Convertible Top Fabric Cleaning
How to zoot your convertible top, tonneau or boot
Whether your automotive top is canvas or vinyl, dirt will accumulate there in the same way it does on your paint and other exterior surfaces. But, unlike your paint and other exterior surfaces, a fabric top is a textile and has a grain and, thus, little pores and grooves. The same is true of pseudo-convertible lids and tonneau and boot covers of all sorts. The look and feel of real fabric carries with it a tradeoff: it's more vulnerable to environmental fallout, grime and all the other airborne filth. Sadly, those cracks and crannies in the surface give dirt a place to hide from typical car cleaners. So how do you clean a fabric top correctly?
Companies like Mothers Polish, Eagle One, Griot's Garage, and Meguiar's manufacture cleaners specifically designed for convertible and fabric tops, expressly formulated to clean deep into the porous textures of vinyl and canvas. When you're out shopping for a fabric cleanser, make sure it's pH balanced and contains no bleach. Even on a white top, bleach can weaken fibers and promote premature material breakdown. It helps if the cleaner is thick and sticks to the top, because as you work, it's helpful to have the stuff stick around—not running and watering down too easily. A spray dispenser will help you use the cleanser more efficiently.
The cleaning process is relatively simple—it's more about being thorough with each step. First off, completely rinse the top or cover, hosing off all stuck-on dirt and droppings with a strong stream of water. Too much pressure could be bad for the top, even damaging the material or the seams, so don't overdo the rinsing.
As you work from section to section, spray the top cleaner only onto the specific area you're working on. Use plenty of the cleaner—you want to encourage the product's sudsing action, which in turn will make it easier for you to not only track where you've cleaned, but gives a good indication of how effective your cleaning motion is (by way of suds quality).
Using a soft bristle brush (no metal bristles here—just soft plastic or natural hair, like horse or boar), work in a circular motion much like when brushing your teeth. Lots of soapy bubbles should be produced; but, again, don't overwork the brush and damage the top. When you encounter a seam, stitches or a groove, work the brush parallel to that landmark. After cleaning the section of top to your satisfaction, make your final brush strokes parallel to the material's grain.
Hose off the fabric thoroughly, being sure to rinse out all nooks and crannies, too. If you're cleaning a convertible top or tonneau cover, leave it in closed/deployed position so the top will dry in stretched form. While drying, as when scrubbing, make your final towel stroke in the same direction as the material's grain. If the top/cover material you've been working with is a vinyl/synthetic, a little rubber preservative as would be used with tires or bumpers works to seal the fabric and give it a healthy glow. Only use canvas-specific agents on a canvas top.
A convertible top, improperly cleaned and maintained, will look dingy and wear out sooner. Replacing a convertible top is not an easy project, so do yourself a favor and maintain the one you've got. It'll last longer, look better and work properly. This will, in turn, help with resale value too, should you ever have to part with the car. The same instructions as listed above, and the same sort of cleanser, work well to clean boat and car covers and other sorts of outdoor fabrics.
Don't be shy with the water when hosing down your top. Even if you're just washing the top with regular car soap, ample water will help loosen the extra stuck stuff.
Use an equally generous amount of the fabric cleaner. You'd rather do this once properly than twice on the skinny, right? You won't need to drown the top, but put enough cleanser down to generate a large amount of suds.
Using the classic random-orbiting brushing motion, scrub until you've got lots of suds coming up. Depending on the fabric's condition, the suds might darken with dirt pulled from the grain. Remember to work parallel to material features like seams, stitches and mold lines.
Enjoy our repeated random cleaning action.
Chase cleaning a vinyl top with a rubber preservative and you'll wind up with a very good looking, OEM-feeling top. Don't use too much or it'll get that greasy, used look. There are special preservatives available for canvas top materials too.
When you're finished cleaning, even the gaps between seams should be clean. It doesn't take much more than a little elbow grease to get sharp results.
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