How to Clean a Car Headliner

One of the most overlooked parts of the car during cleaning and detailing is the headliner. The headliner often gets dirty when we put our hands up near the roof of the car, when we take things in and out of the vehicle, and especially if we have little kiddos climbing in and out of the car with any regularity. You need to clean the headliner of your car every time you clean the rest of the upholstery to keep it looking and smelling clean! Luckily, the job doesn't have to be a difficult one if you do it often and you do it right.

To start you should check out the headliner and see what is going on up there. You may notice that some areas seem to attract more dirt than others. If there are areas where your head touches the ceiling you will probably notice that these areas accumulate dirt and the like because of the oils that come from your hair and your skin that are now on the headliner. Knowing where the mess is will help to simplify the job because you will know where to concentrate your efforts.

Next you should vacuum the entire car, including the headliner. When you do vacuum the headliner make sure that you apply pressure, but not too much. Not only can you set the stains in this way, you may tear what can be very fragile upholstery if you press too hard. Vacuum thoroughly to make sure that you get all of the loose dust fragments as is possible and then move on.

If the headliner is vinyl you will want to buy a vinyl cleaner. If the headliner is upholstery you will want to buy some upholstery cleaner and test it in a spot that you will not notice if it causes discoloration. When you determine that the cleaner will not cause any sort of discoloration you should spray the cleaner onto the stain and blot it with a rag. If this does not seem to loosen the stain you may want to take a fabric brush and agitate the stain and see if you cannot get it to come lose from the fabric. At this point you may need to blot the stain a few more times to remove any lingering staining.

If the first application of the cleaner seems to improve the stain but does not take it all out, you should wait 12 hours before spraying another application on the roof of the car. The reason is that there is usually glue that holds the headliner in place. If you get it too wet too often the glue will actually stop holding and the headliner will no longer be attached and then you will have a whole different problem with the headliner on your hands.

Many times a simple dry cleaning pad will help to get rid of the tough stains. All you need to do with these pads is tap them onto the stain a few times, and generally this will pull even the toughest stains out of the fabric and leave it as good as new! After using the dry cleaning pad you may want to vacuum the area to remove any lose pieces of dirt or stain that may be lingering after tapping the pad on the stain.

Of course, stains in your headliner are like any other kind of stain, the sooner you treat them the more easily they will be lifted from the surface. It's important as soon as you see a stain to try to remove it, or just make cleaning the headliner of your car a regular part of your vehicle maintenance.



There Are 3 Responses So Far. »

  1. Your article does not mention the most common problem with stains/smell of a roof lining i.e. cigarette smoke, I have just inherited a car that obviously someone has smoked in for long periods and I was hoping for advice on how to rid the car of the stains and the repelant smell of nicotine! unfortunatly to no avail.

    Mike J

  2. Mike try leaving an open container of baking soda in vehicle changing it out frequently; you can also sprinkle it on the soft surfaces that you won't be sitting on and vacuum up later. Or a cup of vinegar someplace stable when not driving. Shampoo any carpet or soft seats; may take more than once if really strong scent. Leave your windows down when possible too just to get airflow. I had the same problem with my first car and got it out with a couple months of persistence.

  3. We have an old car and the headliner has been redone in the past 10 years - but with a leak at the front windshield moisture has entered the car and we have done a major clean-up job but on the sides at the edges near the back window -the panels right above the corners before the back deck have a bad stain.We tried some diluted bleach with caution it has lifted it some but is there any thing else not so harsh? And what is a dry cleaning pad? A brand name would help. And thank you for this opportunity to ask my question. Laura S.

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