August 9th, 2020 by Fix Auto USA
Over time, due to various factors, headlights can become dirty or foggy. Just like an old photo, they may even start to turn yellow. Driving around with foggy headlights is never safe, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need new headlights neither. In fact, with the right cleaning and restoration product, which you can buy or create yourself, you can make your foggy headlights look almost brand new for a small investment.
Why do headlights get that fogged-over look to begin with? Rain or water from a car wash is enough to cause the headlight to fog up when the water vapor condenses. The problem could also be a damaged headlight assembly or seal. If it’s cracked, water vapor can condense and seep into the headlight, creating that foggy appearance and potentially leading to an electrical malfunction. Other factors contributing to foggy headlights include bug and road debris, environmental toxins, and exposure to the elements, especially UV rays from the sun, which can cause a yellowing effect on plastic headlights.
How to clean car lights
Before you spend hundreds of dollars replacing your headlights, you should first consider cleaning and restoring them. Most drivers don’t know how to clean car lights the right way; learning how to fix foggy headlights is a great weekend project for do-it-yourselfers. Essentially the damaged coating needs to be removed, and a new protective coating added.
You have two options: buy one of the do-it-yourself restoration kits at an auto parts store (several companies like 3M, Turtle Wax, and Sylvania make reputable headlight restoration kits) or use common household items like toothpaste to clean them. We’ll take a look at both methods in this post.
Restoration kits can vary in price, depending on what’s in the kit. All kits come with an abrasive compound and sandpaper to remove the outer layer of yellowed, oxidized plastic from the headlight and clear the lens. Others include a buffing wheel that can be attached to a drill for the final polishing step. Pick a restoration kit that includes different grades of sandpaper, a polish or cleaner that works on plastic, a protective coating, and polishing cloths. One kit should be enough to clean both headlights. Don’t try to wing it. Make sure you read and follow the manufacturer’s steps and instructions.
How to fix foggy headlights
Keep in mind that it will take some serious scrubbing on your part, so plan to spend anywhere from 10 minutes on the low end to up to a half-hour per headlight if it’s really grimy and foggy.
Use the sandpaper included in the kit to scuff away the outer layer of haze. Keep sanding until the entire headlight is clear of any yellowing and has a rough, dull surface. When you’re sanding your foggy headlights, make sure not to scratch the car paint. Also, it’s important to keep the headlight wet while sanding, whether you hose it down or simply use a water bucket.
If your headlights are still looking foggy after your hard work, don’t fret, because that’s normal; once you apply the protective coating, they will look clean and clear.
If your kit does not include a UV protectant product, you can easily get it at the auto parts store. Before you apply the UV protective sealant, use a soft cloth to dry the headlight and place tape around the headlights. That way you don’t accidentally damage your car’s paint while sanding. Don’t apply the sealant until it’s thoroughly dry. Then, to protect the sealant while it’s drying, put your car in your garage, if you have one, overnight. After completing the sealant step, your headlights should look like new.
If you live in a warm climate, you will want to reapply the protectant roughly every three years, while if you live in a colder or wetter climate, you might need to do it every year or two. Refer to the kit for the manufacturer’s recommended schedule.
Another option that will save you money is cleaning your headlights with household products like toothpaste.
How to fix foggy headlights with toothpaste
You can attempt to clean and restore your headlights with toothpaste. Toothpaste containing baking soda is especially effective.
Begin by cleaning your headlights with Windex or a combination of soap and water. Then, using a gentle cloth, apply a small amount of toothpaste to the still-wet headlight, and scrub it until you’ve removed the protective coating; once you do, apply a sealant. Toothpaste can be an effective abrasive for cleaning headlights that are moderately dirty or foggy.
Now that you know how to fix foggy headlights, take that knowledge and restore your foggy headlights.
This blog post was contributed by Fix Auto Sacramento, a leading industry expert and collision repair shop servicing Sacramento County.