How to clean headlights

On the Road 3 min read

Keeping your headlights sparkling like new isn’t just about aesthetics. If your headlights are foggy, they can’t do their job. According to research from AAA, foggy headlights may generate only 20% of the light that clean headlights do, leading to poor visibility at night, in the rain, or when there’s fog. Washing your car regularly can help keep them clean. But over time, UV light, debris, and chemicals accumulate on the top layer of some headlights, causing oxidation and making them foggy.

If you’re driving a late-model vehicle, you won’t have to worry about foggy headlights. According to Jonathan Ganther, co-founder of Brakes to Go, a mobile brake repair company in Texas, auto manufacturers have changed the materials they use to make them. However, if you’re driving a vehicle that is more than a few years old, you may still get a hazing effect and changing your headlights won’t help. Fortunately, there are ways to clean your headlights at home with vinegar and even toothpaste. Learn more about how to change headlights.

How to clean your headlights with a restoration kit

Ganther recommends using a headlight restoration kit to get the best results. You can purchase a couple of different kits, and it’s essential to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. When you use a restoration kit, he says, “You’re actually sanding that layer of plastic that’s oxidized away.” While each kit may be slightly different, here are the basic steps to follow.

  1. Wash the headlights with soap and water to remove debris but don’t dry them.
  2. Sand your headlights with the roughest piece of sandpaper from the kit.
  3. Next use the next coarsest piece of sandpaper, and do the same thing.
  4. Continue the process until you have used each piece of sandpaper in the kit, working from most to least abrasive.
  5. Keep the headlights wet with a spray bottle or hose while sanding.
  6. Clean them with soap and water to wash away any material that came off while sanding.
  7. Dry the headlights with a microfiber cloth.
  8. Seal the headlights with a clear coat if the kit provides a sealant.

How to clean headlights with vinegar

If you’ve got some baking soda and vinegar in your pantry, you can mix up a paste to clean your headlights. While baking soda and vinegar are generally safe to use on headlights, Ganther cautions against using chemical-based cleaners you may have around your house. You don’t know how the headlight will react, and the cleaner could damage it.

  1. Wash your headlights with soap and water to remove debris.
  2. Apply the baking soda and vinegar mixture to the headlights.
  3. Let the mixture dry.
  4. When the paste is dry, wipe it off with a microfiber cloth just as you would if waxing a car. Microfiber cloths won’t leave scratches on your headlights.

How to clean headlights with toothpaste

If your pantry’s empty, you can head to your medicine cabinet and grab a tube of toothpaste instead — if you have the right kind. If you plan on cleaning your headlights with toothpaste, make sure the toothpaste you are using has baking soda. The baking soda will attach to the oxidation and pull it away from the headlights. You can follow the steps listed above, swapping your toothpaste for the baking soda and vinegar mixture. Or you can head to the auto part store and grab a cleaner that’s made specifically for headlights.

Now that you know how to clean up foggy headlights for better visibility, discover a few vital car maintenance tasks that you can perform between visits to your mechanic. There are also a few handy car maintenance tracking apps that will help you keep track of those car care tasks.

Was this article helpful?

3 min
2 min
2 min
2 min
3 min