Fabric Top Care Buyer's Guide
- Fabric soft tops can be made entirely of cloth that is chemically treated to be water-repellant, or layered with other materials.
- Due to its material, fabric convertible top care requires the use of particular products.
- CarParts.com carries soft top care products including top and window cleaners, protectants, polishers, and zipper oil.
- Prices range from $16 to $54 and the products can be bought individually or in sets.
In the early days of automobiles, the car roof didn’t even exist, or it was just an optional component. Back then, most automotive development efforts were focused on the engine instead of the structure. Like a carriage, an automobile roof can be part of the body and made of wood, or soft, removable material. Innovations in metal production allowed all-metal automotive bodies to be manufactured, resulting in the prevalence of cars with metal roofs.
Although fully-enclosed metal automobiles are now common, there are still some vehicles that have a removable roof, such as convertible cars, trucks, and sport utility vehicles (SUVs). While a roof provides protection from the elements, convertibles offer the added benefits of natural ventilation and a wider field of vision. Convertibles can either have hardtop roofing, which is made of rigid materials, or soft top roofing, which can be made of foldable materials.
What Is a Fabric Top?
There are many different types of materials that can be used to make a soft top. Like horse-drawn wagons, some of the earlier soft-top convertibles used leather or other materials that could be easily folded. More types of soft tops were created after advancements in material production. Today, the fabric top is a popular roof option for convertibles. It can be made of plain, woven, natural, or synthetic fiber, which is treated and coated to be weather resistant. Soft tops featuring a combination of materials that include textiles can also be considered fabric tops.
Types of Fabric Tops
The content of a fabric top is one of the factors that determine its qualities. Some of the materials that can be used for the fabric include natural fibers like cotton or synthetic cloth-like polyester. The fabric can be treated and used on its own or layered with other materials.
Although the cloth used in canvas tops are chemically treated to be water-repellant, this type of fabric top is usually made from cotton, so it can easily get dirty. However, the cotton cloth can be combined with sheets of acrylic or polyester-acrylic blend and butyl rubber to make it more durable and form a three-ply fabric top. The cloth of a canvas top can also be made of polyester or a cotton-polyester blend.
Like canvas tops, a vinyl fabric top also includes cloth but uses a different exterior layer. This kind of soft-top uses a type of plastic called polyvinyl chloride (PVC), for the outer layer. PVC, also known as vinyl, is commonly used as faux leather because of its glossy appearance. Since it’s made of plastic, vinyl tends to be easier to clean and is more weather-resistant. However, unlike canvas tops, vinyl soft tops cannot be repaired when damaged.
Other types of fabric tops feature different materials and designs, including denim, sailcloth, and twill. Denim fabric tops are made of polyester-cotton blends but have a PVC coating, making them as durable and resistant to weather and ultraviolet (UV) light as a vinyl top. Sailcloth tops use two layers of vinyl along with a polyester or cotton sheet. Twill, is similar to canvas, but uses a specific type of textile weave, in a thick and durable fabric.
Fabric Top Care Products
Even though they're retractable or detachable, convertible car tops are still meant to be used to provide protection from the elements. While drop-tops are often associated with luxury vehicles, some trucks or SUVs that are marketed for off-roading also have a removable roof. Thus, convertible vehicle tops can be exposed to both rugged environments and regular road driving.
Since hardtop roofs are either made from the same material as the vehicle body or from another rigid material such as plastic, they can usually be cleaned like the rest of the convertible's exterior. On the other hand, due to its material, fabric convertible top care requires the use of particular products.
Aside from regular weathering, fabric tops are also susceptible to mildew. Also, heat and UV rays can also cause the fabric to fade, or weaken its threads. In order to prolong its service life, care for fabric convertible tops should include regular cleaning. Ideally, a soft-top cleaner should be formulated to remove dirt and debris without stripping the fabric’s protective coating or chemical treatment. It is also best to apply a convertible top protectant to a fabric top to help reduce weathering. Lastly, using a polisher can help the fabric top continue to look good.
Fabric tops can also include vinyl or glass windows and zippers. These parts should not be neglected in convertible top care and maintenance. Like the fabric top, vinyl windows need to be cleaned with products that won’t damage the material. They should also be treated with a protectant to help prevent fading, yellowing, and cracking caused by heat and sunlight. As for zippers, clean and treat them with oil that’s formulated to prevent jams.
Finding the Right Care Products for Your Fabric Top
A convertible top cleaner should be able to clean off gunk, like mud, tar, tree sap, and bird droppings, from the fabric top. The cleaner should also be mild enough to avoid damaging the fabric and its protective coating. Avoid cleaning products that contain alcohol, ammonia, bleach, and detergents, since these chemicals can damage the fabric top’s material. To avoid clinging dust, opt for an oil-free cleaner.
When shopping for fabric top care products, a buyer should also consider the soft-top’s type and design. For instance, the Jeep bikini top for some Wranglers usually doesn’t include a window. In this case, a buyer’s Jeep soft top care items won’t include a vinyl window cleaner.
CarParts.com carries soft top care materials for Jeeps and other convertibles. Available drop-top and Jeep soft top care products include top and window cleaners, protectant, polisher, and zipper oil. Prices range from $16 to $54 and products can be bought individually or in sets.