Two ways to remove beach tar from your feet
I’m not sure if this is just a Southern California problem or not but oftentimes, when we go to the beach, we find patches of tar in the sand that range in size from a pea to a softball. And inevitably, despite your best efforts to avoid it, you end up stepping on some and finding patches of black tar on the soles of your feet that are almost impossible to remove.

Most people don’t notice it until they pack up to leave the beach and either rinse or rub the sand off of their feet. Below is a photo of a good size patch of tar on my son’s foot and at the very top is a photo of my fingers, after I foolishly tried to scrape it off his foot.

Learn from my mistake: Don’t use your fingers to scrape beach tar off your feet. In the past, I used to use either Goop or Oil Slick, which I bought at Amazon (Full disclosure: I get a referral fee if you use my Amazon affiliate link). But when we ran out of it and I forgot to replace it, I had to get creative. Besides, unsure of exactly what’s in them, I never felt great using either of those products on my skin and never used them on my kids.

I discovered that my spray sunscreen and a tissue or wipe worked perfectly. Given the huge patch of beach tar on my son’s foot, I wanted to act quickly and not wait until we got home to remove it. So I sprayed some sunscreen on it and within seconds, the entire patch was gone. Prior to this, my wife had discovered that coconut oil worked brilliantly.

Regardless of what you use, you will definitely want to remove it before you or your kids get in the car or inside the house and stain your floors or carpets.

Have you ever had to deal with beach tar on your feet? Where? Drop a comment below and let me know. I’m curious whether this is a problem on other beaches outside of LA County.



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28 Comments On "Two Ways to Remove Beach Tar From Your Feet"
  1. Scott|

    Only around Huntington Beach & further north. Never at South Orange County beaches or San Diego County. I attribute it to the oil drilling activity off certain beaches.

  2. Lynn|

    I’ve had tar problems in Florida in years past. I used baby oil and it came right off. Probably any oil would work.
    Love your daily emails with tips. Listen to you with Leo too.

  3. Bettina|

    Grew up in SoCal (I’m 79 years old)and still live in Central Cal–was just at El Capitan in Santa Barbara County and once again, tar. It has always been a problem–some days worse than others due to weather and tidal activity. There have always been natural oil seeps off shore. We have always used the unsafe, smelly tar removal–lighter fluid or gasoline. I’m sure the fumes have taken a few years off my life. Very happy to hear about coconut oil and spray sunscreen. Seems like a much better choice!

  4. John|

    Just completed my 34th summer as an ocean lifeguard in L.A. County and yes tar can be problematic. According to the experts it’s naturally occurring from the ocean floor. Any petroleum product will remove it but my favorite is baby oil. Small bottles can be purchased at drug stores for convenience and a cloth or gauze to do the rest of the clean up. Smells pretty good and is safe.

    1. Johnny Jet|

      Thanks for the tip! We will make it a reader travel tip next week so others can see.

  5. Wayne|

    Tar is common on south Santa Barbara beaches. Baby oil works OK but takes a little work

  6. Christina Bernstein|

    Everybody that says any kind of oil is correct. We used petroleum jelly (Vaseline), the big giant ones you get at Target, as it’s also great for lips, toes, fingertips that get dried out in the salt water.

  7. bean|

    Fun fact. The Chumash Indians in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties used the tar to caulk their canoes.

    1. Johnny Jet|

      That’s awesome! I studied about them in college but either didn’t learn that part or forgot it. Thanks

  8. Annie|

    Just had this happen to me at hermosa beach. I used dish soap, olive oil, and hot water. It took a while but I got it off

  9. Leanne Reynolds|

    Salt Creek in south Orange County we experienced a HUGE tar patch while getting into the ocean to surf. A huge mess and unable to remove easily. Used the sunscreen from our beach bag to attempt the removal.

  10. Jen|

    Sex wax definitely capitalized on this SoCal problem. I use my oil, whatever I have, currently it’s Hawaiian tropic spray oil.

  11. Priscilla|

    Refugio Beach Santa Barbara County

  12. Jon Stewart|

    When I lived in the Florida Keys in the mid ’70s, beach tar was very common. Last time I was there in the 90s, much less so. I agree with the other posts suggesting baby oil or oil-based tanning “lotion” (if anybody still uses that stuff).

  13. Carrie Cohen|

    Are used to get tar on my feet from the beach. My dad told me to use nail polish remover. It worked.

  14. Jerry|

    I used to live across the street from Carpinteria State Beach in California and can state that no matter how careful you are, even when you look before you step, if you walk on the wet sand you will get tar on your feet. You can scrape off excess, but really can’t take it all off until you reach soap and hot water.

    Not surprising: the area got the name “Carpinteria” from the Spanish–the carpenter’s shop–who observed tar seeping out of the ground (it still does) and the native Chumash people making their long “tomol” watercraft binding wood planks together with it.

  15. Betty Jo McDonald|

    I used nail polish remover and it didn’t work much. A quick search and found this page and the sunscreen worked. The worse part is that I got into the shower before I saw it and there are spots an smears in the tub. As a last resort, I tried acetone and it lightened it a little. The 56 year old ceramic finish on the tub is worn and impossible to get well. With the tar it looks even worse.

  16. Andy|

    This is fascinating to read from someone settled in the cold and grey heart of England (Leeds). Stumbled across this whilst listening to Joni Mitchell’s Carey. Have listened to that lovely song dozens of times but today I decided to find out what “beach tar on my feet” is all about! So very Californian…a beautiful state I had the pleasure of visiting way back in 79.

  17. Molly|

    Well, I just stepped in some today on Mission beach in San Diego. My husband grew up here and said it’s always been around. He told me to look out for it but didn’t know what to look for! Now to find some oil products. . .

  18. Anonymous|

    Just got back from Santa Barbara and my feet were totally tarred black! I used a washcloth and sunflower oil and it worked like a charm!

  19. Jodi Bowen|

    Leaving Ventura, I always always get it here even if I watch ever single step! I’m glad I found this thread, I’m gonna try it asap!

  20. Peggy|

    Back in the day, after surfing at Campus Point in Santa Barbara, my friend and I would use peanut butter to get the tar off. It worked well, but after visiting yesterday I’m going to try some of these other options. Thank you!

  21. Dee|

    I used to keep coconut oil packets from Trader Joe’s as a non-leaky source of oil in my beach bag, along with plastic knife (the kind you get with take-outs if you forget to say you don’t need them). They’re great for the scraping part. But I love the idea of using sunscreen. Makes it even simpler. thanks

  22. Chris|

    Corpus Christi Texas, we’ve been here plenty of times and never had this happen so…this time was the first, thanks for all the hacks, we’ll keep it in mind

  23. Melissa Algaze|

    You’re a savior! I’ve grown up in so cal my entire life and never had a tar problem until our visit to Carpinteria State Beach. I found your website and read the comments. Walked over to the Rite Aid up on Linden, purchased baby oil and baby wipes and went to town on our feet. Removed with a bit of scrubbing but the baby oil worked!

  24. Ike|

    Here is a fun hack, I once used a product called TakeOff Adhesive Remover wipes to remove tar from my foot and my dog’s paws. Now I carry a single wipe or two in my pocket just in case.

  25. Carrie|

    Galveston! Didn’t know anything about it and we all had fun trying to come up with what it could be until I found this article. Old fashioned men’s shaving cream saved the day for me.

  26. Jeff|

    on the beach today with tar on shoes and leg so ran across your article and headed back to motorhome on the way I had childhood flash back to growing up in mountains and cutting trees every Saturday w dad. come home and mom has a spoon of… mayonnaise to get the sap off so I rubbed some on let it sit for a minute then wiped it off…….. make it 3 ways to get tar off!!!

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