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How to Clean Foggy Headlights

Posted by Auto.com Staff | Jan 3, 2019

Over time, the surface of a car’s headlight lens can start to get hazy. The discoloration is best described as being foggy, and it can drastically reduce the effectiveness of the headlights during nighttime driving. You may have noticed that, no matter how much you clean them, they always look cloudy. Before you spend the money on replacement headlights, you may want to try some do-it-yourself remedies first.

The foggy look is caused by ultraviolet (UV) light breaking down the surface material of the plastic headlight lens. So, refurbishing your headlights is really a matter of buffing that deteriorated layer down to unaffected material. There are a few ways of cleaning them that will remove or reduce the cloudy lens appearance.

Before trying any method of refurbishing headlights, the first thing you will want to do is clean the headlights and the surrounding trim. Washing the area will remove any excess dirt and debris, and will help to protect any painted surfaces around the headlights. Next, you will want to mask off the area surrounding the headlights. Blue painter’s tape or special automotive body tape will work for this. Taping off the area will prevent any of the abrasive compound from damaging the car’s paint.

One common DIY method of headlight restoration is using toothpaste. Because it contains a mildly abrasive compound, toothpaste works by gently evening out the headlight surface. Polishing the headlight this way is like a gentle sanding and works well on a lens with light to moderate clouding. Another common homemade remedy for cleaning foggy headlights is baking soda. Like the toothpaste, you apply it with a small brush in a circular motion. Make sure not to rub any of the compound onto the paint of the car as it could result in scratches.

Another option is to buy a headlight cleaner and restoration kit from your local automotive supply store. These products tend to include most, if not all, of the material you will need, as well as detailed instructions. They usually include a liquid compound, but may also use sandpaper or another abrasive to help clean the lens. Be sure to read and follow the instructions carefully. Once you have wiped off the excess material, remove the tape then wash and dry the area with a soft cloth. 

Because that foggy headlight look is caused by damage from the sun, you can prevent further damage by reducing the amount of time your car spends parked outside. This will reduce the rate of any further damage from occurring. Once you take the time to restore your foggy headlights, you will want to preserve them as long as possible. If your kit did not include it, you should be able to purchase an aftermarket UV protection material that you can apply to prolong the life of your newly-polished (and clean) headlights.

If you deem the headlights too damaged, or decide to just replace them, you might consider trying to source a glass replacement headlight. Glass will not break down in UV the way plastic does, so it will not get that foggy appearance with time.