Can You Clean a Soft Top With Car Shampoo?

For many soft top convertible owners, car washing is a delicate subject. It can be quite confusing to decide what cleaning product to use and how to go about the cleaning process. While a car shampoo is arguably the best car wash product for regular cars, you may wonder if they are likewise suitable for soft tops.

In general, soft tops can be washed with car shampoos that don’t contain gloss enhancers or waxes, as the convertible top material will absorb these ingredients and begin to attract dust. The painted portions of a soft top convertible can be washed with normal car shampoos.

If you’re worried about the effect of car shampoo on your soft convertible top material, this article will inform you on whether you should wash with car shampoo or not. You’ll also read about suitable cleaning supplies and tools for soft top cars.

Can You Use Car Shampoo on a Soft Top?

When washing a soft top, you can use car shampoo that’s not formulated with gloss enhancers and waxes. While these materials are safe for the painted part, they tend to get absorbed into the convertible top material and cause it to attract much dust.

Dedicated convertible cleaner products are recommended as the safest because many car shampoos feature gloss enhancers and waxes that tend to get embedded in the convertible top. Nevertheless, there are many gentle car shampoo formulations that are safe to use on textured fabric or vinyl convertible tops.

A major factor that influences the efficacy of car shampoo washing on soft tops is the manner of application. Washing mitts are reasonably safe to use on usual plastic and metal car surfaces, but they tend to fray, and the fibers get into the convertible top fabric to further complicate the cleaning process.

In place of washing mitts, car shampoo should be applied to soft tops with soft-bristled brushes. There are many cleaning brushes specially designed for convertible cleaning convertible tops available on the market today.

What Can I Use To Clean My Soft Top Car?

To keep your soft top car in the best conditions, adequate care of the convertible top and painted portions is very important. However, the required maintenance can only be made easy when you have the right tools and supplies.

Washing a soft top convertible requires a careful approach because of the fragile nature of the convertible top. The cleaning process is essentially the same as washing a regular car, but there are specific cleaning formulations and tools to use on the convertible top for effective cleaning.

Soft convertible tops are typically made from fabric or vinyl material. Both materials have specific cleaning products formulated for them, and if you hope to keep your soft top in the best possible condition, you will do well to use the right product.

Here are some of the required supplies and tools to wash your soft top car:

  • Fabric Top Cleaner
  • Vinyl Top Cleaner
  • Car Shampoo
  • Water
  • Soft-Bristled Brush
  • Microfiber Towel
  • Vacuum Cleaner

Fabric Top Cleaner

Fabric tops are relatively fragile compared to regular hardtops, but they both get contaminated with the same agents. While you can clean other parts outside the convertible top with the usual car cleaning products, fabric top cleaners are the safest and most effective cleaners to use on fabric tops.

Fabric convertible top cleaner is formulated to be gentle on the fabric material but tough on dirt, debris, and grime. 

Fabric tops are chemically treated in the factory to give them a water repellent characteristic. Quite naturally, the chemical treatment degrades over time, leaving the top more prone to water penetration. Using a fabric top cleaner can help preserve the chemical treatment and make the water repellency last for longer.

Even with the relatively safe formulation of fabric top cleaners, they should be used only when your convertible top becomes very dirty. Regular washing will cause premature wear and degradation of the fabric top material.

Vinyl Top Cleaner

Vinyl is another common material for soft convertible tops, and it’s quite different from fabric tops. It only fits that you clean with a product formulated specifically for vinyl tops. Standard car wash soaps are not very effective in washing off tough contaminants from vinyl tops.

Vinyl tops cleaners are very effective in breaking down the grease stains and films that are peculiar to vinyl tops.

Quite interestingly, many vinyl top cleaners are formulated to prevent mold and mildew growth, in addition to the primary cleaning function.

Car Shampoo

The major difference between a convertible and a regular car is the retractable/ detachable tops. Apart from the top, you can wash all parts of a soft top car with the same supplies used to wash a regular car.

Most devoted car owners know that car shampoo is the best product to wash cars with. It is effective in combating grimy and greasy dirt, and it’s also safe for the clear coat.

Check out this article I wrote on are car shampoos worth it or a waste of money?” to learn more about the effectiveness of car shampoos.

Use a gentle car shampoo that’s free of gloss-enhancing ingredients because those ingredients tend to penetrate the convertible top and attract dust. Furthermore, they hinder proper bonding between the top material and any convertible top protector you may apply after washing. 


Water remains the safest substance to clean a soft top convertible with. Washing a convertible top frequently with chemical formulations will wear it down and cause a more rapid fading of the natural coloration. A deep wash should be delayed until it’s necessary.

To get rid of dust and other mild contaminants, apply a relatively strong jet of water with a hose. A pressure washer is not necessary as such high levels of pressure can damage the fragile build of the convertible top. The key is to be gentle.

Likewise, the paint surface on a soft top car can be washed with only water if it’s only contaminated with dust and light debris.

I have written an in-depth article on how to wash your car with just water. Check it out here.

Soft-Bristled Brush

The regular washing mitts are unsuitable for washing soft convertible tops. The fibers of the washing mitt loosen and tend to get stuck in the fabric material, thereby making the cleaning process even harder. 

A soft-bristled brush is better suited to convertible tops. It tends not to break down as much as a washing mitt does on fabric surfaces, and it’s not so abrasive that it damages the fabric or vinyl material.

Microfiber Towels

After thorough washing and rinsing, the convertible top should be appropriately dried before applying a protectant. A microfiber towel helps with the drying process. Normal cotton fabric towels are very likely to contaminate the convertible top with lint and loose fiber.

Vacuum Cleaner

You can vacuum a fabric top to get rid of superficial dirt or dust that’s been embedded in the fabric top. The brush attachment on vacuum cleaners can be used to loosen whatever agents might have contaminated a convertible top. 

It can be quite easy to damage a soft convertible top with a vacuum cleaner. The key is to be gentle. Nevertheless, a vacuum cleaner cannot effectively remove grimy and greasy stains.

Can a Soft Top Convertible Go Through a Car Wash?

As a general rule, you should avoid automatic car washes as much as you can. Although they get the job done quickly and effortlessly, they don’t offer the most effective cleaning, and they have a high probability of damaging your clear coat, wax layer, and ceramic coating.

In general, driving a soft top convertible through an automatic car wash should be avoided. The relatively fragile build of soft convertible tops is susceptible to damage from strong pressure, harsh chemicals, and spinning brushes that characterize car washes.

In my in-depth and well-researched article, I have discussed in detail the several pros and cons of automatic car washes. Check it out here!!

Nonetheless, some car washes take special precautions and have specialized equipment and products to safely wash soft top cars. It won’t hurt to do some research about a car wash before you drive your convertible down there for cleaning.

The few suitable car washes for soft tops direct high-pressure streams of water at portions below the top, and they use brushes made from soft materials that won’t damage the top.

Moreover, soft top convertibles are built differently. The owner’s manual usually contains information concerning the suitability of the soft top for automatic car washing.

Key Takeaways

  • Only car shampoos that don’t contain gloss enhancers should be used on soft tops
  • Automatic car washes are not very safe for soft top cars
  • Fabric top cleaners should be used only on fabric convertible tops
  • Vinyl top cleaners should only be used on vinyl convertible tops
  • Soft tops can be washed with only water if they are not very dirty
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Jan-Lucas Ganssauge