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Bright Idea: Headlight Lens Restoration in 4 Easy Steps


Every mile you drive, your plastic headlight lenses are under chemical and radiation attack. Your headlight lenses don’t stand a chance against ultraviolet rays from the sun and volatile compounds in vehicle exhaust, which is why they start to yellow and “fog” over — not the same as condensation inside the headlight.

In the past, replacement was the only option, and an expensive one at that, but headlight lens restoration can bring your lenses back to near-factory condition. Using a kit, like the 3M Headlight Restoration System, can restore your night visibility and safety, and only requires the kit, masking tape, a hand drill, spray bottle, clean cloth and some patience. It’s simple four-step process:

1. Prepare

Start by thoroughly cleaning the headlights and surrounding areas. Then tape off the areas around the headlights, so that only the lens is exposed. This is basically to prevent you from accidentally sanding the edge of the hood or bumper while you work.

2. Sand

Remove oxidized parts of your headlight lens and then work your way back to a smooth surface. Using a hand drill, rated between 1,200 and 1,600 rpm, start with the 500-grit sanding disc to remove yellowing and pitting. Be sure to keep moving over the surface of the lens and don’t apply excessive pressure. Wipe the headlight down and check that the surface is evenly frosted.

Next, you’ll step up to 1,000-grit discs. Again, wipe the headlight down and check that the surface is evenly frosted. Sand any spots that bear marks from the 500-grit step.

3. Wet-sand

Step up to the 3,000-grit finishing discs. Spray the headlight lens and sanding pad frequently with water and the entire surface of the lens until yellowing and pitting is removed. Again, keep the sanding pad moving over the surface of the lens and don’t apply excessive pressure.

The longer you spend on this step the better your final results will be, and at the end of this step, you should note a significant improvement in headlight lens clarity.

4. Polish

Using the foam buffing pad and a dime-size spot of rubbing compound will really improve clarity. Apply the polish to the foam pad, then rub it over the headlight lens before turning on the drill. This will help to prevent spattering polishing compound all over the place when you want to be rubbing it into the headlight.

Using medium pressure, polish the surface of the headlight until it gleams. Wipe down the headlight, which should look nearly new by now. Apply protectant if included in the kit and wipe off with a microfiber cloth. You’re ready for the road!

Considering that headlights can cost anywhere from $200 to well over $1,000, the value this headlight lens restoration kit offers just can’t be overlooked. Set aside an hour for headlight restoration and restore night vision, safety and your vehicle’s appearance.

Check out all the lighting parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on headlight lens restoration, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Benjamin Jerew View All

Ben has been taking things apart since he was 5, and putting them back together again since he was 8. After dabbling in DIY repairs at home and on the farm, he found his calling in the CGCC Automobile Repair program. After he held his ASE CMAT for 10 years, Ben decided he needed a change. Now, he writes on automotive topics across the web and around the world, including new automotive technology, transportation legislation, emissions, fuel economy and auto repair.

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