Why are headliners important?

Believe it or not, your headliner serves a bigger purpose than just looking nice. Headliners can help insulate the interior of your vehicle, keeping cool (or hot) air in so that your air conditioner or heater can work more efficiently.  

In addition, most modern headliners contain a foam backing. This foam insulation can help keep vibrations down and reduce the noise inside your vehicle. Many vehicles boast a “quiet ride” as a key selling point, but they usually don’t tell you that the headliner is a big reason for that quiet ride.

Finally, headliners give your vehicle a clean, finished look. Without one, you’d just have a bare metal roof—far from aesthetically pleasing. Vehicle manufacturers have been putting headliners in cars for almost a century.

Manufactures construct the headliners using materials from leather to fabric upholstery and just like any part made from these materials, keeping them clean will extend their lifespan. Unfortunately, headliners are often the most neglected part of your vehicle when it comes to cleaning.

As such, your headliner can get coated in grime and absorb odors. 


Cleaning Specific kinds of Stains


If you or someone else smoked in the car, the headliner will trap the odor from the smoke. Make a cleaner with OxyClean in it to help reduce the scent. 

Combine Try adding OxyClean to your homemade cleaner for an added boost to remove the stubborn remnants of cigarette smoke on the headliner. Clean the whole ceiling regularly to keep the headliner fresh.

Soda or Sugary Drinks

A drink stain in a car seems inevitable. A drink stain on the ceiling of the vehicle seems unlikely — unless you have kids or teenagers. Regular upholstery cleaner, either homemade or store-bought, should easily remove a soda stain. 

Cleaning up Waterproof Mascara or other Makeup

Try using one of your makeup removing wipes to break up the stain. Be sure to dab at the stain instead of rubbing it. If you rub it, it is likely to get deeper into the fabric and spread out into a larger area. 

Removing an Oil Stain

Cars need oil to run, and if you have been checking the oil or tinkering under the hood, you could transfer those greasy stains to the inside of the car. You also may end up with an oily stain from lipstick or food on your car’s upholstery. 

Apply baby powder or cornstarch to the stained area and leave it on overnight. These products will absorb the oils from the stain. Leave the powder or cornstarch on overnight, then vacuum away. You may have to apply the cornstarch or power multiple times to remove the stain altogether.

Tips For Ongoing Maintenance

  • Wipe down your car’s ceilings with a damp cloth regularly to prevent dirt and dust from accumulating.
  • If you happen to spill something, clean it up immediately using a wet cloth.
  • Make sure to dry the ceiling thoroughly afterward to avoid any water damage.
  • If you have a pet that sheds, try to brush them regularly to minimize the amount of hair that falls onto your seats or sticks to the ceiling.
  • If you notice any dirt or dust buildup, use a vacuum cleaner with a soft brush attachment to clean it up as quickly as possible.

By following these tips, you can keep your car’s ceilings looking clean and tidy for years to come!

How do you clean the fabric on the roof of your car?

Your car headliner is typically made up of a soft foam, then a backing material of fibreglass or cardboard that is covered with fabric.

Cleaning of any kind has to be carried out carefully, as too much water or liquid can cause your headliner to sag or deform. With this in mind, it’s best to choose from one of three methods when washing your headliner: 

  • A spot clean 
  • A surface clean
  • A deep clean

Which one you choose will really depend on how badly your headliner needs cleaned. If you’re just dealing with a mark or two then a spot clean should suffice, whereas prominent odours and marks may need a deep clean.

Spot Cleaning

If you’re regularly transporting large items in your car, you probably won’t be surprised to find the odd mark or two on the inside of your car roof.  But you don’t have to break out the steam cleaner just yet, as these should come away with an upholstery cleaner and microfibre cloth.

  1. If there is visible dirt on your headliner, gently wipe the area to remove any debris.
  2. Spray your upholstery cleaner directly on to the cloth, then gently wipe against the stain or mark. If your stain is just on the surface, you don’t want to soak through to the foam.
  3. Blot the area with a dry microfibre cloth to remove excess moisture and liquid.  

When your interior has dried, your mark should hopefully be gone without a trace. However, if you’re still left with a stain or spot, proceed to the next cleaning method.

Surface Cleaning

If you’ve got a number of marks, or your spot clean wasn’t successful, you can carry out a more in depth clean. 

  1. Using your upholstery cleaner, evenly spray your entire headliner. 
  2. Leave to sit for the recommended amount of time if specified on your product.
  3. Gently work a soft bristled brush against the fabric, making sure to cover all areas sprayed.
  4. Remove excess moisture with a microfibre towel if necessary, then leave to dry.

In most cases this should remove any stains or lingering bad smells, but if you’re still facing issues, you can do a deep clean. 

Deep Cleaning

A deep clean should really be done in only the most necessary circumstances, as excess heat or moisture can cause damage or sagging. It has to be done carefully to avoid softening the glue, as doing it incorrectly can mean needing a replacement. 

  1. Prepare your steam cleaner by following the instructions for water and cleaning solution. It’s best to check if your steam cleaner requires a specific product to be used.
  2. Apply the appropriate attachment. It should ideally be smaller and non-abrasive. 
  3. Turn your steam cleaner on, wait to heat up, then begin to move over your headliner.
  4. Try to move fairly quickly to avoid oversaturating any one area. 
  5. Leave to dry before using your car again.

Step by Step Instructions

There are three different methods of cleaning a he

There are three different methods of cleaning a headliner. And it is the condition of your headliner that determines the best way to clean car headliner for you.

The first method is the spot clean, which should be done if your headliner isn’t that dirty and only has minor stains.

The second method is the surface clean, which would be required if the spot clean didn’t work or if your headliner had more stains and started to have bad smells.

The third method, the deep clean should only be done when your headliner is extremely filthy and has too much odor stuck on it.

Although it is necessary to do a deep clean when your headliner is extremely filthy and stinky, it also poses the risk of destroying the headliner if done wrong. Excess heat and moisture may melt the headliner’s glue and make it sag and cause mold and mildew. So it should only be the last resort and be done with caution.

Just follow a few simple steps for the required method for your headliner. You can find them below:

Spot Clean

Step 1: Remove Loose Debris With a Microfiber Cloth or Soft-Bristled Brush

You can remove the visible loose debris on the headliner by gently wiping it away with a microfiber cloth or brushing it out with a soft-bristled brush. Just be careful not to rub in the visible dirt deeper into the headliner’s fabric. Gently dab or scrub until all loose debris is removed.

Step 2: Wipe the Stain With a Microfiber Cloth Sprayed With Upholstery Cleaner

Turn your microfiber cloth over and spray upholstery cleaner on it, lightly saturating a small portion of the cloth. Then with the wet portion of the cloth, gently wipe the stain.

Since you’re only removing a minor stain, you must only work the car ceiling cleaner onto the headliner’s surface. There’s no need to let the cleaner saturate through.

Step 3: Remove Excess Moisture, Let Dry Completely, and Check the Stain

After you’ve wiped the stain, remove the excess moisture on the spot you worked on by blotting it with the clean, dry portion of your microfiber cloth. Then wait for the damp area to fully dry and check whether the stain has been totally removed.

Surface Clean

Step 1: Spray the Upholstery Cleaner Evenly on the Entire Headliner

The best cleaner for this method would be an aerosol upholstery cleaner. This type of cleaner works with a foaming action, which effectively breaks up the trapped dirt below the headliner’s surface.

Evenly spray the aerosol upholstery cleaner all over the headliner, but try not to saturate it. You must pay special attention to very dirty areas, edges, and crevices surrounding the lights, overhead console, and sunroof.

Step 2: Let the Cleaner Sit

Let the cleaner work on the stains by leaving it on the headliner to sit. You must do this in accordance with the amount of time specified in the product’s instructions. This helps prevent damage from too much spraying and scrubbing.

The gentler you work on your headliner, the less likely it would get damaged. You can always redo the process if you still aren’t satisfied with the cleaning result.

Step 3: Gently Scrub the Entire Headliner With a Soft-Bristled Brush

Using a soft-bristled brush, gently scrub the entire headliner clean. Make sure that you work on every part of the headliner to achieve an even clean. If you fail to brush every section, it may be noticeable after the car dries.

Step 4: Let the Headliner Completely Dry

If necessary, you may use a microfiber towel to remove excess moisture on the headliner. Then let it air dry. Depending on how damp it is, drying it may take an hour or two.

Step 5: Repeat Steps One to Four if the Stains Still Remain

Tough stains may require a second cleaning. However, if the second cleaning still doesn’t result in a clean headliner, you would have to deep clean the headliner of your car.

Deep Clean

Step 1: Pour in the Upholstery Cleaner and Water in the Steam Cleaner

You have to prepare the steam cleaner for use, pouring in the car interior roof cleaner and water as per the instructions of the steam cleaner. You must also check if the steam cleaner requires the use of a particular cleaning solution.

Step 2: Attach the Appropriate Steam Cleaner Attachment

You would next attach the appropriate attachment for the job on the steam cleaner. It would ideally be small and non-abrasive.

Step 3: Let the Steam Cleaner Heat Up

Turn the steam cleaner on and wait for it to heat up. The time it takes for a steam cleaner to heat up depends on the model, so you may refer to the manual to know how long it takes for your steam cleaner to heat up.

Step 4: Pretreat the Headliner With the Cleaner and Steam, Then Brush and Vacuum

Once the steam cleaner has heated up, it’s time to work on the headliner. You would first pretreat the headliner with the cleaner-induced steam. Then you would scrub with a soft-bristled brush and vacuum the headliner.

When you steam clean, you should do it part by part and hold the steamer briefly onto one headliner part, just enough for eliminating odors & tough stains. You need to move quickly to prevent over-saturation in any area of the headliner.

The longer you hold the steamer on one part, the deeper the steam will penetrate, and the more the glue in the headliner will melt. This will likely lead to a sagging headliner.

Step 5: Let the Headliner Completely Dry

After deep cleaning your headliner, you should let it dry thoroughly so that the glue won’t fail and mold and mildew won’t grow. In order to do so, leave the windows and doors of your car open, and you may also use a couple of fans to aid in the drying.

Step 6: Run a Clean Hand Over the Headliner to Buff Out Tracks

After you clean the headliner in a car and dry it, you may notice some tracks left on it. You can easily get rid of them by running a clean hand over them, but only when the headliner has completely dried.

Next Step

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How Long Does It Normally Take?

It will take about 30 minutes or more to clean your car’s ceiling. The length of time will depend on how big your car is, how filthy it is, and whether you are doing a light or deep cleaning. 

Deep cleaning machines: yay or nay?

Photo Credit: AfricaStudio/Shutterstock


The deep cleaning machine can be used to remove stains and give your car a polished look. However, if performed incorrectly or too frequently, this option can initiate long term damage to the interior roof of your car.


How does this method damage your car interior? According to Your Mechanic, the moisture and heat can interfere with glue, eventually causing the headline to sag. However, others say it is the material and backing which cause sagging. Either way, it is essential to take action if the interior of your car is damaged.   

Sagging headlines can reduce your visibility or produce small debris to fall into your eyes whilst on the road. It goes without saying, this could cause a serious accident. As such, we suggest that fixing your headline takes priority before learning how to clean the car roof interior.  

If your car interior is in good condition, excluding stains or dirt, you can still consider a deep cleaning machine. However, we strongly recommend following the guidelines provided on the equipment or hiring a professional cleaner to ensure no permanent damage is done. Keep in mind, you may not notice damage right away but the long term impact can be dangerous.


Car roof upholstery replacement

If your headliner has stubborn stains, unaltered by the prior cleaning methods, it may be time to remove the interior roof material all together. DIY experts may wish to replace the car’s interior themselves. The car headlining fabric will cost roughly £8.00 per meter. Of course, we don’t recommend this option for everyone. A professional replacement will cost you roughly £270 – £300.


Reader Success Stories

  • LR Garcia

Dec 3, 2017

    LR Garcia Dec 3, 2017

    “Getting the odors out of everyday usages. Learning that some stains come out better using cold water instead of hot. And cleaning the car ceiling. My car is happy with me now. Thanks. ” …” more

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