How to Clean Headlights

This article is a guide on how to clean car headlights that have have a foggy or dirty appearance using a cleaning kit that you can purchase at any local automotive store or on amazon (links below). You will also find an instructional video below that shows how I was able to quickly remove the buildup that occured on my own headlights using a headlight cleaning kit.

How to Clean Headlights

Headlight Restoration Video

What are the Time and Cost to Clean and Restore Headlights?

The entire process to clean headlight with the type of headlight restoration kit shown in the instructional video takes about 1 hour and will cost about $25-40 to do it yourself, so if this sounds like too much time or money, then you might want to consider taking it to a shop that will do it for about $50-75. The main difference is that if you do it yourself, the cost will cover multiple treatments, so it could save you hundreds of dollars over time vs. taking it to an automotive detailing or body shop to get the headlights cleaned repeatedly.

Items Needed to Clean Headlights

The following items are what were used to obtain the dramiatic result shown in the pictures below and the instructional video: 

  1. Electric Drill - The electric drill was used to clean and polish the headlights. You need the speed of a drill to effectively clean headlights. It is recommended to use a drill that can spin at 1200-166 rpm. Your elbow grease simply won't do the trick when it comes to cleaning headlights with one of these cleaning kits. Furthermore, the kits that you can use to clean your headlight come with pads, sandpaper, and more that fit onto a drill bit.
  2. Headlight Restoration Kit - In this example we use the 3M Headlight Lens Restoration System that you can buy on Amazon if you need to. This kit comes with the appropriate pads and sandpaper attachments for your drill. You use a few different grits of sandpaper to remove the build up on your headlights when cleaning them.
  3. Painters Tape or Masking Tape - You will need painters tape to stick to your car to cover up and protect your paint around the headlights. Since you will be using sandpaper on a drill, you risk damaging your paint job on your car when cleaning your headlights if you don't use tape. Painters tape can also be purchased on Amazon for cheap.
  4. Plastic Cleaner and Polish - If you want to get your headlights looking nice and shiny again, then you'll need to apply a poish. In the example, I use Clear Plastic Cleaner and Polish to get that brand new shiny headlight look back on my car!
  5. Headlight Lens Sealer - When you have removed the buildup on your headlights, you need to protect your headlights from continued deterioration using a headlight lens sealer. You can buy the brand of Headlight Lens Sealer that we used on Amazon too.

Steps for How to Clean Headlights or Restore Headlights

The following steps quickly outline the steps I took to clean my car headlights. As you can see in the photos and examples, that we were able to restore the headlights some really awful looking coroded headlights and make them look shiny and new again in no time at all.

  1. Wash the headlights to remove excess dirt on the surface using soap and water or window cleaner.
  2. Tape the area around the headlights with painters tape or masking tape to prevent damaging your paint in the subsequent steps when you are using the drill. 
  3. Apply the applicator to the drill bit. You will have a few different sand papers and other surfaces you will be attaching to the drill when cleaning your headlights.
  4. Apply the grittiest sand paper to the bit.
  5. Spray some water on the lense and start sanding with the drill in small circles working your way across the headlights. Pass over each headlight lense 2 or 3 times with the first sandpaper provided by the kit until a layer of fine dust appears over the entire headlight lense surface. Be careful to apply the sanding treatment evenly and don't forget the corners where it is harder to see initially if progress is being made. 
  6. Wipe off the excess dust. 
  7. Switch to the next level of sandpaper provided in the kit and repeat steps 4 and 5. Do this for all 3 or 4 grits of sandpaper provided with the kit you purchased.
  8. Apply the Plastic Polish to the sponge applicator and work the drill over the surface of each headlight multiple times until all areas of both headlights have been polished.
  9. Wipe headlights clean using a rag and water. 
  10. Apply the lense sealer and treatment according to the directions on the treatment you purchased.

Following this process and using the technique shown in the instructional video above should help you capture the headlight restoration results you sought out to achieve. If you have any questions or problems about cleaning your headlights, or you found other tricks and tips you want to share with other readers, then don't hesitate to provide comments to this post.