Last Updated: March 17, 2021

RV Ceiling Panels: Choosing The Right Material

Installing ceiling panels in your RV? Using the best material for you will go a long way towards ensuring you’re comfortable in your motorhome. Ceiling panels are there not just to make your RV tougher, but also to improve insulation, protect from leaks, and make the vehicle more durable.

RV ceiling panels can be done in a variety of different materials from fire-resistant metal to homey plywood. Whether you’re looking to enhance the sound quality inside your RV, improve the insulation, or just want it to look good in photos, there’s a ceiling panel material suitable for you.

Read on to learn more about RV ceiling panel materials, their pros/cons, and see which would be best in your RV!

What To Look For In Ceiling Panel?

Before I start telling you about the materials that are most often used in ceiling panels, I want to talk about what you need to look for in the right material for you. Fabrics can be great for some people but a nightmare for others, and it all depends on your camping habits. So, let’s go through all the things you need to look for in the right ceiling panel material, and then we’ll tell you more about them!

Don’t Forget To Insulate The Ceiling

Ceiling Insulation

No matter which material you end up using for the ceiling panels, it’s important to properly insulate the top of your RV. Insulation is crucial for keeping your motorhome comfortable, especially when the temperatures get extreme.

Also, proper insulation means you don’t have to use the AC or heater as much, so you’re using less electricity. Insulation can also protect the interior of the van in case of leaks, and it could keep your ceiling panels clean and safe even the roof does start leaking.

A lot of different materials are used in RV insulation, so do some research and see which looks like the best fit for you. Keep in mind that you’ll have to put ceiling panels over the insulation – if you want to use something like metal that you have to nail to the roof, you might want to go for some thinner insulation.

Resistance To Water And Fire

How sturdy is the roof of your RV? If you’re converting a brand new vehicle, you have nothing to worry about. But if you’re dealing with an older model, you must think about leaks. Before you even think about installing panels, you need to be 100% sure that there are no leaks in your roof.

Water will damage most ceiling panels – wood swells and rots, metal corrodes, fabric absorbs and then leaks, and polystyrene molds and eventually disintegrates. If waterproofing is your main priority, PVC, vinyl, and fiberglass are the top options for you.

But what about fire resistance? Out of all the materials listed below, metal is the only one that would remain standing after a fire. So, if you’re at all worried about fire hazards, metal ceiling panels are the way to go for you.

How Does It Look?

Motorhome Interior

In this case, looks matter. Maybe not as much as water resistance, but you’re waking up every morning staring at those panels – they must spark at least some joy in you.

Most of the materials mentioned below can be customized, so no matter what material you choose, you can alter it in a way that looks good to you. But will that translate in photos?

If you’re trying to make money off your van life adventures, you need panels that not only look good in photos but also stand out. A pop of color is nice, wood looks warm and cozy, and metal can be carved into pretty much anything. Fabric is amazing for photos, videos, and even podcasts, but it’s the worst-performing material of them all.

Another thing to consider is how the ceiling panel can impact the sound quality. Fabric enhances sound and metal will create an echo, so keep that in mind if you’re planning on vlogging in your RV.

Durability Vs. Affordability

How much money do you have to spend on RV ceiling panels? If you’re on a tight budget, go with something more affordable like Styrofoam or plywood. But keep in mind that you will need to replace those sooner rather than later.

Metal and fiberglass are exceptionally durable, but they’re also the priciest ceiling panel materials. PVC and vinyl are somewhere in between – they’re a great balance of affordability, durability, and performance, as long as you don’t care about looks too much.


The weight of a material is another important factor to consider. Heavy materials are generally avoided in RVs, simply because such massive vehicles already weigh a lot, and it’s not smart to add any unnecessary weight.

That’s why you need to be smart with your materials. If you’ve decided on metal panels, aluminum is the only material you should be considering. And in case you want wooden panels, plywood is the way to go. It’s less durable than solid wood, but it’s also several times lighter.

Polystyrene, fabric, fiberglass, PVC, and vinyl are all lightweight as is, which is exactly why they are so popular for RV ceiling panels.

Best Materials For RV Ceiling Panels

Figured out exactly what you want from the ceiling panels in your RV? Read on to learn more about the commonly used materials, and see the upsides and drawbacks of them all.

Wooden Panels


Wooden panels are a popular choice among van lifers. They look really good, they’re easy to cut and install, and they can be very affordable. Naturally, the price will depend on the type of wood you decide to use – go with plywood if you’re looking for a cheap solution.

Also, wood is long-lasting in optimal conditions, and if you take good care of the panels, they might just outlive your campervan. They make any room look cozier, and if you’re planning to shoot photos of your van, wooden panels will look phenomenal. Additionally, you can paint them into any color, and really customize the look of your RV.

Those are the upsides of wooden ceiling panels in an RV. Now let’s talk about the downsides.

Wood and water do not pair well. If you’ve had any leaks in your RV previously, you must double or triple-check that they’re fixed. And even then you can’t be entirely sure that you won’t have to deal with a leak again. They’re not fire-resistant, so you’ll have to be very careful with your wiring and avoid any fire hazards.

Also, depending on the type of wood you choose, the panels can get really heavy. That’s another reason why most people go with plywood.

Metal Panels


Metal RV ceiling panels are the best option if your main priority is fire resistance. But apart from that, metal panels have just as many pros and cons as all the other materials.

If you’re considering putting metal panels in your RV, you should make sure that all the leaks have been dealt with. Metal will rust and corrode if exposed to water, so it’s not a great option if you have an old vehicle that’s prone to leaks. Additionally, keep in mind that aluminum is still the best type of metal for ceiling panels, simply because it is the lightest metal available.

One advantage of metal is that it’s suitable for customization. You can carve all sorts of designs into the panels, and you can even paint them if you want. When done properly, metal can look very elegant – something to consider if you plan on taking a lot of photos of the RV interior.

Other advantages of metal are that it doesn’t absorb moisture or odors, it is very durable, resistant to cracks, and incredibly easy to install. You can just nail the panels to the roof of the RV – just make sure that the roof is in pristine condition first.

Also, they are super easy to clean. The maintenance will be minimal – just wipe them with a clean cloth and you’re done.

The main drawback of metal is that it’s a conductor and not really an insulator. That means that if your roof gets really hot, the panel will also get hot, so they’re not great for very warm weather. On top of that, metal is not the best option if you’re planning on recording your voice in the RV, since it can create echo and distort the sound. But in general, metal is definitely one of the top three materials for RV ceiling panels.

Polystyrene Foam (Styrofoam)


Styrofoam ceiling panels are the best option if you’re looking for something simple and affordable. This material is really easy to cut, you can glue it to the ceiling, and it’s very easy to clean. Also, polystyrene foam is remarkably lightweight, and it’s perfect if you’re worried about adding too much weight to your RV.

Polystyrene foam is also a good insulator, and using it in ceiling panels will further help regulate the temperature inside your motorhome. Also, you can decorate it however you like – it’s possible to paint it, and you can even buy stylized Styrofoam for ceiling panels.

What about the downsides? Well, durability is an issue. As a cheap and lightweight material, polystyrene foam won’t last forever, especially if it’s exposed to the elements. Leaks could ruin it, but at least it would be really cheap to replace. Also, it’s generally inconspicuous and looks basic; if you want that wow effect in your photos, Styrofoam just won’t do.

Fiberglass Ceiling Panels


Fiberglass is another popular material when it comes to both insulation and ceiling panels. It is a type of plastic reinforced with fibers, known for excellent durability and toughness. Fiberglass is used in RV ceiling panels so often that you can buy pre-cut panels, and then just trim them in case your ceiling requires it.

The good thing about fiberglass is that it’s cost-effective. Also, it is very easy to cut into shapes and manage, plus it’s super lightweight. It is plastic, after all, and it has all the traditional benefits of plastic, with the bonus of strength and durability that come with glass fibers.

It’s not prone to sagging, it requires very little maintenance over time, it does not absorb odors or moisture, and it’s very easy to clean. On top of that, fiberglass has a very clean aesthetic, and it’s perfect if that’s exactly what you want for your RV.

As for the downsides, the main thing you should be concerned with is getting the panels from a trusted store. If they aren’t constructed properly, they lose their strength, so that’s crucial. Also, make sure to check exactly what the panels are made with – formaldehyde binders are sometimes used to strengthen fiberglass, and you probably want to avoid that. It’s only a health risk if the panels start to fall apart or if you’re installing them and breathing through them, but your health should be your number one priority.

PVC And Vinyl

PVC Plastic

What about PVC/Vinyl panels? PVC and Vinyl are widely used plastics with numerous benefits that make them great options for RV ceiling panels. They are very affordable, durable, lightweight, waterproof, and thin, which is why they make great panels for RVs. However, that’s also the reason why many people decide against plastic – it’s hard to believe that something so affordable can actually be good.

Well, it can. Vinyl and PVC panels are much lighter than both metal and plywood, making them a great option if you’re trying to keep the total weight of your RV low. They’re also easy to cut, manage, install, and you can customize them to your heart’s desire. Not to mention how easy to clean plastic is – just wipe it with a damp cloth now and then and your RV ceiling is as good as new.

On top of that, plastics don’t absorb odors, making these materials excellent for RV kitchens. And they are waterproof, so this type of RV ceiling panel could actually come in handy in case of a leak.

The main downside of this type of plastic is that it’s not fire-resistant. Also, PVC is not recyclable, so it’s not a good option if you’re hoping to make your RV eco-friendly and sustainable. But vinyl is recyclable, making it the one material that checks almost all the boxes of the best RV ceiling panel!  

Fabric Panels

Fabric Ceiling

You can make ceiling panels for your RV out of any fabric you want. It’s a lightweight material that’s very easy to cut and install, which is why it’s a popular option among van lifers. Also, fabric panels are great for all campers who are vlogging or doing podcasts in their RV because they can help enhance sound.

Another benefit of fabric is that you could choose any color or print your heart desires. The customization options are endless, which is why the fabric is a great option if you’re looking to really make your RV unique. It’s an affordable option worth considering, but I would advise combining it with another material listed here.

Fabric absorbs smells and water, and that will be a nightmare if you plan to cook in the RV. In case you’re a smoker, fabric panels are a no-go – you can’t get the smell of smoke out of the panels without proper washing, and when will you ever have time for that on the road?

Fabric is flammable, so you’d have to be careful with the wiring. It also absorbs moisture, doesn’t protect against leaks, and it’s very difficult to clean.

Bottom line, fabric panels might look great in photos and make your videos sound better, but they’re the worst in terms of performance and insulation.

Best RV Ceiling Panels: Final Thoughts

Still not entirely sure which material you should use for ceiling panels in your RV? I’ll try to make this as easy as possible, by listing the most popular materials by their best features.

Vinyl is the best option in terms of value for money and performance. It’s affordable, lightweight, waterproof, low maintenance, easy to install, and it’s highly customizable. The only downside is that it’s flammable, but that’s something most RV ceiling panel materials have in common.

If flame-resistance is key for you, go with metal – it’s the only flame-resistant material. Pros of metal include strength, durability, and ease of maintenance, while the cons are the weight, susceptibility to rust, heat conduction, and sound distortion. Metal panels can look amazing if they’re done right, but if not, they can easily just be too much.

Plywood is great if you want your RV to look homey in photos, with warm tones inside. It’s a tough and durable material, and it’s usually lighter than aluminum, but nowhere near as strong. Wood is also prone to water damage, it’s flammable, and it requires more maintenance than plastic or metals.

Then there are Styrofoam and fiberglass. Both are lightweight, good insulators, easy to cut, install, and clean. But they also look boring, and they’re not the best option if you’re concerned about aesthetics.

Fabric is the least popular material of them all. The only two upsides of fabric RV ceiling panels are weight and the fact that it can enhance sound. And the latter is only relevant if you’re filming podcasts or vlogs in your RV. Everything else about it is just bad. Fabric is flammable, it absorbs moisture and odors, it’s not tough at all, and it adds nothing to the insulation of your motorhome.

And that’s it! I hope this detailed guide has helped you figure out which material you should use for ceiling panels in your RV! If you’re still not sure, just go with Vinyl.

About the Author Roger Timbrook

Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!

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