How to Clean Cloudy Headlights

by Ezmeralda Lee

Just as spectacles and sunglasses need regular cleaning, so do your car's headlights. Cleaning cloudy headlights is a task faced by all motorists and is important for safety. Automakers once fitted their cars with glass headlights, since there was no viable alternative at the time. Glass headlights, however, proved impractical because of their weight and their limitations in size and shape. Today, the most practical and cost-effective alternatives are plastic and polycarbonates. Headlights using these materials are much lighter and more aerodynamic, and can be molded in multiple shapes and sizes. Of course, one drawback is that plastic and polycarbonates expand with heat, being porous in nature. Expansion of the pores due to sunlight exposure and heat emitted by headlight bulbs attracts road debris and dust that, over time, causes a yellowish, oxidized film over the headlights, making them cloudy and ineffective. But all is not lost. Your headlights can be cleaned.

Purchase your cleaning material. You'll find sandpaper, suitable abrasive rubbing compounds and wax at any hardware or automotive products store.

Open the hood, then either unscrew the headlights from the inside to release them for cleaning, or thoroughly clean the headlight lenses and surrounding areas on the inside, to remove all debris and dust particles.

Use your masking tape to mask the headlight assembly. This will avoid scratches to the surrounding metal and painted areas around the headlights, particularly during the sanding process.

Prepare a bucketful of soapy water. Take one piece of 600-grit sandpaper and soak it completely. Dampen the entire face of the headlight lens and start sanding, using a side-to-side (horizontal) motion. Continue for about 10 minutes, making sure that the sandpaper is wet at all times.

Wipe off any residue from the headlight lens after sanding.

Soak a piece of 1,000-grit sandpaper and repeat the process as detailed in Step Four. Continue sanding until you notice that the headlight lens appears less cloudy, and slightly brighter and clearer.

Wipe off any residue from the headlight lens after sanding.

Take a piece of 2,000-grit sandpaper and soak it thoroughly. Once again, repeat the process. The only difference is that this step requires some patience, as you'll need to sand the headlight lens for at least 20 minutes. Continue sanding until you notice that the headlight lens is clear and appears as close to new as possible.

Wipe the headlight lens using a dry cloth. Although the lens may appear as good as new after wiping, it will still have numerous cosmetic, hairline scratches.

Use an electric buffer or an abrasive compound to remove all scratches. Allow some time to dry and then wipe the headlight lens thoroughly.

Detach the masking tape and apply a coat of wax over the headlight lens. Your headlights should look as good as new.

Tip

  • check Wet sanding is advised, as it permits a clearer view of results as you go along and is far less abrasive.

Warning

  • close Do not use an electric buffer if you aren't familiar with its use. You may burn your headlight lenses. Do not use unbranded, cheap and harsh chemicals; acetone; brake or transmission fluids; or kerosene. These can permanently damage your headlight lenses rather than cleaning them.

Items you will need