How to Fix Cloudy Headlights

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Introduction: How to Fix Cloudy Headlights

This instructable will walk you through refinishing your plastic headlight covers without learning how to buff plastics. Here we will use only sand paper and clear paint and achieve a renewed look to the plastic lenses on your car.

You will need:

1. a can of gloss clear paint

2. 400 grit sandpaper

3. 1200 grit sandpaper (800-2000 grit is ok)

4. painters tape or masking tape

5. about 20 minutes.

Step 1: Cloudy Headlight Fix

The reason your headlight lenses are cloudy is the surface of the plastic is crazed, damaged by weather, and has tiny road dings.

We will smooth the surface and provide something for the paint to hold onto.

Tape off the area immediately around your headlight lenses. This protects the painted and surrounding surfaces from sanding and later from overspray.

Step 2: Sanding With 400 Grit

Using lots of water and the 400 grit sandpaper, lightly sand the clear plastic lenses. I usually spend only about 2 minutes sanding each side with this grit. You should see white plastic "dust" coming off in the water. This takes the surface down to a relatively smooth face with 400 grit scratches in it. Do this as much as you feel necessary depending on the starting point of your lenses.

Step 3: Sanding With 1200 Grit

Using more water and the 1200 grit sandpaper, sand the clear plastic lenses again. This should take another 2-3 minutes per side. The point here is to take those 400 grit scratches down to even smaller 1200 grit scratches.

Step 4: Dry the Lenses

Wipe the lenses dry. If you have compressed air or a leaf blower/shop vac, blow the area dry to make sure to get all the water out from the underneath the headlights. As they dry you will see they are even more cloudy than before you started. That is ok because now we have tiny little scratches that are consistent and easily filled by the paint.

Step 5: Painting the Lenses

With everything taped off, go ahead and apply light coats of clear spray paint.

Paint runs are your enemy here, so concentrate on smooth consistent strokes with a slight overlap, leaving just enough paint in each coat to make a wet look (where the small droplets of paint flow together to become one thin film).

Use two coats applied within about 10 minutes of each other. The lenses should appear clear and shiny.

Let the paint dry and remove the tape and you are done.

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162 Comments

Skip all the work and just use pledge on them when needed, it works just fine.

Thank you so much! I did what you said and it worked great! No more dull yellow lenses. I went and bought UV clear coat that bonds with plastic from the auto parts store $7.99 and 220, 600, 2000 grit sand paper from hardware store $13. I did 2 cars and it took me a lot longer than 20 min. The only thing I would add to this is if your lenses are severely damaged use your phone to zoom in and see if you sanded away all the micro cracks. This will give you a better end result.

Sounds like you have perfected this and I like the selection of a UV clear. Thanks for the excellent improvements.

Did you know that you can get your lenses clean with a can of Deep Woods Off? It absolutely works. Spray it on an old sock, wipe in one direction and BOOM clear lenses.

I wish I saw this 6 months ago. I bought a kit that worked awesome. It used a power drill and mad short work of it. Came out awesome.

toothpaste and a cloth works also

i would try giving them a good waxing first. I have used a real good marine wax on my lights and was amazed at how clear they were. the wax I used will bring back dead paint . if the wax isn't marine grade it won't last a month. now I try to remember to just wax them a couple times a year. if you have to sand them water water water and more water I'm out of wax and I'm not driving to the marina till spring sorry can't remember the name

I used this technique on my 2005 Nissan Altima and it worked well, but the clear coat just wasn't clear enough, will try another type of spray clear coat this spring.

Thanks for replying to my comment!

In the right light take a look at the surface and if you see scratches, then you probably needed to sand it more with the 1200/super fine paper. Make sure the clear is high gloss clear. I noticed scratches in the one pictured, so it could have been more clear, but the improvement was more than enough for the time I put in.