How to Clean Headlights

Headlight lens polish might save you the $40 to $250 replacement cost

Clear up a cloudy headlight lens with a special polish kit. We also tell you how to evaluate it in case you have to replace it.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Evaluate your headlight lens and buy a restoration kit

Road grit and the sun’s UV rays can really do a number on your headlights. The grit literally blasts off the factory-applied protective coating, and the sun takes care of whatever coating is left. Then the lenses cloud over, dramatically reducing the amount of light they project. You’ve got two choices to see clearly again. You can either restore the old headlights with a restoration kit (Photo 1) and a spare hour, or spend $40 to $250 each on new headlights. Tough choice, huh?

We used a $25 kit from Sylvania to show you how it works. But before you buy a kit, make sure the cloudiness is on the outside of the lens (Photo 2). If you see moisture droplets on the inside of the lens or hairline cracks, the problem is on the inside and the headlight can’t be restored. Buy a replacement at the dealer, auto parts store or an online source such as our affiliation with Amazon.com or odonnellsautoparts.com.

All headlight restoration kits include sandpaper and polishing compound, and they all do a decent job. But the better kits also include a bottle of clear coat remover solution and new UV-blocking clear coat (Photo 1). That makes the job go faster and the results last longer.

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Restore a frosted lens

Start by masking off the areas around the headlight to prevent paint damage. Then apply the “activator” solution to soften any remaining clear coat. Wipe the lens clean. Next, wet-sand the lens, starting with the coarsest sandpaper, and work your way to the finest grit (Photo 3). Dry the lens and then polish the surface with the clarifying compound and the polishing cloth. Finish the job by applying the new clear coat (Photo 4).

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