UpholsterCycle DIY Upholstery

How to Fix Roof Upholstery in a Car

how to fix roof upholstery in a car

If your car headliner is starting to droop and sag, then it’s time to get onto it! Learn how to fix roof upholstery in a car easily and cheaply, with six different methods.

A sagging car roof headliner can be a very unsightly problem. All too often, the first piece of upholstered item within a car to go bad is generally the headliner, that is, the roof upholstery. The type of adhesive that is used to glue the liner to the roof of the car, can degrade quickly when exposed to UV light. As a result, headliners begin to fall off along the edges of the windshield and the back window.

What is the Headliner?

The headliner itself is a piece of fabric material that is mounted on the inside of the roof of the car. It serves multiple purposes. The headliner is insulated so that it helps to reduce the amount of he and sound that enters the car through the roof. It is also an aesthetic feature of the interior of a car, covering the subframe of the roof.

The headliner itself is not just a sheet of fabric that runs from the front to the back of the car. Instead, it is a complex part that is composed of multiple layers that are connected to one another. At the uppermost level, is generally a layer of cardboard. Underneath the cardboard is a layer of either foam or fiberglass, and then the fabric, vinyl, or leather is then affixed to the inside. All 3 of the layers are securely fastened to one another using a high-quality automotive spray adhesive.

How to fix roof upholstery in a car (Headliner)

There are countless ways to fix a sagging headliner. Naturally, the way to do it properly is to use spray-on glue, just like the manufacturer used at the plant. However, some people choose to use pins, thumbtacks, screw pins, staples, double-sided tape, hairspray, and so much more. Here are some of the most popular methods of fixing a sagging headliner.

The proper way to fix roof upholstery is to use spray-on glue

#1 Use Spray-On Glue

If you were to take your card to a professional automotive upholstery shop, then they would remove your original headliner and add a brand-new one. In order to accomplish this, the upholstery shop will remove all of the moldings from around the edges of the roof. In most cars, this is a series of plastic strips that are screwed or snapped into place. The headliner itself can then be removed in a single piece, and carefully pulled out of the rear doors. If you have a sedan or hatchback where both backseats can fold down, the shop will most likely remove the headliner through the trunk.

Once the headliner has been completely removed, the old fabric can be detached from the foam. It may still be sticking in some places, but a hairdryer will heat up the original adhesive enough to remove the fabric with ease. Once this is done, a new piece of fabric is then cut to shape, and everything is glued in place with a new layer of spray-on adhesive.

There are a number of ways that a DIYer can do this themselves without actually having to remove the entire headliner. With a little bit of ingenuity, a can of spray adhesive can be turned into an injector, that can be used to inject the glue through the headliner so that it can be reattached.

How to Fix Sagging Headliner Using Spray Adhesive – View Video on YouTube

#2 Use Upholstery Pins

The next step is to use either upholstery pins or thumbtacks. Although this isn’t the most stylish way to fix a sagging headliner, it will definitely help to keep the fabric from touching your head. The thumbtacks and pins will stick right into the foam layer, and pull the fabric up tight. However, you will end up with a quilted-looking roof in the process.

Likewise, the pins themselves are straight and are known to pop out from time to time. This can be dangerous as it’s possible to sit or step on a pin or thumbtack after it has popped out of the ceiling. This is why more and more DIYers are choosing to use screw pins instead.

#3 Use Screw Pins

Unlike traditional upholstery pins or thumbtacks, screw pins are not straight. The pin portion of the fastener is looped in a corkscrew, allowing you to twist it into the foam layer of the headliner. Screw pins are less likely to pop out, even when accidentally bumped. As a result, the screw pins will effectively lock the headliner in place.

However, just like the upholstery pins, you will still end up with a quilted-looking roof. Screw pins come in a wide variety of head types, so you may be able to find something that looks attractive. Keep in mind, that using screw pins is still only a temporary solution to the problem.

How to Fix Sagging Roof in Car Using Twist Pins – View Video on YouTube

#4 Use Staples

Yes, even staples can be used to hold a sagging roof liner in place. When compared to using thumbtacks, upholstery pins, or screw pins, staples can be very unsightly. Nevertheless, it has been used successfully time and time again. Generally, it’s best to use staples along the edges of the roof liner, where they can be easily hidden underneath the trim. For larger, centralized areas of the roof liner, pins are always a better option.

#5 Use Hair Spray

You don’t have to use spray adhesive in order to fix a sagging headliner. Countless people all over the country have used hairspray as an alternative to the adhesive. So long as the headliner is not sagging excessively, it’s possible to reattach it simply using the hairspray. Spray the headliner from front to back, carefully pushing the headliner all the way up to the foam as you go, and let it dry. Once it has completely dried, it will be a lot stiffer and harder than it was before, but it should look a lot better than it did with a bunch of pins in it.

#5 Use Double-Sided Tape

Without having to spend a lot of money, it’s possible to reattach the headliner using double-sided carpenter’s tape. In order to use this option, at least one edge of the headliner must be completely separated from the foam. The reason for this, is you need to be able to put the tape up in between the foam and the fabric. This is a short-term repair, as the double-sided tape will not last very long. Eventually, the adhesive will lose its grip on the fabric and the headliner will begin sagging once again.

#6 Steam the Headliner

The most common cause for a sagging headliner is the continuous heating and cooling of the adhesive. Over time as the roof of the car heats up and cools down throughout the day, the bond of the adhesive with the fabric wears down. As a result, the headliner will begin to sag near the windshield, and slowly work its way to the center of the roof. It’s important to remember, however, that the adhesive is still there, it is just no longer sticking to the fabric.

The glue itself can be reused, as long as it is melted safely. Many professional upholsterers fix a sagging headliner by using a steam cleaner. While it may not be the cheapest way of fixing a headliner, steam cleaners can be rented from just about any grocery store. Without ever having to remove the headliner itself, the steam may be able to heat the glue up enough in order to reattach the headliner to the foam.

You’ll want to start in a small section to see if the glue is still good. If the glue has gotten too old, it won’t reactivate under the heat. If you have found that it is working, then you’ll want to run the steamer wand across the headliner in the same manner as you would using a paint roller. As you move it along the length of the headliner, carefully press the headliner back into the foam layer. This will help to reduce the number of creases and wrinkles that will form the fabric.

This is no easy fix though. Reactivating glue is a time-consuming process that requires skill and dedication. As the glue is being reactivated, you’ll need to pay close attention to how the liner is adhering to the foam. It’s possible to stretch one part of the liner out of place, which will ruin the entire thing.

Replace the Headliner

The costliest way of fixing a sagging headliner is to simply replace it altogether. If your car is fairly new, then chances are you will be able to purchase an entire headliner ready to install from the dealership. However, this can be quite costly as it will not be covered under the warranty. Likewise, not all dealerships will have access to replacement liners. As a result, you may need to go to a professional automotive upholsterer.

The professionals can do a simply amazing job on any car. From simple to fabulous. Just about anything can be done when the headliner is being replaced. The cost of replacing a headliner completely can be quite expensive, due to the cost of labor and experience. Nevertheless, professionals can re-create just about any look you want, even if that look is OEM.

Final thoughts on how to fix roof upholstery in a car

If your car has reached the age and state of disrepair that the car rook upholstery / headliner is starting to sag, unfortunately you are not left with many options for repairing it while retaining a professional look.

The only real way to get the job done properly with a professional finish is to take it to a professional, who can remove and replace the headliner properly. Chances are, however, that if you’re reading this DIY article then you probably have quite an old, beat-up car and aren’t too concerned about getting a professional finish. If you do have a beautiful vintage automobile, definitely take it to a pro though.

If you’re not worried about getting a totally professional finish, then the next best solution is to use spray adhesive instead, covered in step one. The other steps after that start to devolve into hacks that might give you pretty questionable results, but if you’re not worried about final appearance (like visible tacks) then feel free to give them a try.

Now that your headliner is fixed, how about giving your car seats a nice deep clean with these tips?

For more tips and advice on maintaining, cleaning and repairing automotive upholstery check out out other automotive car upholstery articles here.