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Over time, the sun’s UV rays can damage the plastic housing used for most modern car headlights. This leaves behind pockmarks and checks, ultimately making the headlight look foggy. Not only is this aesthetically displeasing, it diminishes your car’s ability to illuminate the road ahead and can compromise safety.
Because it’s rare for headlight covers to actually leak or crack, causing condensation buildup on the inside with the only real resolution being a full replacement, most foggy headlights are damaged on the outside and can be restored back to originality - or as close to it as a used car can get. Here are three ways to clear foggy headlight covers.
Use toothpaste to clean headlights
This has become somewhat of an old-wives’ tale, but the “toothpaste method” can work pending the severity of damage. In the same vein of how it breaks away dirt from your teeth, toothpaste can help restore your headlights - as long as you use it properly.
Step 1: Tape off the headlights. Use masking tape to outline your headlights so nothing gets on the paint.
Step 2: Apply toothpaste to a rag. Very slowly and very firmly apply the toothpaste to the headlight, moving in a circular motion.
Step 3: Rinse, repeat, dry. If your headlights are significantly damaged, you may need to apply toothpaste multiple times.
When you’re done, rinse the headlight and allow it to air dry.
Use special solvents to clean headlights
If you feel uncomfortable using toothpaste on your car, or if your headlights need a thorough restoration, it’s best to visit your local auto parts store and buy special solvents designed specifically for headlights. These will be found in the cleaning section, and there are numerous variations - some requiring an electric buffer. For this method, we’ll focus on the ones that don’t.
Step 1: Pick your favorite cleaner. Because there are so many on the market, you’ll want to be mindful of what tools you already have.
Some kits come with sponges used to spread and “buff” the solvent while others come with higher grit sandpaper strips to really clean the oxidation.
Pick the one that’s going to be most convenient for you but do be aware that some brands have a higher prestige when comes to cleaning - and for good reason.
Step 2: Tape off headlights. Use masking tape to outline your headlights so nothing gets on the paint. Some cleaning kits come with this for your convenience.
Step 3: Rinse headlights prior to applying solvent. Using water and a rag, simply make sure you have the headlights as clean as they can be all on their own - basically make sure there is no road grime so you’re working with a clear surface.
Step 4: Follow application instructions for solvent. It’s important not to go rogue and just apply the solvent from your cleaning kit - some recommend specific methods such as using applying with a sponge or a spray bottle.
Step 5: Allow to dry. Make sure you’re doing this job on a dry, sunny day so your headlights can dry properly.
Use a buffer to clean headlights
This is the professional method and the most effective way to clean foggy headlights. It does require you to have an electric buffer or a drill to insert a buffing pad, but the advantages of using a power tool will bring a hefty ROI if your headlights are very cloudy.
There are some cleaning kits available that sell small electric buffers and pads specifically for this application.
Step 1: Rinse headlights prior to using buffer. Using water and a rag, rinse and clean the headlights to remove road grime so you’re working with a clear surface.
Step 2: Tape off the headlights. Use masking tape to outline your headlights so nothing gets on the paint.
Step 3: Use the solvent and the buffer together slowly. It’s important to pick a slow speed and work in a circular motion when you buff so not to damage the headlight even more.
Step 4: Rinse, wax, and dry. Many kits will come with wax to protect the headlights once they’ve been cleaned. Rinse away the solvent, apply the wax and let the headlight dry.
Foggy headlights are not only ugly, but they can be dangerous - putting you at risk of getting into an accident. While it is important that you maintain your car’s critical safety features, it’s equally important to protect it from any hypothetical situation.