By on June 21, 2016

Sagging fabric on door liner, Image: © 2016 Matt Fink/The Truth About Cars

After my last article about cleaning wheels two years ago, I was inundated with as many as one letter that requested I write about how to repair fabric that has come unglued.

Typically fabric repairs are not something that would be done during a car detail, but I like to give my fans what they want.

First off, if you’re restoring a classic Ferrari, stop reading now as this advice is well below your pay grade. If, however, you’re driving a Honda CR-V with 150,000 miles, two kids and a dog, and you’re tied of having sagging fabric, lend me your ears. This is not a professional repair, but rather a quick and effective solution to an annoying problem.

The best option to repair something like the example pictured is to remove the entire door panel. But I’d rather show you a quick fix that I trust most of you can do in 15 minutes. This will also work for small portions of sagging headliner, but probably not the entire ceiling.

3M Super 77, Image: © 2016 Matt Fink/The Truth About Cars

I have tried quite a few products and far and away the best one for this type of repair is 3M Super 77 Multipurpose Adhesive. You can get a can at Walmart or an automotive store for about $8. Other adhesives will either leave a greasy residue behind that can often be seen through the fabric or damage other materials around it if you accidently overspray. Super 77 is surprisingly strong, yet very easy to clean up if you make a mistake.

You will need to clean the surface to be glued. I use a mild body solvent sprayed on a rag normally, but something like Goo Gone works just fine. You don’t need to have the surface perfectly clear of all the original glue, just make sure it is good and clean.

Cleaning surface under fabric, Image: © 2016 Matt Fink/The Truth About Cars

Next, mask off the area. You can use plain duct tape (don’t push it firmly down), but a better option would be painters tape.

Masked-off area around fabric, Image: © 2016 Matt Fink/The Truth About Cars

Now it is time to apply the 3M Super 77. It is an aerosol spray adhesive and it doesn’t take much for it to work. Depending on the weather it can dry fast. After you spray, test it by touching it with your knuckle. If any of it comes off on your knuckle, it’s not ready. If it just feels tacky, then it is go time. If it’s hot out, this can be about 15 seconds so be ready.

Pressing fabric back into place, Image: © 2016 Matt Fink/The Truth About Cars

Begin pressing the fabric back into place. I like to use a plastic razor here, but a credit card also works. Start in the middle and work your way out to eliminate any bubbles.

Pressing fabric back into place, Image: © 2016 Matt Fink/The Truth About Cars

I press the fabric over the edges, then go back very carefully with a small flathead screwdriver and tuck the edges back into place.

Tucking in fabric, Image: © 2016 Matt Fink/The Truth About Cars

I sprayed glue on the armrest here to show you what a little overspray looks like. Simply wipe this off with car shampoo or degreaser followed by your favorite plastic protector.

Adhesive overspray, Image: © 2016 Matt Fink/The Truth About Cars

I wish I could tell you there is more to it and that you should always hire someone like me to do this for you … but it’s not true. I believe in you. Now go fix that saggy fabric!

Saggy fabric fixed, Image: © 2016 Matt Fink/The Truth About Cars

[Images: © 2016 Matt Fink/The Truth About Cars]

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22 Comments on “Spare Me the Details – Saggy Fabric...”

  • avatar

    So presumably this advice will only apply to vehicles where the door panel fabric is pulled over a plastic panel, like here in this CR-V.

    What method do you use when there’s some foam (usually disintegrating in nature) underneath the cloth – like on a premium car with padded surfaces/panels?

    This issue happened in a 93 Audi 90S I had, and I never did think of how to fix it. I tucked the edge back in (poorly) with a screwdriver for when I sold it. Magically, the problem went away then!

  • avatar

    The 3M stuff is pretty good. The S-197 Mustangs with premium interior are notorious for the vinyl inserts delaminating. Whatever that foam adhesive the panel manufacturer uses over the course of a few years tears due to the expansion and contraction of they vinyl.

    Anyways I’ve done that repair a few times and the last time I did it I made the mistake of using something other than the 3M adhesive simply because I was too lazy to walk out and drive to a other parts store and get a quality adhesive.

    Brand new the panels are about 600 bucks a pop but I was lucky in that my mom totaled her Mustang and only had liability and had her panels professionally repaired so I just swapped them out with hers.

    • 0 avatar

      I re-adhered my Mustang’s panels three times, but the foam behind kept disintegrating, which ruins your ability to glue them back on. I finally scraped all the foam off and re-glued it, but it only lasted about six months. I removed the passenger-side vinyl, but the driver’s side has a bunch of glue under it that looks nasty, so I’m still on the fence about just ripping the vinyl off.

  • avatar

    Now I need to try this on my car. The rear passenger door “leather” has been sitting loose for about 4 years now.

  • avatar

    Goo Gone? That stuff is oily, so you usually have to go back over it with Formula 409 or something similar.

    Where do you get a plastic razor blade, anyway? Toys R Us?

  • avatar

    The obsession with soft touch surfaces where they’re not needed is resulting in upholstery failures as the foam turns to goo or dust.

    • 0 avatar

      I think it has more to do with quality. How are 80’s cars with soft touch everything still holding up? Why os everything soft touch made after the mid 90’s so awful? Solution: make door trim panels and dash panels so that they actually stay where the were put, like they did before.

      • 0 avatar

        Ding ding ding. Exactly.

        I think the difference is the construction methods were more sound at the time. Gluing fabric to a 1-piece door panel is just not likely to a long-term solution there. It would probably stay fine if the panel was 2 pieces, with the fabric wrapped around the back side of the accent piece.

        Of course, then you could have squeaks and rattles at the joint …

  • avatar

    My 2002 V70 with cloth interior had this same problem. I tried fixing it using basically the method illustrated here, but found it far more effective in the long run to buy a set of door cards from a model with leather. Ran me under $100 from the local junkyards, looks much better, and the armrests are actually padded now. $100 well spent.

  • avatar

    Every E46 BMW has saggy pillars, particularly the A-pillars. Replacements are reasonably priced and seem to hold up better than the originals in my experience. Some supplier really sold them a crappy product on the originals.

  • avatar

    Matt Fink,

    Great to see the editors saw fit to publish you again…..after 2 years. Really enjoy your detailing and fix-it articles. Should be about every 2 months instead of 2 years.

  • avatar

    Is this 3M Super 77 the same stuff Elwood Blues used on the RV accelerator pedal? That seemed to work well.

  • avatar

    My 13 year old car has sagging headliner. Will it work for that ?

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Fink

      I would give it a try. I’ve only used it for small portions, like fixing a corner of a headliner falling in, but it worked great. I would make sure what you are gluing it to is nice and intact. Don’t try to glue it to foam that is also falling off.

      • 0 avatar

        Matt, couldn’t you use an adhesive that’s meant for adhering foam to a surface to accomplish sticking headliner back into place? I don’t remember the glue ID, but there are glues made to stick sound absorbing foam onto surfaces that do not deteriorate the foam itself. I was thinking that this style of spray could be used “in reverse”, so to speak, to accomplish the repair.

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