Pop-Top Ceiling: Mold, Cleaning & Restoration

We often receive complaints from folks—many for whom we have built Westys—about mold building up on the ceiling. Logicially, one would assume there must be a water leak somewhere that is causing moisture to collect on the ceiling, which leads to mold. However, the tops on Vanagon Westys are very well-designed and typically do not leak. Plus, vehicles that come from super dry climates (like Arizona, for example) typically do not have this problem. We have found that the problem has to do with the combination of the amount of moisture in the air, the close proximity between the upstairs mattresses and ceiling, and the flocking material on the ceiling of the pop-top.

The mold is present because the ceiling in your Westy is where humidity in the air tends to condense and settle. This moisture gets trapped between the ceiling surface and the upstairs bunk bed mattress when the top is closed. It's basically the perfect environment for mold. It is always a good idea to open the top of your Westy when you get home from a camping trip (especially if it rained), open up all the windows, and let it air out (just like you would with a tent after a rainy camping trip). For everyday use, it is not a bad idea to take out the upstairs mattresses and leave them in a dry place for storage until you need them for a trip.

In addition to the tight space up there, the material Westfalia used to coat the ceiling makes things worse. The inside surface finish of Westy pop-tops is a sprayed-on product that looks and feels like fleece—but it's not. This stuff has the tendency to collect moisture (condensation) which creates a perfect environment for mold to flourish. Over time, the stuff on the part of the ceiling you can see with the top down dries out and flakes off and looks like hell. The stuff above the mattresses stays pretty much intact, and continues to act like a sponge. Great, huh? The worst of both worlds...

Here are some tips on how to clean it and what to do when it's totally shot.

Cleaning: Usually the ceiling surface of the pop-top is moldy and dirty. Whenever we replace a pop-top tent here at GoWesty, the first thing we do is cut the old tent all the way around (yes, it has happened: we have cut the WRONG tent… but that is another story), unbolt the top, and remove the entire top from the vehicle. We flip it upside down, set it on a pair of saw horses and finish removing the part of the tent that is still attached to the top. Then we scrub the ceiling surface with a mixture of bleach, soap, and water. The bleach kills the mold on contact, and the soap cleans off the dirt. We let it air dry, install the new tent on the top, bolt it back on the vehicle and finish the installation. And, of course, don’t forget to clean the dirt and mold off the upstairs bunk mattress and parts, or you'll have a moldy pop-top ceiling again in no time.

Replacing: What if the ceiling surface is completely shot and looks like hell? I suppose it could be replaced with the same spray-on material—that is, if you could find it and if you were trying to match it exactly to win a show or something. Then, maybe it would be worth trying to duplicate. But the main reason they did it this way at the factory is because it was CHEAP. What we do at GoWesty when the ceiling is a mess is cover it with a nice fabric (see photo below). The first step is to sand off all the remaining sprayed-on material, and then very carefully install an appropriate fabric. This is quite tricky—and you might just want to leave it to a professional automotive upholstery shop to do the actual installation of the material. They will know what type and quantity of glue to use, what material is best, and how to apply it all. One detail we do here at GoWesty on Vanagon tops with a skylight: We have the Velcro for the skylight curtain SEWN in place! If you own a Vanagon Westy, you know there is simply NOTHING that will hold the Velcro to the top permanently. We have tried everything under the sun, and nothing works. So, we have the Velcro sewn to the fabric first, and then the fabric is glued to the top. The seal around the skylight opening encapsulates the edges of the fabric, and viola! Permanent Velcro, and no more sagging skylight curtain! And look how NICE it looks! In the example shown, we used Recaro Nardo fabric to match the material on the Recaro seats going into this particular Westy. But, you could use just about any fabric you want. It is wise to use a lightweight fabric with a thin foam backing—since gravity will be working on it for eternity…. And, all that goes up eventually comes down!