How to clean headlights: Freshen your car’s look and improve visibility

How to Clean Headlights
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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. Tired of poor visibility and nasty-looking bulb housings? Let us teach you how to clean headlights. Your car — and other drivers — will thank you.

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 wthem from the comfort of your own home. Without further ado, let’s get into the prep, procedure, and products associated with cleaning your headlights.

Initial cleaning

how to clean headlights

You may want to get down and dirty with the headlight restoration, but giving your car a proper cleaning (or at least washing the front end of your car) before getting started will assure the best result. Wash the headlights themselves and all surrounding panels. Thoroughly dry the vehicle so no droplets or water runoff will get onto the headlights during your restoration.

Masking

how to clean headlights

Next up is taping/masking of the headlight perimeter. You’ll need some painter's tape that isn’t crazy adhesive. Tape around the headlight, being careful not to put tape on any of the housing that needs to be polished. It will look weird if you have a line of foggy next to a line of clear on the headlamp. Typically, your turn signals (yellow lights) won’t haze as much as the clear headlight, so if you don’t want to go through the trouble of cleaning those, just tape them off. Any other surfaces that could be damaged while polishing/sanding should be protected.

Three ways to clean:

Toothpaste

how to clean headlights

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

how to clean headlights

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 and Protector, or you can use toothpaste like in the method outlined above.

Commercial products

how to clean headlights

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.

Additional preventative tips

Now that you’ve gone to the trouble of restoring your headlights, it would be a real shame if they became foggy just weeks or months after your labor. To prevent a quick return to ugly form, try a UV sealant, protectant, or film. These products will shield your headlights from the same combo of UV punishment and built-up filth that made them hazy the first time.

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