How to Clean a Convertible Top Like a Pro: Soft Top vs Vinyl

How to Clean a Convertible Top Like a Pro: Soft Top vs Vinyl

If not tucked away for winter, taking proper care of your convertible top is essential. As the most exposed part of your car, convertible tops are prone to the damaging effects of UV rays, dirt buildup, stains, and even mold and mildew. Fortunately, cleaning your convertible top doesn’t have to be a difficult or expensive endeavor.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about properly cleaning and caring for your convertible top.

Key Takeaways

Before diving into the step-by-step guide, here are the key points to keep in mind:

Key TakeawayDetails
Determine top materialFabric and vinyl tops require different cleaners and techniques
Gather suppliesBrushes, microfiber towels, cleaners, protectants
Clean every 2 monthsPrevent buildup of dirt, grime, environmental contaminants
Protect from UV raysFading, cracking, deterioration of material
Be gentleAvoid abrasives, harsh scrubbing to prevent damage
Detailing a convertible car at the hand wash
Photo by Nik

The Importance of Regular Maintenance

Caring for your convertible top should be part of your regular car maintenance routine. Cleaning your convertible top every two months will prevent the buildup of dirt, tree sap, bird droppings, and other grime that can stain and damage the material.

Neglecting proper care makes cleaning more difficult down the road. Built-up contaminants can lead to:

  • Fading of color
  • Cracking and drying out of material
  • Mold, mildew, and water damage
  • Permanent stains
  • Need for costly repairs or even full top replacement

Establishing a regular maintenance schedule will extend the life of your top and ensure your convertible stays looking great for years of cruising ahead.

Determining Your Convertible Top Material

The first step in cleaning your convertible top is determining what material it is made of:

Fabric vs. Vinyl

There are two main convertible top materials – fabric and vinyl:

  • Fabric tops are typically made of canvas or cotton
  • Vinyl tops are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC)

Vinyl is easier to clean and more water resistant. Fabric is more prone to fading and sagging but often viewed as more premium.

Check your owner’s manual to confirm which one your convertible has.

You’ll need this information because fabric and vinyl tops require different cleaning techniques and solutions. Using the wrong cleaner can actually damage the material.

How to Wash a Vinyl Convertible Top

Vinyl convertible tops are water resistant and protect the interior cabin from the elements. However, they still require regular cleaning.

Here are the steps to safely clean vinyl tops:

  1. Rinse with a hose or spray to remove loose dirt
  2. Mix a vinyl cleaner (like 303 Convertible Top Cleaner) with water
  3. Use a brush (soft) to apply the diluted cleaner
  4. Allow the solution to soak for 5-10 minutes
  5. Rinse thoroughly with clean water
  6. Blot dry with microfiber towels – avoid rubbing

Avoid household cleaners like ArmorAll and dish soap, as they can actually strip the vinyl of essential oils and cause it to become brittle and crack over time.

How to Clean Canvas Convertible Top

Fabric soft tops require some additional care and gentler cleaning methods.

Follow these steps to clean fabric tops:

  • Rinse with water to remove surface dirt
  • Mix a small amount of mild soap with warm water
  • Use a soft towel or sponge to gently apply the solution
  • Rinse thoroughly with clean water
  • Blot dry with a microfiber towel

Avoid scrub brushes, which can damage the fabric. Be extra cautious around seams to avoid weakening threads.

Protecting Your Convertible Top

Properly protecting your convertible top from sun exposure, weathering, and other elements is just as vital as cleaning it.

Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can cause convertible tops to fade, crack, stiffen, and deteriorate prematurely. A high-quality protectant will shield both fabric and vinyl tops from damage.

Here are the steps to protect your convertible top:

  1. Clean your top thoroughly before applying any protectant
  2. Choose a protectant designed specifically for convertible tops
  3. Apply the protectant evenly according to the manufacturer’s directions
  4. Allow the product to dry completely
  5. Reapply every 1-2 months for optimal results

Using household products like ArmorAll can actually accelerate fading and damage over time. Investing in a convertible top-specific product will pay dividends.

Clean a convertible with a soft towel
Photo by Tyler Mohrman

Establishing a Regular Maintenance Routine

To keep your convertible top looking great for the long run, be sure to establish a regular maintenance routine. The key steps include:

  • Thoroughly clean vinyl tops every 2 months
  • Gently clean fabric tops every 1-2 months
  • Apply a UV-protectant 1-2 weeks after each cleaning
  • Store inside or use a cover during winter months
  • Address stains, damage, or deterioration promptly

Following these convertible top care best practices will add years of life to your prized vehicle.

The second half of the article will cover dealing with stubborn stains, restorative procedures for faded tops, and when to seek professional help. Stay tuned for more tips on preserving your convertible!

Dealing with Stubborn Stains and Soils

Even with regular cleaning, stubborn stains can still occur on convertible tops from things like bird droppings, tree sap, and other environmental contaminants. Addressing them promptly is key to avoiding permanent damage.

Here are some tips for getting rid of stubborn stains:

  • Identify the stain and let the top fully dry first
  • Mix a concentrated cleaner solution
  • Use a soft brush and gently scrub the stain
  • Rinse thoroughly with clean water
  • Repeat as needed until the stain dissipates

Avoid aggressively scrubbing or you may risk damaging the convertible top material itself.

Deep Cleaning Old or Dirty Tops

If you’ve neglected cleaning your convertible top for awhile, a deep clean may be in order.

  • Wash your car first – dirt and debris could damage your top
  • Mix your cleaner solution extra strong
  • Let it soak for 10-15 minutes to penetrate grime
  • Use gentle circular motions to lift dirt
  • Completely rinse twice with clean water

Repeat these steps as needed until you’ve restored your convertible top to a like-new condition.

See Also
Ford Mustang Coupe vs Convrtible

Replacement Cabriolet Roofs: Guide to Fixing Soft Tops
Photo by Serjan Midili

Restoring and Preserving Your Convertible Top

If your convertible top is already showing signs of wear like fading, stiffening, or cracking, specialized cleaners and techniques can help restore it.

Fading ColorUse an oxidizing cleaner to rejuvenate color
CrackingApply conditioners to add flexibility
Mold or MildewUse a mildew stain remover & dry thoroughly

You can also improve durability and longevity by:

  • Keeping your convertible garaged or covered
  • Parking in shaded areas whenever possible
  • Using a windscreen when driving top-down

Shielding your convertible top from sun exposure will prevent premature cracking and deterioration.

Porsche 911 targa top cleaning
Photo by Serjan Midili

When to Call a Professional

While many convertible top issues can be addressed with diligent at-home care, more serious damage may require professional help.

Signs it’s time to visit an auto upholstery shop include:

  • Visible rips, tears, or gaps in material
  • Seams coming undone
  • Water leaking into vehicle interior
  • Significant sags, bubbles, or warping

Re-covering or replacing a convertible top is expensive – repairs early on can save thousands of dollars down the road if deterioration progresses.

Preserving Your Investment

Your convertible represents a significant investment and cherished summer memories ahead. Keeping its top properly maintained as well as cleaning and protecting the interior will help preserve your prized vehicle for many top-down miles.

By following these convertible top care tips, you can keep your car looking great and minimize the need for costly repairs. Cruising around in a like-new convertible is one of life’s simple joys – proper maintenance will ensure you enjoy open air driving for years to come!

BMW Z3 with classic black replacement soft top made of fabric

Expert Opinion

As a convertible owner for over 10 years, keeping your top properly maintained is truly key to preserving the vehicle’s value and enjoying endless sunny drives. While it may seem tedious at times, regularly cleaning delicate fabric tops or rugged vinyl materials pays off exponentially by preventing costly damage from environmental factors. Investing in high-quality cleaners designed specifically for convertibles, rather than generic household products, also makes a remarkable difference in lifting grime and protecting from UV rays without stripping essential oils. By faithfully following specialized care guidelines every 1-2 months, your beloved drop-top will maintain a like-new luster for the long haul.

Mercedes AMG Gt soft top convertible with a cleaned roof
Photo by Roland Denes


Caring for your beloved convertible doesn’t need to be difficult or require expensive professional repairs down the road. By understanding your specific top material, utilizing specialized cleaners and techniques for regular maintenance, and adequately protecting from sun exposure, you can keep your drop-top looking fabulous for miles ahead. Be sure to also check out our other convertible care guides on topics like cleaning interiors, treating damages, winterization tips, and more.

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should I clean my cabriolet roof?

For vinyl tops, clean every 2 months. For more delicate fabric tops, clean every 1-2 months. This prevents buildup of contaminants that can damage materials.

Can I use household cleaners on my cabriolet top?

Household cleaners like ArmorAll should be avoided as they can dry out and damage convertible top materials over time. Use specialized cleaners designed for fabric or vinyl tops.

What is the best cabriolet roof cleaner?

Look for UV blocking sealants and conditioners specifically formulated for convertible tops rather than generic vinyl/rubber protectants. Products that actively restore color and luster are ideal.

Can you wash a convertible top through a car wash?

It’s best to avoid putting convertible tops through automated car washes, even those with brushless or touchless settings. The high pressure spray can damage materials and push in contaminants. Over time, repeated exposure to harsh cleaners and scrub brushes can also cause premature wear.

When should I involve a professional for top maintenance?

If you notice tears, gaps, unwinding seams, bubbling/warping, or water leaks – or if substantial fading/cracking develops – professional upholstery repair may be needed to preserve integrity and function.

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