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Here’s how you should be cleaning your car’s headlights

  • Car Wash
  • Natasha Young
  • 6 minutes

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Winter is around the corner! And as always, the most critical among the auto maintenance is clean headlights. Headlights are vital for your safety. They are necessary to lead you through foggy times and warn the people on the opposite side of your movements. If your headlights have begun to turn yellow or haze over, the oxidation process has already begun to take place. This can cause much damage when left unchecked. Don’t worry, cleaning your headlights is not a biggie when done right. Read this blog to get an idea of how to clean headlights and get your night vision as good as new in no time. 

Flashing car headlights amidst fog

Polycarbonate plastic is the most common material for headlight lenses. Though this tough plastic is ideal for withstanding the rigors of the road without cracking, it doesn’t fare well in direct sunlight. Manufacturers cover the lenses in a UV protective film for protecting them from harmful light radiations. However, UV rays degrade the film over time, causing the plastic to oxidize. 

Things you will need to clean your car’s headlights

  • Headlight restoration kit  
  • Whitening toothpaste 
  • Headlight lens sealer 
  • Sandpaper (400 to 3000 grit) 
  • Multi-surface painter’s tape 
  • Microfiber towels 
  • Hose or spray bottle 
  • Basic car wash upholstery 

Ensure you have everything you’ll need before you begin by gathering your supplies. A headlight restoration kit contains all the materials you’ll need and is the most convenient way to get started.  The products that come in those boxes can also be purchased separately, which is convenient for those who already have some of the components. Basically, you’ll need wet/dry sandpaper in a few different grits (typically 1000, 2000, and 3000 grit), polishing compound, paste wax, and a UV sealant. You’ll also need a roll of tape and some microfiber hand towels, so keep them handy.

Cleaning your car’s headlights  

Rinse and wash the headlights thoroughly 

To begin, thoroughly wash the headlight lenses in clean water and car soap. To make the tape adhere better during the next step, you may want to give the surrounding area a light wash. Pat the surfaces dry before tapping. 

Prep your headlights for sanding 

As soon as you start sanding, be sure to only sand the lenses and not any of the surrounding paint or trim. As for protection, cover the surfaces around the headlights with painter’s tape and isolate the headlight completely. There are chances that your hand slips and you accidentally sandpaper over the painter’s tape. This tapped surface will prevent the car’s paint from scratches.

Sanding the headlights

Whether you bought the kit or just the materials, the sanding process is the same. To begin, use the coarsest sandpaper you can find. Go back to the 1000-grit paper (lower numbers mean more abrasive). After wetting the sandpaper and the headlight, use a straight, horizontal motion to sand the lens clean.  

With the first one, sand in one direction only. Keep the surface damp while working to avoid scratching the lens due to the accumulation of grit particles. The quality of your results will be determined by how well you perform in this stage, so don’t be afraid to spend 5 to 10 minutes hunched over. 

Then use the less abrasive sandpapers, such as the 2000 and 3000 grit, to finish the job, making sure to clean the lens between each step. The only distinction between the two is the direction in which you sand. Because you sanded horizontally across the headlight with the first grit of sandpaper, you’ll want to do so diagonally for the second grit.  

Finally, use the opposite diagonal sanding motion from the last time. Take your time and make sure the paper and lens are kept wet at all times. Use a hose or spray bottle to get the job done quickly and easily. 

Waxing and polishing the surfaces

Use a microfiber towel to dry your headlights after wiping them clean with your polishing compound. For a few minutes, use circular motions to massage the polish into the skin.  

Using an orbital buffer will speed up the process, but only if you plan on using it again in the future. Don’t buy one just for this job. After you’ve restored the clarity of the lenses, it’s time to apply the wax. Wax the lens with a soft cloth, just as you would your car. 

Apply UV sealant to all exposed surfaces

After sanding off the old oxidized sealant from your headlights, you’ll need to reapply UV sealant. Your efforts will be in vain if you skip this step because the sealant is what prevents your lenses from becoming fogged up once more. 

After dampening a paper towel, apply the sealant in broad, sweeping strokes. The most important thing is to cover as much ground as possible, but be sure to follow the kit’s instructions carefully. Unless otherwise specified in the instructions, the general rule of thumb is to use only one layer of sealant.  While parking in a dry area, allow the sealant to cure. Regardless of which restoration kit you choose, following the instructions to the letter is the key to getting good results.   

If you’ve done all of the above but haven’t seen much of an improvement, it’s better to get help from professionals. Some lenses, on the other hand, maybe beyond repair and need a complete replacement. Our advice is not to take too much risk as this is a matter of your safety. If it’s too hard to handle and you couldn’t crack the code to get them squeaky clean, it’s always better to visit a car care facility that’s nearby. But are you scratching your head on how to find the right car wash facility for your car in your neighborhood? We recommend you to visit Way.com or download the Way app (available on iOS and Android). Now you can enjoy a safe and touch-free car wash experience with Way. Car wash at its best is just a scan away!


Read our blogs for information on the best airport parking and hourly parking spots near you and the most affordable insurance for your car.


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