Introduction: Restore Your Headlights With Polishing Compound

If you buy a new car every three or four years, you likely won't encounter this problem. However, if your car is five years old or older, you will walk out one day and notice that your headlights are discolored - either with a milky haze or a yellow color. You can buy "special" kits online or at the auto parts store, ranging in price from $10 to $125. Or you can have a service come to your home to do this for you for between $60 and $120. Or if you are feeling really generous, you can have the dealership do it for you for around $200.

Some people use toothpaste, but I decided to try polishing compound. It is specifically designed to remove scuffs and surface blemishes from the paint on your car, so it should work just as well on your headlights. In the picture above, the untreated headlight is on the left, and the restored headlight is on the right.

Step 1: Ugly, Milky Headlights.

This milky haze is not only unsightly, it can be dangerous if it gets bad enough.

Step 2: Mask Around the Headlight.

Unless you are planning to polish your entire car, it is a good idea to mask around the headlight. I used the blue painter's tape because it comes off easier, without leaving a sticky residue.

Step 3: What You Need

Get one of those scrubbing pads that is a sponge on one side, and a scrubbing pad on the other. (Don't plan on taking it back to the kitchen when you are done.)

Also, make sure that you get polishing compound. DO NOT USE RUBBING COMPOUND as the grit is much more abrasive. I used this brand, because I already had it. Any brand will work, just make sure that it is POLISHING COMPOUND.

Step 4: Get to Work

Get your scrubbing pad wet, and remove most of the water. You need it more than just damp, but not dripping. Rub some polishing compound on the headlights. The "pros" will tell you to use a circular motion, but there really is no difference. The reason behind the circular motion is to ensure that you don't miss any spots.

Make sure you get the entire headlight. Rub vigorously for several minutes. If you don't do it long enough, or hard enough, you will be wasting your time. I put some effort into it, and spent about 7-8 minutes per headlight. The compound should stay reasonably wet during this process. If it is beginning to dry, dampen your scrubbing pad. You can also add more compound if you'd like.

Step 5: Rinse & Dry

When you are done, get your sponge wet and wipe off most of the compound. Then use a clean, soft cloth (like a cloth diaper or old t-shirt) to buff the headlight. Do a good job, especially around the points and corners.

Step 6: Before & After

Before shot on the left, after shot on the right. Total time invested was about 10 minutes per headlight. From start to finish, including gathering supplies and final cleanup, was less than thirty minutes.

Comments

author
cbjack (author)2016-02-24

Funny, only 1 of my headlights on my 2005 Altima gets cloudy! Do you use some sort of clear fixative after you finish polishing your lights?

author
mr1031 (author)cbjack2016-02-25

I didn't use anything on my headlights, but I suppose a good paste wax or plastic preservative wouldn't be a bad idea.

author
carlos66ba (author)2016-02-21

I am curious about this. I see MANY cars with faded, yellow, not-very-transparent, lights out there. However, our 1999 Corolla (17 years old!) and our 2007 RAV4 (9 years) show no sign of this at all. Do you have any idea why some cars experience this horrible thing and why others don't? Thanks!

author
oz5es (author)carlos66ba2016-02-23

If memory serves me right, I believe the -99 Corolla had headlights with glass.

Best regards Ebbe.

author
carlos66ba (author)oz5es2016-02-23

No. Plastic (and so are the RAV4's headlights too).

author
oz5es (author)carlos66ba2016-02-23

Sorry, it's more than 10 years ago I left the Garage, and I may have left some of my memory there. ;-)

All the best.

Ebbe

author
mr1031 (author)carlos66ba2016-02-22

Carlos, that is a good question. My project was a 2009 Camry - same manufacturer as your car. I suppose that winter weather in the northern half of the US is rougher on cars than in the southern half. We have road salt and saline/brine solution that eat away at plastics. My car also spends time along the Atlantic Ocean, where we get the same effect from the salt air. There could be other factors at play, but those are the two that come to my mind. An engineer may have other observations.
Thank you for reading my Instructable!

author
flaco1 (author)2016-02-21

I used the same polishing compound with a small damp wash towel and had great results.

author
mr1031 (author)flaco12016-02-22

Thank you for reading my Instructable!

author
mrgw98 (author)2016-02-21

Just use Armen Hammer toothpaste, a wet rag, and squirt a bit of the toothpaste on the headlight, rub and rinse.

author
mr1031 (author)mrgw982016-02-21

I have used toothpaste in the past on other vehicles. This time I thought I would try polishing compound.

author
mrgw98 (author)mrgw982016-02-21

It ends up costing only $3-4 USD depending on where you buy it from

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