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How to Clean Headlights: The Complete Guide

A Step-by-Step Guide To Keep Your Headlights Clear

Jake Starr by Jake Starr
Updated on June 29, 2020. In Car Cleaning And Maintenance

How to Clean Headlights

One evening, as the sun is setting, you turn on your headlights, and they just don’t seem as bright as usual. After getting home, you look at the headlights and notice how foggy they are. We’ve been there, and we know how important it is to have clean, clear headlights. Not only are hazy headlights annoying, but they can also be a safety hazard. Over time, headlights get their fair share of wear and tear. Here, we walk you through the process to not only clean but also restore your headlights to get them looking good as new.

6 Steps To Clean Headlights On A Car

Cleaning your car’s headlights should be a regular part of your car’s maintenance. In this guide, we will teach you how to clean and restore your headlights in six easy steps. You’ll learn about common products and the best methods for cleaning a foggy headlight housing. 

The Best Way to Clean Your Headlights

1. Gather Cleaning Materials

Cleaning Materials

First, decide what products you’ll need to properly clean your headlights. A popular though unusual cleaner you can use is toothpaste. If your headlights are only slightly foggy, toothpaste could do the trick! Or you can stick with more common cleaning materials like Windex or soap and water.

For this guide, we will focus on the more traditional cleaners so you will need either Windex or soap and water. You will also need a headlight polish or renewal kit and at least two microfiber cloths—one for cleaning and one for drying. In addition to the cleaning materials, you will also need sandpaper (400-600 grit) and painters tape (or automotive masking tape). Lastly, you’ll need a UV sealant since you’ll be removing some of the old sealant when you sand the headlights. Once you’ve gathered these materials, you are ready for the next step.

2. Clean Headlights With Soap And Water (Or Windex)

Clean Headlights with Soap and Water

Next, you’ll need to clean your headlights. This step is important to remove all dirt and debris from the headlight. If you are using Windex, simply spray down the headlight and wipe it clean. If you are using soap and water, dip your microfiber cloth in a prefilled bucket of soap and water and scrub down each headlight. Also, wash down the area surrounding the headlights, as this will make the next step easier.

3. Tape Area Surrounding Headlights

Tape Headlights

Using painter’s tape, tape off the area surrounding the headlights. This will protect your paint and prevent any damage to the areas next to the headlights in the following steps. Once you carefully tape up those areas, you are ready to move on to the next step.

4. Sand The Headlights

Sanding Headlights

Sanding your headlights is an important step to restore their old shine. We recommend using 400-grit sandpaper if your headlights are very foggy and then progressing to 600-grit sandpaper for a finer polish. If your headlights just need a light touch-up, you can skip the 400-grit and stick with the 600-grit sandpaper. If you own a buffer or polisher, feel free to use it or you can sand your headlights by hand.

Dip the sandpaper in clean water and wet the headlights. You’ll want to sand in horizontal, straight strokes. Make sure you always sand in the same direction and make sure to also keep the surface of the headlights wet throughout the process. If you don’t keep the surface wet, you run the risk of scratching the headlight. This process should take about 5-10 minutes.

5. Apply Polish

Polishing Headlights

After you finish sanding the headlights, wipe them clean, and make sure they are dry. Using a clean microfiber cloth, rub the polish onto the headlight in a circular motion for about five minutes. This step will help clean up any remaining blemishes or haziness and prep the headlight for the final step.

6. Apply UV Sealant

Since sanding removed much of the headlights’ original UV sealant, you’ll need to apply more. This step helps protect the headlight housing and prevents it from getting foggy again. Depending on the UV sealant that you choose, you will either spray-on the sealant or pour the sealant onto a damp microfiber cloth and apply it to the headlight in even strokes. Make sure you cover the whole headlight and only use one layer. Once you have applied the sealant, allow it to dry before driving.

Try Out Your Fresh Clear Headlights!

Testing Heaslights

Now your headlights should be good as new! When the sun goes down, take your car out for a drive and test your clean, clear headlights. They should be bright as new and offer tons of visibility on dimly lit roads.

How To Clean Your Headlights in Six Easy Steps

  • 1. Gather Cleaning Materials
  • 2. Clean Headlights With Soap And Water (Or Windex)
  • 3. Tape Area Surrounding Headlights
  • 4. Sand The Headlights
  • 5. Apply Polish
  • 6. Apply UV Sealant

Frequently Asked Questions

What household items can I use to clean headlights?

If you are on a budget, baking soda and toothpaste are two common household items that you can use to clean your headlights. You can mix five tablespoons of baking soda with warm water to form a paste to clean your headlights. Or scrub the headlights with toothpaste.

In both cases, make sure you clean the headlight with soap and water prior to scrubbing them. These DIY solutions tend to work best on moderately foggy headlights. It may still be worthwhile to invest in a headlight restoration kit if your headlights are very foggy or you are looking for longer-lasting protection.

Can I use WD-40 to clean headlights?

You can use WD-40 to clean headlights. In order to clean your headlights with WD-40, first, wash the headlights with soap and water. Then shake the can of WD-40, or any other silicone-based lubricant, and spray the whole lens of the headlight. After that, wipe the headlight with a clean rag.

Why do headlights get foggy?

The main material used to make headlights is called polycarbonate. One of the drawbacks of this porous material is that when it is exposed to heat, from the headlight’s bulb or the sun, the heat causes oxidation which leads to cloudiness. Headlights come with a protective barrier, but once this wears off, the headlights will start to get hazy. This is why it is important to apply a UV sealant to help minimize this oxidation on your newly restored headlights.

More in Car Cleaning And Maintenance

Categories: Car Cleaning And Maintenance

Tags: , car cleaning, Headlights, how to

Jake Starr

About Jake Starr

Jake Starr is a rising junior at Penn State and is from just outside of Philadelphia. At Penn State, Jake is the News Director at the school’s radio station. In addition, he serves as a writer for Penn State Athletics, covering multiple sports. Jake specializes in sports play-by-play, hosting, reporting, and feature writing amongst other things. He has an extensive writing background that he will bring to Autowise to provide the best content possible.

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