When driving at night, it’s imperative to be able to see exactly where you’re going. If you notice that your lights aren’t shining as brightly as usual, you might need to thoroughly clean your headlights. These plastic lenses can become dull and scratched over time due to road debris, as well as ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. To correct the situation, you could also take your vehicle to a repair shop for headlight restoration service. Another option is to restore your headlights yourself, which takes less than an hour as long as you have the proper tools and equipment.
DIY Difficulty Level: Beginner
The estimated time to complete this job ranges from 10 to 45 minutes.
This cleaning solution might seem a little far-fetched, but toothpaste is an effective cleaning solution. It’s mildly abrasive, so it’s an excellent option for cleaning the residue on the exterior of the headlights that might cause the lights to dim. To clean the headlights using toothpaste, complete the following steps:
- Use car washing soap to thoroughly clean the headlights. Allow them to air dry for a few minutes.
- Cover the area around the headlights with masking tape. This step protects your vehicle’s paint from toothpaste.
- Add a little toothpaste to a damp cloth. Rub each headlight firmly, and add more toothpaste and water as you clean. This step should take about five minutes.
- Rinse each headlight with clean water. Let the headlights air-dry again. Buff each headlight with a clean, dry cloth.
- Apply car wax to the headlights. Doing so will keep them clearer longer.
Window Cleaner and Car Polish
It should come as no surprise that window cleaner is a solid choice to clean your headlights. In this option, you use the window cleaner to prepare the headlight’s surface for an application of the car polish.
- Place masking tape on the area surrounding the headlights. This step will help protect the paint and plastic when you clean.
- Spray the window cleaner on the headlight, and let it sit for a few seconds. Use a microfiber cloth to wipe off the cleaner.
- Grab another clean cloth, and apply the car polish. Rub the headlight’s surface in a circular motion. You can use a rotary car buffer for assistance so the wax distributes evenly.
- Rinse off the excess polish, and use a clean microfiber cloth to dry the area.
- Apply a coating of car wax to prevent future clouding.
Vinegar and Baking Soda
One of the most universal cleaning solutions, vinegar and baking soda also works well on car headlights that are oxidized or extremely cloudy. Baking soda dissolves all types of grease and dirt, while vinegar is an environmentally friendly cleaning agent. When combined, they create a chemical reaction that’s strong enough to strip away hard-to-clean oxidation and dirt buildup.
- Clean the headlights with car washing soap. Let them air-dry for several minutes.
- Combine two parts of distilled white vinegar with one part of baking soda. Stir to combine.
- Take a microfiber cloth, and dip it into the mixture. Rub it onto each headlight.
- Use clean water to rinse the headlights. Repeat the steps if necessary. Make sure to rinse the headlights after you reapply the mixture.
For a quick fix for cloudy headlights, WD-40 is the ideal solution. WD-40 is a water-displacement product that originally prevented space missiles from rusting. It can also clean foggy headlights. It works as a temporary fix that only lasts a day or two, so it functions more as a polishing tool than a restoration product. However, avoid using it consistently to clean your headlights since it might cause them to turn cloudy after repeated use.
- Wash the headlights with car washing soap. Wait a few minutes to let them air-dry.
- Shake the can of WD-40, and spray it onto the headlight lens.
- Clean the headlights with warm soapy water and a sponge. This step removes some of the residue left behind.
- Use a clean microfiber cloth to dry the headlights.
DIY Headlight Restoration Kit
A DIY headlight restoration kit will give you as close to a professional restoration as possible, depending on what kit you purchase. Don’t rush through the process of restoring your headlights. Depending on the cloudiness of each headlight, you could spend between 15 and 20 minutes on each headlight. While each headlight restoration kit has its own instructions, these general instructions are for reference to demonstrate what’s involved in the process. Make sure you follow the specific instructions found in your kit.
- Wash the headlights with car washing soap. Let the area air-dry.
- Place painter’s tape around the lenses. This step is important because you don’t want the sandpaper to accidentally take off some of the vehicle’s paint.
- Sand the lens. Start with the most abrasive sandpaper option; lower numbers mean the sandpaper is more abrasive. For instance, 1,000-grit sandpaper is more abrasive than a 2,000-grit piece. Wet the sandpaper and headlight, and sand the lens using straight and horizontal strokes.
- Repeat the sanding process with less abrasive pieces of sandpaper. Make sure you clean the lens after each step. Sand diagonally across the headlight. The final sanding should be in the opposite diagonal position.
- Wipe off and dry the headlights. The headlights might look hazy, but they will turn clear once you apply the coating.
- Squeeze some polishing compound onto a clean microfiber towel. Rub the polish onto the headlights.
- Apply UV sealant to the headlights. Don’t forget this step, because you removed the old oxidized sealant when you sanded the headlights. Wet a paper towel and apply the sealant in broad strokes. It’s best to let the sealant dry for several hours or overnight because you don’t want bugs or other debris sticking to your newly restored headlight.
Keeping your headlights clean is almost as important as keeping your windshield clean, as they both help you see the roadway better. While the FIXD Sensor can’t clean your headlights, it can make sure the rest of your vehicle operates smoothly. The free companion FIXD app will provide automated maintenance alerts based on your vehicle’s make, model, and mileage. With this app, you’ll know when to replace your wipers, get your oil changed, schedule an inspection or repairs, and much more.
At FIXD, our mission is to make car ownership as simple, easy, and affordable as possible. Our research team utilizes the latest automotive data and insights to create tools and resources that help drivers get peace of mind and save money over the life of their car.