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How To Care For Convertible Tops

CONVERTIBLE TOP CARE

The modern roadster is a masterpiece of beauty, performance and superior engineering.  We own these wonderful machines because they warm our souls.  Like yours, my blood stirs each time I twist the key and the engine comes to life.  Top down, sun on my back, wind in my face, eating up the road . . .  Could anything be better?

Unlike coupes or sedans, roadsters and convertibles have special requirements.  Where the roadster's and convertible's fully enclosed brethren sport steel and glass, the topless car has canvas and vinyl. This makes convertible top cleaning an ongoing job.  How to care for convertible tops? This question creates a myriad of challenges for the soft-top owner.

 

SOFT-TOP MATERIALS

You must first understand your soft top materials before knowing which convertible top cleaner will best work for you. Without this understanding, it's hard to appreciate its maintenance requirements.

Most modern convertibles and roadsters have soft tops made of a durable polyacrylic/polyester canvas or vinyl.  Some things to know before choosing cloth convertible top cleaners:

  • The fabric-like canvas tops feel nice and look great, while the vinyl tops are more economical and easier to maintain
  • Fabric tops have a tight weave, but they breathe. 
  • Unlike vinyl tops, a canvas top is not waterproof, it is only water resistant.  To make the canvas top waterproof, it must be treated. 
  • Without protection, the canvas top is susceptible to leaking and stains
  • Likewise, vinyl tops need protection from the sun and pollutants.  If you're not sure whether your top is fabric or vinyl, check with your dealer.

The rear window on your soft top is special, too.   Many soft-top cars have rear windows made of a clear vinyl.  This allows the window to fold.  These clear vinyl rear windows will absorb a wide range of gasses and liquids, including water, acids and hydrocarbons.  Because vinyl has the ability to absorb foreign materials, it will yellow over time if it is not properly maintained.  Most often, the yellowing and discoloration are the results of ultraviolet (UV) light cross-linking.  That is, the vinyl is not directly affected by the sun's UV rays, but what it absorbs can be.

 

CONVERTIBLE TOP CLEANER KILLERS

Common cleaning products can be very harmful to your soft top. Chemicals you should not use on or near your top include ammonia, bleach, detergent, alcohol and vinegar.

Detergents, bleach and harsh acids will quickly deteriorate canvas, whereas ammonia and alcohol will dry and cloud vinyl. Take my word for it, you don't want to know what it will cost to replace your soft top.  It makes for a really, really bad day.  So please, know the chemicals you use before you apply any convertible top cleaner to your top.

 

HOW TO CLEAN YOUR CONVERTIBLE TOP

Your car's soft top is subjected to the same environmental conditions as the rest of your car.  However, although it is easy to see when your car's body is dusty and dirty, it is not always easy to see when your top is dirty, especially if it's black or navy blue.

One of the biggest wear factors for canvas tops is dust in the canvas.  Dust settles into the weave of the fabric and begins to act like sandpaper.  Vinyl tops will also experience premature wear from dirt, but not as readily.  In general, you should care for your top each time you wash your car.  This does not mean you need to scrub it each time, but a good stiff rinsing is necessary.  The following steps are recommended:

  • Wash your soft top at least once a month (or when it is dusty or dirty) with a non-detergent-based auto shampoo.  If your top is not dirty, rinse it thoroughly with plenty of cool water.  Make sure the shampoo you use does not contain gloss-enhancing oils.  If the shampoo contains oil, the top will absorb the oil and become a dust magnet.  The recommended product is Wolfstein's RaggTopp Cleaner.  It is the only cleaner recommend by the Haartz Corporation, which supplies convertible topping material for virtually every convertible manufactured throughout the world.  Haartz has performed exhaustive testing on almost every product in the industry used for cleaning and protecting fabric convertible tops.
  • The recommended tool for washing is a soft scrub brushDo 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, stiff upholstery scrub brush.  If you can rub the brush across the back of your hand without scratching your skin, it's safe to use on your soft top.  Do not, however, use a scrub brush on the vinyl window.  It will scratch.  Make sure you rinse the top thoroughly with a stiff stream of water to remove all of the shampoo and dirt.

On canvas tops, dry using a synthetic chamois or microfiber towel.  The best method is to use the towel or chamois to blot up the water.  Don't wipe.  Do not use a terry cloth towel or diaper to dry your canvas top, as they will leave lint.  On vinyl tops, a synthetic chamois or microfiber towel will also work well, as will cotton towels.  On vinyl windows, microfiber towels seem to work best.

 

Convertible Top Cleaning Fabric tops, such as the top on this Porsche Boxster, should be washed using a soft brush and a soap that does not contain detergents or conditioners.  If the top is properly protected and conditioned, the water will bead.

 

HOW TO CARE FOR CONVERTIBLE TOP STAINS

To know how to care for convertible tops, you have to know how to deal with tough stains. Sooner or later, your top will be inflicted with a stain that will not come out with regular shampoo.  Common stains include bird droppings, tree sap and grease.  For these occasions, you will need to use a stronger cleaner that can penetrate and release the foreign matter.

Your first inclination will be to scrub the stain with the regular shampoo.  DON'T!  All scrubbing will do is spread it around.  To remove stains from your canvas or vinyl top, use Wolfstein's RaggTopp Cleaner in full concentration.  Spray it liberally on the stain before washing the whole top.  Let it soak in, but don't let it dry.  After it has soaked for 3 to 5 minutes, rinse your top and wash as usual.  Rinse the stained area with a stiff stream of water.

 

CONVERTIBLE TOP CLEANING - YOUR SOFT TOP PLASTIC WINDOW

If your convertible is new, no doubt you have experienced the frustration of polyvinyl fog.  Polyvinyl fog is created by the evaporation of plasticizers (oily hydrocarbons) and other oils.  Plasticizers are used in the manufacturing of vinyl to keep it flexible.  They are also used in many car care conditioners to rejuvenate vinyl and plastic.  Plasticizers remain liquid and evaporate with the heat of the sun.  This off-gassing is worse with new cars, and then it gradually decreases to a manageable level.  Severe off-gassing can also be caused by using too much dressing on your dashboard.

The best tool to clean your convertible's vinyl window is a nonscratch microfiber towel.  Do not use a paper towel, as it can scratch the vinyl.  It is best to detail the window (inside and out) after washing the car.  Follow these steps:

  • Rinse the chamois or microfiber towel thoroughly with water to ensure it is clean.  Wring out most of the water, but leave it damp.  If the chamois is too dry, it will not slide across the window.  Microfiber towels are not as temperamental.
  • Fold the chamois or microfiber towel into a square.Wipe in one direction across the window.  Turn the cloth or chamois, using a clean side with every other pass.
  • To clean the inside of the rear window, kneel in the passenger seat (roadster) or in the rear seat (convertible).  It may take you a few times to learn the best way.  The taller you are, the more difficult it will be.

 

OTHER CONVERTIBLE TOP CLEANING TIPS

Proper care of your soft top goes beyond regular maintenance.  You can also extend its life and beauty by providing a little extra care when lowering and raising your top.

While the engineers have done a wonderful job of designing a top that folds into a small space, canvas and vinyl tops do not always fold flat.  It is best to lower the top halfway, and then smooth the canvas or vinyl to ensure it does not bunch, gather or buckle.

One of the worst enemies of your soft top is itself.  When lowered, your vinyl window is in contact with itself.  As you drive, road vibrations cause the top to rub on itself.  Over time, this will begin to leave scratches and other marks on the window.  To prevent this, you can use a small piece of fleece or soft cotton (not terrycloth) to protect the window.  As you lower your top, after smoothing the wrinkles, lay the fleece across the window.

 

CONVERTIBLE CAR TOP CARE SUMMARY

Your convertible soft top can provide many years of beautiful service, but only if you give it the proper care and handling.  Keep your top clean, and protect it as needed.  When water stops beading on your canvas top, its protection from the sun and water are gone.  Vinyl tops need more frequent protecting, as often as once a month.




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