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How to Make your Tonneau Cover Look New – Step by Step Process

One of the best parts about owning a pickup truck is having tons of extra space in your tonneau (pun intended). You can use this space for seating more people if you’re trying to avoid taking multiple cars and even load all kinds of luggage in it, stuff that might be too heavy or too large to fit inside a regular car’s trunk. But when your tonneau isn’t in use, it remains quite exposed to the elements and can get very dirty very quickly.

That’s where your tonneau cover comes in. Its job is to protect your truck bed from the external environment and keep it clean when it’s not in use. But that is of itself creates an entirely new problem. See, a truck bed cover keeps the truck bed clean, but what keeps the truck bed cover clean? Surely, after a couple of months of use, the culmination of grime, grease and bird poop will make anyone retch at the sight of it. How does one avoid this situation and return the tonneau cover to its former glory?

By cleaning it, of course.

Tonneau Cover Guide
Tonneau Cover Guide

Preparing to clean your tonneau cover

Clean Tonneau cover
Clean Tonneau cover

Eager though you may be to jump right into the cleaning process and get as much of the grime off as quickly as possible, there are a couple of preliminaries you need to check off first:

  1. Inspect the side rails to test whether the latches are still functional and easy to open and close. Being out in the rain may have caused rust to develop inside the latches, making it quite a struggle to get them open and take the cover off. To solve this issue, take a little mineral oil and grease the joints of the latches, working them as you do so, till they’re smooth in their operation.
  2. Check if all the bolts, clamps and hardware are mounted securely in their places. Adjust them if they’re not, or you could end up breaking or scratching them in the cleaning process.
  3. Cleaning your tonneau cover with soap and water is the best and most logical way to proceed. However, things like scratches, bumps, corrosion, and rubbish might make it hard for you to clean your truck bed cover this way. Be sure to look out for these so that you’re extra careful when cleaning around them.

Once you’ve made all these checks, you’re ready to start cleaning your truck bed cover. However, the exact process you should use to clean your tonneau cover varies considerably with the kind of cover you’re using, or more specifically whether you’re cleaning a hard tonneau cover or a soft vinyl cover. Since the materials they’re made of are vastly dissimilar to each other, the cleaning process is also considerably different. Here’s how to go about cleaning both kinds:

How to clean a hard tonneau cover

Cleaning a hard truck bed cover is far less of a complicated job than cleaning a soft truck bed cover, so you can rest easy if you’re someone who’s not too careful when it comes to jobs that require a little more skill than usual. Cleaning a hard tonneau cover is so easy, you could even set your kids with the task of doing it (meaning you could easily label it as just another chore they have to do around the house).

Clean a hard tonneau cover
Clean a hard tonneau cover

Although you could look at the product description leaflet of your tonneau cover for more specific instructions on how to clean it, the following general guidelines are good enough for almost any hardcover on the market, so you really could skip the former part altogether.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A bucket filled with water, warm preferably since it helps in removing grime. It’d also be great to have a water hose nearby.
  • The car-washing solution, also known as, well, soap
  • A towel and a microfiber scrubber. Microfiber scrubbers or cloths are three times as absorbent as traditional towels, so they make great scrubbers and cleaning cloths.

Once you’ve got the above items at hand, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Before you start, make sure you’ve parked your car under a shade, NOT under a tree (the danger of falling branches and bird poop is all too real). Working under a shade keeps you cool for longer and makes the cleaning process more efficient.
  2. Using water from a hose at a low speed, wash the cover off of any dust or debris that is lying on the surface. Dry the cover with the towel once you’re done.
  3. Next, prepare the cleaning solution by mixing about half a cup of the car-wash solution into the bucket of warm water. Stir and let sit for a while.
  4. Using a marker or some masking tape, divide the truck bed cover into two or four visible sections. This will make cleaning the cover easier.
  5. Dip the scrubber into the solution and use it to start scrubbing on any area of your choice (it doesn’t matter what area you choose since you’re going to be working on all of them eventually).
  6. Scrub the entire area smoothly, without exerting too much pressure on the cover. You don’t want to break it in the cleaning process.
  7. You might notice the grime not coming off in one or two spots, despite repeated scrubbing. Leave these spots for 5 minutes, soaking the solution, and then try and scrub them again.
  8. Repeat this scrubbing process with all of the marked areas, removing the masking tape or scrubbing off the marked lines once you’re finished.
  9. After all the areas have been scrubbed, and the markers removed, rinse the cover with water and leave it to dry on its own.

Note: You can read about roll up vs tri-fold tonneau cover

How to clean a soft vinyl tonneau cover

Cleaning a soft vinyl cover is a slightly more complicated process than cleaning a hardcover. The material is softer, so you need to take more care as you work on cleaning this kind of cover. Choosing the right kind of brush and being careful to not apply to much pressure when cleaning the cover are all requirements of the job. However, even more, important than that, you have to choose the right kind of cleaner for the job.

clean a soft vinyl tonneau cover
Clean a soft vinyl tonneau cover

The two kinds of cleaners you absolutely must avoid when looking for a cleaner for your vinyl cover are the ones that use petroleum distillates and dimethyl silicone oils. The former is known offender for breaking down the vinyl coating on truck bed covers for a long time now, while the latter is notorious for leaving a sticky, grimy layer on vinyl that is a pain to clean off. Despite manufacturer’s claims that the newer versions of these products don’t have these issues, it’s just best to avoid using them altogether lest you should risk damaging your vinyl cover if they’re lying to you.

Here’s what you will need to clean a soft vinyl tonneau cover:

  • A boar’s hair top-brush
  • Wheel brush
  • Microfiber cloth for applying the protection solution
  • Microfiber drying towel
  • Water hose
  • Vinyl cover cleaner
  • Vinyl cover protector

Got these items ready? Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Park your car under a shade as before. Keeping your cover away from the sun is even more important here since vinyl expands when it is exposed to the heat.
  2. Wash the cover with water using your firehose to remove any surface dirt or debris.
  3. Once the cover has been washed, spray the truck bed cover cleaner over the entire surface.
  4. Use your boar’s hair brush to agitate any part of the cover you feel necessary during the application of the cleaner.
  5. Once the entire cover has been doused with the cleaner, use your boar’s hair brush to scrub the entire cover. You can use your wheel brush to reach the spots that your boar’s hair brush can’t tackle. Be careful not to put too much pressure on the cover as you brush.
  6. Spray the entire cover with water from a hose when you’re done.
  7. Once rinsed, the cover needs to be dried using a microfiber drying towel.
  8. After rinsing, now dry the cover using a microfiber drying towel.
  9. Apply the truck bed cover protector on the cover once it’s cool and dry, using the microfiber cloth to scrub it on.
  10. Let the cover dry for about 5 minutes.
  11. You may notice the color on the edges and the cover itself may look quite different because of the application of the protectant. You can apply protectant on these plastic rims too if you want a smooth even color.

Maintaining your tonneau cover to make sure it stays like new

Whew, that was a lot of hard work. Wouldn’t want to have to do that all the time, now would we? Here are a few tips on how to keep your truck bed looking clean for longer:

  • Inspect the cover periodically and clean off any dirt or stain that falls on it regularly.
  • To prolong the lifespan of hard truck bed covers, always carry less on them than what they’re advertised to be able to hold.
  • Always apply protectant on your cover after cleaning it.
  • Carefully look for corrosion, debris, looseness, bumps, dents, and scratches after every one or two drives, and address them before they get out of hand.
  • Don’t leave your vinyl cover in the sun for too long or it will deteriorate faster from heat and UV rays.
  • Don’t leave your cover in the shade for too long either or you’ll have to face cleaning out mildew from under your cover before long.

Follow all of these instructions and your tonneau cover should remain just as good as new for as long you want.

1 Comment
  1. I’m thankful that you mentioned in your article how it is important to use a water hose in order to effectively clean a Tonneau cover. My older brother recently told me that he was interested in purchasing one but was unsure of how to properly maintain it. I’ll be sure to send your article to him in order to aid him in finding a reliable supplier.

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