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Learn How to Clean and Maintain Your Tonneau Cover

Andrew Cilio

Andrew Cilio

 / Apr 13 2023
Learn How to Clean and Maintain Your Tonneau Cover

Tonneau covers are a practical addition to any pickup, providing your truck’s central cargo space–the bed–with exceptional protection against everything from thieves to extreme weather conditions!

Since tonneau covers play a vital role in protecting your valuables, properly caring for your bed cover is essential. With adequate maintenance, you can help to promote a long and reliable service life. In this article, we’re tackling bed cover cleaning and maintenance methods to keep your tonneau looking and operating like new!

How to Clean Your Tonneau Cover

Tonneau covers come in several styles, materials, and finishes, so there’s no be-all-end-all method for cleaning every type. For this reason, we’ll break tonneau covers into a few basic finish categories: Soft (vinyl and canvas), hard (non-painted), and hard (painted).

Soft (Vinyl & Canvas)

Soft tonneau covers offer several cleaning challenges outside typical hard tonneau covers due primarily to the soft marine-grade vinyl or canvas outer shell.

Both vinyl and canvas are textured, making deep cleaning to remove all dirt, dust, and debris challenging. As a result, we’ve found it best to use a soft-medium bristle brush to agitate dirt, pollen, and other micro-debris trapped within the stitches and textures of the fabric. However, it’s critical to use a brush that isn’t overly abrasive, as firmer brushes may abrade the tonneau cover’s surface, resulting in diminished shine, surface scratches, and a tarnished appearance.  

It’s also important to be mindful when selecting your cleaners; before applying a product to your tonneau cover, always verify that the ingredients are compatible with vinyl and canvas to prevent damage. We typically recommend keeping distance from harsh cleaners, degreasers, waxes, and silicone-based dressings, as these chemicals are known to deteriorate vinyl and rubber surfaces. Instead, opt for a mixture of mild soap and water. If you forgo these recommendations, you may experience stiffening and cracking of your tonneau cover and void the manufacturer’s warranty.

Hard (Non-Painted)

Hard tonneau covers have fewer rules and stipulations for cleaning, whether painted or unpainted. Unpainted tonneau covers typically feature polycarbonate, composite, or powder-coated aluminum panels or slats, offering exceptional durability against impacts, abrasions, and UV damage. As a result, cleaning is generally a simple process. Utilizing either a soft-bristle brush or wash mitt, scrub the cover thoroughly to remove dirt and debris, rinse, and dry!

Hard tonneau covers also tend to be more resistant to chemicals; however, it’s always best to test an unknown cleaner in a small, inconspicuous area before use. While most carwash soaps are acceptable for tonneau covers, we’ll always recommend a mild soap without additional waxes or silicone dressings to prolong the life of seals.  

Hard (Painted)

Painted hard bed covers–like hinged-one-piece fiberglass or ABS plastic models–offer easy cleaning. These covers feature high-quality, automotive-grade paint finishes that require no more than routine cleaning with a wash mitt and mild soap. Whenever you wash your pickup, treat the cover like another body panel!

However, if you’d like to go the extra mile to protect the painted finish, apply an auto-grade wax or sealant after cleaning to protect against UV fading and oxidation. 

Be Mindful of Automated Carwashes

Though automated carwashes have previously been covered in our piece Can You Go Through a Carwash with a Tonneau Cover, we’ll quickly glance over the topic here. In most cases, we don’t ever recommend taking your tonneau cover-equipped pickup through an automated carwash.

There are several ways that an automated carwash can damage your tonneau cover, from deteriorating chemicals and sealants to forceful and abrasive brushes. If you must go through an automated carwash, we recommend touchless or hand-wash stations, reducing the risk of damage.

Maintaining Your Tonneau Cover

Maintenance, like cleaning, is also subjective. With so many tonneau cover styles, including retractable, hard folding, roll-up, soft folding, hinged, snap, and more, different maintenance techniques may be required for different covers. However, we’ll stick to some basic recommendations that should apply to all styles.

Maintain Tracks, Hinges, and Latches

Like most mechanical components, tracks, hinges, and latches require routine maintenance to remain in proper working order. Inspect these components monthly, annually, or after a wheeling trip for excess dirt, debris, and dried grease that may impede functionality. If discovered, clean the areas with a mild cleaning solution and a detail brush or toothbrush to remove all dirt and grime, rinse, and dry. Reapply a compatible lubricant if the components were previously lubricated, preventing wear and improving operation.

Don’t Overload Your Tonneau Cover

Nearly all tonneau covers have strict weight limits to prevent fatigue and other structural damage. Failure to abide by this limit whenever loading cargo onto the tonneau cover may void the manufacturer's warranty.  

Check Your Tonneau Cover’s Mounting Hardware

Whether a tonneau cover mounts to your truck’s bed using C-clamps, hinged brackets, or quick-release knobs, it’s essential to verify your mounting hardware’s torque now and again. It’s not uncommon for hardware to loosen over time after thousands of miles of driving, bumpy roads, and engine vibrations. Failing to do so can lead to loose fasteners, shifting components, misalignment, and even unexpected removal from the bed!

Review Your Product Manual

As stated previously, every tonneau cover is different. For 100-percent accurate cleaning and maintenance instructions, it’s always best to read through the included manual, reach out to the manufacturer, or contact the experts at AmericanTrucks!


Should you use silicone-based products on soft tonneau covers?

No! Silicone-based protectants, waxes, and conditioners can severely degrade vinyl surfaces, leading to tears, rips, and stiffening. In some cases, using silicone-based products will void the manufacturer’s warranty.

How often should you check your tonneau cover’s mounting hardware?

While there’s no set number of miles, a good rule of thumb is checking your cover’s mounting hardware each oil change or every 3,000–5,000 miles.

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