washing headlights on ar with soap and water - feature image

How To Clean Your Headlights Like A Pro: An Easy Guide

You’re on the road, and it gets dark, or foggy, or rainy, or dusty, or a snowstorm starts. You switch on your headlights, and you can continue on while still being able to see what is up ahead. And, others can see you coming.

But, can you imagine switching on your lights only to have a dim glow?

If you can’t see what is up ahead, and others can’t see you coming, that is a recipe for disaster. Many accidents can be avoided by taking care of your vehicle, and one of the easiest things to do is to keep your headlights clean.

It sounds simple, and it mostly is.

Regular Maintenance

Before you set out to clean your headlights, it never hurts to check that the bulbs are working first. You should check tire pressure every month and perform a visual inspection of your vehicle every time you drive.

You can add a visual check of your headlights when you do either.

Switch on your headlights, take a look at them, and replace the bulbs as needed (xenon and LED lights usually last for the lifetime of a car, so if you have those type of headlights, it’s a one worry less).

Also, be aware when you are driving in the dark, and you may notice a single beam at the front, indicating that a bulb needs to be changed. Hopefully, you never turn on your headlights and have no beam!

Method 1: Soap & Water

cleaning headlights with soap and water

This is your first step toward clean headlights.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve gone out in the winter to find my headlights covered in dirt from churned-up snow and all the dirt that comes with it. I have somewhere to be, and I don’t have time to clean the headlights properly, so I grab a handful of snow and rub the headlights clean.

Simple and effective.

Our first method takes that a step further.

What you need: Soap, water, sponge, rags.

Method:

  1. Mix up some soap and warm water.
  2. Use the sponge to wash the headlights.
  3. Dry the headlights with the rags.

And you are done.

This is a basic method that will help you to deal with dirt, but what about when your headlights get foggy?

Why Do Headlights Get Foggy?

Headlights are crafted from plastic, and that plastic can become foggy over time. There are many reasons for this, but the main cause is oxidation. This creates an opaque film on the plastic, causing the headlights to become foggy or hazy.

Foggy headlights can also be caused by the following:

  • UV light
  • Road debris
  • Salt
  • High temperatures
  • Atmospheric agents
  • Water
  • Dirt
  • And more

Don’t worry; foggy headlights can be restored to their former glory. Just follow one of the following methods.

Method 2: Toothpaste

cleaning headlights with a toothpaste

You probably have some toothpaste lying around, so let’s start there. Toothpaste is abrasive enough to remove a thin layer of oxidation without damaging the plastic headlight.

What you need: Toothpaste, clean cloth, warm water, rags.

Method:

  1. Apply some toothpaste to the clean cloth.
  2. Rub the toothpaste over the headlight.
  3. Remove the toothpaste with warm water and rags.
  4. Repeat as needed.
Learn how to clean headlights with toothpaste.

If that doesn’t work, then you probably have a thicker layer of oxidation, and you need to break out the big guns.

Method 3: Sandpaper

cleaning headlights with a sandpaper

If the layer of oxidation is too thick for toothpaste, you are going to need to use some sandpaper. I recommend using 600-grit sandpaper to start and moving onto 400-grit if you need more abrasion.

What you need: Soap, warm water, sandpaper, masking tape, cloth, polishing compound, microfiber cloth.

Method:

  1. First, clean the headlights with soapy water.
  2. Dry the headlights.
  3. Mask around the headlight to protect the car body.
  4. Wet the sandpaper.
  5. Use horizontal strokes, sanding gently for ~8 minutes
  6. Rewash the headlight.
  7. Dry.
  8. Use the microfiber cloth and polish as directed.
User this method to restore heavily oxidized headlights.

Method 4: WD-40

cleaning headlights with wd40

Don’t want to mess around with sandpaper? That’s okay; you can try this method too. It works well for thin coats, but you may have to repeat it if you have a thicker layer of oxidation.

What you need: damp cloth, WD-40, cloths.

Method:

  1. Clean the headlights with a damp cloth (or soapy water if they are extremely dirty).
  2. Generously spray on the WD-40.
  3. Leave for 5-10 minutes.
  4. Wipe off with a clean cloth.

The added benefit of using WD-40 is that it can add a protective layer to your headlights to keep the shine for longer and block out oxidation.

Method 5: Headlight Cleaning Kit

Sometimes, you don’t want to have to gather all the supplies yourself or follow instructions that you find on the internet (even though some articles are extremely helpful. Hint, hint: this one). With a restoration kit, everything you need comes in the kit, and there are step-by-step instructions.

The only thing to remember with these kits is to follow the instructions exactly, and you should have no problems.

Cleaning Inside Headlights

If you’ve cleaned your headlights but there is still dirt on them, you might have to clean inside the headlight. This cleaning can be a lot trickier than cleaning the exterior as you will have to remove the headlight, and headlights come in a variety of shapes and sizes, so be careful if you are going to attempt this.

My tip is that, unless the dirt inside is affecting your driving or safely, leave it as it is.

What you need: automotive soap, warm water, microfiber cloth.

Method:

  1. First, consult your car manual or check out instructions online to remove the headlight.
  2. Remove the bulbs and screws.
  3. Remove the front headlight lens.
  4. Mix the soap and water.
  5. Pour some water onto the lens.
  6. Swill the water, and agitate gently.
  7. If the dirt comes off, you can jump to the drying stage.
  8. If not, use the microfiber cloth to gently clean the lens.
  9. Rinse the soapy water.
  10. Allow to air dry.
  11. Reinstall the headlight.
An alternative way of cleaning the inside of your headlights.

If that does not get the lens clean, I don’t recommend forcing it, and perhaps invest in a cleaning kit with instructions. You can easily damage the inside of the lens, so you have to be gentle.

Benefits of Clean Headlights

It goes without saying that having working headlights makes driving safer at night, in the elements, and any other time when you have your headlights on. Not only can you better see what is coming your way, but those ahead of you can see you coming. If you can avoid a collision or injury by having clean headlights, then it’s a no-brainer.

Another valid reason to have clean and working headlights is to follow the rules of the road. It can be illegal to drive without working headlights, and that includes headlights that are foggy and dirty. Even if it is not illegal where you live, driving safely is beneficial to everyone.

By cleaning your headlights, you will also be prolonging their life. The longer you leave the oxidation, the more it will eat away at the plastic below and build up a thick layer. If you leave it too long, you might not be able to salvage your lights, and you will have to replace them.

Keep your lights clean, be safe, and protect those around you.