How to Restore Taillight Lenses

by Vincent Labbate
tail light image by Albert Lozano from

These days, you'd have a hard time finding a vehicle that didn't have some kind of acrylic plastic covering its lights. This plastic offers a lot of benefits, including clarity, strength and the ability to conform to lots of shapes. However, it's still plastic, which means it's comparatively soft and prone to hazing and discoloration from the sun. Lens restoration is a common thing now, and much cheaper than replacing them. You can even find kits at auto parts stores that make this bit of car care a great Saturday afternoon project for even those with little to no experience.

Step 1

Apply painter's tape to the area around the lens, starting at the rubber weatherstripping. Use a razor to trim the tape to the edge where the plastic lens and rubber weatherstripping meet.

Step 2

Pour 1 ounce of automotive soap into a plastic spray bottle. Fill the bottle halfway with water and shake the bottle vigorously for 10 seconds.

Step 3

Spray the taillight lenses with the soapy solution and wipe them clean with the sponge. Inspect the lenses, noting where a majority of the swirl marks and scratches are.

Step 4

Pour 3 ounces of automotive soap into the bucket. Fill the bucket halfway with water. Soak the 1500-grit sandpaper in the bucket for 20 minutes.

Step 5

Spray each tail light lens with the soapy solution to lubricate the surface. Rub the sandpaper from side to side for 20 seconds using medium pressure on each part of the tail light lens. Do not use a circular motion; circular swirl marks are much more visible with the light on than vertical and horizontal ones. Once the taillight lenses are sanded down, thoroughly clean them again with the soapy solution and sponge, and dry them with the microfiber cloth.

Step 6

Apply a generous amount of liquid automotive paint polish to an applicator pad. Rub the pad against the lenses in a circular motion, using low pressure. Allow the polish to haze on the lenses, and then rub the residue completely off with the second microfiber cloth.

Remove the tape and thoroughly wash the area with soap and water. It's a good idea to follow up with a protectant wax designed for plastic light lenses. This will not only bring out that last bit of shine, restoring the lens to a clear, factory finish, it will help to protect the lens from future UV oxidation.


  • Rather than assembling everything individually, you can find everything you'll need for this job in "headlight restoration kits" available at most auto parts stores. These kits offer easy to follow instructions, every grit of polishing pad you'll need, along with polishing compound and protectant wax. And there's usually plenty enough of everything to do your headlight and turn signal lenses as well.

Items you will need

  • Painter's tape
  • Razor
  • Automotive soap
  • Plastic spray bottle
  • Water
  • Sponge
  • Bucket
  • 1500-grit wet sanding paper
  • 2 microfiber cloths
  • Liquid automotive paint polish
  • Applicator pad
  • UV protectant lens wax

More Articles