How to Remove Stains & Odors From a Headliner

by Julie James

Professional auto detailing costs upwards of $100, as of April 2010. Since keeping your car free of dirt and odors helps retain its value, spending time detailing your car yourself saves you money while you take proactive steps to protect your investment.

When you think of cleaning your car, there's one interior area easily overlooked, since you rarely see it--the headliner.

Clear out any removable items from the car's interior. Set aside anything you'll want to replace when finished, such as a child's car seat.

Vacuum the headliner. If your headliner appears particularly dirty, perform this step twice.

Pretreat any stains on the headliner using the liquid laundry detergent. Follow the instructions on the detergent bottle carefully.

Fill the bucket with approximately 2 gallons of hot water. Ensure that the temperature of the water will not burn your hands.

Add 5 to 7 drops of liquid laundry detergent to the hot water, and stir thoroughly with your hand.

Submerge one of the terrycloth towels into the hot water mixture, remove the towel, and wring out the excess water thoroughly so the towel is only damp.

Scrub the entire headliner, concentrating on any stained areas. When the towel becomes dirty, dunk the towel down into the hot water several times, wring out the excess water, and continue cleaning the headliner.

Dump the dirty water from the bucket, rinse the bucket with fresh water, and refill it with approximately one gallon of hot water.

Immerse a clean terrycloth towel into the water, remove it, and slightly wring out the towel. You want the towel to be somewhat wet, rather than simply damp.

Wipe down the headliner to remove the detergent. Wring, rinse, and re-wet the towel as needed. Perform this step twice, using a fresh towel and fresh, hot water both times.

Vacuum the headliner with the wet/dry vacuum to remove excess water. This helps deter any mold or mildew from forming. Allow the headliner to dry completely by leaving the doors open, if possible. If it's not possible to leave the doors open, leave the windows of the car down.

Spray the liner with an enzyme-based odor remover specially designed to remove odors from fabric. Replace desired items back into the car, and roll up the windows.


  • check If your car has leather or vinyl seats, wipe off any overspray after spraying the headliner with the odor removing product.


  • close If you are concerned about the chemicals contained in some odor removing products, look for an odor remover that contains all-natural ingredients, such as plant-derived enzymes.

Items you will need

About the Author

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  • photo_camera car open image by buddelchen from