How to fix scratched and foggy headlights…
Have you arrived here looking for advice about how to restore foggy, cloudy or scratched headlights? Look no further, because all you probably need to know is right here! Scroll down if you want to dive into what your options are to repair your headlights. If it’s products you’re looking for, we have a product review page. But if you’d like a bit more background, why not start here:
Why do I need to worry about my headlights?
For most vehicles these days the design of exterior lighting is an important factor in the overall appearance of the car. Engineers spent thousands of hours perfecting the appearance and performance of those headlights. They are just expected to work, and so long as we keep them clean, give them a wash and a wipe now and again, or use the inbuilt wash and wipe systems, that’s about as far as it goes for most of us owners.
If we bought a used car, no doubt we were careful to check the condition of the paintwork, the bodywork, the interior, the mechanicals. But how much time did we spend examining the headlights? Not much I’d be willing to bet.
And yet, when you think about, the performance of our car’s illumination system is absolutely critical for safe driving at night, which most of us do for a good proportion of our time behind the wheel.
Have you ever noticed how difficult it can be driving with dirty headlights? It’s stressful, and because dirt builds up slowly over time, you may not notice it at first, but eventually you find yourself straining to see what’s ahead. And the penny drops, and you realize the headlights need a clean.
Eventually cleaning isn’t enough!
After a while the cleaning doesn’t do as good a job as it used to – and the reason – here’s the shock news – modern headlights use materials that are more susceptible to permanent deterioration than their more ancient glass counterparts!
Sometimes progress comes with a downside – and here’s the downside for most of the headlights you’ll see on every street: modern plastic materials are less rugged than the glass materials they replaced.
Do you have yellow headlights? Foggy headlights? Then you’ll need an effective headlight restorer!
Here’s the reason. Modern headlights are usually made with polycarbonate materials which have the following characteristics:
- It is inherently are more susceptible to microscratches, scrapes and grazes than glass, which results in a dull surface tending to scatter light instead of allowing it to pass through as a clean beam
- That roughened surface means that bug and road tar residue sticks like glue, so it gets dirtier easier, and it’s harder to clean
- Its chemical composition is changed by the effect of ultraviolet light from the sun, resulting in yellowing and hazing.
Consider the implications of less than effective illumination at night. Quite apart from the fatigue it causes, those cloudy headlights are increasing your risk of an accident with serious implications for you, your passengers and others. It has been estimated that up to 90% of the headlight bulb\’s light energy is scattered and/or absorbed by badly fogged headlights, so it’s worth checking them from time to time.
So do I need to restore my headlights?
Well you certainly need to act. But don’t worry – in this blog we’ll look at lots of options, showing you:
- how to clean a headlight lens
- methods of lens polishing and headlight polishing that use materials you can find around the home
- headlight lens restorer kits and methods
- ways to slow down the deterioration so that yellow headlights and foggy headlights become a thing of the past
Let’s get started:
First of all – is there a correct way to clean a headlight lens? Surely there’s not much to it? Well, it’s surprising how easy it is to get this wrong, with bad consequences for the long-term clarity of your lenses.
You will need:
- Two soft sponges or microfiber cloths that have not been used for dirty work!
- A bucket of warm soapy water (use you favourite car shampoo if you wish)
- A bucket of warm CLEAN water
- Car wax, or a can of silicone furniture polish
- Kitchen gloves
- Ten minutes maximum
Here’s how to clean headlights the gentle way:
- Lightly wash the headlights with the sponge and soapy water, turning regularly. The idea is to avoid dragging grit across the surface of the lens, but to remove it. So don’t rub hard and use PLENTY of water.
- If you still have insect remains on the plastic, then you may need something more aggressive. There are proprietary materials in any car accessory store, but methylated spirits/rubbing alcohol or vinegar also work well.
- DO NOT USE OTHER SOLVENTS LIKE DRY CLEANING FLUID – YOU MAY IRREPARABLY DAMAGE THE PLASTIC, and YOUR KITCHEN GLOVES MAY NOT OFFER PROTECTION! Be very careful handling alcohol and be sure to wear your gloves. KEEP AWAY FROM NAKED FLAMES! This is not a good time to light up a cigarette!
- When the lens is clean, use another clean cloth or sponge dipped in the clean water to wash the soapy water off. Again, be gentle – don’t rub hard.
- Dry the lens with a paper towel taking care not to rub because some cheap paper can be quite abrasive with embedded wood particles.
- Use the car polish or furniture polish according to the instructions to get a really shiny finish. This last step isn’t mandatory, but you will find that the build up of dirt is reduced with a good quality polish meaning your lenses stay cleaner for longer, and are easier to clean when they eventually need it.
Having done all that, do you still need a headlight restorer?
If the answer is: my headlights are still misty or yellow, then you need to do some more work.
But it will be worth it, so hang on in there!
How to restore misty, crazed, yellow or fogged-up headlights – READ ON…
There are several options that we’ll deal with in turn, listed in order of cost:
- The easy option using materials around the home
- The headlight restoration kit option
- The replacement option
1) The easy low-cost option
Let’s look at what can be done with materials you can generally find around the home. Follow these instructions carefully and in most cases this is sufficient to restore clarity to your headlights.
For this, we reveal a SECRET magic ingredient that everyone has in their homes – and that special ingredient is TOOTHPASTE! Why? More than half the content of toothpaste is finely graded abrasives of various kinds. If you’re interested in this kind of thing, aluminum hydroxide, calcium carbonate (limescale) and silicon dioxide (silica) are the most common abrasives used in toothpaste.
It doesn’t matter too much which brand of toothpaste you use, but I would recommend you start with the gel type of toothpaste which has a high content of silica – a very effective abrasive.
You will need:
- Soft paper towels or cloths
- Car wax or silicone furniture polish
- 15 minutes
- Start by cleaning the car – just the front end is OK if you’re short of time, but make sure your headlight lenses are clean
- Take a small amount of toothpaste on a damp soft cloth or towel and apply to the lens rubbing in a circular motion all over the affected part of the headlight. Don’t forget the edges if they are also scratched –we’re aiming for a showroom finish.
- Recharge the cloth or towel regularly. You need enough paste on the cloth and enough pressure to run out the scratches, so don’t be too gentle at the beginning.
- As you continue you’ll notice the plastic starts to get clearer. Now is the time to apply more water and gradually increase the ratio of water to toothpaste. For a typical headlight you need to spend 3 – 5 minutes for a good quality lens restoration.
- When you think it’s as good as it’s going to get, stop, wash off with clean water and dry with a paper towel
- Apply wax or polish as described in the section above about cleaning the headlight.
Congratulations! You are now an experienced headlight restorer!
Now it may be that this wasn’t as successful as you’d hoped for. If the lens is badly damaged or yellowed, it’s unlikely that toothpaste is up to the job, but it may have improved matters. If this is the case, then you should consider the next option; using a headlight restoration kit
2) Headlight restoration kits
There are several types available from different manufacturers. There are some kits from reputable manufacturer and available from Amazon that do a good job. See the product reviews page for more information
More comprehensive kits
Although the kits differ in complexity and number of steps, they all involve a process of rubbing out the scratches with an abrasive material, usually in stages of decreasing grit size, followed by polishing and sealing. So expect to find a range of abrasive papers and polish materials. Some headlight restoration kits have an attachment for use with a cordless drill that makes the rubbing process a lot easier. However, you have to careful because in the hands of the unwary it is possible to make matters much worse!
The#ere are some more professional kits that are more expensive but also offer the prospect of putting you in the Headlight Restorer business so you fix your friends’ and family’s headlights as well as your own, if that’s what you want to do.
You don’t have to buy a kit to try these more complicated techniques though.
Here’s how to restore your headlights in a professional way.
You will need:
- Abrasive “wet-and-dry” papers grit sizes 1200, 2000 and 2500
- Paint rubbing compound
- A firm sponge or rubber block for wrapping the wet-and-dry around
- Paper towels
- Clean polishing cloths
- Car wax polish or silicone furniture polish
ONLY ATTEMPT THIS IF YOU HAVE THE CORRECT PAPER GRIT SIZES – DON’T BE TEMPTED TO “MAKE DO” WITH WHATEVER YOU FIND ON THE GARAGE SHELF!
The simple way to do this is by hand, but for the more experienced, you could try affixing the grit paper to a rotary tool like a rubber sanding disk drill attachment. As with all electric tools, exercise care around water and solvents!
Make sure the headlight lens is clean
- Apply a small dab of the rubbing compound to the lens, and starting with the largest grit size (1200) wrapped around the sponge, apply lots of water and rub the whole of the plastic surface gently in circular strokes for around two minutes. BE CAREFUL TO AVOID THE PAINT SURFACES! (It’s best to mask off the paint if there’s a danger of accidentally rubbing it.)
- Wipe off and dry the surface with the paper towel. Rinse with water.
- Rinse the sponge and move to the next grade of paper (2000 grit), and repeat steps 2 and 3 applying a little more pressure to the surface.
- Rinse the sponge and move to the finest grade of paper (2500 grit). Repeat steps 2 and 3 but this time gradually reduce the rubbing pressure and spend a minute or two longer, with more water. This is the final stage and the lens should be looking very clear now. If not, start again but spend longer on each step.
- Dry the surface of the now polished lens and apply car wax or furniture polish, buffing up the surface to a crystal clear shine.
3) Headlight replacement
If you’ve got to this point having tried the other ideas, then I’m afraid there’s not much for it but to swallow and buy replacement parts. But even then, it’s not all bad news: you should be able to pick up good quality used parts on eBay or a local used car parts dealer, so paying top dollar isn’t usually necessary.
So there you have it – the whys and hows of faded, jaded, scratched and yellowed headlights and several easy and cheap ways of fixing them and becoming an Ace Headlight Restorer!