You try to keep the car clean. Wash the outside, throw out the trash, and vacuum the carpet and the seats. When it comes to maintaining a clean car ceiling, one helpful idea is to install a car trash can that not only keeps the interior tidy but also adds a convenient storage solution for all those small items that can clutter up your vehicle. Also, maybe you consistently wipe down the steering wheel and console with sanitizing wipes. But how often do you clean the ceiling of your car?

It may be overlooked since we don’t look at it regularly. But the ceiling, or headliner, needs proper cleaning and attention, just like the rest of the car’s interior.

The car ceiling is a different kind of upholstery than the seats and carpet, so you need to be more gentle with it. Regular dirt can be gently brushed off with a soft bristle brush or vacuumed with the upholstery attachment.

Spot clean minor stains with white vinegar, a soft brush, and a microfiber cloth without completely soaking the area. Apply a foaming upholstery cleaner to widespread stains, give it time to work, then brush and vacuum any residue. 

With proper care and maintenance, your car’s headliner will last a long time and contribute to the general sense of cleanliness in your vehicle. Continue reading to understand how a headliner is constructed, step-by-step instructions for cleaning various kinds of stains, and a last-ditch effort for cleaning stubborn stains.

The Car Headliner and Its Purpose

The construction of the car’s ceiling, or headliner, is generally in three parts. The part you see is fabric or sometimes vinyl or leather that creates a finished look inside the vehicle. The fabric is glued to a thin layer of foam.

The final layer is fiberglass or sturdy cardboard that is molded to fit the inside of the car’s roof. The fabric and foam are glued to the sturdy backing. Because these components are glued together, you should take care when cleaning the headliner so that you don’t dissolve the adhesive.

The headliner provides several purposes in the construction of the car. Of course, it makes the inside of the cabin look nicer. Next, it provides sound and vibration insulation which reduces road noise. Finally, it is an anchor point for dome lights and speakers that are installed in the ceiling. 

If the headliner becomes damaged, it has to be replaced all in one piece, so it is important to take care of the ceiling to avoid costly repairs.

Importance of Cleaning the Car Ceiling

Since we don’t always look at the ceiling, we may not notice how dirty it becomes. You should maintain the headliner as part of your car’s routine maintenance to improve your car’s appearance, reduce allergens that can collect in the fabric, and decrease odors that the fabric and foam absorb. The foam in the headliner is particularly good at holding on to smells from smoke, pets, and food.

Supplies for Cleaning the Car Ceiling

Before beginning to clean the car, gather your supplies so that you can get the job done efficiently. Gather up a soft bristle brush, a microfiber cleaning cloth, a spray bottle to mix your homemade cleaner in, a wet/dry vacuum with an upholstery attachment, and your upholstery cleaner of choice.

Upholstery Cleaners

Automotive Upholstery Cleaners

Commercially available automotive upholstery cleaners are safe and effective for cleaning your car’s headliner. 

 Tuff Stuff foaming cleaner is a good choice for a general-purpose foaming cleaner for about $4 per can. The benefit of a foaming cleanser is that you spray it on and let it bubble away the stain. Furthermore, it doesn’t completely soak the fabric, reducing the risk of loosening the adhesives in the headliner.

Chemical Guys Lightning Fast Stain Extractor has excellent reviews for removing stains from fabrics and upholstery. This highly rated cleaner is $9 per bottle and will work effectively on all the upholstery in your car. Use it sparingly on the headliner so that the stained area is not completely soaked, compromising the glue in the ceiling.

Homemade Cleansers

Making your own cleanser from everyday household products is a budget-friendly option. 

Bubbling Paste Cleaner

Mixing equal parts of white vinegar and baking soda makes a bubbling paste that you can quickly apply with a soft brush to a stain on the headliner. Give the mixture time for the chemical reaction to bubble away the stain, then brush and vacuum away any residue. 

Homemade Spray Cleaner

Combine 1 cup of water, ¼ cup of white vinegar, and 1 Tablespoon of dish soap in a spray bottle. Shake right before you are ready to spray to mix thoroughly. Use sparingly and spray on a brush or a microfiber cloth rather than directly on the headliner to avoid soaking the adhesive. 

This cleaner is suitable for any of the upholstery in your vehicle (and your home). 

Deodorizing Spray

If your headliner is smelly, you can make your own deodorizing spray to keep on hand and treat the headliner regularly.

In a spray bottle, combine 1 cup water, ¼ cup white vinegar, and 1 Tablespoon baking soda. You can also add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to freshen the scent and soften the odor of vinegar. When you are ready to use, shake the spray bottle to mix ingredients and lightly mist the car headliner. Alternately, you can spray a microfiber cloth and dab it onto the headliner. 

Methods for Cleaning the Car Ceiling

First, evaluate the ceiling to determine what kind of cleaning it needs. Start with small stains, move to large stains, and finish with overall cleaning. The main thing to remember when cleaning the car headliner is that you need to keep it as dry as possible to keep the glue from dissolving and separating the components of the headliner.

Cleaning Small Stains

Use your stain remover, either homemade or store-bought. Spray a small amount of the stain remover on a soft brush or one corner of a microfiber cloth. Use the brush to scrub the stain gently.

If you only have a microfiber cloth, dab the stain with the treated end of the microfiber cloth by pressing gently – just enough to work the cleaner into the fabric, but not through the foam liner.

Next, use the dry part of the cloth to dab and absorb the cleanser. Check and see how the stain is lifting. Working a little at a time, continue treating until the stain is gone.

Removing Large Stains

If your car roof leaks or if someone had an unfortunate soda accident, you might have a larger stain on the car’s ceiling. The easiest way to remove a larger stain is with a store-bought foaming cleaner, a soft bristle brush, and a wet/dry vacuum. 

  1. Apply a thin layer of foaming cleaner to the stain and let it sit according to the time on the label. The foam will help lift the stain without soaking the fabric and adhesive. 
  2. Once the cleaner has finished bubbling, gently brush the area to remove any loose dirt and residue from the cleaner.
  3. Use your wet/dry vacuum with an upholstery brush to remove any excess liquid or additional dirt or dust.
  4. If stains remain, spray more foaming cleaner on your soft bristle brush and gently scrub the stain. Follow up with the wet vacuum to remove as much liquid as possible.

Always use aerosol cleaners in a well-ventilated area. Keep your car windows down for 24 hours after using to allow the remaining odors from the cleaner to dissipate. It is also essential to let the headliner dry thoroughly to avoid any possible growth of mold or mildew.

Cleaning the Whole Headliner

A headliner that doesn’t have any visible stains can just be vacuumed to remove any loose dirt. If an odor remains, use a deodorizing spray like Febreeze or the homemade version we described above.

Remember that deodorizing sprays are liquid, so don’t soak the headliner with them. Either spray a light mist over the fabric’s surface or spray the deodorizer on a clean microfiber cloth and dab it onto the headliner.

You can also use the foaming upholstery cleaner to clean the whole car ceiling. 

  1. Spray a thin layer of the cleansing foam over the entire surface of the headliner. Allow the foam the time to bubble away from any dirt. 
  2. Gently use your soft brush to loosen the dirt from any particularly dirty areas. 
  3. Finally, use your wet/dry vac with the upholstery tool to vacuum away any excess liquid.

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.

Steam Clean the Headliner

 If you are down to the choice between steam cleaning or replacing the headliner, give steam cleaning a try. The danger of using a steam cleaner is that the heat and moisture may dissolve the adhesives leading to separation of layers or other damage to the headliner.

You can rent a steam cleaner at most grocery stores and superstores. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for using the steam cleaner, but once again, try to use a little liquid as possible to protect the adhesives.

Use steam and avoid using excess water or using a hose to clean the fabric.

Final Thoughts

Remember that your car’s ceiling is made of layers held together by glue. You don’t want to get the fabric too wet because you could damage the adhesive, causing the layers to separate and sag.

Clean your headliner to keep your car fresh and the headliner in good repair. Use a gentle brush or microfiber cloth to blot stains away and a vacuum cleaner to remove dirt and dust. Also, make sure to install an auxiliary port in your car so you can listen to music or podcasts while you work.

Also, If you find yourself in a situation where you’ve signed a car lease but have had a change of heart, it may be wise to postpone cleaning the car ceiling until you’ve taken a closer look at your options for either terminating or transferring the lease. This way, you can avoid any unnecessary hassle and focus on finding the best solution for your situation.



Welcome to my car seat blog! As a mom of 3, I put together with other hard-working moms a highly informative one-stop car seat resource, full with many reviews and buyer guides. I hope you find it invaluable. Thank you for trusting me & my team! - Keren

Keren Simanova

Welcome to my car seat blog! As a mom of 3, I put together with other hard-working moms a highly informative one-stop car seat resource, full with many reviews and buyer guides. I hope you find it invaluable. Thank you for trusting me & my team! - Keren