How to Clean Oxidized Cloudy Headlights with a Headlight Cleaner
Cloudy Headlights Happen.
Let’s face facts here: After several years, your headlights will become more and more cloudy and this causes them to become less bright. This is due to oxidation that occurs over time. Dimmer headlights don’t look as good and they can be a safety hazard. You don’t want to be blinding people with bright headlights, but you also need to be seen both during the day and at night. Cloudy headlights cause people to see your car later than normal, if they see it at all. This can cause accidents, injuries, and even death.
The answer isn’t to buy a new car every time your headlights become cloudy. That’s just expensive, inefficient, and ridiculous. However, you can provide your headlights with some regular cleaning and TLC (tender-loving-care) by following the steps in this lens. This will help keep your headlights bright and strong, and extend their life. If you have any questions or additional suggestions, throw them in the comments below.
What's in this article...
1st Method: Glass Cleaning Solution
I’m going to discuss several different methods of how to repair your oxidized headlights and all are very effective if done correctly. The first method involves using a glass cleaning method. The first thing that you need to do is see whether the damage is on the inside or outside of the lens. You also need to determine if the headlights have moisture inside the lens. If there is moisture, you will need to remove the lens, drain the moisture as well as dry and remaining moisture that remains. Otherwise, your lens may remain cloudy. This is how to clean headlights with household items.
If you discover that the damage is on the outside of the lens, you can use normal window cleaner to help to repair the damage on the outside of the lens. Watered down degreaser products may also be useful in this situation. This may not fix all of the damage, so keep reading to find out what to do if damage still remains.
You’ll most likely need to follow up the window cleaner with car or plastic polish that you can get at most stores. Make sure not to apply the polish in direct sunlight or get it onto any rubberized black car parts, otherwise you’ll be left with an ugly white finish on those parts that can be nearly impossible to remove. A rotary buffer can be used with the wax to help speed the process along. However, you’ll want to make sure you only buff the head light lens. Otherwise you’ll risk permanently damaging the paint on your car.
Once you’ve finished buffing the polish on the headlight lens, there is still one more step in the glass cleaning method before you are finished. To help prevent moisture from getting in, this step is essential. You’ll need to seal the lens with car wax or a silicone sealer. If you don’t do this, moisture may still get back in quicker and faster and you’ll end up repeating the entire process again.
2nd Method: Sandpaper and Masking Tape Method
This method is pretty cost efficient and can help keep your head lamps looking healthy and new. You’ll need some masking tape and sandpaper. Do not use duct tape as this can ruin your car’s paint job pretty quickly. The masking tape is put around the edges of the auto lighting to help protect your car and other automotive parts.
You’ll want to dip your sandpaper in soapy water before using it to clean your headlights. Dry sandpaper will cause more scratches requiring more buffing and work to get the scratches out, so this is a necessary step before using the sandpaper to thoroughly clean your auto lamps. Spray soap and water or a degreaser onto your lens and then wipe off with a rag.
Getting the oxidation out
This next step is pretty important in helping you to get rid of oxidation that has occurred within the lens of your auto lights. You’ll want to apply plastic polish to the entire lens now. Take 600-grit sandpaper and fold it in three around your sanding sponge. Dip the sandpaper sponge into your soapy water you got out earlier and then sand in a side to side motion. It’s important here that you don’t sand anything other than the headlight lens, or you’ll risk ruining your car or car accessories.
You’ll want to switch to a finer grit sandpaper now, first trying a 1200-grit sandpaper. After the 1200-grit, try 2000-grit, and then 25–grit until you remove all the scratches left by the heavier grit sandpapers (remember what I said at the beginning? Make sure to keep wetting the sandpaper when needed so you don’t keep on adding more and more scratches!). There’s one final step in this method to help ensure your headlights remain bright and shiny.
One Final Step
If using the Sandpaper Masking Tape method, there is one final step you need to take to ensure your important auto parts stay bright and shiny. You’ll want to reapply the plastic polish to your lens and let it haze over. After it hazes, you may wipe it clean with a clean shop towel. Clean the lens one more time with soap and water to make sure the plastic wax residue is no longer remaining on the lens.
Finally, you’ll want to seal the lens with silicone sealer. If you don’t do this, oxidation will continue to occur and you’ve done all of this hard work for nothing. After you’ve done this, take this one last step to ensure clean and bright automotive parts. Put a small amount of wax or polish onto a clean shop towel. Using a single stroke, go from left to right across the headlight from top until bottom until your car lights are bright and shiny again.
3rd Method: Toothpaste
If you thought the 2nd method was cost efficient, the toothpaste method is even more cost efficient. Most toothpastes contain an abrasive that helps repair damaged headlights. Whitening toothpastes are especially effective at repairing these autoparts. The toothpaste method is one of the quickest methods to repairing your headlights. It’s so quick that you may want to try this method first before using any of the other methods.
If this method doesn’t work, then you may want to move onto the other methods that take slightly longer.
The first thing you want to do is wash your lens with soap and water to remove any dirt and road film that can be removed by soap and water. The toothpaste will be used for buffing out the scratches not cleaning the dirt out, so the headlights will need to be clean before moving on. Take small dabs of toothpaste and place them onto a dampened soft cloth or shop towel. If you don’t dampen the towel, you may scratch the lens further. Rub the toothpaste in a circular motion in the areas where scratches are.
As you notice the headlights getting clearer, begin to increase the water-to-toothpaste ratio on the towel you are using (add more water, less toothpaste). Continue working in a circular method until the headlight lens is completely free of scratches. Do this for all of your headlight lens. It will take between 5 and 10 minutes for each lens. 10 minutes is actually pretty excessive and it will usually only take you this long if the headlight lens is severely scratched.
After the headlight lenses are completely clear, wash off the lenses and dry with a soft cloth. Don’t dry the lens off with more abrasive cloths or you’ll risk scratching the lens again. After you have ensured that the lenses are completely dry, place them back in their respective places on your car and then seal them with a wax or polish using the methods listed above. I cannot state enough how it important it is to seal the lenses! If you don’t take the time to seal, you’ll be back at drying out your lenses all over again in the next few days. Save yourself the time and trouble and remember to seal.
What about Headlight Repair Kits?
There are headlight repair kits that are sold commercially that claim to get your headlights cleaner than other methods. However, these repair kits are typically just souped up versions of the Sandpaper and Masking Tape method (Method 2) listed above. The kits cost anywhere from around $7.00 to over $20.00 and most just include specialized polish, masking tape or electrical tape, and sandpaper.
You can probably save yourself some money and heartache by trying the above methods first before moving on to the retail repair kits. You may find some pretty effective results. If you start out using the toothpaste method and it works, you’ve only spent the cost of the toothpaste and maybe a shop towel ($6-10 at the most, if you don’t use the toothpaste that I hope you already have at home). Some of the retail kits seem to just be another way to sell the company’s specific brand of wax or polish.
What’s this milky stuff?
So you’re sanding along and you begin to see milky white drippings leaking out from underneath the sandpaper. There’s no need to worry, this is completely normal. These milky white drippings are the goop from your headlights that is causing them to be dirty and cloudy. Your goal is to remove this milky white stuff as much as possible.
Keep sanding until the lens is completely smooth and clear. Once the lens becomes smoother and clearer, you’ll notice that there is less and less milky white stuff dripping from your sandpaper.
That’s your indication that your lens is becoming clean. Once there is no more milky white goop, check to ensure that your lens is free of scratches and then finish using one of the methods above.
This may sound silly, but this will actually save you from a pretty painful, irritating, and annoying skin rash or worse, a trip to the emergency room (not the mention the bill that goes along with that trip). When cleaning any of your auto parts, make sure you wear gloves, goggles, and old clothes. That wax and polish can ruin clothes, so make sure you’re not wearing any that you want to wear out in public (definitely don’t do this in your business suit).
Finally, you’ll want to try and do these repairs in the shade. Applying wax or polish in direct sunlight is never a good idea and can have pretty damaging results for your headlight lenses. You’ll also want to apply masking tape to the border areas of your lens while doing any of the methods. This helps prevent the sandpaper from scratching your other car parts and it will also prevent you from accidentally getting plastic polish onto your car. Good luck with your headlight repair.