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How to clean cloudy headlights

Headlights, like every other part of your car — or any machine or piece of tech, for that matter — will surely get dirty and begin to deteriorate over time without the proper upkeep. No matter how clear the polycarbonate plastic is when you purchase it, it will eventually begin to look foggy and obscure the brightness of your headlights. The fogginess results from a combination of general filth accumulation, and a natural chemical reaction the plastic has to long exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

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This buildup can make it more difficult to illuminate the road and your surroundings at night, which increases the risk of unfortunate incidents. Thankfully, there are a few simple strategies one can employ to restore clarity to your headlights, most of which you can employ directly from the comforts of your own home. Before you implement any of the methods below, however, we recommend taping the perimeters of your headlight with painter’s tape. Doing so will ensure your car’s paint, trim, and other aesthetic facets will remain intact!

Toothpaste

Toothpaste Thumb

The simplest (and cheapest) way to clean your headlight covers is by using basic toothpaste to clear and polish the plastic. Squirt a bit of toothpaste directly on a washcloth, then spread the toothpaste over the entire head light. Next, rinse with water and dry with a towel. That’s it! Since toothpaste is a light abrasive, it will scrape away the gunk while filling in any scratches. It will even lightly polish the plastic in the process.

Keep in mind that you want to use toothpaste that does not have any sort of cooling beads, crystals, or similar components,  as these will potentially scratch your headlights. They’re bad for the environment, too. Just a heads-up.

Soap, sand paper, and polish

54588408 - close up car lamp or front headlight polishing, renewed headlamp

Using some soap and water, wash your headlights and remove as much buildup as possible. Afterward, dry them with a towel and use 400- or 800-grit sandpaper to remove the remaining gunk, sanding back and forth as you do. You’ll then want to sand it again with a finer sandpaper — this time from a different angle — and polish the plastic to restore clarity. You can use a commercial polish, such as 3M’s Lens Polish & Protector ($12), or you can use toothpaste like in the method outlined above.

Commercial Products

3M Healight Restoration Kit

If you’d rather fork over some money for a commercial solution, there are plenty of products out there that will get the job done. Most are fairly inexpensive, too, and readily available through online retailers and brick-and-mortar stores in your area. These are a great option, though, in the end, they work about as well as the cheaper methods listed above.