What Is a Headliner In a Car?

When it comes to cars, headliners are more or less the "ceiling" of the vehicle. It's the layer of fabric and foam separating the interior of the vehicle from the shell of the car. They typically consist of multiple layers of various materials. These materials work together to offer a few different benefits to the driver and other people that may be riding in the car, as you'll read about shortly. If you've ever been in a car and had a bit of curiosity about what was above your head, you may have poked a finger up into the headliner and felt a bit of squishy resistance, causing you to wonder about what headliners are made of in the first place.

What Are Headliners Made Of?

Most commonly, headliners will be made up of two main layers. The top layer, that is the layer that comes in contact with the actual ceiling of your car, is a foam-like material — typically polyurethane. This material is the main component of the squishy resistance that you feel when you poke your finger up towards the roof of the car. The bottom layer, which is the layer closest to you that you touch, can be made of a variety of fabrics that act as the covering over the polyurethane.

What Does A Headliner Do?

So what is the point of a headliner, and why do cars have them even though they're something that most people just take for granted? Headliners have several benefits to them that many people don't even think about, and they're actually a very important part of the interior of your car.

Perhaps the most obvious benefit of the headliner is the aesthetic appearance that it has compared to just bare fiberglass or metal roof. Most people would prefer getting into a car with a soft, clean-looking material over their heads rather than the bare structure of a car, which helps increase the value of the vehicle.

A benefit that is inarguably even more important than the visual appeal, although many people may not know their headliner is doing, is preventing the car from getting unfathomably hot on a summer day. As the exterior of the car bakes in the sun, the temperature of the roof goes up and up. Without a headliner up there to offer some sort of insulation against the exterior temperatures of the car, the inside of the car would get hotter and hotter due to conduction and radiation. The headliner keeps the inside of the car comfortable for the users by helping to keep the inside and outside temperatures a bit more separated.

Another benefit of a headliner in a car is the sound deadening capabilities that its composition has compared to bare fiberglass or metal. A well-designed headliner will offer better acoustics on the inside of the vehicle which increases the riders’ experience of listening to music as well as talking to one another. It also helps to mitigate the sounds of the outdoors from entering the vehicle and making the ride far less pleasant.

Tips For Maintaining Your Headliner

As anyone that has ever had an older vehicle can likely attest to, the headliner in a car is typically one of the quickest parts to wear out and eventually need to be replaced. Headliners that go bad typically start to sag and after a while, even fall completely down. A headliner that’s fallen down can be a safety hazard if it happens while driving, but even if not it can be an instant killer of the value of the car due to its visual appearance.

One of the best ways to prevent headliner degradation is to keep it as clean as possible because as dirt or a stain builds upon a headliner, it will only get worse and worse and will exacerbate the degradation of the headliner leading to premature failure of it. The way to maintain the headliner will vary depending on the amount of dirt or stains that are present, but there are three main ways to take care of it: spot cleaning, surface cleaning, and deep cleaning. 

Spot cleaning — As the name suggests, this method of cleaning is best used for cleaning simple smudges of dirt or small areas here and there. This is fairly similar to spot cleaning just about anything else such as a carpet or a piece of furniture. Start by removing any of the big pieces of dirt first and then use some regular fabric cleaner — a very small amount — on the area of interest. With a clean rag, you want to very gently scrub the surface as best you can to carefully lift the dirt off the fabric. 

Surface cleaning — If the dirt or stain is a bit bigger and more difficult to remove than you first imagined and the spot cleaning didn’t do the trick, the next step along the way is to try some surface cleaning. The easiest way to imagine what surface cleaning is is to picture spot cleaning on steroids. Instead of just applying the cleaner is a small concentrated area around the dirt, apply the cleaner to a much larger area of the surface (hence the name). You’ll be cleaning a whole area of the surface with this method.

Deep cleaning — If all else fails and the dirt or the stain is really in there, you may have to resort to deep cleaning the headliner. This is only to be used as a last resort because a deep cleaning of the headliner can start affecting the adhesive used to attach the headliner to the roof of the car and also the foam itself above the fabric. A deep clean can be done with a typical steam cleaner or carpet cleaner, which gives you an idea of what a deep clean means. This should be done in short bursts to help preserve the headliner as much as possible.