It is possible that when most car owners are asked to point out their headliners, they would have absolutely no idea where that is. A headliner in a car is the ceiling, which has an inner foam backing, an inner rigid substrate, and an outer layer of fabric. Now that you know what your car’s headliner is, when was the last time you took a look at it?

The headliner in a car is often neglected, especially when cleaning, making it look older than it usually is. Most people clean their headliner years after buying their car, while some do not even know how to do it. As time goes on, your headliner will become stained and dirty from everyday use, thereby reducing the quality of your car’s interior.

You cannot clean a headliner by merely scrubbing with hot water and soap as you may damage it ultimately. Also, some stains are usually too stubborn to clean, which will result in getting a new headliner entirely. Luckily for you, this article outlines the best ways to clean your car’s headliner yourself; you do not need to hire a professional!

Images courtesy of ‎Samuel Thompson

Tools Needed to Clean your Car’s Headliner

Your car’s headliner should always be cleaned whenever you decide to wash your car. It is a part of the car that should never be neglected because it adds value to the interior. Keep in mind that you must be gentle when cleaning with all of the tools listed below so you do not cause permanent damage.

Soft Brush

A soft brush is the best choice for cleaning minor to major stains on a headliner. It must be very soft, so it does not damage the headliner. You will use it for scrubbing, surface cleaning, and removing loose debris.

Microfiber Cloth

A microfiber cloth is suitable for minor stains; the softness will help in gentle cleaning. You can use it to clean spots (wiping off tiny debris) and surface cleaning (cleaning excess moisture after the headliner has been scrubbed).

Upholstery Cleaner or Alcohol

An upholstery cleaner serves as a car headliner cleaner for water-based stains like coffee. Alcohol is a much better option for oil-based stains like grease and makeup.

Steam Cleaner

A steam cleaner is a perfect option for an extremely dirty headliner that has been neglected for a long time. It gets rid of nasty stains and odors using hot steam and a cleaning solution.

A Spray Bottle

A spray bottle comes in handy for diluting concentrated cleaning solutions.


Fans are used to dry the car’s headliner once you have done a deep clean. It needs to be dried because when the water stays for too long, it may damage the glue, cause the growth of mold and mildew and lead to permanent damage.

Images courtesy of ‎‎Chemical Guys

How to Clean your Car’s Headliner

Spot Cleaning

Spot cleaning should only be done when your headliner has minor stains and is not too dirty. You can use a brush, a microfiber cloth, and an upholstery cleaner for this type of cleaning. When saturating the cloth or brush with a cleaning solution, do this lightly, as oversaturation can loosen the glue holding the headliner together.

The cleaning solution you will apply depends on the kind of stain you are dealing with. Upholstery cleaners work well for water-based stains, while alcohol and lacquer thinner works well for oil-based stains like grease, crayon, and ink.

You need to use a dry cloth or brush to clean any loose debris by gently wiping or brushing them off. Then spray the upholstery cleaner lightly on the brush or microfiber cloth to moisten it and use it to wipe or scrub the stain gently. Once the stain dissolves, use a dry cloth to wipe the surface.

Images courtesy of ‎‎Matthew Dockery

Surface Cleaning

You should do a surface cleaning of your headliner when the minor stains refuse to leave or become more prominent stains accompanied by a terrible odor. An aerosol (foaming) upholstery cleaner and a soft brush is the best tool to achieve this. It is the best choice for more general cleaning of the entire headliner.

It is called a foaming upholstery cleaner because it works with foaming action and breaks apart the trapped dirt below the headliner’s surface. Spray the entire headliner, especially the dirty areas, using the aerosol upholstery cleaner but not saturate it so it does not get damaged.

Wait for some time to allow the cleaner to work into the surface soils and on the stains; each product will specify how long you need to wait. Once the time is up, use the soft brush to gently scrub the entire surface of the headliner while paying more attention to the filthy areas.

Use a microfiber cloth to wipe away excess moisture and leave the headliner to dry. The upholstery cleaner will do its work, so you do not need to scrub with too much strength, and you can repeat the entire process if the first try does not produce the desired result.

Images courtesy of ‎‎Nick Kaufman

Deep Cleaning

You only need to do a deep cleaning when your car’s headliner is highly filthy and has absorbed too much odor. At this time, the signs of damage will be quite evident. The best tool for excellent results is a steam cleaner and an upholstery cleaner.

As usual, you need to ensure that you do not saturate the headliner because there is a high chance it is already weak, and too much water will finish up the damage. You should do the cleaning a little at a time; clean one small section before going on to the next.

First, pour the upholstery cleaner and water into the steam cleaner; make sure that you confirm whether the steam cleaner requires a particular cleaning solution. Attach the proper steam cleaner attachment, then get to cleaning; treat a small section with the steam, scrub the surface with a soft brush and vacuum the headliner.

You should not hold the steamer to one part for a long time because it can melt the glue and lead to a sagging headliner. Once you are done cleaning, leave the headliner to dry by leaving all the doors and windows in your car open. You can also use the fans listed above for fast drying.

Images courtesy of ‎‎Kenny Eliason


The cleaning that is perfect for your car’s headliner depends on how dirty it is. You should do a spot cleaning when there are only minor stains with little to no odor, a surface cleaning when the stains are pretty big accompanied with a smell, and deep cleaning when your headliner is extremely dirty.

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Pavlo Prannyk
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