Tonneau covers are a popular truck bed accessory that provide protection, security, and improved gas mileage. Many tonneau covers today are made from vinyl materials. As such, a common question truck owners have is whether it’s okay to use vinyl cleaners and conditioners on tonneau covers.
Overview – Using Vinyl Cleaner/Conditioner on Tonneau Covers
Using vinyl cleaner/conditioner on tonneau covers is generally recommended by manufacturers. Vinyl cleaners help remove dirt, dust, grime, bird droppings, and other debris that can accumulate on the exterior surface. Vinyl conditioners provide UV and weather protection. However, it’s important to use cleaning products specifically formulated for tonneau covers and avoid harsh chemicals that could potentially damage the vinyl.
- Using vinyl cleaner helps remove stuck-on dirt, grime, sap, bird droppings, etc.
- Vinyl conditioner protects against UV rays, conditions the vinyl, and prevents cracking/drying.
- Make sure cleaners/conditioners are specifically formulated for tonneau covers.
- Avoid harsh chemicals like silicone, petroleum, citrus, etc. that can damage vinyl.
- Use minimal pressure when cleaning to avoid scratching.
- Check manufacturer guidelines before using any products.
Why Should You Use Vinyl Cleaner on Tonneau Covers?
There are a few key reasons why using a vinyl cleaner is recommended for tonneau covers:
Removes Stubborn Dirt and Grime
Like any exterior surface, tonneau covers are prone to dirt, dust, mud, and environmental grime building up over time. Bird droppings are also common on tonneau covers. A vinyl cleaner helps break down and dissolve stuck-on messes that regular rinsing won’t remove.
Cuts Through Grime and Oxidation
General dirt and grime can mix with sun exposure and moisture to cause oxidation and staining on the vinyl surface. A vinyl cleaner helps remove this discoloration and oxidation to restore the cover’s look.
Eliminates Mold and Mildew Growth
Moisture trapped under the tonneau cover can lead to mold/mildew growth, especially with dirt and debris present. Vinyl cleaner helps remove any mold or mildew that forms on the underside or edges of the cover.
Restores Faded Vinyl
Over time, sun exposure can cause vinyl covers to fade and look dull. Using a vinyl cleaner can help bring back some of the color and luster to faded, weathered vinyl covers.
Why Use Vinyl Conditioner on Tonneau Covers?
Applying vinyl conditioner to a tonneau cover provides some important benefits:
Prevents Cracking and Drying
Vinyl conditioners keep vinyl covers supple and flexible. This prevents cracking and drying out from sun exposure and weathering.
Provides UV Protection
The UV inhibitors in vinyl conditioners help protect against sun damage. This is important for covers that are exposed to the elements.
Seals and Protects Surface
Vinyl conditioners help seal the vinyl surface to prevent dust and dirt from penetrating or sticking. Some contain waxes or polymers that protect the finish.
Restores Color and Luster
Much like vinyl cleaners, vinyl conditioners can help rejuvenate faded, oxidized vinyl covers by restoring color depth and luster.
Extends Service Life
Regular conditioning makes covers last longer by keeping the vinyl flexible and protected. This prevents premature cracking, drying out, peeling, etc.
Tips for Cleaning/Conditioning Tonneau Covers
Here are some useful tips to follow when cleaning and conditioning vinyl tonneau covers:
- Read the manufacturer’s instructions prior to using any product on your cover. Follow their guidelines.
- Look for products specifically made for tonneau covers/vehicular vinyl versus general vinyl cleaners.
- Test any cleaning product on a small, inconspicuous area first to check for potential damage or discoloration.
- Use minimal pressure when cleaning vinyl to avoid scratching the surface.
- Rinse thoroughly after cleaning to remove any residue.
- Make sure the vinyl is completely dry before applying conditioner.
- Avoid using harsh chemicals like silicone, petroleum, citrus, alcohols, etc. that can damage vinyl.
- Reapply vinyl conditioner every few months to maintain protection.
- Keep the vinyl cover out of direct sunlight when cleaning/conditioning whenever possible.
Recommended Tonneau Cover Vinyl Cleaning & Conditioning Products
There are a number of quality vinyl cleaning and conditioning products made specifically for tonneau covers, including:
- Truxedo Vinyl & Leather Cleaner
- Extang Vinyl Ultra Clean
- Undercover Tonneau Cover Cleaner
- Westin Vinyl Protectant
- Truxedo Leather and Vinyl Conditioner
- Extang Tonno Tuff Conditioner
- Undercover Tonneau Cover Protectant
- Westin Custom-Fit Tonneau Cover Protectant
Consult your tonneau cover manufacturer to see if they recommend a specific vinyl care product. Avoid household cleaners and conditioners which may contain damaging chemicals.
Can You Use Household Cleaners on Tonneau Covers?
It’s generally not recommended to use common household cleaners like bleach, ammonia, etc. on vinyl tonneau covers. Household cleaners are often too harsh and can potentially damage the vinyl. They also are not formulated specifically for automotive vinyl. Mild dish soap diluted in water could be used for very light cleaning, but avoid anything abrasive. Always test a small area first. For best results, use a dedicated tonneau cover vinyl cleaning product instead of household cleaners.
Things to Avoid When Cleaning Tonneau Covers
Certain chemicals and cleaners should be avoided when cleaning vinyl tonneau covers:
- Abrasive cleaners or scrubbing pads that could scratch the vinyl
- Silicone-based products that can cause vinyl to become gummy or sticky
- Petroleum or citrus-based cleaners that can break down vinyl
- Solvents like alcohol, acetone, mineral spirits, etc. that can dry out and crack vinyl
- Bleach or ammonia-based cleaners that are too harsh
- Using too much pressure when scrubbing to avoid scratching
- Power washing or using direct high-pressure water
- Gasoline, diesel fuel, or other fuels that degrade vinyl
Always refer to your owner’s manual or contact the manufacturer if you are unsure about a particular cleaning product. Test a small area first.
Signs Your Tonneau Cover Needs Cleaning
Here are some signs it’s time to clean your vinyl tonneau cover:
- Visible dirt, debris, bird droppings, tree sap, or grime on surface
- Oxidation or dull areas on the vinyl cover
- White chalky areas or water spot staining
- Mold/mildew spots on underside or edges
- Faded, dingy appearance lacking luster
- Stains that don’t rinse away with water
- Tracks are dirty with grime buildup
- Gummy residue on surface from spills
Periodic cleaning every few months will help keep tonneau covers looking their best. More frequent cleaning may be needed for covers subjected to dusty environments or tree sap.
Tips for Maintaining Your Tonneau Cover
Proper maintenance is key to getting the longest life from your vinyl tonneau cover. Here are some useful tonneau care tips:
- Keep cover closed when not in use to prevent dust/debris buildup
- Routinely rinse off dirt with water to prevent staining
- Remove sap, droppings, spills quickly before they set in
- Avoid putting heavy loads that could crease or distort the vinyl
- Lubricate snaps/hinges regularly to prevent sticking
- Adjust tension on roll-up covers to prevent sagging
- Use proper vinyl cleaning and conditioning products
- Touch up any vinyl scratches/scuffs when they occur
- Check for debris in tracks and hinge points often
- Tighten any loose hardware (clamps, screws) as needed
- Avoid parking under trees or structures to minimize sap and debris
Proper care will ensure your tonneau cover stays functional and looking its best while protecting your truck bed.
Do All Tonneau Covers Have Vinyl Exteriors?
Not all tonneau covers have vinyl exteriors. Here are some common tonneau cover exterior materials:
- Vinyl – Most popular due to durability, economy, and easy cleaning
- Aluminum – Used on retractable/roll-up covers for rigid support
- Fiberglass – Provides rigid structure for folding covers
- Polyethylene Plastic – Durable, affordable alternative to vinyl
- Canvas – Breathable fabric used on soft roll-up covers
- Leather/Vinyl Hybrid – Provides padded leather look with vinyl backing
- Powder Coated Metal – Durable and color matchable
- ABS Plastic – Impact resistant polymer used in tri-fold covers
The cleaning approach may differ depending on the material. But vinyl cleaners and conditioners can generally be safely used on plastic or powder coated covers as well unless otherwise indicated by the manufacturer.
Are Tonneau Covers With Vinyl Exteriors More Prone to Damage?
Vinyl tonneau covers are quite durable and resistant to damage when properly maintained. However, there are a few vulnerability points to keep in mind:
Potential Damage Causes:
- Sharp objects scratching surface
- Punctures from falling/flying debris or stepping on cover
- Pet claws if animals are allowed in truck bed
- Harsh chemicals and cleaners degrading vinyl over time
- Excessive sun and heat exposure resulting in cracking/peeling
- High winds whipping cover against truck cab causing stress cracks
- Improper opening/closing causing splits or rips in material
- Keep cargo secured to avoid punctures
- Trim pets’ nails to avoid claw scratches/gouges
- Carefully open/close cover when climbing in/out of bed
- Use appropriate vinyl cleaners/conditioners
- Park in shade when possible to limit sun exposure
- Check for cracks/damage and repair quickly if found
With proper care and precautions, vinyl tonneau covers can last for many years. But checking for potential damage and addressing it quickly is recommended to maximize longevity.
Are There Alternative Tonneau Cover Materials More Resistant to Damage?
There are certain tonneau cover materials that provide increased durability and puncture resistance versus vinyl:
More Durable Alternatives:
- Hard folding fiberglass covers – Very impact resistant material
- ABS plastic tri-folds – High impact resistance
- Aluminum panels – Dent resistant metal construction
- Powder coated steel – Excellent dent and scratch resistance
- Thermoformed polyethylene – Highly impact resistant polymer
Benefits of These Materials:
- Better protection from hailstorms, tree debris, etc.
- Increased puncture resistance from cargo, tools, etc.
- Added resistance to pet claws from active dogs
- Less prone to cracking from sun exposure or cold weather
The tradeoff is these rigid covers are often more expensive than softer vinyl covers. But for those needing superior impact protection, these alternatives are worth considering.
Should You Still Use Vinyl Treatment Products on Non-Vinyl Tonneau Covers?
Many non-vinyl tonneau covers can still benefit from using vinyl cleaners and conditioners containing UV blockers:
- Aluminum Covers – Prevents oxidation; retains luster
- Plastic Covers – Preserves surface; guards against fading
- Fiberglass Covers – Helps restore faded finish
- Powder Coated Covers – Adds gloss and UV protection
Always consult your owner’s manual, but UV-blocking vinyl conditioners can generally be used on plastic, powder coated metal, aluminum, and fiberglass tonneau covers to help maintain their finish unless otherwise noted by the manufacturer.
Are There Other Tonneau Cover Maintenance Tips to Maximize Durability?
In addition to regular vinyl care, some other tonneau maintenance tips for durability:
- Lubricate hinges, clamps, rails every few months
- Adjust tension on roll-up or snap-style covers to prevent sagging
- Use protective pads on sharp cargo to prevent punctures
- Limit direct sun exposure with reflective sun shields when parked
- Minimize pooling water on cover by parking on a slope
- Clean off any corrosive materials like battery acid immediately
- Follow cover’s weight rating limits to avoid panel warping
- Check for loose hardware or broken parts often
Proper care, cleaning, lubrication and avoiding damage are key to ensuring your tonneau cover lasts for the long haul.
Regularly using quality vinyl cleaners and conditioners designed specifically for tonneau covers is recommended by most manufacturers to protect the cover’s finish and durability. While being careful to avoid using harsh chemicals that could potentially damage the vinyl over time.
Proper vinyl care is an important part of keeping your tonneau cover looking and functioning its best. Following the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions and applying vinyl protectant every few months will help provide lasting performance and enjoyment from your truck bed cover.