The best do-it-yourself method to make your headlights look like new

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In not so ancient times, new vehicles came with sealed beam headlights. According to CarID, laws from the 1940s to early 1980s required all US-spec cars to have sealed beam headlights, which was a typical headlight assembly consisting of a bulb encased in a glass lens. When the bulb inside one of these units breaks or goes flat, the entire headlight assembly needs to be replaced. It may sound boring and expensive, but the benefits are hard to ignore. Glass lenses are more resistant to yellowing, fading and UV damage, but they are also expensive to manufacture and are prone to cracking, breaking or damage in the event of a slight collision.

From the mid 1990s to the present, composite headlamps with replaceable bulbs have replaced the obsolete sealed beam units. Plastic headlights are cheaper to produce, easier to shape, lighter and more impact resistant. The first US-made vehicle to have plastic headlights with replaceable bulbs is the 1984 Lincoln Mark VII, according to Motor Trend, and the auto industry has never looked back.

However, plastic headlight lenses lose their clarity with age and repeated exposure to sun, rain and other aggressive elements, causing yellowing, fading and oxidation. There is an old saying that our eyes are windows to our soul. In automotive parlance, those dirty, tired-looking headlights will rob your vehicle of that coveted “wow factor”, not to mention the safety concerns you face due to poor lighting. Fortunately, it is often possible to restore a headlight’s appearance with some effort and the right methods.

Do-it-yourself methods to reset clear plastic headlights

There are specific DIY solutions that we highly recommend when it comes to cleaning or restoring your car’s headlights, and you can make the most of them using everyday household items from your closet or garage. Of course, no one is stopping you from ordering commercially available headlight restoration kits online, but most will cost $ 20 to around $ 100. Plus, using those kits isn’t just a deal to clear (it takes time and elbow grease to get it right), and choosing which one to buy can be bewildering, for lack of a better term.

Here are three methods to consider to make your headlights look like new, starting from the basic solutions up to the most advanced ones. The choice of which to follow depends on the severity of the fogging or yellowing of the headlight lenses. Remember to work only if the headlights are cold to the touch. Avoid working on hot headlight lenses to avoid burns or inadvertent damage to the surface.

Clean the headlights with toothpaste

Plain white toothpaste contains mild abrasives for cleaning teeth. These abrasives are also excellent for removing hazy oxidation on plastic headlight lenses. The toothpaste method works well on slightly fogged or yellowish headlights. For this procedure, you need a tube of white toothpaste, a small microfiber towel, duct tape, and carnauba wax to seal the finish.

  1. Start with a clean surface. If the headlights are dirty, wash them with water and car shampoo. Do not rub anything on dirty headlight lenses to avoid scratches or damage.
  2. Take the masking tape and apply it to the edges of the headlight lenses to protect the vehicle’s paint. Remember that the toothpaste is slightly abrasive and may scratch the paint on the bumper or bumper.
  3. Take a microfiber towel or sponge and dip it in a bucket of water. Squeeze out the excess until moist. Fold the wet towel and apply a small amount of toothpaste to one side. Rub the toothpaste firmly on the headlight lens in a circular motion. The idea is to cover the lenses with toothpaste while scrubbing. You can use more toothpaste if needed.
  4. Rinse the headlight lenses with water and dry them with a separate towel. Repeat step 3 if the lenses are still foggy or yellowish. However, the headlights should be slightly lighter than before.
  5. It is necessary to apply a thin layer of carnauba wax on the lenses after rubbing them with toothpaste. The wax will help seal the finish and protect the lenses from UV exposure. Apply a thin layer of wax, let it dry until a haze is obtained and rub off the excess with a dry towel.

Restore fogged headlights with gloss paint

If you have a bottle of car polish, you can use it to get rid of the fog, haze and yellowing of your car’s headlights. Unlike wax, real polish contains mild abrasives to smooth the paint finish and eliminate minor scratches, swirls, slight oxidation and other imperfections.

  1. Clean the headlights with water and then mask the edges with masking tape.
  2. Take a slightly damp applicator pad or microfiber towel and apply a drop of nail polish the size of a coin to one side. Rub your headlight lenses vigorously with nail polish, focusing on areas with thicker haze or yellowing.
  3. Before the nail polish dries, take a separate dry towel and wipe off the excess. Flip the towel over and buff lightly to see results. You can repeat step 2 until the desired results are achieved.
  4. Don’t forget to apply a thin layer of carnauba wax after polishing the lenses to protect them from the elements and UV damage.

Make the headlights new using sandpaper

If the toothpaste and nail polish failed to restore the clarity of your car’s headlights as new, the sandpaper method would. You will need 1000 grit, 1500 grit, and 2500 grit sandpaper, some microfiber towels, a small bucket of water and some duct tape.

  1. Always start with clean headlights. Rinse with water or rinse with car shampoo to remove excess dirt and grime from the lenses. Apply masking tape to the edges to protect surrounding painted areas from scratches.
  2. Wet sanding is the way to go when working with plastic headlight lenses. Take a small piece of 1000 grit sandpaper and soak it in a bucket of water for five minutes. After letting it soak, use it to scrub the headlight lens in left-to-right motions. Avoid sanding with circular movements. Soak the sandpaper in water if it starts to dry out while sanding. Rinse with clean water after rubbing.
  3. Take a small piece of wet 1500-grit sandpaper and use it to scrub the headlight lenses in an up and down motion. Then rinse with clean water.
  4. The last part of sanding uses a wet piece of 2500-grit sandpaper. Wipe the lenses in left-to-right motions to minimize scratches and uneven surface. Rinse with clean water after rubbing.
  5. Apply polish to finish the lens surface. Clean the nail polish immediately after application with a dry microfiber towel.
  6. The final step is to apply carnauba wax. Unlike nail polish, let the wax dry to a haze before blotting the excess with a dry towel. Remove the protective tape, step back and give yourself a thumbs up!

Don’t be discouraged if the headlights are still fogged up after sanding. The damage may be too severe for a do-it-yourself restoration job in some cases. At this point, the best solution is to completely replace the headlights.

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