How To Clean Plastic Headlight Lens

In this article, we’re going to bring you easy ways to clean plastic headline lenses, and also improve your visibility when driving in adverse weather or at night.

Dim headlights or poor visibility at night is more often than not caused by dirty headlight lenses. The good news is, they’re easy to clean, and also easy to keep clean if you know how.

If your headlights are hazed over or have a yellowish tint to them, that’s due to oxidation within the deadlight casing. This is an easy DIY task and requires little know-how to fix.

Here is a step-by-step guide to get your car’s headlights looking as good as new, and make night driving as safe as it was when you drove your vehicle off the floor at the lot.

What Causes Plastic Headlight Lenses To Become Dirty

Automotive headlight lenses are generally manufactured from polycarbonate plastic. It’s a great material for handling the harsh conditions these units are subjected to when you’re driving, but it really gets hammered by the sun. To protect the lenses, manufacturers use a protective UV filter to coat the lenses.

It only delays the sun’s destructive power – it doesn’t prevent it. So, over time, the plastic starts to oxidize. And that is why your headlights start to look yellow and dirty over time.

What You’ll Need To Clean A Plastic Headlight Lens

As we said, solving the problem is a simple DIY exercise. Start by ensuring you have all the tools and materials you need:

  1. See if you can find a headlight restoration kit. These are for sale everywhere and will make your job even easier.
  2. Failing that, get some wet/dry sandpaper – somewhere between 1000 and 3000 grits works best.
  3. A polishing compound
  4. Paste wax
  5. UV sealant
  6. Painter’s tape
  7. Microfiber towels

Once you have these together, move on to the actual cleaning. And we have a step-by-step process for you in the next section.

How To Clean A Plastic Headlight Lens

  1. Thoroughly wash the headlight lenses – using dishwashing soap and water will work just fine for this. Also, make sure to clean the surrounding areas on the car’s bodywork – you’re going to need to stick tape to these in a later step.
  2. Use the painter’s tape to block off the headlight and also, very importantly, protect the surrounding bodywork. You’re going to use sandpaper on the lens in a moment, and you don’t want to get scratches on the car itself.
  3. Now, use the most abrasive sandpaper from your kit – probably the 1000 grit. Get enough moisture on the sandpaper, and start sanding the lens in horizontal strokes. Make sure to keep doing this in the same direction all the time. NOTE: This will probably take you between five and ten minutes – don’t be in a hurry.
  4. Now repeat the process with less abrasive sandpaper. But remember to clean the lens before you begin anew. NOTE: you’ve used horizontal strokes with the previous grit sandpaper. Now, use vertical strokes. Also, make sure there is ALWAYS enough moisture on the sandpaper and the lens.
  5. Wipe the lenses dry properly, and then use polish and the microfiber towel to shine up the lenses. Little circular motions work best. Or, if you have an orbital buffer – use it!
  6. Once you’re done, wax the lenses like you would the bodywork of the car.

How To Prevent Plastic Headlight Lenses From Becoming Dirty Over Time

While you were cleaning the lenses in the previous steps, you removed all the manufacturer’s UV sealant from the plastic. You now want to apply a new sealant to protect it for a time to come. Remember, all your work in the previous steps will come to naught if you skip this step.

To do this, simply wet a standard paper towel, apply the sealant to the headlight lenses in sweeping strokes, and make sure you get full coverage.

If you opted for buying a restoration kit, it should have specific instructions for this step.

Once you’re done, allow the sealant to cure properly – all you really have to do is park the vehicle in a cool, dry space.

A parting shot

As far as car maintenance goes, this is one of those ultimately rewarding jobs. You get a great visual effect from the “brand new” headlights, and your visibility in hostile weather, or when driving at night, is greatly improved. Win, win.

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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.