Recovering You Car's Headliner and Pillars




About: Engineer making renewable energy products for African entrepreneurs.

Is your car's headliner sagging? Is it terribly dirty? Well here the solution for you! The following will show you how to recover your drab old headliner. I will not only be recovering, but changing my color from gray to black.

I bought 6 yards of fabric - I opted for a "headliner material" which is foam backed
2 Cans of 3M 90 Spray on Adhesive (Do not go cheap on your adhesive)

Headliner Material: 6 yds. @ $11/yd = $66 | 50% off coupon = $33
Adhesive: 2 @ $13/ea = $26

Considering I'm not using all of the material (only half of the headliner) -- lets say the total cost is no more than $50.


Headliner Removal: 45mins <-- never done it before
Removing old material and preparing: 60min
Recovering: 60min <-- a lot of wait time
Covering Pillars: 20min per set (3 sets)
Covering Sunroof Slide: 20min:
Installation: 30 min

So, this is a good weekend job - remove headliner on Friday (maybe prepare too). Recover on Saturday. Install on Sunday :)

Some vehicles are equipped with curtain airbags located in the headliner itself. I don't know how the airbag deploys nor do I know if the headliner material will effect operation. Likewise for pillar mounted airbags. That is one system you don't want to screw around with. <-- Just like seat mounted airbags -- you're not putting seat covers over them right? :P

Step 1: Remove Headliner

This will vary from vehicle to vehicle... For my car (Mark IV Volkswagen Jetta/Golf) instructions can be found here:

Step 2: Remove Old Material

My headliner had 5 metal rings that needed removal by prying up locking tabs. The problem with most headliner is separation between the fabric and foam. First, remove the fabric and discard.

If you foam is stuck on your headliner board (like mine) - you get the tedious task of scrapping it off. I used a flat rasp and scrubbed/scraped the foam and glue residue off. I truly believe that the more meticulous/anal you are about this, the longer your end product will last ;)

Once all of the foam is removed - sand the headliner board with 80/100 grit paper to remove extra glue and prep for the next phase.

Step 3: Additional Preparation

Count how many compound curves your headliner board has. Make at least that many 1qt bags filled with water. To additional leak protection, wrap a second bag around each water bag.

Lay out your chosen headliner fabric and cut a suitable length -- give yourself some extra material to work with ;)

Step 4: Apply Healiner

Start with the flattest area of your headliner board. Follow the directions for your adhesive. I applied two coats of adhesive to a smallish area on both the headliner fabric and headliner board. I allowed about three minutes to let the glue tack/fire off. It is necessary to allow the glue to tack for a tight hold.

Allow the adhesive to set and then move on to the next area. I did about 1 linear foot at a time. When you reach an area with a curve that you want to apply pressure to, place one or more bag(s) of water on top. This will ensure even pressure is applied while the glue sets.

Here's some advice on a method of application. Don't start at a corner or side. Start in the middle.

1. Fold headliner in half (picture one) and apply a small section half the length of the headliner board
2. Unfold headliner and allow some cure time - apply bags if necessary
3. Fold headliner in opposite direction -- pull tight to remove the leading edge of adhesive (to ensure a complete coat) and apply adhesive half the length of the headliner board
4. Unfold and allow some cure time -- apply bags
5. Repeat until that half of the headliner is complete

7. Fold down the headliner and apply adhesive
8. Unfold and repeat until finished. Apply to smaller areas on really tight curves.

On the matter of holes -- such as a moon/sun roof...

When you get to areas like this, make relief cuts to allow the fabric to wrap around. - 5th picture

Once finished -- let your headliner sit for several hour -- a day would be even better ;)

Step 5: Pillars

Again, removal is dependent on your car ;)

If you have airbags, please take extra caution. Do research to find the proper way to remove your pillars containing airbags.

For my pillars (A, B and C), I used a different material. I found a dull, textured, heavy black vinyl that matched my dash. These were applied with spray on adhesive and then trimmed.

It took some practice to prevent wrinkles and sags. Vinyl + tight compound curves is a bit tricky. In the end, I have very minor defects that are not noticeable ;)

Step 6: Reinstall - Deoderize

Reinstall everything ;) It's a good idea to let everything cure for a day or so though.

Have an odor from your adhesive? There's a deodorizing product called Ozium. A quick spray on the smelly panel instantly neutralized the smell ;)

Enjoy :D

One day I will get around to replacing my gray handles/components with black :D



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    31 Discussions


    5 weeks ago on Step 6

    Hi friend. very good tutorial. I have a jetk mk4 with the headliner taken off. I do not get the fabric of the same dye. from what I see, you did it in black. You could send some pictures to see how it matches with the gray accessories


    1 year ago

    I have a MK4 Jetta and I'm going to have to take down the headliner because the sunroof bolts are loose and making a rattling noise. I might do a headliner refresh whiel it is down. I think you did a good job. Thanks for posting.


    2 years ago

    I've heard that the 3M glue deteriorates in the heat, has yours failed at all?


    4 years ago on Introduction

    I tried to do the same to my mk4 , but it was hard and at the end i didn't like it so i ended up buying an used headliner.
    Unfortunately , i tried to use Alcantara as meterial for the headliner and the pillars , but it turned out it was too stiff to be able to stretch it over all the holes and stuff.
    Second , i tried several cans of spray on adhesive (decent one) but it wasn't adequate for this type of material. It failed to hold it in place, so i basically went with another type of glue, one that has to be stretched out using a flat tool and that did the job. Still , it looked ugly in the end therefore i recommend anyone who feels like doing this ,to inform better on what type of material you want to use , see if it can be used to replace your stock headliner material.

    I basically spent about 70 € just to try and save my old headliner , plus another 50 € for the used headliner , PLUS my angry wife afterwards.
    Was it worth it? No.

    3 replies

    Reply 3 years ago

    We installed 100's of headliners in the body shop I worked in and it's really quite a simple operation. The most difficult part is getting the headliner and fiberboard in and out of the car or truck without messing up the fiberboard. It is not bent, like some have mentioned. All headliners are able to be worked through the car and out the passenger door or out the lift gate. One of the most important things to understand is "When applying the fabric to the fiberboard have one or two friends help you. Three people doing this is best. Take your time and whatever you do, DO NOT MESS UP THE BOARD the headliner is glued to." After having removed the board and headliner, place the board on a table in your shop. What I have found works well is make a table from a 4' X 4' piece of 1/2" plywood resting on 2 saw horses. Then carefully remove the old headliner from the fiberboard. Your car's interior gets hot in the summer time, which is difficult on the thicker cardboard type fiberboards, so it may be a tad bit crumbly. Then take a gentle soft 3" wide brush and gracefully brush off the remnants of foam and old glue residue to the floor. A soft paintbrush works quite well. When getting ready to put the new polyester headliner on the fiberboard, I find it best to use a suction paint spray gun and contact cement. A quart will cover one average sized headliner. It takes 2 people minimum to perform this job right. When spraying the contact cement on the fabric, put the material on from the center of the fabric and work your way outward to the edges, KEY POINT....SPRAY CONTACT CEMENT AWAY FROM YOU and across to the far edge and walk around the headliner while you continously spray away from you to all the far edges. If you dont do it like this the air from your spray gun will try and throw the fabric up and get material on the fabric side. If you accidently get the contact cement on the fabric side, you have to throw the material away and start over (bummer). Spray on in nice passes getting good coverage, but not too heavy. Do the same thing with the fiberboard getting good coverage on all areas. Then set the spray gun down and you and your helper(s) each get to grab 2 corners, one in each hand and after positioning the headliner into place slowly work it on into all the valleys. I cannot stress more than to be patient and take your time. You can get professional results fairly easily. I believe if you do not have an air compressor, contact cement can be purchased buy the can in places like Walmart or Home Depot. Some have said 2 cans will do, but I think you need at least 3 and 4 will be better. Better to have enough than not enough material. Wish you the best.


    Reply 3 years ago

    hello, I have a 1997 bmw 740i . I recently removed one of the "a" pillar trims to recover it. When I pulled off the old cloth a air amount of cloth is still stuck to the plastic. I have tried scraping it, applying goof off and nothing seems to work. Is their a solvent that I can but


    Reply 3 years ago

    Thank you for the great advice and technique pointers! What do you think about reusing the old headliner? Mine came completely off of about 30% of my panorama sun roof cover (its "melting away" from a seam in the middle of the board) on my 2005 BMW X5, but the head liner upholstery itself is still perfectly secure. There is still a thin layer of crumbly foam on the sun roof cover, as well as the under side of the fabric liner. Since I want the fabric to match the rest of the interior, I would like to salvage the original sun roof cover fabric, even if that means purchasing the right foam to glue to both the fabric and sun roof cover (using your recommended spray cement in cans from Home Depot). What do you think of this idea in terms of reliably keeping the upholstery secure? Any foam recommendations? Also, do you have any tips for keeping the fabric secure where the edge of the sunroof cover rubs on the back of the headboard when opening/closing beyond what you wrote here? Would headliner tacks would be useful, assuming they are not visible after being installed? Also, is there any way to remove the sunroof cover without removing the headliner? If not, I suppose I can look for early signs of this problem on the headboard. Thanks again for the great post! -HS


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I am a professional auto upholstery tech. Nicely done. Hot civic ^^^ is correct about the glue, this is what I use. It can be applied with a 30$ paint gun. It is essentially sprayable contact cement, decking adhesive also works well provided you make sure you buy the sprayable variety. The other will leave a huge mess trust me.

    As far as removing the old foam a scotchbrite pad works well. I will caution people that there are several types of hard headliner depending on vehicle make. Some are cardboard, others are pressed fiberglass. The fiberglass ones are easy to wreck. Use caution not to disrupt the outermost layer, it is semi-sealed and once you go past it will deteriorate easily and make u itch like crazy.

    As far as alternate coverings go, I would say vinyl is too heavy for a spray can glue, but I have used vinyl and leather with professional glues no problem. A nice light alternative which is popular these days is faux suede.

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    I found the biggest aggravation was getting all the one way clips, fasteners, map lights, visors and small screws out of the way so the fiberboard was free to be removed from the vehicle.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Hi. I somewhere saw an article similar to this using wallpaper adhesive. Can anyone point me to the link please?

    1 reply

    4 years ago on Introduction

    I had a suede headliner put on my SL 500 MBZ over the original hard shell vinyl OEM that the car came with!....Not attractive at all!....Replaced with charcoal gray suede last weekend!..I did not do it!...A guy who does car upholstery did it!...Everything was fine, until I woke up the next morning only to find my headliner was swooping on the roof. The pillars and by the back window is fine, just the middle of the vehicle is swooping/swaying down. As soon as put my hands on it, it stays on up!....But, the car will sit for about an hour, it goes back to swooping/swaying again!...What did he do wrong, what type of adhesive will keep from not SWOOPING/SWAYING!....He did not remove the old headliner, he just wrapped the suede over the OEM headliner??...Please give me some leads and answers, OK?....Anthony

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    The old headliner fabric has to be removed. The boards they use these days cannot support much weight. Leather is heavier than polyester.


    4 years ago on Step 3

    I wouldn't recommend folding the headliner in half and applying it that way if you are using the 1/8" foam headliner, the same type that Volkswagen uses. The folds will show through. I used 3M Headliner Adhesive, I wasn't able to work the folds out because it bonds so thoroughly and quickly. It's done, but it's not the result I'd hoped for.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Great instructable with a tremendous amount of info I was unaware of. I assumed you performed procedure with headliner installed in auto. Removing the aggravation never occurred to me. Thanks for well written, as opposed to video taped, instructions. Only problem I now face is perusing Jeep forums for removal of 21 year old Cherokee Laredo headliner. If sprocketscientist is interested there is a Video (Help us All!) instructable available. I haven't actually viewed it so I can offer no advice.



    7 years ago on Introduction

    Kudos on a nice instructible! I did this once on a 78 Chrysler. First, I tried the needle and thread idea- it holds the liner up, but only where the thread actually is. So if you have lots of patience for threading (and your headliner is perforated already) and you don't mind a loose headliner when done, that will work. However the good Adhesive seems to give the best result. The foam backing on the material seems to be there for noise absorption.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Just curious as to how old you VW is. Seems to be a lot of damage for supossably a well made vehicle. I'm in the process of using Dupli-color vinyl and fabric spray on my headliner for my 1962 Corvair. My headliner uses ribs and staples so it will be done in place. I will have to do a lot of masking and trim removal.

    1 reply

    It is from the year 2000....

    The hot/humid climate of South Florida does a significant amount of wear and tear on this car's interior. In a related story - I had a pair of plastic bike fenders warp to the state of unusable inside the car on a particular day with hot summer sun. It slowly tears apart any vehicle that has anything more than bare plastic finishing.

    I have since gone car-less.... My house mate, however, has a 2000 golf. The weather of Norther California has been much kinder.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I would recommend to any one recovering their headliner to us "DAP weldwood landau top high heat resistant contact cement"   Yes the name is huge and so is the stick  especialy for vinyl my headliner is recovered in vinyl and it took two tries before i found this product and it has been great for 2 years now and i live in the desert where temps reach 120 in the summer.  the only problem with this product is it doesn't come off  so be carful and get your fabric on smooth the first time or you are in for a lot of work.   Good luck