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The Secret to Restoring Cloudy Headlights

Since most of our vehicles have plastic headlights, time will inevitably take its toll and cloud the plastic. Cleaning your cloudy headlights is a crucial task to keep your car looking good and running safely. But if you’ve ever tried to clean them and they still look cloudy, you’re not alone.

We’ll tell you the secret to cleaning cloudy headlights. It’s easier and less expensive than you think! Keep reading for more tips.

Why Do Headlights Become Cloudy?

Your car’s windows, windshield, and paint job are susceptible to the sun’s UV rays and other environmental elements, and so are your headlights. In the past vehicles used glass headlights, Glass does not degrade with UV the same way polymers (plastics) do. Today most vehicle headlights are made from plastic because its possible to create much more intricate shapes with is to fit the design of a car.

The actual action of degradation is a bit complicated but it’s a process called photo-oxidation. Basically, the reaction of photons and oxygen creates hydroxyl radicals that can break polymer chains. This can cause loss of clarity, chaulking, brittleness and loss of strength in the plastic.

Some techniques called UV stabilizers have been developed to reduce this oxidation process in plastics, but it cannot completely be eliminated. Headlights usually include significant UV stabilizers, but the outer surface is still is vulnerable due to other environmental variables they are exposed to.

This clouding can significantly reduce their effectiveness in lighting the road at night or during a rainstorm.

A man wiping headlights with a microfiber cloth
Always use a microfiber cloth when cleaning your cloudy headlights.

Road debris, dirt, grime, and chemicals can also cause cloudy headlights. Gravel and other debris cause nicks in the plastic that holds the dirt and grime, making your headlights hard to clean.

Lastly, water vapor is sometimes the culprit in cloudy headlights. If the seal around the headlight is faulty, water vapor forms inside the headlight, where you can’t wipe it away.

Man putting toothpaste on finger to clean his headlights
Raid your toiletries and use toothpaste to clean your cloudy headlights.

What Clouding Does to Headlight Performance

Cloudy headlights generate about 80 percent less light than new ones, according to a study by AAA. About 50 percent of automobile crashes occur at night, so this reduction in illumination is a significant contributing factor.

To put this in perspective, a driver going 60 miles per hour needs about 300 to 350 feet of visibility to see an upcoming object on the road, react, and safely break, according to Consumer Reports. Studies by AAA found that even most new headlights inadequately illuminate unlit roads at speeds as slow as 40 miles per hour.

This is a glaring reason you should not accept cloudy headlights as part of the aging of a vehicle. Regardless of how quickly headlights become cloudy, you should do your best to fix them immediately to give you maximum visibility at night.

Pro Tip: Keep your truck in good condition by using these tips on How to Remove Rust From Your Truck or RV Undercarriage.

Can You Clean Cloudy Headlights?

While keeping your headlights clean helps with visibility, fixing cloudy headlights isn’t always a simple matter. There are a few ways to improve them.

You can use a headlight restoration kit and sand down the outer layer of cloudy plastic to reveal the clear headlight beneath. However, other methods don’t involve a restoration kit.

While most techniques can improve the clarity of the headlights, it’s usually impossible to repair them completely because the plastics get damaged internally somewhat. This repair will improve things to a point, but they may continue to degrade until you cannot restore them.

Man using buffing brush to fix cloudy headlights
Before you replace your headlights, try some basic at home repairs.

The Secret to Cleaning Cloudy Headlights for the Best Results

Though you will need to replace cloudy headlights eventually, if they aren’t too far gone, a good cleaning or restoration can return much of their clarity. There are several options for cleaning, some more effective than others. Let’s run through our list of common ways to clean cloudy headlights, how effective each method is, how much it costs, and how long the fix might last.

Will WD 40 Clean Cloudy Headlights?

The short answer is yes, WD 40 can help improve the cloudiness on your headlights, but it’s a temporary solution. WD 40 is designed to lubricate and protect metal, not to clean plastic lenses. Using it basically fills in the little rough spots in the plastic and “lubricates” it. It does not really clean the plastic.

Continued use of WD 40 on your headlights could do more harm than good. The petroleum-based ingredients can cause further damage to the plastic headlight lenses, making them even cloudier.

The TRUTH about WD 40 vs Headlights!

Will a Magic Eraser Clean Cloudy Headlights?

Magic Erasers are a standard cleaning product that you can use on various surfaces, from walls and floors to countertops. They can even help clean cloudy headlights.

A Magic Eraser may help remove some grime and build-up that makes your headlights look dull. The Magic Eraser is a dense foam with a mild abrasive. It is good at cleaning dirty headlights and even works on headlights with mild cloudiness.

Clean your headlights with soap and water. Then get the Magic Eraser wet and scrub little circles across the headlights. Rinse with water and dry with a microfiber cloth. You may have to repeat this a few times, depending on how dirty the headlights are.

While a Magic Eraser may improve headlights that suffer from cloudiness, it can’t restore them to their original clarity.

How to Clean Dirty Headlights ❥❥❥ Mr Clean Magic Eraser

The Toothpaste Method

Because it is slightly abrasive and often has chemicals like hydrogen peroxide, toothpaste can be an effective method for cleaning foggy headlights. However, like with the Magic Eraser, toothpaste is more of a cleaner and polisher than a way to fix headlights with UV rays and gravel damage.

First, remove any dirt or abrasive materials from your cloudy headlights with soap and water. Then dab some toothpaste onto the headlights and use a microfiber cloth to scrub a tiny circular motion with the toothpaste. If you have especially challenging grime to remove, you can use an old toothbrush to wash it away. Finally, rinse the toothpaste from the headlights and repeat until you are satisfied with the results.

This method is for cleaning and polishing headlights and won’t last a long time. You need to repeat the process every few months.

The toothpaste method is one of the cheapest ways to clean foggy headlights, as it takes pennies worth of toothpaste and effort to do the job.

Headlight Restoration using Toothpaste

Vinegar and Baking Soda Mixture

Another inexpensive method for cleaning cloudy headlights is a vinegar and baking soda mixture. Like toothpaste, it is an affordable way to clean and polish dirty or mildly foggy headlights. Also, like the toothpaste method, it will only last a few months before you need to repeat the process.

Mix equal parts vinegar and baking soda in a bowl, then apply the mixture to your headlights with a microfiber cloth. Rub in circles until the cloudiness is gone, then rinse with water. Repeat the process until you are happy with the results.

Easily restore headlight with baking soda and vinegar a how-to video

Window Cleaner and Car Polish

It will cost a little more, but purchasing a quality window cleaner and car polish will often produce better results than home methods. It shouldn’t cost more than $20 to $30, depending on what materials you purchase. Window cleaners have more aggressive cleaning agents, and car polish provides shine and a layer of protection, helping this method last longer than the others.

Cover your headlights with window cleaner and let them sit for a minute or two. This allows the cleaner time to break down the grime and road chemicals on the headlights. Wipe the headlights with a clean microfiber cloth. Repeat until you’ve achieved the cleanest surface. Then apply the car polish in tiny circles. Wipe the polish off with another microfiber cloth.

Window cleaner and car polish can handle more demanding cleaning jobs than the other methods, but they won’t restore your headlights to near-new condition. For cleaning and polishing slightly cloudy headlights, it should last a few months longer than the other methods, but you will need to repeat it at least annually.

How To: Best Headlight Restoration Method - Chemical Guys Car Care

Headlight Restoration Kits

Headlight restoration kits can help clean your headlights and repair some of the damage UV rays and road chemicals cause, improving your visibility. Restoration kits typically come with a few simple supplies, like sandpaper, polishing compound, and a cloth.

To use the kit, you’ll need to clean the headlights with soap and water. Next, use sandpaper to remove any oxidation from the surface of the headlight. When sanding, be careful to sand the surface as evenly as possible. Afterward, apply the polishing compound and buff it until the headlight is clear. Finally, use the cloth to remove any residual polish.

Headlight restoration kits generally cost between $15 and $50, and you can usually find them at auto parts stores or online.

While they require more effort than the other cleaning methods, they can be an excellent way to improve your nighttime visibility. A headlight restoration kit does more to repair the headlight and can often restore 70 to 90 percent of the headlight’s condition.

This is the most extended-lasting fix for cloudy headlights without replacing them. Make a habit of periodically cleaning the restored headlights every few months, and the restoration can last upwards of a couple of years before they naturally oxidize again.

I Bought EVERY Headlight Restoration Kit At O'Reillys *And Tested Them*

Replace Headlights

In most cases, you can clean or restore cloudy headlights to an acceptable level. But sometimes, oxidation is too destructive to repair the damage. That’s when it’s time to replace the headlight lens.

Depending on the make and model of your car, this process can be relatively simple or quite complicated. Most handy do-it-yourselfers can do the replacement themselves. This usually involves removing the headlight assemblies from the car, removing the old lenses, and installing new ones. You can remove most headlight assemblies by removing clips in the engine compartment, but some vehicles may require partial removal of the bumper. Please follow your manufacturer’s instructions for headlight removal.

It costs much more to replace headlight lenses than to clean or restore them, but sometimes it’s the only alternative. It is also the only way to return your headlights to the same clarity as when the car was new.

The cost of new headlight lenses can vary depending on your car. Generally, you can expect to pay between $150 and $300 for a pair of new headlight lenses. If you have a professional install them, expect that price to at least double.

How to Replace Headlights on your Car or Truck

How to Avoid Cloudy Headlights

Cloudy headlights come with vehicle ownership, but there are a few things you can do to avoid cloudy headlights or minimize their severity. It’s crucial to wash your headlights regularly. Keeping them clean helps reduce the degradation from grime and road chemicals.

Avoid Parking in Sunlight

Parking your car out of the sunlight as much as possible is an excellent way to minimize UV ray oxidation. Whenever possible, park in a garage or under a shady tree. If that’s not possible, try to point your car away from the sun.

Use Microfiber Cloth to Dry after Washing

Using a microfiber cloth to dry your headlights after washing them may not seem a big deal. However, it is another small step that goes a long way. The tiny fibers of the cloth pick up more traces of dirt and grime from the surface of the headlight, keeping them as clear as possible.

Pro Tip: Do you need some help Repairing Your RV Underbelly? Here’s What You Need to Know!

Man polishing headlights to stop cloudiness
Cleaning your cloudy headlights is crucial to improve your visibility on the road.

Eliminate Cloudy Headlights and Improve Your Visibility

Headlights are an essential part of your car, and it’s crucial to keep them in optimal condition. Cloudy headlights can lead to decreased visibility while driving, putting you and others at risk.

Fortunately, there we’ve covered several ways to clean or restore cloudy headlights, so they shine brightly once again. Now you know how to eliminate cloudy headlights and improve visibility on your vehicle.

Have you cleaned your headlights recently? Tell us what technique you prefer to use in the comments!

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About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

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Michelle H

Saturday 8th of October 2022

I use Novis PK-2. Just the one and two, not the three. If you have heavy scratching use the three. But most headlight covers that are plastic will be fine with 1&2.

NOVUS-PK2-2 | Plastic Clean & Shine #1, Fine Scratch Remover #2 and Polish Mates Pack | 2 Ounce Bottles