Ways to Restore Your Old Car Headlights

by RobertKeith

Many car owners have struggled with the same problem: foggy car headlights. This happens when the sun’s ultraviolet light negatively affects the plastic of the lens.

Many people find this unsightly and it is definitely something to take care of if you are planning to sell your car. In extreme circumstances, it could even obscure your vision at night, creating a dangerous situation.

As long as the problem is on the outside of the lens, this can be fixed. Moisture on the inside of the headlight has a different cause and may require replacing the lamp.

Fortunately, restoring a foggy headlight is usually possible. And while you can take the car into a shop to have it done, this is something that can readily be done at home by the car owner. There are a number of methods to tackle this problem, some better than others.

Home remedies

Go online and you may see all sorts of for at-home solutions for restoring foggy headlights. But two stand out, using a paste mixture of baking soda or toothpaste. Both methods involve similar steps. 

Steps to clean headlights with paste 
1. Clean the headlight with soap and water. 
2. Dry the headlight. 
3. Scrub the headlight with the paste. 
4. Rinse 
5. Dry 

Car Headlight
Car Headlight

Another home remedy involves bug spray. Apply the bug spray liberally to a cloth, then wipe it on in small and circular motions until your headlights are clean. 

A less effective method is simply scrubbing with soap and water. This might well clean the dirt from the lamp but will do little to erase the damage from the sun. 

These are cheap and easy fixes and you can definitely get your headlights clean with most of these methods. It has one serious drawback. The effect is likely temporary. 


Several headlight restoration kits are available. These kits all work in a similar fashion. Progressively fine grits of sandpaper are used to remove the pits and scars accumulated by wear and tear and the harmful UV rays from the sun. Once that is completed, the kit comes with a polishing compound. 

Many of these kits follow up with a sealant. This step is vital. Without the sealant, this method is probably temporary, like the paste methods above. 

Combination method

With a combination of inexpensive materials often found around the house and the effectiveness of using a store-bought kit, this might well be your best bet. 

Here’s what you will need: 
• Three different fine grits of sandpaper 
• Masking tape and paper 
• Spray bottle 
• Rubbing Alcohol 
• Clear coat spray 

If you can easily remove your headlights, it will make the process much easier. If that is an involved and difficult process, leave them in place. 

Before sanding, tape off the headlight. You don’t want to sand the trim and you definitely don’t want to sand on the paint. Later on, you will be covering even more of the paint job with paper but for the sanding process, taping it off will suffice. 

The next step is sanding. The amount of damage done to your headlights should determine how fine a grit you should begin with. Typically, you might start with somewhere around 800-1,000 grit. 

This is a wet-sanding process, so fill your spray bottle with water then spray both the headlight and sandpaper before sanding. Follow up with more water as needed. Sand is small circles and you should begin to see discoloration on the paper and an opaque color on your headlight. This is a sign the oxidation is being removed. 

After the initial sanding using a circular motion, follow up with a side-to-side sanding before switching to a finer grit. Remember to keep the surface and paper wet. 

Repeat the process with the second-finest grit, except this time sand vertically. Clean the headlight to remove any tiny pieces of plastic dislodged by the sanding you have done thus far. Then proceed with the finest grit. The finest grit will create really fine scratches in the surface that are almost imperceptible. 

Use the rubbing alcohol to clean the lens and prepare it for the clear coat. A rubbing polish could be used for this step instead of the alcohol. Cover the paint of the front of your car with paper and masking tape. 

Spray the clear coat in a light spray with a smooth side-to-side motion. Wait several minutes for it to dry and then apply another coat. Repeat until you get a nice, shiny headlight. The next day, a wax finish might be a good idea to further protect your work.

Updated: 05/30/2018, RobertKeith
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