How To Clean Car Headlights: Tips, Techniques, & More

wet car headlight

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How to clean car headlights is the question asked by virtually everyone with a vehicle. Headlights turn foggy and dirty, and it rinsing them off as you wash your car never seems to do the trick. It’s not a complicated job, but it is one that takes a little finesse. Car headlights are covered with plastic, and it tends to cloud over time. It’s due to the elements and other factors, and it’s a frequent cause of frustration to drive with cloudy headlight covers.

Polycarbonate plastic is a strong, durable material, and it’s why car manufacturers use it when they cover headlights. However, it’s plastic. It degrades over time, and it becomes cloudy as a result. It no longer responds to a simple car wash, but it’s not the end of the world. You can drastically improve the look of your headlights when you learn how to clean car headlights the correct way. These tips are designed to help you regain some of the shine your headlights once had.

What Products You Will Need

You don’t need much to clean your headlights, but it depends on whether you’re going for a deep clean or you need to clean a little of oxidation and cloudiness from the light cover. It’s always wise to keep the following materials on hand.

  • Toothpaste
  • Old toothbrush
  • Headlight cleaning kit (If you don’t want to buy a light cleaning kit, you do not need to. You can purchase everything in it on your own)
  • Painters or masking tape
  • Sandpaper (both abrasive and gentle)
  • Headlight cover polish
  • Wax
  • UV sealant
  • Microfiber cloth/orbital buffer

Tips And Hacks to Help You Learn How to Clean Car Headlights

Sometimes you don’t need a full cleaning to get your headlights to look brand-new again. Sometimes all you need is a light cleaning with a simple household product. Other times, you need a little advice on how to make the cleaning process more efficient. These tips and tricks will help you learn how to clean car headlights faster, more efficiently, and with greater success.

Toothpaste Trick


Sometimes your headlights need a very deep clean with a professional kit. Sometimes they need a little toothpaste. If your clouded lights aren’t too bad, you might choose this option as a more affordable method of cleaning your headlights. All you need is a tube of toothpaste. Be sure it’s paste and not gel.

Rub toothpaste all over your clean headlight cover with an old brush. As you rub, you will notice the gritty feeling from the oxidation. Keep rubbing toothpaste on the light cover until you notice the process is smoother with the brush. This means you’re making progress. Use warm water to clean the paste off the headlight and use a clean towel to remove the excess with the water. Your light covers should appear clearer and more attractive right away.

When Cleaning Doesn’t Work

Unfortunately, you might notice your cleaning methods aren’t working. If this is the case, you might have a problem with the inside of the headlight cover. Sometimes, a cover can become compromised with oxidation on the inside as well as the out. This is not as common as you might think, but it is grounds for replacement. Once the interior of the light fixture is compromised, replacing it is the easiest way to handle the situation. You can clean it yourself, but this is a process you’ll find yourself involved in more than you care to admit. Removing the light cover is a process, and it’s one you’ll repeat more than you imagine. It’s your choice, however.

Prevent Foggy Headlights

While it’s not possible to stop the oxidation process forever, it is possible to prolong the life of your clear headlights. Oxidation occurs when your lights are exposed to the bright sunshine and the harmful UV rays. You can prevent this from occurring as quickly by keeping your car parked in the garage, in the shade, or undercover any chance you have. If you have a parking garage at work, park in it to protect your car. If you have a garage, park in it. If you have a cover for your car to use when it’s parked outside for long periods of time, use the cover. It’s the simplest way to avoid the oxidation process.

Proper Cleaning Techniques

When headlights become cloudy, there is a name for it. It’s called the oxidation process. It turns the light covers an unappealing shade of yellow. It might seem there’s nothing you can do to wash that off, but you can prevent it from becoming worse by washing it off and stopping the process in its tracks.

Tape and Sand


How to clean car headlights depends on following the proper steps. The first step is to tape off the headlights so that there is no car visible on any side of each light cover. Do not skip this step because it is the most important step in the process. Failing to tape your car surrounding your headlights can result in scratched paint and expensive damage.

Once you tape the car around the lights, sand your headlight covers. It’s important you buy abrasive sandpaper and use it first. Be gentle and slow as you sand the light cover. This helps you get every inch of the light cover, and it helps you prevent your hand from slipping and hitting the tape or the car around it.The key to sanding your headlights is to wet the light cover and the sandpaper. Then, you’ll sand it in long, straight strokes. Do not use a circular motion when you sand. It’s imperative you do not allow the paper or the light to dry. If it’s dry, you will scratch it with the sandpaper, which is not the type of damage you can repair. Once you finish the initial sanding process, you want to use a less abrasive paper on the light covers in the opposite direction.

Polish and Wax

Polish and Wax

Once you’ve finished sanding the lights, you want to clean them off with water and a gentle towel to remove any loose debris. Now is when you use your polish. You can buy headlight polish at any automotive store, or you can find it in the headlight cleaning kit you purchased. You’re not required to purchase a headlight cleaning kit if you prefer to have the materials on hand by purchasing them, but the kit already has everything you need in it.

You can apply polish to the car with a clean microfiber cloth, or you can use an orbital buffer. If you do not have experience using one of these and you don’t plan on using it again in the future, don’t buy one or bother with it. A microfiber cloth is just fine for the job. It only takes a few minutes longer to use than the buffer does.

Now that you’re done with the polish, you wax your lights as you would the rest of the car. Wax helps clean the product as much as possible, and it prepares it for the final step in the headlight cleaning process.

UV Sealant

UV Sealant

This is the single most important step in this process. When you sand your headlight covers, you remove all the UV sealant that’s applied to them. This is important because it protects the lights from the sunlight. You wouldn’t leave your home without wearing a heavy coat of sunscreen if you planned on spending the entire day at the beach or in the pool, and your headlights need the same protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays. If you skip applying UV sealant to the headlight covers, you will notice the lights fog up right away.

The instructions in your UV sealant kit might vary from kit to kit, but the entire process is simple.  You wet a soft towel, apply the sealant, and you work slowly. Take your time to ensure you cover every inch of plastic. Missing even one spot will result in a cloudy appearance before you have time to enjoy your fresh new lights.

How to Clean Car Headlights the Right Way

How to Clean Car Headlights the Right Way

Your car headlights oxidize over time. This is not something you can avoid completely, but it’s preventable to an extent. Once you know how to clean car headlights the right way, how to prevent the oxidation process from speeding up, and how to protect your paint when cleaning your lights, you’re good to go. You do not need to live with this problem forever, and you should not. It’s dangerous to drive with cloudy headlight covers. 

Your lights are not as effective when the cover is foggy, and this poses a certain risk for you and others on the road with you. You must have lights that work to the full extent, and you must have lights that shine brightly. This is especially important in inclement weather and in the dark. If your lights are cloudy, clean them right away. It’s the safest way to drive.

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