How To Clean A Headlight Lens

This is our guide on how to clean a headlight lens. 

Headlights are one the first parts of the car that get bombarded with dust, dirt, road debris, and other contaminants. These contaminants might not sound like a big deal on their own, but they can make a headlight lens very dirty over time. 

Dirty headlight lenses make it harder to see the road ahead, make out road signs, or react to obstacles quickly. 

So, we made this guide on how to clean headlight lenses that tells you exactly what you need, how to clean a headlight lens, and how to keep it clean long term. 

Over the last decade, we’ve had to clean and restore hundreds of headlight lenses. So suffice it to say, we know a thing or two about cleaning headlight lenses and we can help you do it properly. 

Keep reading for the full guide on how to clean headlight lenses. 

Why Headlight Lenses Get Dirty

All headlight lenses get dirty over time. There are a number of reasons for this. 

Dirt And Dust 

You might be surprised to learn this, but the dirt and dust that hits your headlight lenses everyday can build up over time and make the lens very dirty. 

This is a problem for any car that actually gets driven, but especially for vehicles that get used off-road. 

UV Damage

Modern headlight lenses are made of durable polycarbonate material. This type of material is quite resistant to UV damage, but that does not mean it is completely impervious. 

If you park your car outside in the sun a lot, or if the headlight lens is exposed to UV light for extended periods, it can discolor and become yellow-ish. 

Rock Chips and Scratches

Road debris and small stones kicked up by the vehicles driving in front of you can strike the headlight lenses and leave scratches on the surface. Usually, these scratches are very tiny and not even visible to the naked eye. 

However, over a couple years, even tiny scratches can add up to become very noticeable. These scratches might be what is causing your headlight lenses to appear dirty. 

Another problem is that these miniscule scratches give dust and dirt particles a place to embed and build up over time. And given enough time, this can make the headlight lens look very dirty. 

What You’ll Need To Clean A Headlight Lens

The method we use for this guide is multi-purpose and should clean your headlight lens, no matter what caused it to get dirty. 

It will remove the yellow-ish tinge produced by UV damage, clear away layers of dirt and dust embedded over the years, and even remove micro-scratches on the headlight lens surface. 

Here’s what you’ll need: 

Dishwashing Liquid/Soap

Dishwashing liquid will be used to do a simple clean of the headlight to agitate any surface contaminants such as bird droppings, dirt and grime, or dead insects. 

It is important to remove larger contaminants like this so that they don’t cause problems with the cleaning process later on. 

Distilled water

Using distilled water is absolutely essential. This is because distilled water does not contain any minerals, heavy metals, or other contaminants that could have an abrasive effect on the headlight lens. 

Masking tape

We highly recommend using masking tape to separate the headlight lens from the rest of the car’s bodywork. This prevents abrasive chemicals and cleaning products from damaging other parts of the car. 

Sand paper

In this guide, we will use a couple different grits of sandpaper to sand away the top most layer of embedded contaminants on the headlight lens. You will need 600, 1500, and 3000 grit sandpaper for this method. 

Cutting compound

A cutting compound will be used to clear away the haze left on the headlight lens by the sandpaper. You can find cutting compounds at any automotive store that sells cleaning products, or online. 

Polishing compound

Polishing compounds include headlight polish, or other automotive waxes that are used to restore the glossiness and shine that headlight lenses have from the factory. It also helps prevent the headlight lens from getting dirty in future. 

Microfiber towels

Microfiber towels are great as they don’t leave any tiny particles of fabric that can get embedded in the headlight lens surface and make it appear dirty. 

How To Clean A Headlight Lens

Step 1: Wash The Headlight

Use a cleaning solution made of distilled water and dishwashing liquid to wash the headlight assembly 

Now, dry it off with your microfiber cloth

Step 2: Tape Off The Headlight Assembly

Tape off the entire headlight so that you don’t accidentally go over bodywork with the sandpaper or any of the cleaning products. 

Step 3: Go Over The Entire Surface of The Headlight With Sandpaper 

Get a small foam pad and wrap the sandpaper around it. This will help you apply pressure evenly over the headlight. 

Douse both the sandpaper and the headlight in your pre-prepared cleaning solution containing soap and distilled water. 

Sand down the entire surface of the headlight with 600 grit sandpaper. Start by going in even horizontal strokes over the surface of the headlight lens. Do not apply too much pressure or go too fast. 

After a few minutes, you should start to see a layer of contamination coming off the surface. Feel free to spray a bit more of the cleaning solution as needed to make sanding easier. 

After that, wipe away the excess cleaning solution and contamination with a microfiber and wait a while. You should see an even layer of haze developing all over the headlight surface. 

To remove the haze left over by the 600 grit sanding, repeat the sanding process with 1500 grit sandpaper. 

After you’ve sanded the headlight lens with 1500 grit sandpaper, you should notice the haze clear up and get lighter, though it will still be there. 

Once again, repeat the process with 3000 grit sandpaper.

Once you’re done with the 3000 grit sanding, the haze should be much clearer. It will not be fully clear, but better than before. 

Step 4: Use The Cutting Compound To Remove The Haze

Add a dollop of the cutting compound to a microfiber cloth. 

Use the microfiber to work the cutting compound into the headlight lens. Go over the entire headlight surface and remember to apply even pressure. Avoid spending too much time on any one spot.  

If you have a power drill, you could also use that and a wool pad. This will be a bit faster, and it’ll be easier to apply even pressure. 

As you buff the headlight, you should start to see the haze clear up. 

Once the haze has cleared up, use a different microfiber cloth to wipe away any excess compound before moving on to the last step. 

Step 5: Polish The Headlight

Lastly, use the headlight polish to buff the headlight lens. Use the same technique as you did for the cleaning compound. Once polished, the headlight lens should have that glossy shine that you get from the factory. 

Before

After

How To Prevent A Headlight Lens From Getting Dirty

There are a couple of preventative measures you can take to avoid a dirty headlight lens. 

Get A Clear Headlight Protector Compound

You can find these in spray form at most automotive stores, or online. They put a protective layer over the headlight lens and prevent dirt or dust from becoming embedded in the surface.

The drawback of these is that they need to be reapplied at least once a year, if not more for cars that get driven a lot more. 

Fit A Polycarbonate Protector To The Headlight Lens

This is a separate layer of polycarbonate that goes over your headlights. It acts as a barrier between the headlight and the contaminants in the atmosphere. 

The thick polycarbonate construction means your headlights are also safe from rocks and stones that get kicked up from the road. 

However, because there is a bit of space between the polycarbonate shell and the headlight lens, some contaminants such as dirt and dust will still get through. 

Apply A Protective Sheet To The Headlight Lens

Protective plastic sheets for headlight lenses are pretty much the same as the ones you might use for your phone screen. They go onto the headlight lens and prevent scratches, dirt and dust accumulation, and even cracks from small stones or rocks. 

These are ideal for preventing dirt and dust from making the headlight lens dirty, and they last upto 5 years before needing to be reapplied. However, they do not provide much protection against larger rocks and stones that could crack the headlight. 

Conclusion

So, to sum up, there are a lot of different ways your headlight lenses can get dirty over time. These can be as simple as extended exposure to the Sun, or dirt and dust accumulating on the headlight lens surface. 

Thankfully, cleaning the headlight lens is not very hard, and you only need a couple supplies to get the job done. 

And once you’ve cleaned the headlight lens, there are plenty of options for preventing it from getting dirty again.


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Author

Richard Nickleson is the author and owner behind Headlight Reviews. He first started the site as a hobby to share his insights on car parts and specifically headlight bulbs, but it soon ballooned and now he writes on all topics surrounding headlights bulbs. If you've got a bulb question, contact Richard here.