Sparkly, clean headlights can truly improve your car’s aesthetics, but a fogged-up, yellowed headlight does quite the opposite. On top of that, yellowed headlights also affect your driving vision.
Sending your car to a professional to get them cleaned is a good option.
But what if your budget’s a little tight or you want to try DIY-ing it?
This Article Contains:
- How to Clean Yellow Headlights (Step-by-Step)
- 7 Alternative Ways to Clean Yellow Headlights
- 4 Headlight Related FAQs
Time to get scrubbing!
How to Clean Yellow Headlights (Step-by-Step)
To restore your yellow headlight lens, you need to remove that old oxidized layer of yellow plastic from the lens.
To do so, you’ll need to get the following items:
- Headlight cleaner or headlight restoration kit of your choice
- Clean rags or towels
- Water for rinsing
- A soft-bristled brush
- A mild cleanser or car soap
- Masking tape or painter’s tape
- Plastic sheets
- Latex gloves (optional, but a great safety precaution for those with sensitive skin)
- Car wax (optional)
You’ve got everything prepared?
Let’s get cleaning then.
Step 1: Prepare the Headlight Surface
To start cleaning headlights, remove any noticeable dust, dirt, or gunk stuck on them. Give them a quick rinse with soapy water.
Once it looks clean enough, dry your headlights with a clean towel, ensuring no water or oils are left on the surface. Then, tape the edges of the car headlight with masking tape to prevent unwanted body scratches or paint chipping from the car.
Or, if you don’t want the sticky adhesive accidentally damaging your car’s paint job, you can tape up plastic sheets around the edge where the headlight housing meets the car body.
Step 2: Apply the Headlight Cleanser
Put on a relatively thick amount of cleaning solution or compound onto the surface of the headlight. Rub the headlight cleaning compound in slow circular motions onto the surface with a clean towel. Then scrub gently with the soft brush to prevent any scratches.
Note: The cleaning compound could come from a restoration kit, or you could try one of the alternatives we mention here.
Step 3: Remove the Dirt and Cleanser
Wipe and buff away any residual cleanser from your lens with another towel. If needed, spritz any stubborn, dried-on bits with clean water and then polish until dry with your towel.
Step 4: Repeat Steps 2 and 3 Until Satisfied
If your headlights still appear yellowish or you’re unsatisfied with the first cleaning round, repeat steps 2 and 3. Remove the tape off the edges once you feel the car headlight look sparkly, and you’re ready to go.
Step 5: Apply Car Wax and Buff It Out (Optional)
You can apply car wax to make your headlights shine brighter or stay shiny longer.
- Apply a generous amount of vehicle wax on the plastic headlight cover and rub it in with a soft cloth, sponge, or a microfiber towel.
- Let the wax dry completely, then buff the headlight with a clean cloth to remove the excess polish.
- For a more professional look, apply some aluminum polishing compound instead of car wax and repeat the above steps.
The clear coat of wax or aluminum polishing helps to protect the plastic lens from UV rays, acting as an extra layer of protective coating.
Now you know how to clean foggy headlights.
But what if you can’t find a headlight restoration kit — is there another way to restore headlights without specialized cleaning supplies?
7 Alternative Ways to Clean Yellow Headlights
There are a few alternatives to cleaning yellow headlights besides professional-grade or store-bought restoration supplies. Regardless of what you choose, the cleaning steps are roughly the same. What differs is how long it’ll take or how to ensure it works properly.
Here are seven other options that you can try:
Toothpaste is not only good at removing tartar and plaque on our teeth but also the grime, debris, and the effects of oxidation on your hazy headlights. It contains tiny amounts of abrasive substances that are strong yet gentle enough not to scratch the plastic headlight lenses.
To use it, apply a fair amount of toothpaste all over the surface, and scrub it in circular motions with a clean cloth. Rinse with water and wipe with a wet cloth until clean.
Note: This only works for non-gel toothpaste!
2. Vinegar + Baking Soda
The old vinegar and baking soda life hack works just as well on yellow headlights as on stained clothes.
Mix two parts of baking soda with one part vinegar in a small bucket until they form a thin paste–– you should see them react instantly. Scoop some vinegar and baking soda mixture onto a cloth and wipe at the yellow headlight.
Repeat a few times, rinsing clean with water when finished.
Be careful to keep it away from your paint job–– lest you want the mixture to clean that right off your car, too.
3. Lemon + Baking Powder
Another old hack is to pour baking soda on a halved lemon, then rub the lemon all over the yellow headlight. This headlight restoration alternative can help you remove some yellowed layers and leave you with a clean headlight.
Don’t leave the lemon juice on the car’s body— it’s acidic and can damage unprotected paint.
4. Home Cleaning Agents (Window Cleaner, etc.)
Household cleaners, like dish soap, window cleaners, magic eraser products, and rubbing alcohol, can clean foggy headlights.
Use them as you would any other cleaning remedy, and slowly work your way through cleaning up the dirt off the headlamp lenses.
5. Dryer Sheets
Surprisingly, dryer sheets can be used for cleaning headlights and restoring their shine! Directly apply a dampened dryer sheet onto the headlights. Scrub gently and rinse with water to reveal a shiny pair of headlights.
The WD-40 solution is an excellent alternative if you need a quick remedy for cleaning oxidized headlights. However, it’s not a long-term option for headlight restoration.
Shake the can of WD-40 and apply it to a clean cloth. Work the WD-40 into the headlight cover using circular movements so you don’t leave any streaks. Within a few seconds, you’ll notice the yellowed headlight clearing up.
Clean off excess WD-40 with soapy water, then gently wipe your headlights and the area around them with the sponge. Finish up by patting your headlights dry with a clean, lint-free microfiber towel.
7. Bug Spray
Bug spray is excellent for keeping those little pests away and cleaning your yellow headlights.
It can help you say goodbye to dirt, grime, and UV damage piling up on those hazy headlights.
To use it, apply some to a soft cloth and rub it onto your cloudy headlights using small, circular motions.
Note: DO NOT use bug sprays that contain DEET to restore headlights, as they can melt off the plastic headlight cover.
Most of these are only temporary fixes; you may need to clean your headlights again in a few months.
Now, time to answer some headlight related FAQs.
4 Headlight Related FAQs
Here are the answers to four commonly asked questions about foggy headlights:
1. What are Foggy Headlights?
Foggy headlights or yellowing is when the plastic headlight cover turns, well yellowish or not as transparent as it used to be. Headlight fogging causes your car’s headlights to shine less effectively or have a yellow tinge.
Here are some reasons behind it:
- Oxidation: Exposure to UV rays and atmospheric pollutants can oxidize the polycarbonate lens of modern automotive headlights. This makes the lenses develop microscopic cracks causing “cloudiness”.
- Road Damage: Small rocks and debris can pit the polycarbonate lens of automotive headlights — creating scratches and lines that make the headlight appear opaque.
- Dirt and Chemicals: If a car is on the road for some time, it develops a thin layer of dirt and chemicals over the lenses of automotive headlights. This layer is opaque and causes dim headlights, reducing the range of view in the dark.
- Water Vapor: Trapped vapor inside the headlight box can refract the light from the bulb, making the lights appear less focused on the road.
2. How Can I Prevent Hazy Headlights?
One surefire way to prevent cloudy headlights is to maintain the original UV protectant coating on the plastic headlight lenses.
Here are four simple steps to do so:
- Always clean them using automotive-grade soap
- Protect your headlights with wax, UV sealant, or a ceramic coating
- Minimize parking under the sun, and opt for shady spots
- Never hit headlights with a polisher, as it could degrade the plastic headlight cover
3. Is There a Permanent Fix to Oxidized Headlights?
There’s no permanent way to get rid of cloudy headlights, but one headlight cleaning technique can prevent yellowed or foggy lenses for longer periods. And that’s by wet sanding and polishing them!
This is a professional method requiring more effort. It also must be done slowly and takes time.
Here’s a brief overview:
- Wet a piece of 1500-grit sandpaper with water and gently rub it over the headlight.
- Rinse the headlight with clean water, then rub it with a wet piece of 2000-grit sandpaper to get a smoother finish.
- After a final rinse, apply wet car polish with a microfiber applicator.
- If the headlights still look hazy, try ending with 3000- or 4000-grit sandpaper.
4. What if I Change the Headlights When It Turns Yellow?
Although just replacing the whole headlight housing is possible, having to do so every time it gets cloudy will burn a huge hole in your wallet.
There are some instances where restoring it isn’t an option, and you should replace them, like:
- When the glass headlight lens on older cars gets cloudy,
- Or after more than 2,000 hours and 3,000 hours of use (which is 7-10 years)
Clear and clean headlights are essential for driving safety, not just aesthetics. Besides professional restoration, alternative methods using household items like toothpaste and baking soda can be just as effective.
But if your headlights give you trouble, it’s best to get a professional to inspect them — like AutoNation Mobile Service.
AutoNation Mobile Service is a mobile automotive repair service that’s available 7-days a week. Our expert mechanics are equipped with the right tools to fix any automotive trouble you have.
Contact us if you need assistance with your headlights, and we’ll send our best technicians over.