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Cleaning a soft top

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When cleaning a convertible, you may have to clean a soft top. This is a fabric canopy that covers the cabin of the car. This fabric needs to be cleaned before it can be protected.

Types of convertible

In general there are 2 types of convertibles you will encounter, the ones you can clay and polish (hard-top) and the ones that you can’t (soft-top). The soft top can be made of several fabrics, depending on it’s age and sometimes the manufacturer. In early days, they started out with canvas, this later became vinyl, butyl rubber and latex. This later became a mix of PVC and cotton and currently they are made of Haartz cloth.
Most of these types of fabric have a few things in common, they are porous and not very hydrophobic by design.

Why clean before protecting

It’s mostly a matter of contamination. When the fabric is contaminated, the protective product will behave in a different way because it wasn’t designed to bond with contaminants. This can affect the durability, chemical resistance, hydrophobic properties and overal performance. Cleaning the soft-top will also remove any damaging particles that can have a negative effect on the structure of the fabric.
To put it simply, cleaning a soft-top is a matter of proper maintenance and also to improve the performance of the protective product you are going to use.

The steps for cleaning a soft top

Some of the steps described below are not needed. The optional ones are marked with a *.

  1. Rinse off the soft top to remove the most superficial dust and dirt
  2. *Spray roof with snowfoam
  3. *Leave snowfoam to dwell and then rinse of thoroughly
  4. Wash like normal with regular car shampoo
  5. Rinse off shampoo
  6. Spray roof liberally with APC
  7. Agitate APC with a brush or bristle
  8. Rinse off APC thoroughly
  9. *In case of green (mildew, mould) contamination, mix ammonia and distilled water at 2:1, and spray the area liberally
  10. *Leave the ammonia/water mix to dwell and rinse off
  11. *In case of oil or grime on/in the fabric, you can use a Traffic Film Remover or dedicated Engine Bay Cleaner to loosen up even more dirt. This can also be agitated with a brush or bristle (remember to try it out on a small patch first)
  12. *Rinse off the Traffic Film Remover
  13. Continue using APC until the surface appears to be clean (leave APC to dwell for a little while)
  14. Leave roof to dry, if you are in a hurry you can use a wet/dry vacuum to speed up the drying, or use a hair dryer
  15. A wet/dry vac will help to give a clue on how dirty the water really is, and will suck out a lot of the loosened up dirt
  16. After drying you can see how the fabric looks like, if you see patches, it could still be dirty
  17. If the fabric has dust on it after drying, you can use a sticky clother roller to remove these

Things to consider for preparation

  • You can cover the rest of the car in protective plastic, to prevent it getting dirty and wet
  • Check if the soft top doesn’t leak, you don’t want to end up cleaning out the interior as well
  • Clean your bristles and brushes, a dirty tool won’t help to clean something
  • Don’t underestimate the amount of APC you’ll use
  • If the soft top is dry, you h2can clean some superficial dust with a sticky cloths-roller
  • Make sure the clamps for the soft top are fastened, and it has a good seal with the front window, and the sides

Unreasonable expectations

Some people hope that cleaning the soft top will instantly make it look better, this is not always the case. The color of the fabric can fade over time, the plastic rear-window can oxidize and become dull, the fabric can stretch and loose its shape. Cleaning the fabric might not always fix the cosmetics of the soft top.
A few expectations that might not always be reasonable:

  • It will not bring back the color of the roof
  • It might not always remove all patches
  • It doesn’t fix the dull and oxidized rear-window
  • It won’t always fix leaks
  • It doesn’t have to fix a stretched out look
  • It won’t fix squeaky hinges
  • It won’t make the fabric hydrophobic (this is done by protecting the fabric)
  • A weekly wash is not enough to keep it clean
  • Don’t use clay on a soft top
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