How to Clean Foggy or Yellowed Headlights

by Robert Moore
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The oxidation of your headlight lenses makes your car look a bit unsightly from the front -- and it poses a safety hazard. There are multiple ways you can improve the look and clarity of your headlights. You can use a store-purchased headlight restore kit, make your own kit or use some common household products for an quick restore. Using common household products isn't as effective as sanding the lens, but it is effective in restoring some clarity quickly and efficiently.

If your headlights have a cloudy appearance originating from the inside of the lens, it is caused by moisture leaking past the seal of the headlight lens. On some models, a leaking lens seal can be repaired, while on others you have to replace the entire headlight assembly. Headlight assemblies break easily, so consult a professional mechanic if the lens is fogged on the inside.

Use Toothpaste

Items you will need

  • Spray bottle filled with water

  • Towels

  • Toothpaste

Clean the Lens

Spray the headlight with water, then wipe away any dirt and grime with a towel.

Rub Toothpaste Onto the Lens

Apply a small amount of toothpaste to a towel, then rub it onto the headlight lens. Go over the headlight several times, adding a little more toothpaste as needed.

Inspect the Clarity of the Lens

Wipe away any residual toothpaste on the lens. If there are still areas that show oxidation, repeat step No. 2 until the headlight surface has a uniform surface.

Clean off the Toothpaste

Spray water on the headlight lens, then wipe it dry.

Use Baking Soda

Items you will need

  • Cup or small mixing bowl

  • Vinegar

  • Baking soda

  • Towels

  • Spray bottle with water

Make the Solution

Put 4 tablespoons of baking soda into a cup or mixing bowl. Add an ounce of vinegar to the baking soda.


  • This creates a chemical reaction that causes the vinegar to foam up, so pour the vinegar slowly to prevent overflow. 
  • Do not attempt to cap the container you're using during the chemical reaction. Pressure will build up and it could cause an explosion. 

Stir the solution. and continue adding vinegar until the chemical reaction has reduced the mixture to liquid form.

Apply the Solution

Use a towel to soak up some of your new sodium acetate solution. Rub the solution onto the headlight lens. Wet the towel several times and continue rubbing the lens until all of the fading is removed.

Clean the Lens

Spray the lens with water to wash away any leftover solution. Wipe the headlight lens and area around it dry. If the headlight doesn't show enough improvement, repeat the process.

Use Rubbing Compound

Items you will need

  • Rubbing compound

  • Towels

  • Small polishing pad

Apply Rubbing Compound

Put some rubbing compound on a towel, then apply an even coat to the headlight lens.

Scrub the Lens

Rub the rubbing compound into the headlight lens in a circular motion. Cover the entire surface of the headlight evenly as you scrub to prevent a spotty finish.

Polish the Lens

Use a circular motion with a small polishing pad. Continue polishing until the headlight lens is clear and free of oxidation. Wipe away any residual compound from the headlight assembly or surrounding body.

Sand the Lens

For superior results, sanding is the best option. Buy a kit from your local hardware store -- it comes with the backing pad, several different grit sandpapers and polish. If you intend to do this on several cars, make your own kit to save money.

Items you will need

  • Soap and water

  • Masking tape

  • Spray bottle filled with water

  • Towels

  • Drill (1200 to 1600 rpm)

  • 3-inch sandpaper backing discs

  • 3-inch p-500 grit sanding discs

  • 3-inch P-800 grit sanding discs

  • 3-inch P-3000 grit sanding discs

  • Headlight polish

Prepare the Headlight

Clean the headlight lens with soap and water. Dry the headlight lens and the surrounding area with a microfiber towel. Tape off the areas of the body around the headlight.


  • Failure to tape of the area around the headlight may result in damage to your vehicle's finish, if you accidentally move the sanding disk off of the headlight.
  • Do not hold the drill in place during sanding or it will overheat and damage or deform the lens

Coarse-Sand the Lens

Attach the backing disk to your drill according to the manufacturer's instructions. Attach a P-500 grit sanding disc to the backing pad. Set the drill to turn forward -- clockwise -- and start sanding the headlight lens. Work down from the top of the lens as you sand back and forth across he headlight. Continue sanding until all yellow coloring and large defects are removed.


Hold the sanding pads flat against the lens surface or at a slight angle.

Sand Away Scratches

Remove the P-500 disc from the backing pad and replace it with a P-800 disc. Repeat the sanding procedure until you can only see fine scratches on the lens. Wipe the lens clean with a dry towel.

Wet-Sand the Lens

Remove the P-800 grit disc from the backing pad and replace it with a P-3000 disc. Spray water on the headlight and the sanding disk. Continue sanding until you see a white substance building up on the lens. Make five or six more passes over the headlight once you begin to see the white buildup.


Spray more water, as needed, to keep the surface and pad wet.

Wipe the lens clean with a towel. You should see that the lens is now smooth and a lot clearer than it was when you started. Continue wet-sanding as needed until the entire lens is smooth and free of oxidation.

Polish the Lens

Remove the P-3000 grit disc and replace it with a headlight-polishing pad. Apply a small amount of headlight polish to the polishing pad, then rub it evenly across the lens without turning on the drill. Once the lens is evenly coated, polish the lens in the same fashion as you previously sanded it. As you polish the lens, it will become crystal clear.


  • If you still see a slight haze on the lens, add another dab of polish to the polishing pad, and polish the lens again.
  • Remove the tape from the area surrounding the headlight lens. Wipe away any residual polishing compound. Repeat this process every six months to keep your car's headlights looking like new. 

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