A tonneau cover is an important accessory for any pickup truck, providing protection for cargo, improving gas mileage, and giving the truck a nice customized look. Tonneau covers come in many styles, but soft roll-up and tri-fold vinyl covers are very popular options. As with any vehicle accessory exposed to the elements, proper care and maintenance is essential to keeping a vinyl tonneau cover looking good and functioning properly for years. This raises the question – is it safe to use protectant sprays on vinyl tonneau covers?
What are Tonneau Covers and Why Use Protectant Sprays?
A tonneau cover goes over the bed of a pickup truck, secured to the sides of the bed. The main styles are:
- Soft roll-up vinyl – These roll up to reveal the bed and often use a velcro or snap system to secure.
- Tri-fold vinyl – Made of 3 folding vinyl panels that accordion fold.
- Retractable hard covers – Fold into a canister at the cab when not in use.
- Folding hard covers – Individual hard panels fold up.
- One-piece hard covers – A single piece fiberglass or plastic lid.
Tonneau covers provide many benefits like weather protection, security, improved gas mileage, and a stylish customized look. However, vinyl covers are susceptible to damage from UV rays, dirt, debris, weather, and more. Using a protectant spray can help keep the vinyl conditioned, clean, protected, and looking new. But is it safe for the vinyl?
Are Protectant Sprays Safe for Vinyl Tonneau Covers?
The good news is yes, it’s generally safe to use protectant sprays formulated specifically for vinyl tonneau covers. These sprays serve multiple purposes:
1. Protect Against UV Damage
UV rays from the sun can cause vinyl covers to fade, crack, dry out, and deteriorate over time. Protectants create a UV-resistant barrier to prevent this.
2. Condition and Restore Vinyl
These sprays can clean vinyl while depositing conditioners into the material to keep it supple and prevent drying and cracking.
3. Repel Dirt and Debris
Protectants make vinyl slippery so dirt, dust, bird droppings and other debris won’t cling to the surface.
4. Beautify and Restore Color
They can hide small scuffs and make faded vinyl look rich and vibrant again.
As long as the product is made for vinyl tonneau covers, it is generally safe and effective for protecting them and extending their life.
What to Avoid Using on Vinyl Covers
However, not all protectants are tonneau cover friendly. Here are some products to avoid:
- Household cleaners – Harsh chemicals like bleach, ammonia, etc can damage vinyl.
- Alcohol-based products – Can dry out and crack vinyl.
- Petroleum/oil-based products – Greasy residue can damage vinyl or cause it to look hazy.
- Silicone sprays – Can leave a slick residue and dull the vinyl.
- Armor All – Not formulated for tonneau covers and can damage vinyl.
Anything too abrasive or harsh could lead to premature cracking, fading, peeling or deterioration of the vinyl cover. Always check product labels and descriptions for tonneau cover suitability.
Tips for Using Protectants on Vinyl Covers
When using a protectant spray, follow these tips:
- Read label directions – Follow manufacturer instructions for best results.
- Test small area first – Check for any potential damage or discoloration.
- Park in shade – Spray out of direct sunlight for best application.
- Spray directly onto surface – Or apply to a clean rag then wipe on.
- Work in sections – About 2 square feet at a time for even coverage.
- Use clean rag to evenly spread – Light buffing can increase shine.
- Avoid oversaturation – Pools of liquid could damage vinyl.
- Reapply as needed – Typically every few months.
With proper application of quality vinyl tonneau cover protectants, you can safely maintain the look and function of soft covers for years. Keeping vinyl conditioned and protected will help prevent cracking, fading, drying out and other damage from the elements.
Are Specialized Tonneau Cover Cleaner/Protectant Products Better?
There are also specialized tonneau cover cleaners and protectants available from brands like 303 Products that are formulated specifically for cleaning and protecting tonneau covers. These “all-in-one” products can safely:
- Clean – Lift dirt, grease, grime, bird droppings and other messes from the vinyl surface.
- Condition – Replenish oils into the vinyl to prevent drying and keep it supple.
- Protect – Form a UV-resistant barrier to prevent fading and extend the cover’s life.
The advantage of a dedicated tonneau cover product is it contains a precise mix of cleaners and conditioners designed to work in harmony on tonneau vinyl specifically. They require less buffing compared to a standalone UV protectant spray. Many also contain anti-static properties to prevent dust buildup. The best tonneau cover protectants leave vinyl looking darker, richer and factory-fresh after every application.
When Should Tonneau Covers Be Cleaned and Protected?
Tonneau cover experts generally recommend cleaning and protecting soft vinyl covers at least 2-4 times per year. However, frequency depends on various factors:
- Mileage – Covers on vehicles with higher mileage likely need more frequent cleaning and protection.
- Climate – Vehicles in sunny, hot climates or cold, snowy areas require more maintenance.
- Exposure – Covers left outdoors when parked need more care than garage kept.
- Appearance – Clean and reapply protectant whenever cover appears dull, faded or dirty.
Inspect covers occasionally for signs of wear like fading, cracking or dullness. Immediately treat any bird droppings, sap, grease stains or scratches. Beyond regular washes, do a deep clean and reconditioning every 6 months or so, or whenever the vinyl loses its luster.
Proper Cleaning Methods for Vinyl Tonneau Covers
Cleaning vinyl covers regularly helps remove damaging contaminants sitting on the surface. Here are some tips:
- Remove debris – Clear off sticks, leaves, snow, etc before washing to avoid scratches.
- Rinse first – Lightly rinse with a hose to remove loose dirt.
- Wash with specialized cleaner – Use a product made for tonneau covers.
- Use soft brush if needed – Carefully scrub stubborn stains with a soft brush.
- Rinse thoroughly – To remove all residue.
- Air or towel dry – Avoid heat drying vinyl covers.
Harsh dish soaps, household cleaners and pressure washing can actually damage vinyl covers and should be avoided.
Maintain Snap Systems on Vinyl Covers
Vinyl roll-up covers typically rely on snap systems to secure the cover. The snaps can deteriorate and pop open over time. Here are some snap care tips:
- Lubricate snaps – Use silicone spray to help snaps open and close easily.
- Check for tightness – Tighten any loose snaps to prevent water leaks.
- Replace damaged snaps – Swap out any broken, cracked or missing snaps.
This keeps the snap system in optimal shape for properly securing the cover.
Caring for Retractable Tonneau Cover Track Systems
Retractable hard tonneau covers use a track system to roll open and closed. With use, the tracks can accumulate dirt and grit causing sticking or malfunction. Here are tips for maintaining retractable tracks:
- Keep debris out – Use seals and lubricant to prevent grit buildup.
- Lubricate tracks – Use silicone sprays made for tonneau tracks.
- Clean gently – Wipe tracks with a microfiber cloth to remove debris.
- Do not pressure wash – High pressure water can damage tracks.
With proper care, retractable track systems will roll smoothly for years.
When to Repair or Replace a Damaged Vinyl Tonneau Cover
Over time, vinyl covers experience wear and tear. Common damage includes:
- Fading and dullness
- Cracking, peeling or splitting seams
- Snaps deteriorating or popping open
- Punctures from objects in the bed
- Tears or holes at mounting bolts
Minor damage like surface scratches or small punctures can often be repaired with vinyl repair kits. But if damage is extensive, replacement may be better than continually fighting repairs.
Consider replacing the cover when:
- Repairing takes considerable time/money
- Damaged areas are rapidly growing
- Snaps are broken or missing all over
- Water leaks are a chronic issue
- Appearance can’t be restored
Properly caring for vinyl covers makes repairs less likely. But when damage occurs or restoration isn’t possible, replacement may be the wisest option.
Use Caution with Household Cleaners and Avoid Armor All
It can’t be stressed enough to avoid using household cleaners, degreasers or products like Armor All on tonneau covers. Even though Armor All is a protectant, it is not designed for tonneau covers. The oily residue it leaves behind can actually cause more harm than good by:
- Attracting dust, pollen and other airborne contaminants
- Yellowing or clouding the vinyl over time
- Causing the vinyl finish to look greasy or hazy
The chemicals in household cleaners like bleach, ammonia, etc. are too harsh for vinyl covers as well. It’s simply safest to use only products specifically engineered for tonneau covers.
Why Use a Tonneau Cover Protectant Like 303 UV Protectant
There are many good tonneau cover protectants available. One popular choice is 303 UV Protectant because:
- Specifically designed for tonneaus – Won’t harm vinyl or leave residue.
- Provides UV protection – Prevents fading, drying and damage from the sun.
- Restores lost color and luster – Makes covers look rich and vibrant again.
- Repels dust, dirt and liquids – Protects against weathering and contaminants.
- Easy spray on application – Just wipe on and buff out.
Weekly maintenance with 303 not only protects tonneau covers but can eliminate the need for frequent deep cleaning. It’s preferable to take preventive steps like using 303 rather than allowing covers to deteriorate to the point of needing repairs.
Regular cleaning and protecting vinyl tonneau covers with specialized products is safe and recommended. It keeps covers looking new, prevents premature damage, and saves money compared to continual repairs or replacing covers that haven’t been properly maintained. Just be sure to use products designed specifically for tonneau covers, follow label directions, and avoid household cleaners or products like Armor All. With proper care, vinyl covers will hold up and continue looking good for many truck miles.