To permanently restore headlights, you'll need to sand off the oxidized layer from the lenses and apply a new UV coating. You'll need sanding sheets and you'll need to use a grit progression of 600 grit, 1,000 grit, and 2,000 grit. There are other quick fixes you can use to restore headlights, but sanding will work the best.
Are you tired of hazy and foggy car headlights that diminish the performance of your vehicle's lighting system? Do you want to avoid costly replacements and achieve a permanent restoration solution? Look no further! In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through the steps necessary to restore headlights permanently.
Foggy headlights tarnish the appearance of your vehicle, but they also create a safety hazard when driving in conditions with low visibility. Fortunately, there are several easy fixes for foggy headlights, including a permanent solution for headlight restoration.
The Causes For Foggy Headlights
There are a few different causes for foggy headlights. Foggy headlights are primarily caused by UV oxidation, but UV light is not always the culprit.
Being made of polycarbonate plastic, the lenses on your auto headlights are designed to thrive in the harshest road conditions. However, they’re not so durable when it comes to the sun, which is why manufacturers coat them with a UV protective film. Over time, this film deteriorates from exposure to UV rays, causing the plastic to oxidize and become hazy.
Dirt & Chemicals
Headlights can be ruined by dirt and salt. Over time, a layered coating of dirt, salt, and other chemicals can cause lenses yellow.
Water vapor can condense inside of your lightbox and become trapped within your headlights. Trapped condensation can also lead to dulling headlights.
Temporary Quick Headlight Restoration Fixes
If you need to quickly restore your headlights there are a few fixes that can be performed with household items you likely already have sitting around your home. These fixes are easy and fast to perform, but they won't restore headlights permanently like sanding will.
Baking Soda & Distilled Vinegar
What can't vinegar clean? Vinegar is a very versatile cleaning solution that can be used on your headlights. You'll start by creating a cleaning paste that is one part baking soda and one part vinegar. The baking soda breaks down the contaminants on the lenses while the vinegar removes the grime.
Once you've created your paste, you can apply it to your headlights. Dip paper towel into your paste and vigorously rub it on the headlights. Let the paste sit on the headlights for several minutes before wiping it off with a clean cloth.
Toothpaste & Baking Soda
Rather than creating your own paste with baking soda and vinegar, you could always use existing paste in the form of tooth paste. Some toothpaste actually contains baking soda and can be used as is. Toothpaste that doesn't contain baking soda will have to combined with baking soda. Toothpaste contains abrasive ingredients that break down oxidative contaminants. The added baking soda helps to further the breakdown of contaminants.
Combine one part toothpaste with one part baking soda and spread the paste onto a paper towel. Apply the paste to the headlights and scrub to create abrasive friction. If you have a spare toothbrush, you can actually use a toothbrush instead of paper towel. A Dremel would also make the process faster. Once you've scrubbed for several minutes, you can spray the headlights with water and wipe them clean with a dry cloth.
Coca Cola contains phosphoric acid, which does a great job of removing rust and stains from auto body parts (might make you slightly concerned for what Coca Cola does to your own body parts).
If you have Diet Coke, it would be better to use Diet Coke in place of regular Coke, because it doesn't contain any sugar. You'll transfer your Diet Coke or Coke to a spray bottle and vigorously spray the headlight lenses. Let the Coke sit on the headlights for a few minutes before wiping the headlights clean with a dry cloth. You might have to repeat the process a few times to get all of the contaminants off of your headlights.
The Steps For Permanent Headlight Restoration
While the quick fixes offered above will work for some time, sanding your headlights is the best way to restore headlights permanently. Want to know how to restore headlights permanently? You'll need acquire the following items before you begin the restoration process:
As with any sanding job, the first step in the process is to clean the surface you'll be working on. Contaminants on your sanding surface can cover up surfaces or be ground into the surface while sanding, which will result in an uneven finish. You'll want the surface of your headlights to be clean before you being sanding.
Using warm, soapy water, wash the cloudy headlight lenses. Rinse the lenses several times with plain water, until all soap is removed. You may want to wash the areas around the headlights as well to make sure your tape adheres properly in the next step. Then wipe the headlights dry with a soft cloth.
Tape Around Your Lenses
Since you'll be sanding your headlights, you'll want to make sure you don't accidentally sand the paint off your car. You could always remove your headlight lenses from your car, so that you don't have to tape anything, but this tends to be more work than just applying tape. Carefully mask the area around the lenses using tape and a garbage bag. You can use either painter's tape or masking tape for the job.
Sand The Headlights
To sand your headlights, you'll use a grit progression that involves three different grits: 600, 1,000, and 2,000. We recommend using our Matador waterproof sanding sheets. You'll start with a 600 grit sanding sheet.
You can either dry or wet sand for the 600 grit sheet. You'll want to sand in straight horizontal lines until the foggy layer is completely removed. Headlights that are heavily oxidized may require a 400 grit sheet for more aggressive sanding.
After you're finished with your 600 grit pass, you'll begin wet sanding, so make sure your 1,000 and 2,000 grit sheets are waterproof. Spray your headlights with plain water using a spray bottle to provide a lubricant for sanding. Lightly sand the headlight surface with the 1,000 grit sheet and continue to apply water so that the surface remains wet.
You'll switch to your 2,000 grit sanding sheet after the 1,000 grit sanding sheet. Repeat the process of lubricating the surface with water and sanding in straight horizontal motions. After you're done sanding, the surface of the headlights should be smooth and consistently clear.
Clean & Polish The Headlights
You'll want to clean and polish your headlights after sanding to remove sanding residue. Start by wiping the headlight lenses with paper towel soaked with alcohol to remove the sanding debris. Then, rub in your polishing compound with a flannel polishing cloth using a consistent motion.
If you'd rather use power tools, you can apply the compound with a cotton buffing wheel and an angle grinder. If you decide to use an angle grinder, make sure you have the speed set to low so that you don't overheat the plastic surface.
Apply The UV Coating
The last step to restoring headlights permanently is applying a new UV coating. You’ll ultimately want to apply three coats of UV coating to your headlight lenses. After applying the first coat, let it dry for at least five minutes before applying a second and third coat. Make sure that each application is both light and even. Then let your headlight lenses dry for 24 hours.
How To Prevent Headlight Oxidation
You might not be able to completely avoid oxidation, but there are steps you can take to prolong the life of your UV coating. When possible, you should try to park your car in shady areas to avoid the sun. Washing your car regularly can also help to prevent dirt and chemical buildup. Finally, sanding your car headlights every few months can keep them clean throughout the year.
Contact An Abrasive Specialist
At Red Label Abrasives, we sell sanding sanding sheets and pads designed for use in wet applications like auto headlight restoration. We can also provide more support than just teaching you how to restore headlights permanently. We are a family-owned company and an American manufacturer that takes great pride in offering unrivaled service and support.
So, when you have questions or need a recommendation, our team can give you the help and support you’re looking for. To learn more about our abrasives for the automotive industry, please call 844-824-1956 or contact us online.
David Kranker is a writer and creative maker who has been covering the abrasive and knife-making industries on the Red Label Abrasives Blog since 2020. David spends his time continually researching sanding and bladesmithing to provide readers with the latest and greatest information. In his free time, David utilizes abrasives for many different home and auto projects at his home in Delton, MI.