How To Polish Hazy Plastic Car Headlights With Low Price Products?

How To Polish Hazy Plastic Car Headlights

Crystal clear headlights make your auto look good and drive safely so you have to polish hazy plastic car headlights.

 

Clear headlights are critical to driving safely in low light conditions and at night. In fact, it is illegal to drive a car without properly functioning headlights. Vehicle headlights typically tend to age and wear faster than several other parts of a car.

 

Gone are the days when headlights were made from high-quality glass. These days almost all types of vehicles come with headlights, taillights, and turn-indicator lights made of injected molded Polycarbonate Plastic coated with an ultraviolet (UV) light and scratch-resistant coating.

 

By resisting the UV light coming from the sun, this coating slows down the natural yellowing process that clear polycarbonate plastic has to go through. There is an important aspect to note here. This is that the yellowing process in polycarbonate plastic cannot be stopped, it can only be slowed down.

 

Another downside of polycarbonate when you compare it with glass is its low scratch resistance. It wears down with time due to exposure to the sun and harmful road film and abrasive debris. In about five years after being installed, the polycarbonate used to make headlight covers wears down and develops a dull, hazy look. 

 

So why on earth is it being used! You are right in asking that question. Well, the answer will make you realize that automobile engineers have probably thought through this choice of material before making it an industry-wide norm.

 

Polycarbonate is lightweight, flexible, completely transparent, costs lower than glass to manufacture, can be molded to any shape, is 250 times more resistant to impact than glass, can take temperatures up to 240 degrees Fahrenheit without deformation and finally it’s also fire resistant. What more could you ask for?

 

Vehicle manufacturers use a special mix of polymers and chemicals to coat the polycarbonate coverings used in automobile lights, in order to bridge the performance gaps and increase their useful life.

 

This coating is made from different blends of acrylic, urethane, and special UV inhibitors. But unfortunately, a thin coating is, after all, just a coating. The heat from outside during the day and from inside the lamp at night time constantly degrades the coating.

 

The coating is also subjected to harmful UV light from the sun, along with constant friction and abrasion from the wind, carrying sand, dust, and debris as a vehicle is driven about. They start becoming hazy and pale after about 6 years of use give or take a few, depending on the environmental conditions in which it has been driven.

 

Headlights can be quite expensive to replace. With prices beginning at about $400, averaging around $600, they can go up to $2000 or more for a pair. Remember you might be able to get cheaper replacement headlights, but you get what you pay for.

 

Now you might be able to get cheaper replacement headlights, but be mindful of the fact that you’ll get what you pay for. If you are wondering how much does it cost to clean foggy headlights the answer is that even the cheapest detailing facility may charge you upwards of $100 for the most basic service.

 

No wonder that most automobile owners would prefer to keep them in good working condition for as long as possible. The questions that keep bothering them are, how do you remove haze from headlights and how to clean plastic headlight lens without spending a whole lot of money.

 

Let’s look at some of the ways you too can avoid costly replacements, maintaining your vehicle’s good looks and keeping it as valuable as the day you bought it.

Plastic Car Headlights

Headlights can be quite expensive to replace. With prices beginning at about $400, averaging around $600, they can go up to $2000 or more for a pair. Remember you might be able to get cheaper replacement headlights, but you get what you pay for.

 

Now you might be able to get cheaper replacement headlights, but be mindful of the fact that you’ll get what you pay for. If you are wondering how much does it cost to clean foggy headlights the answer is that even the cheapest detailing facility may charge you upwards of $100 for the most basic service.

 

No wonder that most automobile owners would prefer to keep them in good working condition for as long as possible. The questions that keep bothering them are, how do you remove haze from headlights and how to clean plastic headlight lens without spending a whole lot of money.

 

Let’s look at some of the ways you too can avoid costly replacements, maintaining your vehicle’s good looks and keeping it as valuable as the day you bought it.

Cheap methods of cleaning and fixing cloudy, oxidized headlights

The car care industry is well aware of the needs of vehicle owners. They know that cloudy headlights are not just unsightly but also unsafe, as they contribute to extremely dangerous conditions on the road. 

 

In response to the demand for effective products to restore and maintain plastic headlight lenses, they have introduced a number of specialty products and complete DIY kits to help drivers clean, polish, and protect light fixtures on their automobiles.

 

But these solutions can be a little expensive and are mostly preferred by car care enthusiasts who love spending on their vehicles. While I will touch upon a few of these plastic care products and headlight cleaning kits later, for now, let’s just focus on learning how to clean plastic headlights with household items.

oxidized headlights

How to clean and polish hazy plastic car headlights with toothpaste?

As I explained earlier, headlights are coated with a protective coating of special polymers and UV inhibitors. Toothpaste, in particular, the white one contains very fine abrasives meant to clean and polish teeth.

 

For the complete amateur wanting to restore clarity on hazy headlights, toothpaste provides a handy and easy way to improve the condition of headlights. If baking soda is present in the toothpaste it is even better, otherwise, it may be added separately to improve the scrubbing and cleaning effect of toothpaste.

 

For this method, you would need a mild dishwashing liquid detergent, a few pieces of clean microfiber cloth, a decent supply of clean water, and of course a non-gel toothpaste with baking soda.

 

STEP 1: Isolate your car headlights

It is necessary to get in the habit of isolating any area which may get damaged from chemicals and equipment used to treat a particular part of a vehicle.

 

STEP 2: Clean the headlight

Make a mixture of dishwashing liquid and water and apply it to the surface of the headlight with a piece of foam. Rub the entire surface of the headlight with this solution. Wait for a minute or two for the solution to dissolve and dislodge any dirt or road film deposited on the headlight lens.

Now proceed to wash with water. Repeat this process at least twice to make sure that the surface is squeaky clean. Then wipe to dry the headlight with a fresh microfiber cloth.

 

STEP 3: Applying baking soda and toothpaste

Apply a generous amount of baking soda and toothpaste to the headlight and use either a damp microfiber or sponge to rub in the homemade polishing compound. Now begins the time where you may need to put in a lot of elbow grease.

Keep taking breaks to rest and then applying more water and toothpaste if required until you see an improvement in the hazy condition of the headlight.

 

STEP 4: Clean and wash the surface of the headlight

As is standard practice, wash off the remaining toothpaste on the headlight and use a microfiber cloth to dry it. After this, some people recommend using iso-propyl-alcohol to thoroughly clean the part.

 

I would recommend against that. If you have used an adequate amount of water and a clean microfiber cloth afterward; it is not necessary to subject the already weakened coating on the headlight to volatile solvent chemicals that might potentially dissolve it.

 

Good… that’s one headlight done. Now repeat steps 1 to 4 for all other car lights you want to work on! It’s going to take a while but in the end, you will see a little bit of improvement. If you want to make the most out of toothpaste therapy you might also want to use a rotary power tool to improve results. 

 

I hope that now you know how to polish headlights with toothpaste. This method may be the cheapest and fastest way to restore headlights. But, the results are not as good and long-lasting as those from other methods that rely on better materials and tools. As a final tip, you can use a plastic bonding sealer to wipe or spray over the headlights to further improve the results.

clean headlights with WD40

How to clean headlights with WD40?

WD-40 is an extremely light oily liquid used to dissolve rust and prevent it from forming again. It comes in an aerosol can and attaches itself to any surface in the form of a thin oily film. It needs to be applied regularly to maintain a thin protective film.

 

So how can an oily WD-40 film clean headlights? Well to put it bluntly it really does not. So why does a cloudy headlight seem to clear up when some WD-40 is sprayed on it? The answer to that lies in the microscopic pores and imperfections that result from oxidation of the headlight coating.

 

The clear oil fills the surface imperfection and pores when it is sprayed onto a paper towel which is then rubbed on the surface of the headlight.

For sure you will notice that the dull haze on your headlights has vanished. It’s a miracle! You thought it would be so expensive and time-consuming to restore your headlights, but with WD-40 they turned out bright and clear in less than a minute. So much for all those expensive kits and advanced polishing kits. Right?… 

 

Wrong!

Let me explain why. First of all, you need to understand that WD-40 is petroleum-based and it coats anything it is applied to. It also dissolves dirt, debris, and oxidation that you see on the paper towel as it comes off the surface. But is it supposed to stick and stay? No… not really.

 

The moment you go for a car wash the film of oil is going to come right off, leaving behind not the same old haze but perhaps a little bit more now. This is because WD-40 worked like magic to fill the gaps and pores on the headlight and it also dissolved and cleared the surface of some of the stubborn dirt and debris embedded in the UV coating.

 

On washing with any detergent, it comes right off and we are back to where we started from. You will have to keep using it again and again. Repeated use of WD-40 might be risky for your vehicle’s paintwork and damage other plastic parts like trims etc.

 

It may also make your headlight brittle. It is also important to understand that when you drive around with a sticky coating of oil anywhere on the body of your car it will capture a lot more dust, sand, and debris which may further damage those parts.   

 

Will bug spray or insect repellent (DEET) help in repairing hazy headlights?

Lots of people have tried to use bug spray or insect repellents containing DEET to restore headlights. But almost everyone who has agrees that this is a bad idea. Bug spray and insect repellents contain chemicals that react with the coating and polycarbonate plastic and dissolve it.

It makes the headlights sticky and the improvement in clarity is only temporary. So don’t opt for this solution. You will regret it sooner or later.

 

How to clean car headlights with a vinegar-based home remedy?

Vinegar is light acid. Acetic acid to be exact. If you have mineral deposits and grime on your headlights which are making them hazy and dull then rubbing vinegar might help to some extent.

 

But I certainly wouldn’t call it an amazing outcome. People also recommend adding Baking Soda to vinegar to improve the cleaning effect. Baking soda reacts with acetic acid to form a soluble salt and release carbon dioxide, which you will observe in the form of bubbles.

 

A saltwater solution is only good to superficially clean the headlight and not much more. It is the unreacted baking soda that comes into play as a fine polishing agent. So now that you know that vinegar can’t do much in terms of improving headlight, let’s talk about another (often touted) solution which relies on Borax powder.

 

In fact, it is again a mixture of vinegar and borax that’s recommended by home DIY automotive detailers. Borax is a slightly more abrasive substance than baking soda. So if you are willing to put in a considerable amount of elbow grease you may as well end up seeing some improvement in the haziness of the headlights.

 

Again using a power tool with a 3” felt pad would help in hurrying things along. Otherwise, be prepared to be in A LOT OF TIME to get the desired result.

clean car headlights with a vinegar based home remedy

Headlights Restoring vs. Replacing Debate

If your vehicle is more than five years old, it’s very likely your headlight lenses have suffered from the sun as well as sand and dust suspended in the air blasting away at their surface.

Polish hazy plastic car headlights

As a result, they must have discolored or become dull, hazy, and cloudy with lots of scratch or swirl marks. This must-have reduced the brightness of your headlights. The ill-effects of headlight going dull are more obvious at night on a dark road. This can pose a risk to your safety as well as that of others, including pedestrians. 

 

Restoring your headlights yourself using proper materials may cost you between $50 to $100 while buying a new (genuine) headlight is definitely above $150 per piece.

 

If you are on the market looking for a headlight polish or a complete DIY headlight restoration kit it would be good if you develop a sound understanding of what materials, equipment, and techniques are used at professional auto detailing services.

 

Whether you drive a car, wagon, SUV, truck, or RV, by following our blog you will be able to make an informed decision that fits your budget, suits your current experience and confidence level.

How do you polish plastic headlight lenses?

Headlight lenses can be polished by first sanding out the scratches. All you need is a couple of grades of sandpaper, a rubbing compound treatment and finally polishing material.

 

They don’t cost an arm a leg and sometimes come in very convenient kits, in just the right amount that you would need without wasting material. If you are a fan of DIY projects you may already have a rotary tool like a hand drill.

 

Then you can speed up the headlight restoration process while reducing the effort you would have to put into it.

 

Should I use headlights restoration kits or go for separate tools & materials?

headlights restoration kits

 

 

If you are a diehard DIY geek like me you could buy everything you need separately. Your shopping list would include sandpaper of varying grit sizes from 800 to 3000 grit. You will have to dish out about $20 to get a decent set of sandpapers.

 

Additionally, you will invest in a felt based pre-polishing wheel and a handheld foam or wool buffing material.  A polishing wheel is about $15, and a small container polish starts at $5. So, if you were to buy separate materials your total headlight restoration cost would be just under $50.

 

On the other hand, if you were to go for a good quality DIY headlight restoration kit you will get everything you need to get going, except for a power tool. You have the option of choosing kits that are meant to be used without the use of any rotary equipment.

 

With a kit, you will not have to waste money on buying any extra material, which might be the case if you were buying stuff individually. For between $30 to $40 you can get a very good quality kit produced by top brands and recommended by experts.

 

It can take about an hour to restore one headlight if you choose to work without a power tool. With a dual-action rotary tool or even a simple hand drill with an M14 attachment, you can easily reduce that time by more than half. 

 

Now the choice is yours. Would you want to factor in the cost of a tool or can you borrow one from someone? It really is a trade-off between the value of your time and effort and the cost of purchasing a rotary power tool.

 

Think about it… Can you use the power tool elsewhere too? Does your budget allow you to go for it? Or would you rather choose to spend the extra time and do this by hand. The results are going to be satisfactory either way if you follow the instructions properly.

 

It’s a process really, that’s been tried and tested for a long time and relied upon by the most experienced car care experts and automobile enthusiasts.

 

How to use proper materials and tools

The steps listed here are basically for those of you who choose to buy all the material separately instead of a pre-packaged headlight polishing kit. As I have mentioned earlier, kits come with detailed step-wise instructions that must be followed to ensure the best headlight restoration results.

restore headlight lenses
STEP 1: Clean your vehicle especially your worksite

When working on restoring headlights or for that matter any part of your vehicle it is critical to make sure everything is super clean. In this case, pay special attention to the lights you intend to restore and the area around those lights.

 

Use a car washing detergent if it’s available with you. Otherwise, you can use a mixture of dishwashing soap and water on the lights. Use a microfiber cloth to wipe and clean all surfaces where you will be working.

 

STEP 2: Isolate the work area

In this step, you will use masking tape to cover the area bordering your light fixture, for example, all around the headlight. Use a double layer of masking tape to make sure you won’t miss the paint on your vehicle while sanding the headlight.

 

STEP 3: Make sure everything is wet

Water is used as a lubricant in headlight polishing. Use a spray bottle filled with water to keep up the moisture. Soak the sandpaper in water to make sure it is damp when you use it on the polycarbonate lens.

 

STEP 4: Start grinding

You will start with at least 1000 grit sandpaper which is damp. Choose whether you would like to move in a left-right stroke or an up downstroke. Once you have decided, stick with that and start sanding the headlight lens.

 

The lens will develop a uniformly opaque dull whitish color. This means that you have worked your way through the acrylic/urethane UV resistant coating. The yellow tint should not be visible anymore at this time.

 

Now move on to the 2000 grit paper. Again this should be damp. Move in the direction opposite to the one you chose earlier. That is if you chose to go from left to right you will now go up and down and vice versa. You will follow this regime each time you use a sandpaper grit. This regime is called the cross-hatch pattern.

 

The wet 2000 grit sandpaper would finally and hopefully bring out the polycarbonate layer and now it should be really white. Now change direction once again and start using damp 3000 grit sandpaper.

 

The headlamp and inner reflective material will now just begin to peek through from behind the polycarbonate lens shell as the headlight starts to clean up. Once you are sure that you have made a complete pass over the entire surface of the headlight.

 

It is time to stop and proceed to the next step.

 

STEP 5: The polishing stage

In this step, you will first use a rubbing compound. If you are proceeding by hand you can use a handheld microfiber applicator. This time you will go in a gentle overlapping circular motion.

 

Once your headlight is clear you can switch to the polishing compound. Apply it on a piece of foam and start polishing. You know you have been successful when the lens becomes absolutely clear and the aluminum reflective coating surrounding the headlamp starts to shine through.

 

A word of caution here – Should you choose to polish with a power tool make sure that you don’t hold it at any one location. Prolonged exposure of the polycarbonate shell to the heat generated from a foam pad as it applies a polishing compound at high RPM may introduce heat stress, wear deformities, or even burn the plastic.

 

Water is essential all the time you are polishing with a power tool, to lubricate and keep the surface of the headlight cool. 

 

When you are finished, wash again with a light mixture of water and soap. You can also use a fresh piece of cleaning clay (optional) to remove any leftover debris from the polishing. There! Now you’re done with the polishing stage and your headlights are restored to their full glory!

 

STEP 6: Protection for the future

At this stage, you can choose to do either one of two things. The first solution is very quick and low cost but needs to be repeated at least once every year if not twice or thrice.

 

You can spray on a ceramic or acrylic clear coat UV absorbing spray. The other solution is a bit complicated, relatively expensive, and may require a heating gun (although a powerful hairdryer might do just as well) and clear adhesive headlight protection film.

 

This one can last for longer than three years.

 

Conclusion

This sums up our guide on how to restore and protect the headlights of your vehicle in the most cost-efficient and effective manner. If the cost of restoring seems too high to you, just think about the cost of replacement or worse still the costs of recovering from an unfortunate accident that may happen because of poor lighting and misjudgment.

 

Remember prevention is better than a cure and it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Drive Safely!

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