Picking up a bottle of household cleaner from under the sink seems like an easy solution for cleaning a dirty tonneau cover. But before you start scrubbing, it’s important to understand how these cleaners could affect the vinyl material. Using the wrong type of cleaner may lead to cracking, discoloration, or other damage.
The key is to choose a cleaner specifically formulated for tonneau covers. General purpose cleaners often contain chemicals that can be too harsh. Let’s explore some cleaning tips to keep your tonneau cover looking its best.
What Are Some Household Cleaners That Could Potentially Damage a Tonneau Cover?
Harsh Chemical Cleaners
Some household cleaners contain powerful chemicals designed to cut through heavy dirt and grease. The active ingredients in these strong cleaners may be too abrasive for the vinyl tonneau material. Products that can potentially damage your tonneau cover include:
- Bleach or chlorine-based cleaners
- Oven cleaners
- Drain cleaners
- Lime scale removers
- Rust removers
- Ammonia-based cleaners
Using any cleaner with harmful chemicals increases the risk of stripping protection off the vinyl. This causes it to dry out and crack over time.
Dish soap contains degreasing agents designed to clean pots and pans. When used on a tonneau cover, the degreasers can strip away essential vinyl protectants. This leaves the material unprotected from UV rays and prone to fading.
Armor All® adds a shiny coating and pleasant scent to vinyl and rubber surfaces in vehicles. However, some tonneau cover manufacturers specifically advise against using this product. The glossy finish it leaves behind could potentially cause vinyl to dry out and crack.
While a long, hot shower sounds relaxing after a long day, vinyl tonneau covers don’t benefit from high heat. Hot water can cause the material to expand and contract. Over time, this could lead to damage like cracks and tears.
Brushes and Auto Scrubbers
Any brush, including a soft one, has the potential to create fine scuff marks on vinyl tonneau covers. Auto scrubbers found at car washes also pose a risk of surface damage from the bristles.
Are There Any Safe Household Products to Use?
Mild Dish Soap
While standard dish soap contains risky degreasers, a mild soap without these additives can safely tackle dirt. Choose a brand marked as “sensitive skin” to avoid any potential reactions with the vinyl. Test a small, inconspicuous area first before washing the entire cover.
For hard-to-remove stains, make a paste with baking soda and water. The gentle abrasiveness lifts dirt without damaging the vinyl. Rinse thoroughly after scrubbing to prevent baking soda residue from building up.
White vinegar makes a homemade vinyl cleaner and protectant. Mix equal parts vinegar and water and wipe down the cover. Vinegar removes dirt and adds a light layer of protection against UV rays. It’s also safe for all exterior vehicle surfaces.
Microfiber cleaning cloths are extremely soft and non-abrasive. When using any type of cleaner, apply it to the cloth rather than directly to the vinyl. Wipe gently to prevent any surface scratching.
What is the Best Way to Clean a Tonneau Cover?
Use Tonneau Cover-Specific Cleaner
For routine cleaning and vinyl protection, choose a cleaner specifically designed for tonneau covers. The formula contains ingredients to remove dirt safely. It also adds UV protection without leaving behind a glossy residue.
Popular tonneau cover cleaners include:
- Extang Vinyl Care Cleaner
- TruXedo Pro-Tex Cleaner
- UnderCover Tonneau Cover Cleaner
Follow the product directions to dilute the cleaner properly. Test on a small area first before applying to the entire cover.
Hand Wash with a Soft Cloth
When using a speciality cleaner, apply it to a soft microfiber cloth. Gently wipe the surface using circular motions to lift dirt. Avoid applying forceful pressure, which could lead to scuffing.
Rinse with a separate cloth dampened with clean water. Then pat dry with a dry microfiber towel. Tip: Wash the cover in sections to avoid letting the cleaner dry on the surface before rinsing.
Use Touchless Car Wash Setting
Some tonneau covers can be cleaned at automatic car washes. But brush-style washes pose a risk of surface damage. Instead, choose the touchless setting that uses only water and soap spray.
Keep the pressure setting low. And make sure to dry the cover thoroughly with a microfiber cloth after going through the wash.
Check Manufacturer Guidelines
Not all tonneau covers can safely go through a car wash. Some can only be hand washed. Always check the manufacturer’s care instructions to avoid potentially voiding the warranty.
For example, UnderCover recommends only hand washing their covers. Meanwhile, Retrax says their covers can go through touchless car washes.
How Can You Avoid Damaging a Tonneau Cover When Cleaning?
Inspect for Damage
Before cleaning, closely inspect your tonneau cover for any existing damage, like small cracks. Avoid applying pressure or scrubbing damaged areas to prevent enlarging any cracks.
Wash in the Shade
Vinyl tonneau covers are prone to drying out faster when washed in direct sunlight. Park your truck in the shade first, then gently wash and immediately dry the cover.
Avoid Hot Surfaces
In addition to using cool water when cleaning, make sure the truck bed itself is cool to the touch. Spraying a hot tonneau cover or truck with cold water can cause the vinyl to contract and expand rapidly. This stresses the material.
Prevent water spots and potential mold growth by drying the entire vinyl surface after washing. Wipe down with a dry microfiber cloth. Tip: Roll up a dry towel and stuff it into the tonneau’s hinge area to absorb any remaining moisture.
Clean Spills Quickly
Don’t allow spills like soda, coffee, or juice to sit on the vinyl’s surface. The sugars and acids can eat into the material over time, causing stains or brittleness. Rinse spills promptly with clean water.
Apply Protectants Sparingly
Tonneau protectants help shield against UV rays. But over-applying them can leave a buildup that actually attracts more dirt. Use protective products sparingly. And apply more only when the vinyl looks faded.
Check Security Snaps and Hinges
Make sure all the fastening snaps and hinges are firmly secured before taking your truck through a car wash. Check for loose pieces that could bang against the vinyl. Remove any that have come loose.
What Are Signs of Damage to Look Out For?
Even with proper care, tonneau covers gradually wear over time. But you may notice damage developing from improper cleaning or protectant use. Be on the lookout for:
If areas of the vinyl appear lighter or darker than the surrounding material, the cover may be drying out. Lack of protection makes it prone to sun fading. Reapply a UV protectant.
Rub a small section of the vinyl between your fingers. If it feels stiff or crunchy, those are signs of brittleness from harsh cleaners stripping away oils. Hydrate with a vinyl conditioner.
Tiny cracks emerging on the surface signal the vinyl is drying and deteriorating. Avoid bending the cover near cracks since it could cause a larger split.
Dirty tonneau covers left damp promote mold growth. Wash away any spots immediately using vinegar or tonneau cover cleaner.
Lose Glossy Feel
Does the vinyl feel rough rather than smooth? Gloss-restoring products like Armor All® can leave a residue that attracts dirt. Remove buildup with a degreasing dish soap.
Can Extreme Damage Be Repaired?
Moderate vinyl damage can often be repaired at home. But if cracks, mold damage, or brittleness covers large areas, the tonneau cover may need professional help. An auto repair shop can:
- Patch small holes or tears up to 3 inches
- Seal cracks and rehydrate the material
- Replace panels with extreme cracking
- Restore UV protection
Completely replacing the cover is the only option if damage is beyond repair. Since labor and parts for professional tonneau cover repair can quickly add up, being proactive with care is wise to maximize its lifespan.
The Bottom Line
Household cleaners are a tempting easy fix for a dirty tonneau cover. But ultimately, the specialty tonneau cover cleaners are the safest choice. Their formulas don’t contain the harsh chemicals and glossy additives that could lead to premature cracking and fading.
By using proper vinyl care techniques, your tonneau cover can maintain its good looks and function for years before needing replacement. And you’ll avoid the costly damage caused by improper cleaning methods. Handle your cover with care and you’ll keep your truck bed protected in style for the long haul.