How To Clean and Protect Convertible Soft-Tops

Convertibles need maintenance to remain water-tight and to keep their like-new appearance. Failure to do the essential maintenance or use of harsh household chemicals will result in hundreds of dollars of damage. A replacement soft-top will set you back $600 or more and can go over the $1,500 with installation.

The very first thing you need to know about your convertible is the type of material. Most rag tops are made using a woven polyacrylic fabric or a polyester vinyl. Cars with a woven polyacrylic fabric have a wonderful feel (like a soft canvas) and they look very classy. Polyester vinyl does not have the same high quality look, but it is economical and easy to maintain.

As you might have guessed the fabric has a tight weave to keep out the wind and rain, but they are also made to breathe. That means a fabric top is not really waterproof, but it is highly water resistant. To make the canvas material waterproof you need to treat it with a sealing and water repelling agent. Without regular treatment the fabric will allow moisture to come through and it may not release difficult stains when you clean it. The treatment also aids against slow fade from ultra violet light and acid rain damage.

Although the material is quite durable, many household cleaning products will damage your car’s top. Avoid anything containing ammonia, bleach, detergent, alcohol or vinegar. They are all a sure way to kill your top and its clear vinyl window. Trust me, you don’t want pain of having to replace your top because you used a household cleaner instead of a cleaner designed to do the job. This includes detergent products like Formula 409, Simple Green, etc.

One of the biggest wear factors for canvas tops is dust in the canvas. Dust settles into the weave of the material, gets into the yarn, and wears away at the fibers. Vinyl can experience premature wear from dirt, too, but it’s not as big an issue. In general, you should care for your top each time you wash your car. This does not mean you need to scrub it with a cleaner each time, but a thorough rinsing with a stiff stream of water is necessary.

The recommended tool for washing is a soft scrub brush. Do not use a cloth, chenille-covered sponge or lamb’s wool mitt, as they will leave lint. If your top has soil marks, stains or bird droppings, use a small upholstery brush. Do not use a scrub brush on the vinyl window. It will scratch.

To dry a canvas top I recommend using a synthetic chamois or a microfiber drying towel. Use the chamois or towel to blot the water off the surface, but never wipe. To avoid lint issues, a terry cloth towel or diaper should not be used. To dry your vinyl, a microfiber cloth is ideal. Use the microfiber on the vinyl windows, too, and you won’t have issues with scratching.

As mentioned above, tops made with canvas are not waterproof. To provide waterproofing and stain resistance you must treat it with a protective spray. There are several treatments available, including 303 Products and Wolfstein’s RaggTopp Protectant. These are not a Scotchgard® product. The main difference is that they contain an anti-fungal agent to prevent mold and mildew.

Although vinyl doesn’t need waterproofing, vinyl tops do need protection. Using a good vinyl top protectant, you can prevent discoloration damage from road grime, pollution, salt deposits, leaf gum, and bird droppings. Vinyl tops should be treated monthly.

Before you apply protectant you car needs to be completely dry. When treating canvas, mask off your vinyl window using tape and newspaper. If overspray gets on your windows or paint it will be difficult to remove. You might find it helpful to lift the top slightly and slip newspaper or an old bed sheet between it and windshield frame. Do the same with the side windows.

Be sure to shake the protectant for a full minute before use. For best results apply two light coats. It dries faster and you get better coverage. For the best possible waterproofing, spray a third coat on the seams.

On vinyl use an applicator sponge. Never spray the protectant because the spray will go everywhere. The better way to do it is to apply the product to your foam applicator then rub it on. Allow the protectant to stand for a few minutes, then buff dry with a clean microfiber towel.

If you follow these basic guidelines, your convertible top will serve you twenty of more years while looking its best. For additional protection, especially if you part outside, consider a waterproof car cover or a custom car cover. An outdoor car cover will completely eliminate long-term issues with UV light and water damage.