Cleaning your Headlights – Part 1

One thing that has plagued my own personal vehicles (and many I’ve seen on the road) is headlights covered with a dull haze. Recently my wife asked if there was any good way to clean these headlights. Since I used to detail cars for a living, she thought I would have some cool tools in my arsenal to tackle this feat. Not so.  I really didn’t have to deal with it much since most cars I worked on were new. The reason headlights usually haze over is that they are subjected to constant ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun.  Since most modern headlights are made of plastic, the UV rays attack the plastic and cause the haze. Older cars with glass headlights (really old cars) do not have this problem. So, what can you do?

Sand

I did some research and discovered the best way to clean them is to sand them. “What!” you say, “SAND the PLASTIC headlights lenses?” Yes, I can confidently say that with a few simple and relatively inexpensive supplies from Walmart (or your favorite auto store), you can fix your headlights and have them look “showroom” new.

You may be wondering if I purchased a kit or not. There are many out there available for varying prices. I have heard of these kits and some work quite well, as long as you finish the process correctly (I will get to that later). These kits usually come with some abrasive pad or spray and polish. This does a pretty good job.  However, the process I’m going to share is the process that most professionals follow.

Deet

By the way, I have also heard of people spraying their headlight covers with mosquito repellent, the kind that contains a high percentage of the chemical “deet.” From what I understand, the deet actually “melts” a tiny bit, causing the appearance to be a little clearer. However, my wife tried this, and it looked okay, but it did not last.

What You Need

So our first step is to get all of the materials we need to do the best possible job.  Again, I found everything I needed in the auto section of our local Walmart and the dollar store. Here is what you need:

 

Supplies

  • Clean bucket for water
  • Medium-fine grit sanding block sponge (600 grit to 800 grit)
  • 1500 grit and 2500 (or 3000) grit wet sanding paper (3M sells a pack that contains 1000, 1500, 2000, and 2500 grit wet sand papers. This 5-pack is about $6 and perfect for this project)
  • A spray bottle full of water and a few drops of dishwashing liquid (like Dawn). You can buy this at the dollar store.
  • A few square sponges (dollar store)
  • Some painter’s tape or masking tape (dollar store)
  • Isopropyl Alcohol (50% or 91%)
  • A super-fine liquid micro abrasive compound (I recommend Meguiar’s 105 Professional Ultra-Cut Compound). The 8 oz. bottle is perfect if you can find it. I bought the 1-quart size, and it was $25.
  • Meguiar’s G17804 Keep Clear Headlight Coating (or 3M 39173 Quick Headlight Clear Coat). This is used to protect the headlights from UV rays.
  • A two-pack of microfiber cloths for polishing
  • Paper towels

 

Once you have the items on this list, you are ready to begin.  We will cover the process in the next article.

Written by Gary Pradel