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Cleaning Convertible Tops Like a Pro (Sparkling Clean Results!)

Since they were invented, convertibles have been a hot commodity among car owners. They have come a long way since they were invented in the 1920s, now including a variety of materials and functions. In this article, convertible characteristics, maintenance tips and general car care will be discussed.

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What Kinds of Convertible Tops Are There? - The Most Notable Differences

Convertible tops come in both soft top and hardtop varieties.

Soft top convertibles are made from an assortment of pliant materials, including vinyl, polyester, cotton, rubber, and canvas. They are more compact than hardtops and have manual retractable operation, but they are less strong than hardtops.

Hardtops, on the other hand, are typically made using metal or other durable materials. The paint matches the color of the car’s body, and they work in either a retractable or detachable fashion that is automatic and manual, respectively. They offer much greater protection than soft top convertibles.

Fabric vs. Vinyl

The primary soft top convertible roofs come in either fabric of vinyl materials. Of the two, fabric tops are more common, but vinyl tops have been around longer. Each comes in a variety of colors, though most car owners opt for neutral shades.

Fabric convertible roofs provide a stereotypical convertible style, but lack the glossy sheen that vinyl ones have. They are also better for noise cancellation, as the wind effects are not as pronounced as in a vinyl roof.

Vinyl, on the other hand, appears shinier on convertible roofs. Another notable characteristic is that they often have plastic windows on the rear windows instead of glass, though glass is still an option. A vinyl roof is also much cheaper than its counterpart, though some will splurge for the sake of appearances.

Soft Tops

Another trait of soft tops is that they offer three layers of protection against the elements and other external threats. These include two layers of fabric that sandwich a layer of rubber for waterproofing. Both fabric and vinyl convertibles have this tri-layer protective feature, which dramatically increases the life of the car and reduces your chances of getting a leak or other debris in it.

What Are Some Common Materials For Soft Tops?

Soft tops can be made from numerous materials, including the aforementioned most popular fabric and vinyl. Both can last several years if they are well-maintained, but in terms of longevity vinyl can last upwards of a decade, while fabric tops only last between 3-6 years. Along with these two, there are a few other common materials that soft tops are made with.

Polyester is one that can be grouped in with vinyl in terms of convertible top longevity and acclaim, along with providing a similar style. It is an excellent material for the protective layers of the roof because it is typically retardant towards damage.

Other materials, such as canvas, cotton, or a blend of fabrics are said to be more aesthetically pleasing, but not ideal if you are expected to get a lot of use out of your car because they do not last as long. Even if it is well-maintained, tops made of these materials only last a handful of years.

Another important thing to watch out for is that the soft top materials are sensitive to many of the harsh chemicals used in car cleaning products, such as bleach. Unless you use a gentle car shampoo that does not have any gloss-enhancement or other finishing features, the roof can be stained or damaged.

How Difficult Are Soft Tops to Maintain?

Maintenance varies depending on whether you have a fabric or vinyl top. Of the two, vinyl tops win hands-down in terms of durability and required level of maintenance. You can even use traditional car shampoo on it, and most substances will roll right off. However, the main downside is that damage is irreparable, so you have to replace the entire roof in that instance.

Fabric tops are a little more tedious, and they are best kept indoors for that reason. Maintenance is made easier because of their breathability, which is one upside when compared to hard tops. They are not flimsy by any means, but they are more prone to debris absorption and require specialized tools to clean it. However, you do not have to replace the entire roof in case of damage.

Hard Tops

In direct opposition to soft tops, hard tops offer maximum rigidity and are thus much more protective than soft tops against both the elements and potential burglars. With hard tops, you also have the ability to choose between retractable and detachable roofs.

What Are Some Common Materials For Hard Tops?

Most hard top convertibles are made with some type of metal or other sturdy material, which gives them better defense against harsh weather conditions. The most common are fiberglass-reinforced plastic, steel, or aluminum.

These materials are painted and designed to blend seamlessly into the body of the car, and provide a much more protective barrier than soft tops.

How Difficult Are Hard Tops to Maintain?

When compared to soft tops, hard tops are much easier to maintain. They are stronger against the elements and can be cleaned similarly to a standard car, because the roof is often made with the same or similar materials. Aside from being wary of any potential leaks, hard tops last much longer, but they are very expensive to replace if damaged. If this happens, you will need to replace the entire roof. Maintenance varies depending on whether you have a detachable or retractable hard top.

Retractable roofs are automatic and compress the roof so that it can be tucked away in the back of the car. As expensive as they are, they are also less labor intensive and more aesthetically pleasing.

Detachable roofs are just that—they are fully removed from the car body and can be stored in another location. These are much less common than they were in the past, but for classic car enthusiasts they are a commodity.

Tools Needed to Clean Convertible Tops

Depending on whether you have a hard or soft convertible top, you will have to follow different protocols when cleaning it. Torque Detail offers a wide selection of cleaning products for your vehicle, including those for soft and hard tops. Some operate as a wax and sealant, like their Mirror Shine Spray.

The following are the essential tools for cleaning your convertible.

Soft Brushes

These brushes are used on soft and convertible tops to remove stains and debris without damaging the roof. They can be made with an assortment of materials, though synthetic and horse hair bristles are the most popular.

Microfiber Towel

Using a microfiber towel is very important, because using an ordinary towel can scratch the outside paint. The towel is used for cleaning the car’s hard surfaces, both interior and exterior.

Car Shampoo

This product is great for cleaning hard tops and comes in many varieties for different car materials and purposes—some are designed for shine, and others just for general cleaning. Mild car shampoos are useful for vinyl roofs, but ones with gloss-enhancement or harsh chemicals can damage the fabric.

If you need help deciding, Torque Detail offers a wonderful Decon Wash Pack that comes with not only the soap but also a car wash mitt.

Quality Fabric Cleaner

Fabric cleaning is of the utmost importance if you have a fabric soft top. Cleaning methods are parallel to those of a vinyl roof. However, you will need to buy cleaners and care products that are either specifically geared towards fabric or are multifunctional for vinyl as well. When cleaning a fabric soft top, you must take care to decontaminate both the interior and exterior.

For interior cleaning, Torque’s Intra Clean Interior Kit is effective and safe for use on convertibles.

Detailing a Convertible Top: Doing It The Right Way

Now that you have all the tools you will need to clean your convertible top, let us explore the detailing process—doing things in the correct order is the best way to give your vehicle regular maintenance.

The First Step: A Basic Wash

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Before you begin any detail cleaning, you must first give your convertible a general rinse with either a hose or another powerful source of water. This will remove any surface debris or stains that could damage the car while you are engaged in more detailed cleaning. If a soft top is very dirty with grime or bird droppings, use a gentle convertible top cleaner—Torque’s Decon Soap is good for this use as well, and it includes the microfiber wash mitt for you, so it is a real bargain, a terry cloth, lint cloth or raggtopp are other good options.

When doing a basic wash, you should use two buckets: one for soap and suds and one for rinse. This prevents any cross-contamination and avoids the potential of just spreading the dirt around, which can happen if you only use one bucket.

Apply Solution and Cleaners

Next up is the most labor-intensive step, which is finding and using the appropriate cleaners for either a soft or hard top. Soft top products cannot have harsh chemicals or added features that are included in solutions for hard tops, because it can damage the fabric. Many products are designed for ease and only require a simple application, scrub, and rinse. Cleaners should be applied with gentle, circular motions.

The good thing about hard tops is that you can basically treat them like a traditional closed-roof car. As long as the roof is completely shut and no fluids can get in, the sky is the limit in terms of what cleaners and solutions you can use. There are many multipurpose solutions available for this type of material, and some are geared to add extra shine—but again, do not use this type on soft tops.

Use a Soft Brush

After the solutions have been applied, use a soft scrub brush to go through and carefully clean the nooks and crannies of your roof. This is the most detailed step, especially for soft tops that cannot rely on solutions with strong chemicals. If there are any stains or imperfections lightly scrub the soft top until they go away—but use caution, because too much pressure can damage the roof. This step allows you to ‘agitate the fabric’ and remove potential contaminants.

Soft bristle brushes are effective on hard tops as well, especially for persistent flaws. However, unlike soft tops, you have the added option of using a microfiber towel.

Let It Dry

It is important to let your car dry completely before removing the top, lest moisture or other substances get trapped in the crevices. It is suggested to take the car for a quick spin to expedite the drying process, but you could also just let it air dry on its own.

If you are adding a top protectant, sealants, or products to enhance shine, the car must be fully dried. Soft tops have specialized cleaners without damaging ingredients, and are the only safe way to add an extra layer of protection.

Hard tops have more options with a variety of features.

How to Remove Mold and Mildew From Convertible Top

This is a problem that occurs almost exclusively with soft tops, because mold and mildew grow more readily on soft fabrics and have the ability to permeate the surface. Hard tops can develop them too, but typically only within the roof’s crevices if water or other debris gets stuck inside.

Luckily, there is no shortage of products you can buy to eradicate mold and mildew. Most of them are used by covering the soft top with the solution, allowing it to sit and saturate the material, followed by a gentle scrub with a soft brush. After the mold and mildew have been removed, rinse the top thoroughly with water and allow it to dry before re-opening it.

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Summary - What You Need to Know About Convertible Top Cleaning

Having a convertible is a wonderful luxury granted that it is well-maintained. It is crucial to assure that you use the proper tools and methods to get the most longevity out of your car, whether it be a soft or hard top. They each have their own particular cleaning protocol, so make sure you do your research before attempting the endeavor.

Hopefully, this article has given you great headway towards appropriately cleaning your fabric convertible top. When in doubt, Torque Detail offers many of the products you will need to do this in the most effective way possible.

Now, the only thing left to do is hit the road!

  • Published on May 15, 2021
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