Canvas or Vinyl, This Is How To Clean Your Convertible’s Retractable Top Like a Pro

Convertible Mercedes with a Fabric Top 8 photos
Photo: Ethan Cull via Unsplash
VW Golf COnvertibleMercedes SL ConvertiblePorsche 911 ConvertiblePorsche Boxster SpyderModified BMW 3 Series COnvertibleModified BMW 3 Series COnvertible1969 Pontiac Trans Am Convertible with a Vinyl Top
If you own a convertible or plan on buying one soon, you should know that its retractable top requires special care and cleaning it properly can save you tons of money in the future.
For a car enthusiast, nothing enhances the senses more than driving a convertible during the summer. However, sometimes the sun can be too much, or it can disappear behind heavy clouds that eventually result in rainfall. During these adverse conditions, the retractable top becomes the driver’s best friend, shielding him (or her) as well as other occupants from the elements.

Like the car, its top will need to be cleaned, especially after a long drive in the rain, but to do that without damaging it requires special care. Of course, if your car happens to feature a retractable hardtop, then you’re off the hook and you can just wash it the same way you wash the rest of your ride. But if the top is made out of cloth or vinyl, then holster that pressure washer and pay close attention.

The first step is to get to know the top itself and figure out what it’s made of. As incredible as it may seem to some, there are people out there who don’t know the difference between a canvas(fabric) and a vinyl top. For those, there are several ways of distinguishing the two. If it looks and feels similar to canvas, then you have a fabric roof, but if it looks and feels like grained plastic or hardened leather, then the top is made out of vinyl. If you’re still not convinced, just pour a small quantity of water on the top and gently rub it in using your finger. If the water is absorbed, then you have a canvas top, but if it doesn’t then it’s a vinyl top.

Modified BMW 3 Series COnvertible
Photo: Ethan Sexton via Unsplash
Regardless of the material, it’s important not to use generic products on the car’s top as they can do more harm than good. Things like dishwashing liquid and spray cleaners that you normally use around the house should be avoided - especially those that contain ammonia, bleach, alcohol, detergents, or even vinegar. Use only specific car care products that are specifically formulated for convertible soft-tops. Whether developed for fabric or vinyl, there are loads of them available on the internet or at stores that sell similar products, so sourcing them shouldn’t be hard.

Now that we got that out the way, let’s start with the most common of all folding tops: those made out of fabric. Save the pressure washer for the rest of the car as too much pressure can damage the material and get yourself a good old-fashion bucket filled with water, a vacuum cleaner, a fabric top cleaner, a protectant, a bunch of microfiber towels, and a soft brush. Some car care brands such as Meguiar’s, Chemical Guys, SoftTopp, or RaggTopp offer cleaning kits that include all the aforementioned items (except the bucket and the water, of course) so you can buy one of those to make things easier.

The first step is to get the vacuum cleaner and remove all the dirt particles that might have gotten logged into the fabric. Next, get the top wet, apply the cleaner to the surface, then use the brush to scrub it in and clean it thoroughly. Make sure to do so with firm yet not overly aggressive strokes, as too much pressure can damage the material. Once you finish, rinse the top until no traces of the cleaner remain. You’ll have to wait until it dries out before proceeding to the next step or use the microfiber towels to speed up the process by placing them on the top and gently tapping them to help absorb the water.

VW Golf COnvertible
Photo: Conor Samuel via Unsplash
Don’t throw everything into the garage and crack open a beer just yet, there’s still one more important thing to do. Remember that protectant I mentioned? Now is the time to apply it. Like the wax used to protect your car’s paint, this product is formulated to protect and prolong the life of your car’s soft top. A high-quality protectant will also enhance the water-resistant properties of the fabric. which will enhance its longevity even further.

Using an overlapping, sweeping motion, spray the product on the entire surface first. After you’ve finished, most car care manufacturers as well as detailing experts recommend that you let the product dry for 12 to 24 hours before driving the car again.

For vinyl tops, the process is similar, save for the vacuum cleaner part. With this type of material, dirt particles are less likely to get stuck so you can go ahead and get the top wet first. One thing that you need to remember is to use vinyl-specific cleaners and protectants for the best results. You’ll find products that are made for both, but they usually aren’t as efficient as the specifically-conceived ones.

So, there you have it! With the right products and some elbow grease, you can clean your convertible’s soft top like a pro.

If this guide wasn’t enough and you need a video how-to, we recommend the one that you can find below, originally posted on YouTube by Autogeek.

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About the author: Vlad Radu
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Vlad's first car was custom coach built: an exotic he made out of wood, cardboard and a borrowed steering wheel at the age of five. Combining his previous experience in writing and car dealership years, his articles focus in depth on special cars of past and present times.
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