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Headlight Restoration

The Ultimate DIY Guide to Headlight Restoration

Home >> The Ultimate DIY Guide to Headlight Restoration

Headlights are an important component of every vehicle since they allow us to safely drive during the night or in foggy weather. Like every car part headlights can also become less and less efficient the more you use them. In order to keep them running for longer and to prevent spending on a new pair of headlights, you should consider performing vehicle maintenance such like restoring your headlights.

This process can help with cloudy lenses, remove scratches, improve visibility and vehicle safety as well as enhance the appearance of your vehicle. Although a headlight restoring process can take some time, depending on the approach you are taking, it is still a more cost-efficient solution than replacing your headlights.

How It’s Done

Wet Sanding


This method gives permanent results and because of that it takes a lot of time and effort. Before attempting this headlight restoration method remember that your vehicle will need to stay put for at least 24h. For this you’ll need a spray bottle filled with warm water, scissors, blue painter’s tape, low or no lint paper towels, trash bag/ plastic sheeting and rubbing alcohol. You will also need 2000/ 3000 grit sand paper, 3 pieces of 600 and 400 grit sand paper, and a spray can of gloss clear coat for UV resistant and non-yellowing plastic.

1. Start by taping around the headlight with the painter’s tape – make sure you have a good seal. Then proceed by drenching the headlights with the 400 grit sand paper. Keep the headlights and sand paper wet during this process. Using very little pressure move the sand paper in a large circular motion whilst spraying the lens with water. After a short period of time start with a horizontal movement and after some time spray the headlights one last time without using the sand paper and wipe the lens.

Male guy stretching a painter's tape in front of a vehicle.
car polish male expert putting painter’s tape on vehicle isolating from accidental body paint damage

2. Repeat the same process with the 600 grit sand paper but apply a little bit more pressure this time. Then repeat the same process with 2000/ 3000 grit sand paper but with a light pressure. During this make sure you get around the edge of the headlights.

Male guy stands aside of a vehicle holding water bottle and grit sand paper.
car polishing male expert drenching headlights on a car with a grit sand paper

3. Polishing compound is applied after you’ve sanded the headlights. This is done by putting some of the compound on a clean microfiber cloth and then applying the compound in a circular motion. Do this for about several minutes and finish off by buffing out the headlights and wiping off stray compound. You can also use rubbing compound which is applied the same way as polishing compound but it is not as fine or gentle.

4. Wipe the lens with some rubbing alcohol on a paper towel. Then cover the bumper hood and other exposed parts around the headlights with trash bags/ plastic sheeting with some painter’s tape. Make a cut out of each headlight and put painter’s tape around the headlights to keep the plastic sheeting/ trash bag in place.

Male guy nearby a vehicle touching it's headlights.
car polish male expert cleaning the headlights on the vehicle with paper towel

5. Spray the clear coat in one direction with even strokes. Make sure to practice applying a light coat elsewhere before you do so on the headlights. Do not spray the coat very close to the headlights. Let the first coat dry for about 5 to 10 minutes before you spray another one. After applying the third coat leave it to dry for 24 hours.

Worker holds a can in front of a camera.
AN adult male holds a headlight protection spray


Using Bug Spray


This is a temporary fix which makes use of a towel and a bug spray. The bug spray is applied on the towel and then on the headlights. After you’ve applied rinse any residue from the headlights. The bug spray will melt the outer layer that makes the cloudy look of the headlights but within a month or so the dull appearance will resurface. This is not a highly recommended solution but it is a quick and easy way to get instant results.

The Toothpaste Method


Unlike bug spray, toothpaste isn’t going to damage the headlights if you use it directly onto them. Make sure you are using regular toothpaste that contains baking soda for a longer lasting headlight car fix. Start by applying a solid coat of toothpaste and then rub it in a circular motion using a toothbrush.

This should take about 5 to 10 minutes and followed by rinsing the headlights with warm water. Repeat the above steps as much as needed in order to get better results. When you have the headlights clean and the plastic fully dry add a coat of wax on it and after it dries off buff it out.

Baking Soda & Vinegar


More household items can be part of headlight restoration. Baking soda together with vinegar makes for an excellent combination. For this you’ll need the toothbrush again and a microfiber cloth to rub in the vinegar and baking soda either together or separately on the headlights.

The naturally abrasive properties of the baking soda will release any grit and grime on the surface of the plastic. Like other low-cost alternatives this one will also only last for a certain period of time depending on how much the plastic has oxidized.

Kits


You can always go for restoration kits which have included instructions, supplies and products for you to use without having to go out and get each and everything by yourself. Remember not all kits will have the same compounds and wax paste though.

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