Headlight covers over time can become yellowed or hazy. This is a guide about cleaning foggy or hazy headlights.
Someone was just asking about a remedy for yellowed dingy headlights so I thought I would share with everyone what ended up working for me. My car headlights were horribly yellowed after 12 years of ignoring them. I could barely even see when driving at night because that's how bad they were!
Headlight lens restoration kits are $20.00 or more and contain enough supplies for a one time only use. For about the same price you can purchase the items in larger quantity separately and will then have enough supplies leftover for future restorations, and even to use on other projects, plus you might already have some or all of the items needed already on hand to do the job.
Just follow these steps:
By Deeli from Richland, WA
Recently I noticed the headlights on both my car and especially my son's car were quite hazy, thus reducing visibility at night. I purchased a cleaning kit at the automotive store, (not cheap,) which involved several steps, but didn't notice much difference in clarity of the headlights on either car.
Two weeks ago, I was washing the cars and decided to use one of those white scrubber sponges you see advertised on TV. (Not mentioning any names, as the generic type work just as well, and are a good deal cheaper.) It looks like a little brick, and cleans just about anything. I had used one to remove tar and bug residue from my car exterior before, so thought I might give it a try on the headlights while I was at it. What a great idea! It did a wonderful job on the headlights of both cars, and took just a few minutes. My car was parked in the shade, so these pictures don't do justice to the before and after difference, but trust me, the small investment you make will be well worth it!
By Donna from San Diego, CA
Does anyone else have a problem with the inside of your windshield fogging up? It almost looks like a haze. Turning on the defroster does not help. I've tried water and ammonia. That works for a few days, then it's back again. Maybe I put too much water or ammonia in the bottle.
By guest (Guest Post) Flag
December 27, 2008
Hi folks, I bought a used 2002 Montana in December when it was very cold. Windows fogged up so much I couldn't see out the side windows at all. No smell of coolant. After spending many hours of investigation, I finally discovered the problem. In the back of the glove box there is a compartment which contains air filters. I removed the air filters and looking inside with a flashlight I saw in the very back, a little higher on the firewall, a plastic door which was shut. I gently opened it. Now fresh air gets in and NO more FOG. I hope I just saved you some time so you can spend it with your family. -Andy
amolter2002 AT yahoo.com.
Could a Brillo pad be used to remove the film and oxidation that is on the headlight lenses? I have used the toothpaste method and the baking soda method and neither helped.
August 19, 2011
If is on the inside why have companies made a product to restore the outside of the lens and not the inside of the lens.
Could a Brillo pad be used to remove the film and oxidation that is on the lens? Also, I would not use much pressure, but the cloudiness seems to remain. I have used the toothpaste method and the baking soda method and neither helped. Thanks if you could answer this question.
September 15, 2011
The cloudiness is caused by sun damage to the outer surface of the plastic lens which has to be removed. You could use 2000 grit, wet and dry paper auto cutting compound or auto cutting polish, and a bit of elbow grease will bring them up like new.
How you do remedy the dingy yellow film on vehicle headlight lens?
October 25, 2012
Clean a clouded headlight lens with toothpaste. Use a soft cloth.
How do I clean automobile headlights? Mine are really stained. I know they have the kits, and the pros, thanks!
By Bella B from Houston, TX
February 5, 2012
I have read about cleaning them with brake fluid. Have not tried it but I will try it first when need to. Good Luck.
By Kacky 1
What can be done for interior cloudiness of headlight covers?
By Kacky from Wrightsville Beach, NC
February 7, 2011
The yellowing you see is oxidation from sun exposure. There are degrees of oxidation, and the degree to which it can be removed depends on how much work you are willing to do. The only way to completely restore a yellowed headlight is to remove the oxidation, exposing new live plastic.
If there is extensive micro cracking deep into the plastic, the headlight may not be restorable, but surface oxidation and micro-cracking can be successfully removed. The trick is to remove just enough plastic to make the lenses clear again and then protect them from future damage.
Yes, the creams and pastes will work to some extent in making the lens look clearer temporarily, but this is mostly a result of filling in the micro pitting / cracking on the damaged lens, and doesn't last. They are a quick cheap temp fix at best. The kits such as the ones made by Permatex, Meguires and Turtle Wax do work really well, but you have to follow the instructions exactly, or you will damage the headlight, as some here apparently have. One trick I have found that helps is to if at all possible, remove the headlight from the vehicle, as it makes it a lot easier to do a proper job.
Now to the kits. They are all basically the same in that they have 1) Abrasive sheets, pads, or sandpaper, usually in grits of 1000, 1500, 2000, 2500, and 3000. 2) Some sort of polishing fluid or paste. The trick with the abrasives is to start with the FINEST one that will remove the oxidation (1000 grit is the coarsest I'll start with) and to keep the headlight and the sandpaper pad very wet. Soak the paper for a few minutes in water, and keep a spray bottle of water handy to keep the headlight and paper wet.
Spray the headlight, the, sand back and forth in one direction with the 1000 grit (keep it wet) until most of the oxidation is off and you have a smooth surface. Then wipe the residue off with a wet terry cloth towel, and switch to 1500 grit, sanding 90 degrees to the direction you did with the 1000 grit. (Again keeping everything very wet.) Wipe it off again and now go to the 2000 grit, 90 degrees from the direction of the 1500 grit. lastly, wipe it down one more time and repeat with the 2500 or 3000 grit.
Now wipe off all the sanding residue, take a clean terry cloth rag and use the polishing paste or liquid liberally, and polish in a circular motion, until the lens becomes clear and shiny. Step back and admire your hard work.
The Turtle wax restoration kit comes with a lens sealing wipe, that you apply in one direction, then let cure for 24 hours which will prevent re-oxidation. If you aren't using their kit, you can apply Plastix polish or one of the aforementioned cremes with UV protectant. Then, whenever you wash the car, take a few minutes to touch up the headlights, and you shouldn't have to do the heavy duty cleaning/restoration again.
How do I make frosted headlights clear?
May 16, 2011
After my 1st post to you I went to as seen on TV and found the product to clean car headlight lenses...it's called Fast Brite Lens restore and costs $10. plus shipping. Good luck. I'm going to try it too.
Gale in Ca.
What is the best and easiest way to clean the headlights on your car?
March 9, 2014
My husband and I, cleaned the headlights on my car just last week, using the toothpaste idea. Just keep in mind that it must be a toothpaste that contains a whitener. Worked great and my car is almost 8 years old!
If your automotive headlights get yellow or dirty, try to clean them with some rubbing compound. Just make a past and rub it into the headlight plastic covers and then wipe off. They will come clear like new. I have done this for many of my customers who were going to buy new headlights because the cover is so dim they could not see clearly at night.
The rubbing compound is also great to make old paint look new. Make a paste and wax your car with it and the when the shine returns, use some good wax to keep it looking new.
By Jackie the Lemon Pro from L.A., CA
Does anyone have any idea on how to get the fog off of the inside of headlights? I really don't want to buy new ones. The outside is clean, it's just the inside of them that is foggy. Thank you.
February 25, 2010
I agree with foxrun - it is on the outside. The product that does the cleaning is actually an extremely mild abrasive that is applied and polished. You need to use the product from the automotive store, anything else is too harsh.
By mpowers333 1
Does anyone have a DIY solution to cleaning the dirt and yellow off headlight covers on cars? Mine are just so bad!
By Mary P
How do you get hazed over looking headlights on a used car to look clear again? Thanks.
By linda 1
What is a good, simple way to clean a car's headlights?
By Linda P.
March 31, 2014
If your headlight covers are plastic, you could spend 10 or 20 bucks on a fancy headlight cleaner kit, but I've heard that toothpaste works just as well as the expensive kit. You probably shouldn't use a blue minty gel, I'm sure that won't work too well. *L* I'd use a white paste on a microfiber cloth and scrub away. Be sure to rinse well.
I have glass lenses on my old car, so soap and water works just fine.
I tried toothpaste, the kits from the auto store and nothing helps! It's $1200 each to replace them do you think a deoxidizer will work?
I have an '88 Mercury Cougar and my headlight covers are so bad, as far as being cloudy. I can no longer drive at night! I have looked and tried all the things I've heard and read about with no luck. Why if manufacturers make them for the cars, then why can't we buy them when something happens to them? Seems the car companies could stand to win in this situation!
By Lisa S. from Mt.Vernon, WA
By Leanne D. 1
My husband and I recently purchased a Turtle Wax headlight cleaning kit and cleaned them as directed and now our headlights have a foggy film on them. What's the best way to remove the film?
By Leanne D.
I wouldn't do this unless your headlights are old, very yellowed, and foggy. If your headlights are already damaged as in you've used sandpaper and/or restorer and NOTHING is bringing them back from the fog, you can use baby oil on a paper towel and buff until clear after you wash them well.
The plastic head light covers on my '98 Chrysler Town & Country van have developed a heavy film covering over them. Is there someway of polishing or sanding these lenses back to their clear look without having to replace the entire assembly?
Ken from Gulfport, MS
3M makes a plastic polish. I purchased some for my husband at a car show a couple of years ago. I would check with your local auto parts store. They should be able to help you find something that would work. I can tell you the 3M stuff did wonders. (04/26/2006)
I have been in the auto body repair business for over 40 years and I can assure that once the headlamp lens turn completely cloudy the only way to fix them is to replace them. Sorry to give you the bad news. If someone would come up with a product to fix this condition they would be a wealthy person. (04/26/2006)
When the plastic headlight covers get cloudy, until recently,you have to replace them, but recently 3M and another company has come out with a product that restores the lens.They are available through automotive stores. (04/27/2006)
Ken, I know this is going to sound crazy, I found this info on the web somewhere in some tips, but it works. My husband was constantly complaining about his head lights being so dim and the covers being cloudy. I told him about this tip and he thought, what the heck and tried it and it works! Here it is, cooking spray. Yep that is what I said, cooking spray. Spray it onto the lens and then buff with a soft cloth or paper towel. It worked really well for us. Try it what do you have to lose? (04/30/2006)
3M makes a plastic polish, as does Mothers.
Follow all the directions, sometimes they suggest using a buffer in the final stages for a real gloss. I've also heard of kits (made by Permatex?) that come with micro-fine sandpaper and polish. For a cheapie quick fix, use toothpaste and polish the lenses with that. I've used it on taillights with good results, but it takes a lot of elbow grease. Good luck! (05/02/2006)
I wash cars on the weekend at an Infiniti dealership. Often we'll use the degreaser on windows, wheel rims, and headlight covers. I used it this weekend and the grime just came right off mine. It's worth a shot if your dealership has wash bays. Just ask for the degreaser spray. Be sure to rinse it off before it dries and don't let it get on the paint. (06/19/2006)
Use a cheep toothpaste buff it clean, wash and then buff with Brasso. (07/19/2006)
We use Oxiclean to wipe off the film. You might have to let it sit on there a little, but it wipes clean every time! (07/24/2006)
I have a 96 Honda. The lenses were so yellowed I was worried about driving at night. I used to use the glass cleaner we used on radar scopes at work to clean them, but Cerama Bryte cook top cleaner works just as good. Just use on paper towel or soft cloth and keep buffing. You will be amazed at the difference. (09/24/2006)
One way we have found that cleans them is to use an acetone based nail polish remover, on my wife's 94 Ford Crown Vic. It works great, but I am open for better suggestions. (02/21/2007)
Crystalenz sells a great kit for cleaning plastic headlight lenses. I have used it and it works as advertised. The website is Crystalenz.com (04/25/2007)
Hats off to Michelle. I tried cleaning my headlights with the Pam Cooking Spray, and it worked wonders! Now they look really clear! Later I tried the toothpaste, but it looked cloudy again. You probably would have to use a lot of elbow grease to buff it to a great shine. But with the Pam it was easy. This is better than paying $350 each to replace my headlights. Thanks, Michelle.
Some of the above ideas may work. I do not endorse the use of a degreaser (which is what the kitchen sprays are essentially made of). I know that toothpaste will make them worse in the long run. Of course most will admit that sandpaper is the worst thing that can happen to the protective UV layer, which covers the lens.
Depending on the cost of replacement I would not experiment on expensive projector lens covers. If the car is easily found in the junk yard, you can find a replacement lens, therefore you can take a chance on ruining your lens.
Understand the lens are no longer made of glass. That was the beginning of the problem. Using chemicals designed for metal and glass could cause mini fractures within the acrylic/plastic /polycarbonate lens. Degreasers would be absorbed into the lens and could cause them to turn yellow as a reaction to the heat of the bulb.
There are plenty of companies that make headlight cleaners. The problem is that they are time consuming. Many take multiple steps to completion and 99.9 percent of them employ some type of abrasive. Of the few that don't only one, is a one step process, which takes seconds from start to finish: Pittman's Original One Step ALR.
One Step ALR is designed to remove surface oxidation from the headlight. Oxidation is the discoloration that starts out white turns yellow and finally brown. This is whats needed to be removed from your lens to make them clear again.
If you or someone else hasn't damaged your lens with abrasive cleaners, there is nothing that works faster or better and it's recommended for hi tech projector lamp covers. If you did use something like tooth paste or an abrasive, there is another ALR product called VaporWax (an acrylic paint conditioner) can help diminish the clouding side effects of abrasives on your lens.
By 8th man
<img src="http://img.thrfun.com/images/database/tff57733102.JPG" width="400" height="248" alt="RE: Plastic Headlight Covers Aren't Clear Anymore" />
The acetone nail polish remover was a big mistake! Yes it took off the oxidation, but also removed the top layer of plastic which leaves the lens more dull and streaked.
Do not use acetone nail polish remover!
You could have saved yourself time and money if you had used Pittman's One Step ALR. It's designed to remove oxidation from acrylic, polycarbonate, and plastic lens on contact without damaging the UV layer or the lens. (10/02/2007)
The Pam trick will only make the lens worst due to the oils in it cooking from the bulb heat. In time it will yellow so badly you won't be able to save it with Brillo. My recommendation is to use a cleaner or solvent made for that type of lens and make sure the product lists that type as a safety measure. A pair will only cost you less than 200.00 dollars at some places, may be worth it to make your car look its best for another 4 years. (10/12/2007)
A few months back I bought a kit to clean my lens.
They looked great for a couple of months then I noticed the sealant on the lens was beginning to yellow a bit. It's been four months and there are places where the sealant has begun to chip and peel off. I contacted the company about their 5 yr guarantee and found out that their guarantee only covered the products usefulness. In other words it was their product's expiration date. Then they told me my problem was likely caused by the user not following the kits instructions. Long story short /I had to buy new headlights lens. (10/16/2007)
I had a company who said they could remove the micro-cracks in my plastic lens covers on my 1999 Jeep. First they used a very fine emery cloth and some type of polish. When they were done, they "painted" the lens with a clear paint. It looked OK, but now some months later, the lens show the brush marks of the clear paint and it is a lot worse than when I started. I have found some after market headlights on eBay for only $29 each side. I would recommend replacing bad headlight lens. You will be money ahead. (11/27/2007)
I purchased the Pitman's system. It did not worked at all. The liquid will not remove the clear coat on the lens. I think that I was taken for a ride.
Brake fluid works as good as that product. That's what is probably in there. Anyways, I purchased lensrenew. It does take a little bit of patience, but the lenses look great. (12/01/2007)
Don't waste your money on Lensrenew. I have done body work for years and the lensrenew system is nothing more than old body work techniques that work on paint. After about a hour of applications and one scratch clouded lens later I sent the product back. They tried to tell me I did not follow instructions. I told them I work with the same body repair tools and compounds every day so there was nothing special about their headlight kit and that was not the case. That was over 2 months ago. I am still waiting on my refund. (01/09/2008)
Is using Pam some sort of a urban joke? I tried Pam, big mistake. (01/09/2008)
"I purchased the Pitaman's system. It did not worked at all. The liquid will not remove the clear coat on the lens. I think that I was taken for a ride."
It helps to read. It's a deoxidizer, the description tells you in bold letters it only removes oxidation and it "won't work on headlights with sealers on them". (01/09/2008)
Acid and water with tee shirt. Nuff said. Don't buy any of that stuff and tell the makers of these stupid head lights to change them back to glass.
By the pool guy
That dullness comes from oxidation.
Use a non abrasive deoxidizer to clean them up.
TIP: Put a little cleaner on your fingers and rub them together
If you feel anything other than your fingerprints it is not non abrasive.
Paste and polish are abrasive. (02/20/2008)
Believe it or not cherry Koolaid works well no buffing. Just apply and let sit about half hour and wipe off with a damp rag. Wala! no more foggy headlights. (03/24/2008)
A friend told me to use brake fluid and it works, but only for a while. Later a friend told me to try McGuirres PlasticX it also worked very well. Just follow the instructions and wa la, clear plastic headlights it only cost about $7 bucks, very cheap! (05/03/2008)
Used the Permatex kit and it is work. Not enough sandpaper in the kit, it takes 4 hrs not 30 minutes and it does not do a good job. (05/14/2008)
I live in Germany. I ordered Pittman's on line and the stuff worked like a charm. The oxidation on my lens had turned brown!
A few drops of Pittman's cleared them up in a few seconds with no damage to the lens or mess to clean up and I still got a almost a full vial left. (05/16/2008)
Toothpaste with baking soda used it on my BMW 540i. It works great, but as soon as you put it on wipe it off fast in a circular movement. (05/29/2008)
Here in the UK we found a product from America called Pittman's ALR.
It is truly an amazing product. My cousin introduced it to our car club and within a half of a hour we actually cleaned the lens on 20 cars out of one 1/2 ounce vial. Four of the lens it cleaned were actually solid brown. Now you would never know. They look new. A couple of members had used an abrasive headlight cleaning kit on their lens, they were scratched up so badly we could not help them. Pittman's removed the oxidation, but the scratches were still there. My cousin and I ordered more and now we both make a nice second income restoring oxidized headlights with Pittman's ALR. (07/09/2008)
<img src="http://img.thrfun.com/images/database/tff53513019.JPG" width="150" height="50" alt="RE: Plastic Headlight Covers Aren't Clear Anymore" />
Yup, cooking spray did the trick. I bought the brand name stuff and it just made a cloudy mess, but it looked instantly better with the cooking spray. I carry oil, power steering fluid, and now cooking spray! (07/22/2008)
By Lady DJ
I can tell you what does not work on plastic.
Sandpaper, rubbing compounds, and Pam.
All have side effect that are worse than the oxidation itself.
And toothpaste only works on glass. (08/12/2008)
I tried using Mothers PowerPlastic plastic polish. It did not help in removing the water spots or oxidation that built up due to the sprinkler. (08/15/2008)
The best stuff to use is Meguair's Plastix polish. I am a complete car buff and use top of the line waxes such as Zymol, Meguiar's, Blue Coral, etc. to keep my vehicles spotless. I applied the "plastic" polish to my friend's headlight that was completely yellowed like a stick of butter. It made the headlight 400 times better, but it does not make it look completely new. If you want to try a cheap fix, use the Plastix. They sell it at auto parts stores and even at Walmart for 6 bucks. If you want your car looking show quality and you have really damaged headlights you will probably have to buy new lights. The plastic rubbed on and off about 3 to 4 times makes a huge world of difference. (11/04/2008)
By CAR BUFF
(submitted via email)
I suspect this post is a commercial. Based upon my experience, the claim for Meguair's is a total lie. I bought it at NAPA.
The product I bought at Advance Auto is also extremely disappointing, but at least they do not post a lie on your website. They both contain abrasives, very fine grit sandpaper. I suspect that I have ruined the lenses.
H Boykin (12/19/2008)
Here's what I do, it's simple and it works!
You can see at night again! (12/27/2008)
By DIY Mark
Nothing is going to work as well as replacing your headlights of course. I do the sanding, polishing, and clear coat at my job, it works great. How long it lasts depends on many factors, but if you just buy the stuff yourself not in kit form for about 30 to 40 bucks. You will have a 5 to 10 year supply, I am sure. All you will have to do is eventually clean, polish, and put more clear coat on them. Just remember to get wet sandpaper, some 1500 and 2000 grit. (02/04/2009)
Mr. Clean Magic Erasers work wonders! Let me know how it worked for you.
Why won't toothpaste clean my headlights? I have a friend who cleaned his headlights on his '72 Chevy with toothpaste and they looked great but when I tried it on my '89 Mustang they just clouded up. Why didn't it work for me? How can I get them back clear again?
The '72 Chevy probably has glass headlights. Your '89 Ford very likely has plastic, which is cheaper than glass, but will get etched with road debris, sand/salt mixture, etc. When I got my son his first car, the headlights were fairly heavily etched - we took it to a body shop and had them "wet-buffed" to improve the light projection. It cost about $75, and did improve the appearance and functionality of the lights. But be aware that they can only take off so much of the etching, as it's basically sanding down the plastic protecting the light. If it really bad you can replace the entire headlight housing - for my son's Escort, it would have been about $100 per light! (08/13/2008)
They might need buffing. My headlights were really foggy all the time even after a wash. The dealer told me they needed buffing bad. They offered to do it for $75.00, I went to Wal-Mart and got a buffing kit. It worked great for less than 10 bucks. Try buffing I bet that it what is wrong with them. It sure sounds like mine. Mine looked scratched and you couldn't even see the bulb until after they were buffed. (08/13/2008)
By Connie H
There is a deoxidizer you can buy to take the cloudiness away. I learned this from the site called eHow.com. Hope this helps. (08/13/2008)
The answer is simple. The chevy has glass headlights while the ford has acrylic or plastic. Glass can be cleaned with toothpaste and polish.
Plastic is much softer and cannot be exposed to abrasives without suffering the damage you describe. You should only use a pure liquid non abrasive acrylic lens deoxidizer on plastic / acrylic headlight lens. Once you cloud them up with abrasive cleaners its a long multiprocess way back to clarity. (08/14/2008)
By William H
I just recently got my first car. To my surprise, my new car's headlights weren't the best. They were foggy and didn't look the way I thought a new car's should look. My dad shared a tip with me. All you need is to put a little bit of brake fluid on a soft cloth. Make sure you don't get any fluid on the paint. Rub the cloth in circles on your lights. When you're finished, give your lights a good rub down on every area you wiped with brake fluid. It should do the trick. If you want, repeat as desired.
By Rachel from San Antonio, TX
A small amount of toothpaste will do the job also! (01/11/2011)
By Teresa Kay
Actually for a small fee, a body shop will polish all the scratches off your headlight covers and they will look like brand new ones. I had mine done and it is amazing. (01/11/2011)