How To Clean Car Headliner | The Easiest 3 Ways

How To Clean Car Headliner

The car headliner is a crucial component popularly known as the roof lining or car ceiling and sometimes even the ‘interior roof’. Now that you must have got an idea of what it is, you may as well also know that it is one of the most ignored areas of the car when it comes to deep cleaning the car’s interiors.

It is often seen that car deep cleaning companies pay more attention to seats and dashboards All that the car headliner receives is a gentle wet wipe! We’ve even noticed car owners ignore the car headliner’s fabric that actually turns out to be a storehouse for dust and odor.

The poor headliner usually receives attention when it gets too dirty over time or when there is a foul smell inside the car that is traced to the headliner.

Either way, we think that the reason it gets ignored in the first place is due to the fact that a lot of cars have dark or semi-dark colored headliners, making it almost impossible for anyone to judge if it is stained or clean.

However, if your car’s interior roof is terribly dirty then you need not worry because we’re listing the 3 best and easiest ways to clean a car headliner!

3 Ways to Clean a Car Headliner

There could be numerous ways in which one can clean their car’s headliner. However, depending on how dirty the headliner is, we’ve categorized the three best cleaning techniques you could adopt to clean it, and the steps you must follow to get the desired output.

We’ve also mentioned the materials you would require to clean the headliner and have added the links to buy them. They would make the cleaning process a lot easier and also aid in bringing out the best results. Read on to know which technique matches your scenario best, get the required tools in place, and get cleaning!

Spot Cleaning

This type of cleaning is often done when the headliner has a few stains or spots on it that need to be removed. This process only focuses on stain removal and not the entire car ceiling.

Materials You’ll Need:

Spot Cleaning Steps

Step 1: Eradicate dry dirt and debris from the spot

If the dirty spot on the car’s headliner is dry, it would be best to get rid of the debris before we begin the cleaning process. The visible dirt on the headliner should first be wiped gently with a microfiber cloth. One can even make use of a soft-bristled brush. But, do ensure it is properly soft else it can pierce into the headliner upholstery and insert dirt into it.

Step 2: Wipe the stain with a microfiber cloth sprayed with stain remover

You may use a stain remover or an upholstery cleaner of your choice and spray on one area of the microfiber cloth. Using the same area of the cloth, gently wipe over the stain. You must ensure that you aren’t applying excessive force over the stain to prevent the dirt from getting into the headliner.

To avoid this, you may rub gently multiple times but do not apply pressure onto the headliner. Repeat this step until the stain is completely removed.

Step 3: Dry the spot and inspect the stained area

Once you’ve thoroughly wiped the stain with the help of a microfiber cloth laced with upholstery cleaner, use the dry bit of the same cloth and gently buff over the spot you worked upon.

However, do not overdo it else the upholstery cleaner could penetrate into the car headliner. The surface is what we’re aiming to clean. Blot the spot a few times and then allow the spot to dry completely. Only then will you be able to inspect the spot properly.

Surface cleaning

Surface cleaning is applicable when there are multiple dirty spots on the car headliner. Using the spot cleaning method in such a scenario would not make sense. Addressing multiple spots one by one would become a tedious task.

Surface cleaning involves spraying an aerosol upholstery cleaner or a car ceiling cleaner on the entire headliner. This kind of cleaning targets the entire headliner rather than just a few dirty spots. If you’ve got a dirty car headliner where the dirt is spread across the entire headliner, this is the cleaning method to go for.

Materials You’ll Need:

Surface Cleaning Steps

Step 1: Cover the entire surface of the car headliner with an upholstery foam cleaner

Spray the upholstery foam cleaner directly onto the entire car headliner. This is the best tool you can get your hands on since a foam cleaner weakens the dirt from underneath and helps separate it from the headliner.

A word of caution for you would be to not spray constantly over the same area. This could spray more than what is required resulting in a waste of material and time since it would take longer for it to dry.

Focus on tough stains and make good use of the foam fabric cleaner. An aerosol spray bottle would help spread the solution evenly. Pay special attention to corners and areas around the cabin light and sunroof as the edges tend to trap a lot of dirt

After you have sprayed the entire car headliner with a foam cleaner, allow it some time to settle in. The foam cleaner would start working on the stains after a while. However, you do need to keep track of the time before you wipe the cleaner off. Leaving it to dry on its own would make matters worse.

Different brands specify different timing. In order to know the correct wait duration, refer the spray bottle/ can or have a look at the packaging once for more information. As you wait for the cleaning solution to do its job, you would be able to observe how dirt is cleared from the headliner as the foam dissolves gradually into thin air.

Step 2: Use a soft bristled brush to brush the car headliner

Once the foam spray has done its job, you are required to gently scrub the car headliner. Consider this as a finishing act. Any residue from the dirt will be scrubbed away in this step. An important point to keep in mind is to evenly brush the headliner.

Ensure you maintain even pressure across the headliner and scrub all areas. This is important because in case an area is missed or, if you failed to scrub it in the same direction and manner you followed on the rest of the car headliner, it could turn into a patch after the cleaning solution has dried.

Step 3: Allow the headliner to dry

Depending on how wet the headliner is, you may use a microfiber towel to wipe off the excess moisture. Once you are satisfied that the excess moisture has been removed, leave the headliner to dry completely for an hour or two.

Step 4: Observe results and repeat steps as intended

After the car headliner has dried completely, inspect it to see if any of the major stains or minor stains still exist. Usually, an efficient upholstery cleaner would do the job the first time. However, if the stains are deep, then you might need to spray the cleaner again and repeat the above steps.

Deep Cleaning

When the other two types of cleaning processes fail to clean a car headliner, the next best resort is to deep clean the headliner. This is especially useful when the car roof is heavily stained and filled with dirt.

Such headliners often emit a foul smell that gets worse when the AC is switched on. Hence, cleaning them requires a different approach altogether and also involves the use of equipment that is a bit more professional.

Materials you’ll need:

Deep Cleaning Steps

Step 1: Prepare the steam cleaner

You’ll have to begin the process by pouring the interior cleaner and water into the steam cleaner. Ensure you use a cleaner that goes well with the steam cleaner. If you’re unsure about it, just use the cleaner recommended by the steam cleaner brand. Then, you’ll need to fix a suitable attachment on the cleaner, one that is compact and non-abrasive.

Step 2: Heat the steam cleaner and treat the car’s headliner

Switch on the steam cleaning machine and wait for it to gain temperature. Getting hot enough so that it can be used could take a while. The duration depends on the model and brand of the cleaner.

After it has heated up, you may steam clean the headliner. This would be an interior cleaner steam treatment which when sprayed onto the car roof would settle in the fabric and in the tiny gaps, that would otherwise be difficult to access. This is the biggest advantage of steam cleaning process.

Address areas of the roof liner in a part-by-part manner and ensure that you don’t overspray to prevent the headliner glue from melting. The longer you steam clean a particular spot, the deeper it penetrates into the headliner.

As you treat the headliner with steam, use a soft bristled brush to gently scrub the steamed area before vacuum using a vacuum cleaner to vacuum the area. This will take off the excess moisture and other particles let loose by the steam.

Step 3: Allow the headliner to dry

This is common with all processes involved in cleaning a car headliner but, it is particularly important when you deep clean your car. You must leave the windows open and if possible, place fans near the car door so they can speed up the drying process.

The word deep clean is used in the literal sense because the cleaner-induced steam has the potential to reach deep into the headliner’s glue. Hence, it is imperative that you speed up the drying process. Depending on the type of headliner, you may notice a few tracks on it after it has dried completely. You may either move your hands over them or gently wipe them with a clean microfiber cloth to remove them. We call this ‘combing the headliner’.

What Causes Headliner Stains?

What Causes Headliner Stains?

It is important to understand that headliner stains don’t just crop up in a few months. It takes a lot of dust, moisture, and gaseous emissions from other vehicles to concentrate on a few spots of the headliner.

Until that time arrives, your car’s headliner may look like it came straight out of the showroom. The collection of such visible and invisible pollutants causes stains eventually.

That is a primary reason why genuine car detailing professionals stress cleaning the headliner when cleaning other upholstery.

The other reason for the cause of headliner stains is a leaky sunroof or some other sort of leak in the car roof caused as a result of an incident. Even though the leak may be a tiny one, eventually, moisture will find its way through it.

How To Get Water Stains Out of Car Headliners?

Water stains look a lot uglier than dust stains. They make the headliner look old, dirty, and rotten. The first thing to do when dealing with water stains is to get to the root cause of the problem. Is it a leaky sunroof that caused the stain in the first place? Or is it something else that is yet to be known?

Getting to the root cause prevents it from occurring again. So that way, you’ll only have to clean the water stain once. If you’re able to spot it when the stain is new and fresh, just be sure to grab a microfiber cloth and wipe it gently. This way, you’ll stop it from entering the overhead console, if there is any.

If the water stain is old and has settled in, you may use a spray bottle of the interior cleaning spray and follow the same procedure mentioned in the spot cleaning process. If there are multiple tough stains then you may want to consider to surface clean or in worst case scenarios, deep clean your car headliner.

You can read more about how to get water stains out of car seats

How Do You Get Smoke Stains Out of Car Headliners?

Fortunately, smoke stains are easier to work with when compared with water stains. To get rid of smoke stains, spray some upholstery cleaner directly onto the stain and allow it some time to do its job.

Once you notice the foam reducing, gently dab the area with a soft cloth and allow it to dry. This method usually does the trick. While this can take care of cigarette smoke stains, it can’t eradicate bad smells in case there is too much odor in the cabin.

Why Should You Clean Your Car Headliner?

Hygiene is essential for our well-being and it is the same reason why we clean our surroundings on a regular basis. While we don’t come in direct contact with the car’s ceiling every day, it still goes through all the pollution, dust, moisture odor, and whatnot.

We only realize of dirt or stain accumulated on the headliner when stains appear, something which usually occurs when maintenance and cleaning of the headliner has been neglected. However, we need to understand that the reason we deep clean our car’s interiors is the same reason why we should also clean a car headliner.

Else, it will lead to inhalation of foul smell and dust particles that are often invisible to the eye. Not to forget it would increase the life span of the headliner and maybe prevent it from dangling down early.


Can you use vinegar to clean the car headliner?

Yes, vinegar diluted in water can be used to clean the headliner in your car.

Can you clean water stains from a car’s headliner?

Absolutely! Water-based stains can be easily removed provided you follow the right technique which is mentioned above.

Can you steam clean the car headliner?

Yes, car headliners can withstand excess heat and as mentioned earlier, a steam cleaner is an ideal tool to deep clean a car’s headliner. However, caution must be maintained that you don’t spray steam onto a single spot for a long time else it could melt the glue underneath.

What’s the best stain remover for car seats?

Most interior cleaners that are made to clear stains from car upholstery would work best to clear headliner stains. Speaking of brands you may want to try out Super Cleaner by CAR GUYS.


While car interior cleaning can be important for the car’s interior and one’s health, it is also a must that you include the car’s headliners in the cleaning list. A small percentage of car enthusiasts follow this diligently but more need to follow suit in this direction.

Agreed, you may not clean it as frequently as you would wipe the seats or the dashboard. But, do follow a fixed schedule after considering the gases, pollution, and moisture your car is exposed to on a regular basis. This would give you a sense of how often you must clean the car headliner.

There are many products in the market today that would make the headliner cleaning process a lot easier, smoother, and more efficient- a point that is encouraging enough to clean the headliner frequently.

If not for the car, do consider cleaning your car’s headliner more often from a health a well-being point of view. Hence this detailed guide acts as a one-stop information shop for this process

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