Introduction: Fix Foggy Headlights

After a few years of regular driving your headlights may become foggy and yellowed. Foggy headlights diminish the amount of light projected on the road at night and they become diffused. Diffused light shows less detail than non diffused light and can be a safety issue.

Headlights are made of a plastic that gets micro-pitted over time and what you want to do is remove all of those small perfections.

By using a restoration kit like the one in this Instructable you can restore your headlights to a crystal clear almost new state. Most kits are very similar and range in price from $10 to $30 dollars.

Step 1: Using Meguair's Headlight Restore Kit

Why? I use their products to keep all my car's naughty bits shiny so why not try their headlight stuff too?

Step 2: What's in the Kit?

In the kit you get a small bottle of PlasticX, a "UV protectant", a polishing wheel for a drill, a microfiber cloth, a sanding block, a disk of 1000 grit sandpaper, and a disk of 3000 grit sandpaper.

There are a couple more things you need that aren't mentioned on the box...

Step 3: In Addition to What Comes in the Kit...

You will need a glass cleaner, a roll of masking tape, and either a spray bottle of water or a dish of water to use with the sandpaper.

Step 4: Oh.

And a drill of some sort. The kit recommends a corded drill, but you can use a cordless. It doesn't take long to polish two headlights with the drill.

Step 5: What Am I Working With Here?

So my headlight isn't too too bad, but I want it to shine like new.

Step 6: Use the Masking Tape.

Be careful when taping to cover all of the painted surfaces around the headlight. Make sure the tape is stuck down good.

Step 7: Sandpaper Part 1.

Using the 1000 grit pad on the sanding block, wet the sandpaper and start sanding from side to side. Make sure you get all off the headlight. Use a paper towel when needed to clean off the mess to see what you have done. Once you have sanded enough, use the glass cleaner to remove the residue.

Step 8: Sand Paper Part 2.

Using the wetted 3000 grit sandpaper disk, sand the headlight in an up and down motion. Don't skimp on the water. Clean off the residue and your headlight should look uniformly fogged.

Step 9: Polish Time.

Start with a "nickle" sized dollop of polish on the buffing head. You don't need a lot of pressure, just place the buffer flat against the headlight and start polishing at the highest speed your drill uses. Add more polish if needed.

Step 10: Remove Polish.

Don't let the polish dry. Use the included microfiber cloth to remove the polish after you have finished buffing.

Step 11: Not Bad!

After wiping away the polish I noticed a couple of spots that could use a little more buffing. I repeated the buffing step with copious amounts of polish. Not too much though, you'll just end up slinging it all over the car and yourself.

Step 12: That's What I'm Talkin' 'bout Willis!

Much better after the second buffing session! This is what I was looking for.

Step 13: Protectant.

Not pictured: use a lint free cloth to apply the UV protectant. Once it hazes (I think it is just liquid wax) remove it with the microfiber cloth and you are done my friend! Well, half way done. You have one more to do.

Step 14: And Here Is the Other One.

Take a step back and compare the one you just finished to the next one. It should look like night and day.

Step 15: Fin.

My take-away from this is:

1. You don't need to buy a kit. You can pick up the sandpaper for a few bucks at your automotive store. I've seen similar small buffing wheels at the dollar store. The polish is regular ole PlasticX. I'm pretty sure the UV protectant is Meguiars Gold Class liquid wax.

2. Corners are a pain to get polished right.

3. Depending on your headlight damage you may need either 600 grit or 800 grit in addition to the 1000 and 3000. One of my headlights was more pitted than the other and even though it came out clear, it did not come out 100% smooth. Not a big issue but it could have used an extra bit of sanding.

Comments

author
zjxbpc (author)2015-04-25

you can use toothpaste to clean it

author
Sempol (author)2015-04-17

You still need to use transparent lacquer. Plastic lens is just too soft.

author
zappenfusen (author)2015-04-13

I purchased a kit for wife's car. Realized I already amongst life long collection of various tools, chemicals, consumables, etc. had what cost $29.95 when assembled in "kit form" by 3M. I did purchase a supposed U.V. Protectant for final step. $4.99. Magic Blue polish worked great for final step after working my way up to 3000 grit wet dry sandpaper. Some of the available products were priced as high as $49.95. Yes, P.T. was right, there's a sucker born every minute. Good Instructable with great insight into Marketing in America! I did use my Makita and various polishing disk and pads which sped completion greatly. As you stated protecting painted finish is highly recommended.

Zapp

author
woodNfish (author)zappenfusen2015-04-16

You are paying them to assemble everything you need in one kit with instructions - nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong with doing it on your own either.

author
ScottE4 (author)2015-04-15

I Havent tried this on the "bubble covered" lights yet,, however it works perfectly on the older "sealed beam" looking style lights. a Simple oscillating palm sander 320,400, 600 wet papers, and finally jewelers rouge on a loose muslin wheel in an electric drill. Walk through the papers, misting the lens as you go to prevent the papers from blocking, and to ensure you don't score the light. in short order you will have the lens optically clear again. What discolors on these headlights isn't actually the plastic, its the hard coating on them that is supposed to protect the plastic. The Irony of the automotive arena,,,

author
bunsoft (author)2015-04-12

Hi,

Thank you for instructable, it is really complete and deatailed with nice quality pics.

I would like to add some points from my headlight experience, i worked in maufacturing headlight in company Hella.

During end step of all headlights we produced (Vw, BMW, Vauxhall..) we apply 2 coats of clear coat paint with UV protect technology (same kind of laquer they use in car paint to resist heavy sun light). This is valid for plastic headlights only, on glass there is no clear coat applied.

How i refurbish these headlights (inlcuding on my Passat 2006):

1. Headlight out from car

2. remove oxidated laquer first with 800 gritt sandpater, water base than finish with 1800 and than 2000. In this phase headlight looks milky, no transparency but surface very smooth. Sanding by hand or slow RPM hand tool to avoid heat damage.

3. clear surface with alcohool, mild one

4. paint with 3M spray, UV protect clear lacque.(around 5$, one can enough for both headlights). Before paint try on non visible surface to be sure is compatible with plastic, it coats it and not disolves (should be mentioned on spray can also the type of surface you can apply). Leave 4-5 hours between coats.

There you go. Like original and problem free for another 5-8 years.

author
ned103 (author)bunsoft2015-04-13

To make sure I'm understanding correctly. You spray on the clear lacquer when the headlight looks milky? Or is there another step to clear that up first, then spray on the lacquer? Thank you for the advice. I have an '02 Dodge Durango where the headlights have not been touched since it rolled off the factory floor.

author
bunsoft (author)ned1032015-04-14

Hi Ned,

Yes, you apply clear coat when the headlight is milky. It is Milky because you sanded it with different grit of sand paper. Very important to remove first the damaged surface from headlight. PLease see step 7 and 8 of this ible.

author
J to the T (author)bunsoft2015-04-12

That sounds like a great idea. The clear would fill the gaps and last a long time. I love it.

author
bunsoft (author)J to the T2015-04-12

Sorry for another comment, i do not find the edit button....
Regarding the tehnique i used, some related to the scratch covering on headlights.
- after you finish all level of sanding, as i wrote before you will have a matt surface. Matt because the surface is full with micro scratches. These scratches are needed to be cleaned (also as i wrote before with mild alcohol) annd they are needed so the clear coat makes best adherence with plastic surface. Clear coat will cover these scratches and make them invisible. You will have a finish like glass without any extra polish.

author
bunsoft (author)J to the T2015-04-12

Hi again,

Actually it is not my idea, this is how the headlights are produced. All i did that i removed old clear coat and replace with new. As i told before i worked in the past at a company who produces OEM headlights. Just take good attention to the clear paint you use, mandatory have to be UV resistant and plastic friendly. About painting tehnique you find a lot of instructable.

author
maniacse (author)bunsoft2015-04-12

Thanks for this ible in ible! Since I doesnt have any car with plastic headlights for now, it is great to remember this for future. Friend of mine use same technic for restoration tail lights, mainly if someone use "blacking spray paint". Same procedure like bunsoft write: sand it to not good looking matt finish (it will remove all the black lacque, but also all the signs there - I hope it is legal) and then clean it and use UV protection lacquer, for tail lights nice and shiny as new!

author
AnonE (author)2015-04-12

I read somewhere you can use OFF! or just insect repellent. spray it on the headlight and then with a cloth give it a good wipe.

author
falconrk (author)AnonE2015-04-13

I've used deep woods off for several years on my old F150. Just spray on, let it sit a minute or two and basically just wipe off. Lasts about a year in the South Texas sun... and keeps the skeeters away while your doing it!!

author
tig1 (author)2015-04-12

I don't want to be negative good on ya for showing this these kits work brilliantly i have used them , its a lot cheaper than the 3 hundred plus dollars for a new lens cover .... but its more of an ad for a product than an instruct able.....

author
J to the T (author)tig12015-04-12

That's exactly what I said in the last step! My take away was that you didn't need a kit.

author
tig1 (author)J to the T2015-04-13

Sorry I missed that bit.

author
mickeyaaaa (author)tig12015-04-12

Agreed, I've done it with 1000, 3000 grit sandpaper by hand, then toothpaste, then rubbing compound then swirl remover then any car wax...equally great results without need for any special kit.

author
nickfank (author)2015-04-13

I tried the much-touted toothpaste & bug spray hacks, and I now use exactly the kit described here instead. It's really a better solution. The UV sealer at the end is important because it makes your job last, and the series of grit & buffers just work a lot faster than toothpaste. I love a clever hack, but sometimes hacks aren't so clever if you value your time at more than $5/hour.

author
bbqbradley (author)2015-04-08

toothpaste and elbow grease. Rub in on, wipe it off. Works like a charm. A lot cheaper.

author
jimboo (author)bbqbradley2015-04-13

Upvote to the toothpaste hack. I lost ten bucks to a neighbor that way (sucker's bet).

author
rf (author)bbqbradley2015-04-13

Toothpaste works just fine. Or polishing compound from the car parts store. Either way, it doesn't take much. Toothpaste, like polish compound is abrasive, it's not some chemical reaction. So a small amount goes a long way.

You only need fine sandpaper if your lenses are really badly pitted.

author
J to the T (author)bbqbradley2015-04-08

So true. I'm sure I could use toothpaste on the buffer instead. Hmm, I might try that.

author
yendornella (author)2015-04-12

I tried the kit it did ok but fogged up again in a years time. Now I just use Crest toothpaste, smear it all over the lens, then rub it off same as when you remove wax after waxing a car. Works great at a third of the price.

author
biologistjim45 (author)2015-04-12

I use toothpaste instead of pricy products that profit someone else. Works just as good.

author

But it profits the dental industry, boo! Just kidding, I love my dentist.

author

Ha ha....bout a half cent a light

author
handycrowd (author)2015-04-12

I wonder if paint cutting compound would work? Ya know the fine paste used to bring up cellulose paints. Or even T-cut the paint restorer. I am thinking fine abrasive pastes here. Followed up by polishing with a wax to seal..... Need a headlamp from a scrapper lol!

author
J to the T (author)handycrowd2015-04-12

I have some good compound I use to cut paint, I'm betting that would work too.

author
spudit2003 (author)2015-04-12

I watched this video https://youtu.be/xa3GpmKax1I the other day, it explains this method as the professional way to do it and explains why toothpaste and DEET work in the short term but aren't a permanent fix. The sealant at the end is important, it must have a UV protection in it, as it is the UV rays that deteriorate the plastic. I didn't know about the kit, I will look into it as my problem was where to get all the things I need. Thanks for showing how simple it can be.

author
J to the T (author)spudit20032015-04-12

You can get the kit on Amazon for 19 bucks USD. Like I said though you can just source out the stuff and you will end up with enough to do tons of headlights for the same price.

http://www.amazon.com/Meguiars-G3000-Heavy-Headlight-Restoration/dp/B004HCOE72/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1428890552&sr=8-1&keywords=meguiars+headlight

author
John L (author)spudit20032015-04-12

That's the best demo video I have ever seen concerning how to renew headlights. Fantastic!

author
sweetyjody made it! (author)2015-04-11

ahah, good. what do you used to cover them? that blue one

Cree LED light bar.jpg
author
fuzzynurse (author)sweetyjody2015-04-12

Assuming you mean the tape around the light in step 6 and beyond, it looks to be painter's tape. You can get it in the paint aisle at any hardware/home improvement store.

author
gs_ipanda (author)2015-04-12

I have used toothpaste as well, but I used a Terry cloth towel on a pad and drill. the gritty colgate is what I had been told to use and can testify that it works. (smells great too :) )

author
AndrewW2 (author)gs_ipanda2015-04-12

Toothpaste also makes a great silver polish - without the toxic chemicals and it smells "fresh"

author
HassaanB made it! (author)2015-04-12

Nice and good kit.

IMG_20150213_191250.jpgIMG_20150213_193007.jpg
author
DouglasJ1 (author)2015-04-12

These commercial 'kits' are no more or less than repackaged perspex cleaners and scratch remover. Just like the stuff used during WWII to keep the pilot canopies on fighter planes clear.

You can buy it by the gallon from genuine (as opposed to repackaging) chemical manufacturers. I have a one quart bottle of the stuff! Australia has been metric measurements since 1960 something! I used it a few days ago on my old delivery van. There were no use-by dates in those days either.

Anyone who has 'cutting compound' used to refurbish faded paintwork can get the same results. No need for the power drill or polishing mop either. BTW. I agree with Tig1. Just a commercial for chemical repackers.

author
joshadkisson (author)2015-04-07

or just use OFF! bug spray, I did my headlights with bug spray and it had lasted 6 months now

author
J to the T (author)joshadkisson2015-04-08

I haven't heard of using bug spray! I know you can use toothpaste. I wonder what kind of abrasives are in bug spray?

author
BobMcLean2 (author)J to the T2015-04-12

There was a Facebook circulated hack using "deep woods bug repellent" (containing DEET) which said to completely saturate a sock with the spray, and buff on the cloudy plastic headlight lens. I have an old car with a fogged lens, so I tried it. It seems to be a chemical reaction, and the surface of the lens feels tacky afterward (for a while). It wasn't hard to do, and provided immediate gratification, though I do wonder about the long term effect of the chemical on the plastic lens. I have had an experience with DEET spray on the vinyl siding of a house - the DEET eventually won that one as the vinyl cracked into small pieces. Maybe apples and oranges, I dunno. But it does provide instant results.

author

Thats what i use,no mess,fuss or waiting! In a couple of mins, they are like new!

author
framistan (author)joshadkisson2015-04-12

The bug spray works because it melts the plastic. I think this method is ok to use if your car is old and beat-up looking, but would not use this on a nice car. Some cars headlights cost HUNDREDS of dollars each! When spraying it, be sure to tape off your surrounding area so it doesn't damage the paint job.

author
bfgair (author)2015-04-12

Crest toothpaste works the very best and the cheapest of all. Use the extra heavy plaque remover one. 1 tube and dozens of headlights later everyone has a brighter smile.

author
boetting (author)2015-04-09

I'm sure this process would work in an extreme case of oxidation/haze, but toothpaste and a rag worked after no more than two minutes of elbow grease. Toothpaste is slightly gritty and buffs the plastic lens. I doubt this process will work on glass.

F150 headlamp before.jpgF150 headlamp after.jpg
author
andrej (author)boetting2015-04-12

all my cars have (had) glass lights and even the very old glass light does not get foggy. this is only for plastic lights.

author
ndinitz (author)2015-04-12

Toothpaste works too! just use and old toothbrush though.

author
tfrost3 (author)2015-04-12

Just use a bug repellent like Off, works great

author
nickivan (author)2015-04-12

I just used Brasso on my Renault Kangoo lights - it worked perfectly.

author
blademedia (author)2015-04-08

Great Ible. "Off" Bug spray actually works better and then just apply regular wax to reseal.

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