget. But if you’re essentially looking for the easiest way to get bugs off your car, this is probably it. Using this product will require less effort than others and you can simply spray it on prior to washing your car.

A bit similar to the Meguiar’s recommendation, Adam’s Bug Remover uses detergents that create a foaming action to clean away stubborn debris off the body of your car. The combination package also includes one of Adam’s premium microfiber wash mitts.

Some car owners won’t find the need to spend extra money on a bug remover and are willing to put in more effort and time with a less effective product. But for those who want what I’ve found to generally be the most effective, get this one from Adam’s Polishes.

5. Turtle Wax Power Foam Bug & Tar Remover

turtle wax power foam bug and tar remover

My final recommendation is similar to Meguiar’s in that it’s a foaming bug and tar remover, and typically it has a similar price tag or it’s slightly more expensive. Overall I found it to be less effective than my other choices on the list. As a result, you’ll end up having to scrub a bit when you’re washing your car, or you’ll have to use more of the spray to get rid of real stubborn stains.

I wouldn’t have a very compelling reason to recommend this product over others on this list, especially since there are better ones within the same price range. But I do know many people are fans of Turtle Wax products, which is why it’s worth a mention. It may be the worst of this bunch, but it’s still better than a lot of the other products out there.

Is bug and tar remover safe to use on my car?

Well, if you’re using a bug and tar remover specifically designed for automotive use, then yes. You wouldn’t want to go and use standard household Goo Gone on your paint when there’s Goo Gone Automotive, for example. Still, I always recommend testing the product on an inconspicuous area of the car before applying it over your front bumper or wherever it’s needed. I also like to caution against using it on rubber or plastic surfaces, because some products can cause those materials to deteriorate. Also, you’ll want to use gloves to keep it off your skin.

How does bug and tar remover work?

These products are typically formulated with chemicals designed to dissolve bugs, tar, and other substances. Common active ingredients include xylene, mineral spirits, and naphtha, although it’s different for each product. But these solvents work to break down the residue so it’s easier to wipe away with a towel or wash mitt. Some products also contain detergents that help loosen up the debris.

Are there alternatives to bug and tar remover?

The safest and only alternative I recommend for bug and tar remover is elbow grease and a quality car wash soap. Personally I do not recommend using stuff like rubbing alcohol or warm water and dish soap. Both can strip your car’s wax and that’s not really what you want to do. If you don’t want to use a proper bug and tar remover, just avoid anything that’s a harsh abrasive since it can scratch your car.

Written by Jason Siu

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