View of a man doing a car wash on a pick up truck

Can Tonneau Covers Go Through a Car Wash?

An automatic car wash is the easiest way to get your vehicle clean in a few moments while spending as little as a few bucks. 

However, despite its vast convenience, you might be wondering whether you can use an automatic car wash while your tonneau cover is on. So, can tonneau covers go through a car wash?

In today’s article, we’ll provide you with a brief answer to this question along with everything you need to know for best practices while dealing with tonneau covers. Let’s dive right in!

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Can Tonneau Covers Go Through a Car Wash?

Most tonneau covers out there are designed to survive a trip through an automatic car wash. Some brands will have clear warnings about using their truck bed covers through a car wash and will require you to completely remove them before going through the washers.

This is because tonneau covers’ ability to withstand an automatic car wash depends on several factors as well as the manufacturer’s rating of their covers.

The best practice before attempting to use a tonneau cover through a car wash is to check the user manual and make sure that the manufacturer allows it. 

If you don’t have access to your user manual, you can always look it up online or remove the tonneau cover and enjoy the extra perk of getting your truck bed cleaned up as well.

A good compromise here is the partial removal of the cover, where you remove the cover (if it’s a soft one) while keeping the side connectors attached to the rails of the truck bed.

As you can see, there are several factors that can affect the tonneau cover’s ability to withstand the car wash. So stick around for more information about them!

What Makes a Tonneau Cover Car Wash Safe?

A man cleaning the wheels of a pick-up truck
(photo: EIRUS / Shutterstock)

Now that you know that tonneau covers vary in terms of their car wash safety, here are some of the aspects that can affect this property:

Types of Tonneau Covers

The first major aspect that affects the tonneau cover’s ability to withstand a car wash is the type of truck bed cover. Ideally, there are three major types of tonneau covers on the market. Here’s a quick look at them:

Hard Tonneau Covers

These are usually made of hard polymers or fiberglass and overlap the rails of the truck bed, which gives them a solid construction with no moving parts that allow most of them to go through car washes without any problems.

In some cases, these covers are painted. In that case, the cover may still be able to go through the car wash but the machines might scrape the paint.

If you’re interested in getting a tonneau cover that can go through the wash, a hard tonneau cover is your best bet. You can continue your research by reading our guides to the top hard tonneau covers for the F-150 truck, for the Tundra CrewMax, for the Toyota Tacoma, for the Chevy Silverado, or for the Dodge Ram 1500.

Soft Tonneau Covers

Soft tonneau truck bed covers are usually installed on the trucks by attaching them to the rails of the truck bed using straps or velcro.

Soft covers are usually made from weather-resistant fabric but they’re not completely waterproof. For that reason, they’re not suitable for going through a car wash for the fear of getting permanently damaged.

Additionally, some machines can easily damage the soft fabric used in most tonneau covers on the market. 

While they aren’t the best option if you’re looking to take your truck bed cover through the car wash, the main benefit of a soft tonneau cover is that they are typically the cheapest tonneau covers you can buy.

Retractable Covers

Retractable covers are usually considered a subtype of soft covers, which are designed so that you can fold, roll, or retract them via simple measures in order to make the removal process easy.

Since these types of covers usually involve a wide range of moving parts, they’re rarely suitable for use in car washes. 

Luckily, however, these tonneau covers are easy to remove, so you won’t have a problem removing them before your truck goes through a car wash.

Tonneau Cover Brand

There are several brands that take pride in designing their tonneau covers in a way that makes them suitable for going through a car wash.

These brands include Gator Covers, TonnoPro, Line-X, Truxedo, Bak Industries, UnderCover, Trident, Pace Edwards, and more!

It’s always essential that you check the user manual or the product description of the cover you’re going to install before installing it on your truck.

The Design of the Car Wash and Machines Used

The design of an automatic car wash has a lot to do with the suitability of using a tonneau cover. Some cleaning machines are the main culprits for making regular tonneau covers unsuitable for car washes.

In fact, even if the cover you’ve bought is car wash safe, these machines are still capable of inflicting damage to the cover or shortening its lifespan considerably, but more about these machines and situations in the following section.

Why Are Car Washes Bad for Some Tonneau Covers?

As previously mentioned, the design of the car wash usually has a say in whether your tonneau cover can withstand it. Here are some of the reasons why an automatic car wash can damage some tonneau covers:

  • Pressurized Water: Although most tonneau covers on the market are resistant to rainwater, the water used in car washes is projected at the car at relatively high pressure that is powerful enough to damage a soft tonneau cover. However, some hard ones might survive it without any damage.
  • Spinning Brushes: The main problem with spinning brushes is the excessive friction they use to clean out dirt and debris. This friction can easily damage a soft tonneau cover and even scrape the paint on hard ones.
  • Dryers: Similar to the water used in car washes, the machines used to dry the car work under relatively higher pressure than atmospheric air, which exerts a noticeably higher level of stress on the tonneau cover and puts it at risk of damage, whether it’s a soft or a hard cover.
  • Scratching Debris: car washes’ machines aren’t always squeaky clean. In fact, the machine will pick up dirt and debris from other vehicles that the car wash has serviced throughout the day. This residual debris can actually scratch the tonneau cover and damage it, whether it’s a hard or a soft one.

Tips for Taking a Tonneau Cover Through the Wash

View of two people doing car wash
(photo: EIRUS / Shutterstock)

Even if you buy a tonneau cover that is marked as safe to use in an automatic car wash, your safest bet is to remove the cover whenever possible to preserve its lifespan and protect it from damaging machines.

However, if you’re keeping the tonneau cover and want to give it a quick clean as well, here are  some of the best washing practices that you need to consider if you’re keeping the cover on:

1. Opt for Washing Your Truck by Hand Whenever Possible

You’ve probably noticed that the main problem with automatic car washes isn’t the water or soap used to clean the vehicles but the machines and pressure used to clean them.

This pressure is applied to ensure that the truck is completely cleaned up when it comes out. However, if you don’t mind washing your truck by hand using a regular water hose, you shouldn’t worry much about the tonneau cover.

2. Touchless Car Wash Is The Best Alternative

If you’re busy or you prefer the convenience of cleaning your truck quickly without effort, you can still go to a car wash. However, while choosing one, make sure that the car wash is a touchless or contactless one.

As previously mentioned, spinning brushes are the main culprits when it comes to damaging a tonneau cover while cleaning. 

Luckily, touch-free car washes use special sensors to measure the size of your truck and the number of cleaners it needs to get the job done. 

After that, it applies the cleaners without contact and only with semi-pressurized liquids, which reduces the impact of the car wash on the cover.

3. Apply Waterless Cleaners When Cleaning Manually

If you’re not sure whether your tonneau cover is designed to handle hose water, you can always use waterless cleaners while cleaning it.

These cleaners use special chemicals that won’t damage the cover while reacting to all debris and grime that the cover collects over time. 

To use it, apply a suitable amount of the cleaner on a rag and spread it over the cover, then use a clean rag to wipe it off.

4. Make Sure that the Cover is Tightly Shut

Even if your tonneau cover is rated as safe for car washes, you should still make sure that the cover is tightly shut to avoid letting the moisture inside its components, which can damage it from the inside.

5. Avoid Wax Cycles

Another aspect to always consider even if your tonneau cover is car wash safe is to avoid waxing them because it can damage the cover and may void the cover’s warranty.


👉 Read MoreAre Tonneau Covers Universal? | How to Keep Luggage Dry in Your Truck Bed | How to Choose a Tonneau Cover

A tonneau cover can go a long way for any truck driver. It’s ideal for keeping your cargo safe, clean, and secured in place all the while improving the truck’s aerodynamics and saving greatly on your fuel costs in the long run.

However, when it comes to keeping them during an automatic car wash, you might want to take a moment and make sure that your tonneau cover can handle it. 

As you now know, hand washing is always the best for tonneau covers. However, some brands out there market their covers as car wash safe.

Cover Image: EIRUS / Shutterstock