How to Clean and Restore Car Headlights

Learn how to restore car headlights. This inexpensive fix will immediately brighten your nighttime headlights.

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Clear your fogged or yellowed car headlight lenses in 45 minutes for less than $15, rather than spending $100s to replace them.

Restore Your Headlights Yourself!

Seems like everything these days is made of plastic, and headlight lenses (capsules) are no exception. Although these plastics have a special UV resistant coating, your headlight lens can become dull, oxidized, yellow and hazy from exposure to pollution, sunlight, harsh chemicals and road salt. This damage reduces the effectiveness of your headlights, making driving at night less safe. That’s a good reason to learn how to clean headlights.

Watch this video to learn how to restore headlights yourself:


Rather than spend up to $500 (plus labor) to replace fogged headlamp lenses, you can restore your vehicle’s yellowed, cloudy headlamps in 30 to 45 minutes with some home remedies that don’t involve specialty tools. And the results are fantastic. You can buy the supplies you need at a well-stocked auto parts store, or you can get a kit online. The kit contains four grades of wet and dry sandpaper (1,000 to 2,500 grit), plastic polishing compound, latex gloves and a flannel polishing cloth.

Note: The following procedure will not repair damage to the inside lens of the headlamp. You should replace a headlamp if the reflective coating is peeling or corroded.

Car maintenance seems daunting at first, but start small and work up the car repair ladder. Here are 100 car repair tasks and maintenance you can do yourself.

Project step-by-step (7)

Step 1

The complete how-to-clean-headlights kit

repair headlights kitFamily Handyman

The complete kit contains the sandpaper grits you'll need to clean a headlight lens plus polishing compound and a cloth.

Buy a headlight restoration kit on Amazon now.

Step 2

Individual components

headlight repair kitFamily Handyman

You can also buy the supplies you need to clean a headlight lens individually.

Step 3

The Headlight Lens Fogging Problem

fogged headlightsFamily Handyman

Plastic lenses can become dull, scratched and yellow over time. Polishing them will clear the haze.

Step 4

How to clean headlights: Wash and sand horizontally

sand headlightsFamily Handyman

Wash the cloudy headlight with warm soapy water. Rinse with plenty of clear water, then let it dry. Then mask the area around the lens so you don't scratch the paint. Soak the sheets of sandpaper in water, then start with the grit that suits your situation. With sandpaper, the higher the number, the finer the grit.

If the headlight is just dull or yellowed, start with the 1,500 grit and work up to the 2,500 grit. If there are light scratches, start with the 1,000-grit paper. Sand in one direction.

Step 5

Sand vertically

Sand headlights verticallyFamily Handyman

Sand one direction with the first grit, then rinse and change direction with the next grit. Keep doing this until you're finished with the 2,500-grit paper.

Step 6

Buff the lens with polish

Buff the lens with polishFamily Handyman

Wash the headlight with plenty of clear, cool water and dry. Wet one corner of the flannel cloth with the polishing compound. Using firm pressure, polish the headlight in a circular pattern until it becomes smooth and clear.

Step 7

Polish the lens

Buff polish car headlightFamily Handyman

Allow the polish to dry, then use the clean end of the cloth to buff off any polish residue (Photo 3). Repeat the polishing process. Depending on the damage to the headlamp, small areas may still appear foggy. Try repolishing only those spots with polishing compound. Buff the area again and inspect. The lens should look perfectly clear!

To keep foggy headlights clear, wash often with a mild detergent and a soft-bristle brush or sponge, flush with plenty of water and dry. Never clean clear plastic with wax, polish or any chemical that's not formulated for the task. And that is how to clean headlights yourself!

Buy a headlight restoration kit on Amazon now.

Working on a vehicle can be intimidating for non-mechanic types, but some tasks are very easy to do yourself. The following 13 handy hints will help you complete automotive maintenance and small fixes with ease.

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