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How to Clean Headlights at Home

A close-up of a headlight on a red sports car

Headlights are essential for visibility and safety, so it’s always important to keep them in the best possible condition. Without them, you can’t see the road ahead, and other drivers will have a harder time seeing you. It’s obvious when you need to replace a burned-out bulb or cracked glass, but you might not notice that your headlight lenses have slowly fogged up, dulled or yellowed over time, compromising your view of the road. The good news is that it’s easy to clean them. Read on to find out how to clean headlights and ensure that the road ahead — and everything in it — is brightly lit.

1. Clean Surface DebrisDirty Headlight

The first step is to remove any surface dirt and debris so that you’re working with a headlight that’s as clean as possible. Use a mild cleanser and a soft cloth to wipe away dirt, tar, bugs and anything else that’s stuck to the headlight. Dry the surface completely before you move on to the next step.

2. Apply Headlight Restorer

You can pick up a headlight restoration kit that includes everything you need to clean your headlights, or you can purchase the supplies individually. You’ll want to start by applying painter’s tape to protect the paint around the headlight. Then, apply the restorer to the headlight. Be sure to cover the entire lens per the directions on the packaging.

3. Sand It Down

Using an abrasive pad or very fine sandpaper (at least 400 grit or finer), work the restorer into the headlight lens with straight, horizontal strokes. Make sure you keep the surface wet to avoid scratching the headlight due to grit buildup. You can work your way down from low (400 grit) to medium (600 grit) to fine grit (1,500 – 3,000 grit). Change from horizontal to diagonal strokes when you change to medium grit, and then use diagonal strokes in the opposite direction for the finest grit.

Sure, it can feel weird to use sandpaper on anything on your car, but it works for removing the cloudiness from your headlights. Don’t be afraid to spend some time doing the work. The better the job you do with sanding, the clearer the light when you’re done.

4. Give It Some Shine

Once you’re done sanding, it’s time to clean and polish the light. First, wipe off the restorer and dry the headlight. Next, apply a polishing compound to a clean cloth and buff it into your headlight in a circular motion.

Clean your headlights whenever you notice that they’re starting to get cloudy, or add it to your summer vehicle maintenance checklist. You’ll be able to see the difference when you look at the headlights and, more importantly, when you take your car out for a ride on a dark road.

Check out all the cleaning products available on NAPAonline or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA Auto Care locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on how to clean headlights at home, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA Auto Parts store.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Nicole Wakelin View All

Nicole Wakelin covers the automotive industry as a freelance journalist for a variety of outlets. Her work includes news pieces, podcasts, radio, written reviews, and video reviews. She can be found in The Boston Globe, CarGurus, BestRide, US News and World Report, and AAA along with lifestyle blogs like Be Car Chic, The Other PTA, and She Buys Cars. She is active on social media with a large following on both Twitter and Instagram and currently serves as Vice President of the New England Motor Press Association.

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