How to Wash Soft Top Convertibles

Jack R. Nerad | Jun 24, 2020

Convertibles are great. With the top down and the wind blowing through your curly locks you feel like nothing can stop you, an exhilaration that just can't be duplicated in a "closed car" no matter how big its sunroof might be. But as anyone who has owned a convertible knows (and I've owned several), there is a hidden hassle just waiting to spoil all the fun. It's called the convertible top.

How to Wash Soft Top Convertibles

Now those folks who have never owned a convertible don't suspect it, but the self-same soft top that folds away to enable automotive Nirvana is just chockfull of potential issues. It can leak. It can tear. Its rear window might quickly turn opaque. And, apropos of this article on how to wash soft-top convertibles, it can be very challenging to clean — if you want to do it properly.

There is a price to pay for the thrill of open-top motoring, and that price is extra maintenance. When you compare cars you'll find convertible tops are made of flexible materials — fabric or vinyl — that enable them to fold, and they might also have a plastic rather than glass rear window that also requires special maintenance. If you fail to clean your car's top frequently, it will not only begin to look bad, but it will also be prone to leak and require early replacement.

Is Your Top Fabric or Vinyl?

Before cleaning your car's convertible top it is important to determine if it is made of fabric or vinyl. You can be assured the majority of tops on today's convertibles are fabric, but if the top has been replaced it might have been replaced with a vinyl top. 

One quick way to figure out the material is to place a few drops of water on the top and, with light finger pressure, try to rub it into the material. If the material seems to absorb the water, the top is made of fabric. If the water stays on the surface it is vinyl. 

It is important to determine the composition of your top because cleaning and protectant products are peculiar to each type. For example, putting vinyl top protectant on a fabric top is a very bad idea.

Cleaning a Fabric Convertible Top

Obviously, a folding fabric top is more prone to damage than the painted metal hardtop of a sedan, coupe, or SUV. At the same time, a fabric top is subject to the same level of dirt, grime, and debris. 

The key tools to deal with these contradictory factors are a soft scrub brush and a lot of water. Make certain the top is thoroughly wet and use a brush whose bristles are robust enough to dislodge dirt but not so hard that they will damage the fabric. Once the top is wet, apply a fabric top cleaner, and brush the top's surface with firm but not overly-aggressive strokes. Wash the entire top at the same time, because if you try to "spot clean" it that portion of the top might retain a different appearance for the life of the vehicle. 

After you have used the scrub brush with the cleaning product, thoroughly rinse the top until no trace of the cleaning product — suds, bubbles, scum — remain. Then carefully dry the top using microfiber towels, which are much less prone to leave lint than cotton towels or cloth diapers.

Cleaning a Vinyl Convertible Top

The washing procedure for a vinyl top is similar to that used on a fabric top, but the products should be expressly formulated for use on vinyl. Standard car wash products and fabric top cleaning products are not appropriate for vinyl tops, and they could do damage. 

As with fabric tops, it is advisable to wash the car in the shade, rather than in direct sunlight, because the sun can quickly evaporate the water and leave residue on the top. Use the soft-bristle brush to dislodge stubborn dirt and grime and be certain you do not use the brush on the top's plastic back window (if equipped). Plastic windows in convertible tops are prone to scratches. 

Again, as with a fabric top, microfiber towels are best for drying the top.

Convertible Top Protection and Why

Once you have washed your top and dried it, you should apply a convertible top treatment formulated for the material constructing your top. Just as you use wax to protect your car's painted surfaces, a good protectant will do the same for your top. This will not only improve its looks, but it will also enhance its longevity. Of course, a good protectant will also enhance the water-resistant properties of your fabric top, while a vinyl treatment will help the vinyl top retain its flexibility and color.

What Not to Use on a Convertible Top

Whether your convertible top is fabric or vinyl, knowing what you should NOT use to clean it is probably more important than what you do use. 

Cleaning products like dishwashing liquid and spray cleaners that you have around the house can be very harmful to your soft top. Ammonia, bleach, alcohol, detergents, and even vinegar should be avoided, as should products that contain these ingredients. Rather than use general car wash products, we recommend cleaners that are specifically formulated for the type of top you have.

There is nothing like the joy of open-air motoring, and its price is the care and maintenance of the car's convertible top. With these guidelines in mind, you should able to navigate the pitfalls and enjoy your convertible for years to come.

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