How To Clean A Car Headliner

When it comes to cleaning your car headliner, you might think that all it will need is vigorous scrub with soap and water. Unfortunately, this will simply not shift the stains like dust and cigarette smoke that can blight the upper deck of your favorite car.

But why is the headliner so tricky to clean?

Well, for it to be both durable and insulated, headliners have to be crafted from a soft-foam material and finished with vinyl, leather, fabric or suede. Applying soap and water to this combination of materials could lead your headliner to sag and bow, deepening the existing stains.

What is unavoidable is staining on your car headliner, however, there are tried and tested methods of effectively removing unsightly stains from your upper interior, whether it is spot cleaning, surface cleaning or a thorough deep clean.

First, we’ll take a look at what a car headliner is and what it does for your car, then we’ll go through some surefire ways to keep your car roof spotless without jeopardizing its integrity.

What Is A Car Headliner?

A car headliner is not just decorative, it has a whole host of different functions.

It keeps the rain out of your car interior, but it is also designed to insulate your vehicle, retaining the cold or the hot air from your air conditioner or heating system. All in all, a car headliner greatly increases the efficiency of your car.

Most car headliners are foam insulated, which help dampen the general vibrations of your suspension and muffle the noise inside your car. The headliner is one of the main reasons for the ‘quiet ride’ feature that a lot of car salesmen will boast about when selling you your first car.

One of the main reasons for a car headliner is also aesthetics – who wants to look at an exposed bare frame when they’re driving? It won’t make you feel secure or safe, plus people won’t want to ride with you.

So, to try and stay both functional and good looking, car designers have to make headliners out of durable yet stylish materials. This is why most of the time leather and fabric upholstery are used to fabricate a car headliner.

However, this also makes them notoriously difficult to scrub down in the same way that you would your car exterior – that is, with hot water and soap.

How To Clean A Car Headliner

When it comes to cleaning your car headliner, you first have to identify what exactly needs cleaning on it.

If it is one spot, you’ll want to isolate that part and clean that, simply to avoid the hassle of cleaning the entirety of the headliner.

However, if the whole of your headliner is in dire need of a spruce up, then you’ll have to bring in the heavy cleaning artillery.

Spot Cleaning

These are the most frequent kinds of stains that will accumulate on your headliners, usually as the result of dirty children’s fingers or cigarette smoke just above the driver’s seat.

These smudges and stains are usually found in one particular spot on your headliner and don’t affect the integrity of your headliner itself.

These blemishes are the easiest to clean with the minimum of stress.

What you will need:

  • Microfiber cloth.
  • Fabric cleaner.
  • Clean towel.

Firstly, take a clean microfiber cloth and gently scrub away any pieces of dirt. Take care to brush or wipe rather than pushing the dirt further into the fabric, as this will make it much harder to remove the stain.

Spray a small amount of fabric cleaner onto another microfiber cloth or directly onto the stain itself. Then wipe it sideways with the clean towel until the stain is rubbed off, although remember not to rub the stain further into the fabric.

You will want the fabric cleaner to absorb into the stain but not into the foam lining of the headliner, as it might damage it further down the line. Once the lather has been worked up, wipe it away gently with your cloth.

This is the cheapest way to clean your headliner, as the ingredients involved cost very little to acquire and can be used again.

Surface Cleaning

There will be times when a larger stain has accumulated on your headliner that a slight bit of spot cleaning simply won’t remove. At this point, you might have to consider cleaning the entire surface of your headliner.

You’ll need the same ingredients of fabric cleaner and microfiber cloth as well as the same technique, except you’re applying it to a larger area.

Spray an 18 x 18-inch square with fabric cleaner. Follow the instructions stated on the bottle, you’ll probably have to leave the cleaner to soak into the fabric for a while.

Working within the confines of your square, use a soft-bristled brush to scrub the fabric before wiping away the excess with a microfiber towel.

Now create another 18 x 18-inch square next to the first one and repeat the process until you’ve cleaned the entirety of your headliner. If there are some very resilient stains, then apply a second coating of fabric cleaner after you’ve removed the first.

Deep Cleaning

However, some stains afflict your headliner to such an extent that fabric cleaner simply won’t remove them. This is when you’ll need to acquire the skills of a heavy-duty cleaner.

If possible, pick up a portable electrical steam cleaning machine, ideally, one that cleans without the use of additional chemicals.

Take the narrow-fitting end of your steam cleaner and work on 18 x 18 square sections of the headliner in much the same way as you would do with the surface cleaning method. Try not to linger on any one section for longer than 2 seconds, as it might melt the glue that is keeping your headliner in place.

Once the entire surface has been cleaned, leave it to dry, parking your car in the garage and winding down the windows so it has that natural air-dried finish.

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