In a vehicle, the headliner can be a difficult problem, especially when there is a stain or unpleasant smell. Cleaning a headliner correctly can help extend its life by years, possibly decades.
Breaking down a headliner
Headliners are generally attached to vehicles using mostly glue and lamination of some kind. The lamination loses holding power over time, which is why many older vehicles have headliners that start peeling off and falling into the vehicle. Anything that starts breaking down that headliner glue more quickly ends up in a headliner that delaminates and comes apart, which can reduce the resale value of your vehicle.
What you should not do
In order to keep your headliner from delaminating early, there are some things you should be careful to not do if at all possible. Your headliner should never be vacuumed, because the pressure will pull the fabric off the glue or lamination. You should also be careful to not saturate the headliner with any liquid, especially a solvent or soap that will eat away at the glue that holds up the headliner.
How to clean a headliner
If your headliner is smelly, dirty or stained, how to go about cleaning it? The first step should be to take a clean, dry microfiber cloth and rub the headliner in the direction of the grain. This step should loosen a big portion of the dirt and grime stuck in the headliner. If that does not work, try a dry shampoo or foam spray cleaner.
Spray it lightly on the problem area, then rub very carefully to dislodge dirt and grime. If even that doesn’t work, use a sponge or a very lightly dampened towel to rub the area gently, until the grime dislodges. If the stain is greasy, then use a mixture of 1/4 vinegar and 3/4 water in order to clean the grease.
Fresheners and other products
If you have cleaned the headliner using all of the products and methods you can think of, but there is still a foul odor like cigarette smoke, you may need to do a bit more cleaning work on the headliner. Try lightly spraying Febreeze or a similar air cleaner onto the fabric, but do not saturate the fabric. Orange oil can also help pull a smell out of fabric. If these do not work, continue to apply the product once a week.