How to Clean a Car Cover: Tips and Common Mistakes to Avoid

Cleaning your car cover is important to maintaining its effectiveness and prolonging its lifespan. Dirt, dust, and environmental pollutants can accumulate on the surface, leading to potential damage to both the cover and the car beneath it.

Regular cleaning helps to prevent this buildup, ensuring the cover continues to protect the vehicle from the elements, scratches, and other forms of damage.

The method for cleaning a car cover varies depending on its material and type. For example, covers made from lightweight, breathable fabrics like polyester or polypropylene can often be washed in a large washing machine with mild detergent. These materials are designed to withstand the agitation of a washing machine, making them relatively easy to clean.

On the other hand, heavier or specialty covers, such as those made from canvas or those with weatherproof coatings, may require hand washing to avoid damaging the fabric or protective layers. Using a soft brush with a mild soap and water solution can effectively remove dirt and grime without compromising the integrity of the cover.

For covers with specific care instructions, such as UV-resistant or water-repellent treatments, it's crucial to follow the manufacturer's guidelines. Some may recommend special cleaners or conditioners to maintain the cover's protective qualities.

Assessing Your Car Cover

When cleaning your car cover, it's critical to know the cover's type, including the material and any brand-specific features. This knowledge directly influences the cleaning process, ensuring that the cover remains in top condition without damage.

Identifying the Type of Car Cover

Start by determining the fabric. Common materials for car covers include polyester blends, polypropylene, and nylon. Each material has distinct qualities; for example, polyester blends are known for water resistance and durability, while nylon offers lightweight protection and quick drying.

Next, examine any special features or treatments your cover may have. Some are treated with UV protectants or have water-repellent coatings. These treatments can affect how you should clean the cover, as harsh chemicals or techniques might degrade these protective layers.

Checking Manufacturer's Instructions

Before washing your car cover, always check the care label or manufacturer's instructions. These guidelines are specific to the material and design of your cover and provide the safest cleaning methods. Some covers can be machine washed on a gentle cycle, while others require hand washing to prevent damage.

The temperature of the water and the type of detergent are also crucial. Manufacturers often recommend mild detergents and cold or lukewarm water to avoid shrinking or stretching the fabric. High heat, for instance, can harm the cover's protective coatings.

Preparation for Cleaning

  1. Before cleaning your car cover, remove it with care to avoid snagging on sharp objects that could tear the fabric. Begin by unhooking the cover from under the car and gently lifting it off, working your way around the vehicle until the entire cover is free. Lay the cover flat on a clean surface if possible, or hold it up without letting it touch the ground.

  2. Next, assess the cover's condition. Look for visible dirt, leaves, twigs, or other debris. Shake the cover gently but firmly to dislodge these items. This action helps minimize the amount of dirt transferred to the cleaning area, making the washing process more efficient.

  3. If the cover is equipped with a soft lining, pay extra attention to avoid damaging it during shaking. After removing the larger debris by hand or with a soft brush, use a vacuum cleaner with a gentle brush attachment to pick up finer particles.

    This step is crucial for preventing scratches or damage when washing the cover, as embedded dirt particles can act like sandpaper during the cleaning process.

    By taking these initial steps, you ensure that the car cover is ready for a thorough cleaning, reducing the risk of damage and improving the overall effectiveness of the wash.

Machine Washing Your Car Cover

Use a washing machine without a center agitator to avoid damaging the cover. Front-loading machines or top-loaders without agitators are ideal as they provide ample space and minimize wear and tear during the wash cycle.

Recommended Detergents and Settings

Opt for mild, bleach-free detergents specifically designed for delicate fabrics. Set the washing machine to a gentle cycle with cold water to prevent shrinking and fading. Using about ¼ cup of detergent should suffice, but refer to the detergent label for precise measurements based on the machine's capacity.

Washing Process

  • Shake off any loose dirt from the car cover before placing it in the machine.

  • Position the cover evenly to balance the load and prevent excessive strain on the machine.

  • Start with a pre-soak cycle if the cover is heavily soiled, using cold water.

  • Proceed with the gentle wash cycle using the recommended amount of detergent.

  • Midway through, pause the machine to turn the cover inside out for an even clean.

Rinsing and Drying

After washing, rinse the cover thoroughly in cold water to remove all detergent residues. Opt for an extra rinse cycle if needed. For drying, air-dry the cover by laying it flat or hanging it in a shaded, well-ventilated area. Avoid direct sunlight and do not use a mechanical dryer as it can damage the fabric.

Hand Washing Your Car Cover

Hand washing your car cover involves gently cleaning the cover to remove dirt, debris, and contaminants that can accumulate over time. This process not only helps to keep the cover in top condition but also ensures it continues to protect your vehicle effectively against the elements.

Washing Process

  • Lay the cover flat on a clean surface and remove any loose dirt with a soft brush.

  • Prepare a cleaning solution using a mild, bleach-free detergent mixed with cold water.

  • Use a sponge or soft cloth to apply the solution, gently scrubbing the cover in sections.

  • Pay extra attention to stained or heavily soiled areas, applying more solution and scrubbing as needed.

Tips for Effective Hand Washing and Rinsing

  • Do not scrub too hard to avoid damaging the fabric.

  • Rinse the cover thoroughly with cold water to remove all soap, repeating the process several times if necessary.

  • Change the rinsing water frequently to ensure all detergent is removed from the cover.

After washing and rinsing, gently shake the cover to remove excess water. Lay it flat on a clean, dry surface or hang it in a shaded, airy spot to dry. Avoid direct sunlight and don't use mechanical dryers. Turn the cover occasionally to ensure it dries evenly on both sides.

Spot Cleaning for Stains

Specific areas of your car cover may require spot cleaning due to stains like bird droppings, tree sap, or oil. Here's how to address these:

  • Identify the Stain Type: Different stains require different treatments. For example, tree sap may need a solvent like rubbing alcohol, while bird droppings can be cleaned with a mixture of water and mild detergent.

  • Apply the Cleaning Agent: Gently dab the cleaning solution onto the stain using a soft cloth or sponge. Avoid rubbing too hard, which can embed the stain deeper into the fabric.

  • Rinse the Area: After the stain has been treated, rinse the spot with cold water to remove any residue of the cleaning agent. Some stubborn stains may require a second treatment for complete removal.

Car Cover Aftercare and Maintenance

Once your car cover is clean, proper aftercare will extend its life and maintain its protective qualities:

  • Air Drying: Different stains require different treatments. For example, tree sap may need a solvent like rubbing alcohol, while bird droppings can be cleaned with a mixture of water and mild detergent.

  • Proper Storage: Never machine dry; instead, hang the cover to air dry completely in a shaded, well-ventilated area. Direct sunlight can degrade the fabric over time.

  • Regular Checks: Periodically inspect your car cover for wear and tear, especially if it's used frequently or exposed to harsh environmental conditions. Early detection of damage can prevent more serious issues.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Ensuring the longevity of your car cover also means avoiding common cleaning and maintenance mistakes:

  • Avoid Harsh Chemicals: Using strong detergents or fabric softeners can strip away the water-resistant coating on the cover, reducing its effectiveness.

  • Never Use Hot Water: High temperatures can cause shrinking and weakening of the fabric.

  • Don't Overlook the Care Label: Always adhere to the manufacturer's cleaning instructions to prevent unintentional damage.

  • Machine Washing Precautions: If machine washing is permitted, ensure the washer is suitable for the cover to avoid mechanical damage.


Can I wash my car cover in a regular home washing machine?

Only if it does not have a center agitator and the care label allows. Otherwise, use a commercial washer or hand wash.

How often should I clean my car cover?

Clean it as needed, depending on exposure to dirt and outdoor elements, but generally every few months to maintain its condition.

What should I do if the car cover gets very wet, like after heavy rain?

Remove it from the car, rinse off any contaminants, and air dry completely before the next use to prevent mildew and odor.


Regular cleaning and maintenance of your car cover are key to ensuring it continues to protect your vehicle effectively. By following the outlined steps and avoiding common mistakes, you can keep your cover in optimal condition for years. If you have specific concerns or need more detailed care instructions, consult the manufacturer's guidelines or contact a professional cleaner.