How to Clean Your Automobile's Headliner like the Pros

by Contributor

So you're riding in the car, putting some lipstick on. The driver hits a bump and your lipstick hits the headliner. Or the kids open a can of soda and it sprays all over the headliner. Cigarette smoke darkens the headliner. Believe it or not, you may be able to take care of all of these problems with a few simple steps. Read further to save a LOT of money on cleaning your own headliner!

micro fiber towels

First, with a clean DRY micro fiber towel, gently wipe the headliner with the grain of the material. Cigarette discolorations and many other darkening agents may come loose just by wiping the headliner! With a clean DRY white rag, wipe again to finish. It may be clean just with this simple process. If you now see stains, proceed to the next step.

foaming window cleaner NON-ammonia!

Using your foaming cleaner and a dry towel, spray lightly then quickly wipe gently, transferring the stain from the headliner to the rag. Do this repeatedly until you see that the stain is gone, and the foam is bubbling white and no longer discolored. This process works for smoke stains, coffee, soda, and other non-greasy, water based stains.

applying make up in the car!

For oil-based/petroleum stains like crayon, ink and make-up, begin with a clean headliner, using step 1 if needed. Now, take a clean micro towel, or other lint-free rag; get it pretty wet with lacquer thinner then gently rub the stain and watch it break down. The stain will appear to spread outward, do not fear! You're breaking down and thinning the stain. Keep using a clean spot on the rag, wet with lacquer thinner and gently rubbing the stained area until the stain thins all the way out and finally disappears!


  • check Use plenty of rags or towels. You're transferring the stain from the headliner to the rag so you can throw the rag in the wash when you're done.
  • check Open windows or doors for ventilation.


  • close Do not drip lacquer thinner on upholstery, dash or instrument panel.
  • close Use NON-ammonia foaming cleaner
  • close Don't rub too hard, because you'll cause pilling.
  • close Always test any cleaning product in an inconspicuous spot.
  • close Don't smoke while using lacquer thinner or any other flammable product.

Items you will need

About the Author

This article was written by the It Still Runs team, copy edited and fact checked through a multi-point auditing system, in efforts to ensure our readers only receive the best information. To submit your questions or ideas, or to simply learn more about It Still Runs, contact us.

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