The polycarbonate material that most headlights are made of can, over time, become dirty, scratched, and worn by flying debris or the sun’s UV rays. This depreciation results in foggy headlights that aren’t as bright as they used to be, which means you won’t be able to see as far out at night or in poor weather. They also seem paler from a distance, making it harder for other road users to see you.
Modern cars typically feature integrated headlight washers that work in sync with the windshield washers. However, because most headlamp washers lack wipers, only the loosest surface debris is washed away. More durable dirt will stay on longer.
Additionally, because headlights are considered “safety-critical,” law enforcement can pull you over and issue a ticket if they believe your car’s headlights are dangerously dirty.
There isn’t much you can do to avoid dirty headlights, but these five easy techniques can help you clean them and get them back to optimal functionality.
How to Clean Headlights
Toothpaste is a DIY legend. The cleaning agent is used to solve many minor problems such as eliminating shoe scuff, reviving piano keys, cleaning clothing irons, leather car seats, and of course, headlights.
Toothpaste’s mild abrasive qualities will assist in cleaning the dirty, worn surface, thus restoring a brilliant new shine to your headlights. Apply the toothpaste and scrub it in for a few minutes with a cloth. Then wash away the residue with warm water and a towel. Apply more toothpaste if you think you need to.
Toothpaste works best If the headlights are only slightly dirty. You’ll get limited success with this method If your headlights are very dirty or foggy.
This approach is more time and labor-intensive. It also needs a more significant number of items to work, but the result is well worth it. This type of cleaning is ideal if your headlights have never been cleaned and are very dirty.
Sanding a headlight is a risky approach because it’s possible to cause irreversible damage. It’s advisable to start with as little force as possible and gradually increase until you’re comfortable with the degree of force you’re applying.
If you have any doubts about your ability to use this method without harming the headlight, then don’t go through with it. Most modern automobiles have sealed headlights, so you won’t be able to replace a broken cover. Replacing a whole unit might cost thousands of dollars.
Items you’ll need:
- Sandpaper (400, 600, and 2000 grit)
- Warm water
- Masking tape
- Soft cloth
- Protective wax
Here’s a step-by-step process on how to use them:
- Clean the headlights with soap and water to remove the surface dirt and grime.
- To avoid scratching the car with sandpaper, mask off the corners around the headlight with masking tape.
- Wet the headlights and 400-grit sandpaper.
- Scrub your headlights in horizontal motions. You could cause damage to your headlights if done incorrectly, so ensure the sandpaper is wet at all times.
- Step up to wet 600-grit sandpaper and re-sand the headlights.
- Use wet 2000-grit sandpaper and re-sand the headlights once more.
- Wipe the lens with a soft cloth and add a protective wax.
3. Baking Soda
Like toothpaste, Baking Soda is a cost-effective multipurpose cleaner. It effectively removes solid contaminants like mold and unpleasant smells like vomit and weed. Baking soda is a natural cleaning agent that works well on mildly hazy headlights because it absorbs oxides.
To use, first clean the headlights to clear off debris and grime. Combine the baking soda with just enough warm water to make a paste that resembles toothpaste. Apply the paste thoroughly to the headlights using a sponge.
Clean the paste off with a neat cloth after a few minutes, then repeat if required. The headlights must then be rinsed and dried to complete the process.
4. Bug Spray
Bug spray contains chemicals that eliminate grime and part of the UV damage that occurs to the exterior layers of plastic headlights. This method is excellent for headlights that are a bit hazy.
Using a clean towel, spray the bug spray. With some force, rub the cloth on the headlight lens. The intensity of your scrubbing should match the severity of the headlight’s fogginess.
After a few minutes of rubbing, rinse the lens with water using a spray bottle. Then use Paper towels to clean the plastic headlights.
However, be careful not to apply too much bug spray because it may harm the plastic. Bug spray also contains chemicals that could damage your paint job, so line your headlights with tape to be safe.
5. Dedicated Headlight Cleaning Kit
We’ve saved the most effective method for last. Many car cleaning product manufacturers also make kits tailored for cleaning headlights extensively. These kits usually consist of a cleaning solution and various grades of sandpaper.
An excellent option is Meguiar’s Basic Headlight Restoration Kit. To use it:
- Mask off the area around the headlights and immerse the attached pads in water for a while.
- Softly sand the headlights with each of the four different pads.
- Repeat this process on each headlight till they are clean. If that won’t do, Meguiar also has a Heavy Duty headlight Restoration kit for more challenging lenses or heavily hazy headlights.
Meguiar also has a product that’s excellent for cleaning floor mats.
If Meguiar’s kit is unavailable, find a kit that includes multiple grades of sandpaper, a plastic cleaner/polish, polishing cloths, and a protective coating. Typically, one kit is adequate to clean two headlights.
Regardless of which product you choose, do not stray from the manufacturer’s instructions because misusing these products could damage your headlights.
If your headlights are still dull even after applying our techniques, then try replacing your headlight bulb with a new one. Older bulbs lose power with time, and this may be the source of the problem. If that still doesn’t work, then you might need to see a professional.
While a simple bulb switch might solve your headlight problem, the same might not apply to brake lights. Find out what could cause a brake light to stay on when a car is off.