How To Clean A Convertible Roof – Tips On Keeping That Soft Top Grime Free

I had an opportunity to buy a convertible car that was quite yucky. When I say that, I mean it was just disgusting. It hadn’t been looked after at all. However, I had a friend in NYC that would pay top dollar for this car. And despite the fact that I don’t flip cars for a living, it would mean that I would make a few thousand dollars whilst also getting to drive this beautiful Saab Sports Car around for a couple of weeks.

Everything about the inside of the car was in good working order. In fact all was really fine except the convertible roof and by default its back window. The old owner said to me right before I was driving off ” I hope you know how to clean a convertible”.

Best Way To Clean A Convertible Roof

Step 1: Jet wash the drop top roof. Really blast it and focus on the grimy bits. 

Step 2: Brush in fabric cleaner in vertical lines, then horizontal ones (not hard), in small sections at a time. Wash away each section with the jet wash before moving on to the next section. 

Step 3: Begin drying the car. Blot first with a cloth,then towel dry. Then use a dry / wet vac to suck all the excess water from the soft top. 

Step 4: Apply a hydrophobic spray. 

Step 5: Clean the back window with plastic window cleaner. Inside first, so you can see where the marks are when you start working on the outside. 

Step 6: Dry back window, jump in the car and show off to your friends. 

Best Products To Clean Convertible Tops

  1. Jet Wash – I tend to prefer this one.
  2. Fabric Cleaner – For some reason, this is the one I had lying around at home. 
  3. Hard Bristled Brush – this one is perfect.
  4. Cloths / Towels – doesn’t matter which one
  5. Plastic window cleaner. Don’t go crazy this works fine. 
  6. Wet / dry vac – this is the one I happen to own. 
  7. Hydrophobic Spray – this works just fine. 

I smiled and waved as I rode off into the sunset. Of course I did. I loved washing cars and at this point I consider myself to be a bit of an expert. I mean, how many other people do you know that only follow car washes, valeteres and detailers exclusively on Instagram. That’s right.

That said, this particular convertible roof was not nice. It was mouldy, had bird poop, it was green. I mean, I knew this was going to need a hell of a lot more than a simple once over. And, if my friend in NYC was going to buy it, it had to not just look clean but also be entirely clean.

After getting the Saab home, I ran into my garage to get the most important 2 things you need to inspect any car. A small stool and a beer. And as I sat on my stool, popped open my beer and had that first sip (you know it’s all about that first sip), I started to inspect the whole car.

The previous owner had done a half decent job with the outside (of course not to my standards), with the wheels, the doors, the mirrors. All looked good. Having driven it to my house I knew the inside had been well done. Again not to my standards, but still, other than the seat belts needing cleaning, the inside wasn’t bad.

But what clearly did need the most work was the roof. Well that, and the car had been smoked in. I needed to get rid of the smell of smoke from the car. But that was easy enough. And I was pretty confident he owned pets. But again cleaning pet hairs from the car would be easy too.

After having finished my inspection, I decided to leave the roof down overnight and just see if the smell of smoke would really subside. The next day was game day, I needed to get some rest before going toe to toe with this drop top roof.

Cleaning a Dirty Vinyl Convertible Top

Up until this point, I had only ever washed one or two convertible tops. But with this one I wanted to make sure it was just perfect. So before doing anything, I wrote down a plan of action and possible products that I wanted to use. I sent this list to a few professional detailers who I’ve become friendly with, for their feedback.

A few back and forths later, a few tweaks to the original idea later, a few photos of the roof being sent back and forth later and it was time to actually start going for it.

I had been advised that for a lot of older cars, convertible roofs were almost a magnet for dirt, grime, algae, mold and bird poop. And these things on their own aren’t pleasant, but mixed together and combined into the roof, well, you don’t even want to think about it.

Wash The Vinyl Roof With Water

clean vinyl top

So the first thing I did was grab my gloves. I knew this job was going to get mucky.

I sprayed the entire roof down. I mean, I literally sprayed it all over. Not missing one bit of it. Just power washing the roof with water, I could see dirt flying off, and mucky water flowing down the car. Wow!  Just a great jet wash could get so much off.

Now came the fun bit. It was time to apply a product and agitate. Initially, I thought a good brush and some serious scrubbing would do the trick. However, I had been advised against that.

Apply Fabric Cleaner & Agitate

Instead what I decided to do was apply a fabric cleaner. There are plenty out there on the market, I just happened to use one that I had at home. However, I didn’t blitz the whole car with it. I only did it little by little, because I wanted to try and control as much of the situation as possible. So initially, I sprayed the side, where the roof comes down and meets the car. And started just working that area. I had a brush and just brushed in vertical lines first. I did that till that entire area was covered with the fabric cleaner.

I then re did the same area (without adding more product) and did vertical lines. As if almost creating a criss cross design with brush strokes. I was being careful so as not to scratch the paint on the car, I hadn’t quite shampooed right to the edges and seams. That was a problem.

After having found a small brush, I worked those areas really softly and delicately.

Boom! I was happy. That part was over. Before even moving on to other panels, I wanted to wash that out and spray it all over, again using the power hose and making sure I didn’t miss any of the fabric cleaned areas.

Now you could use an all purpose cleaner but as I said, I happened to have the right fabric cleaner around.

More Water

From the first step, I realised that washing it alone without fabric cleaner did so much, but washing it after it had been fabric cleaned did even more. The fabric cleaner, along with the vertical and horizontal brushing actually brought so much of the dirt, grime and mold to upper surfaces of the roof, so that when the power hose sprayed this section, it removed it all.

I was happy with the result. But before I could pat myself on the back, I had to do the whole car. And I had to do it quite quickly, because I knew my annoying neighbor would be out complaining about the noise of the power jet, saying things like, “Seriously just go to a car wash and be normal. You don’t need to wash your car this much…”

But I’d never met a car wash that would love my car and show it TLC more than I could.

Once I had applied the fabric cleaner to the other parts of the car, again in small sections at a time, and washed it all off, I was beginning to see a huge and noticeable difference.

All the dirt, grime and residue had been washed away and was drowning in water as it washed down my drive.

I was so happy, I can’t even tell you.

Now it was time to relax a bit. Well when I say a bit, I mean 2 minutes.

Think about it, how is the car going to dry itself?

Dry The Soft Top

dry the soft top

Drying the car depends a lot on what type of equipment you have to hand. If you have dryers and air blowers and such like , drying this car in record speed is going to be easy.

However, I don’t have those. Plus I live in Miami, so I knew the sun would do a lot. That said, I wasn’t just going to leave this car out to dry. I wanted to dry it myself.

I had towels, microfibre cloths, shammy and a dry / wet vac. I blotted as much of the roof as I could with the microfibre cloths and again dabbed the towel all over.

Once I repeated this step a few more times, it was time to really get the wet vac in there. What was so great about the wet vac was that not only did it take out all the water, but it also took away whatever residue of grime, algae and mold that could have remained.

Now it was time to chill. It was time for that beer.

Or was it?

Make Convertible Top Water Repellent

Sadly, close but no cigar. It was time to make your roof hate water. It was time to find a spray that made water literally roll off a duck’s back. It turns out there was an actual phrase for sprays like this – hydrophobic sprays.

Yikes! I didn’t own one of these, but given all the back and forths between my valeting Instagram friends, I had been pre-warned. And I managed to borrow one from down the street. Thankfully!!!!

After waiting for about an hour for the roof to be dry, I sprayed a light coat all over. The spray serves as a water repellant and a sealant, retaining a lot of the goodness from the fabric cleaner. I read the instructions carefully and it explicitly said “Only apply in straight lines. Do not use circular motions.”

How To Clean The Back Glass of A Convertible


And there it was. A gleaming shiny, clean convertible top, with a dirty back window.

OMG! I had totally forgotten to clean that. Well, before I even touched the outside of the vinyl, it’s vinyl not glass as you know. Before touching the outside, I cleaned the inside. That way when I was doing the outside I could see straight though.

I grabbed some plasdex, sprayed it on my cloth and wiped away with a light to medium pressure. Took a few seconds.

I dried it and I was done. It was time for that beer. I couldn’t be happier.

I knew I had 2 weeks to drive this car around before my friend from NYC came down to pick it up.

And writing this post now, let me tell you, I’ve yet to drive it since it’s been cleaned to my standards. It’s the day after and I washed everything yesterday. So as soon as I hit publish, I’m grabbing the Saab keys and going for a nice, long drive.

I may even put the roof DOWN!