How To Clean Yellow Headlight

This is our guide on how to clean yellow headlights. 

Headlights yellow over time and some factors cause them to yellow quicker; some also make the discoloration more apparent. These yellow headlights ruin the look of your car and even reduce the efficacy of the beam, posing a serious safety risk. 

Thankfully, a discolored headlight can be cleaned and restored. Here, we give you the step-by-step guide on how to do just that. The method we use is easy, inexpensive, and effective. 

And if you’re confused about how to clean yellow headlights, you came to the right place. We’ve been reviewing and working on headlights for over a decade, and we’d love to share some tried and tested tips with you. 

Keep reading for more information about how to clean yellow headlights. 

What Causes Headlights To Yellow

Yellow headlights reduce visibility, and decrease beam length. Besides these safety concerns, they can also be eyesores that ruin the look of your car. 

But before we talk about cleaning yellow headlights, we must understand what causes headlights to yellow in the first place. And as it turns out, there are a couple different causes:

UV damage

Modern headlight assemblies are made of a durable polycarbonate material. However, extended exposure to sunlight can cause this polycarbonate to discolor and become yellow or foggy. 

Road Grime/Dirt

Your car’s headlights come in contact with all kinds of dirt, road debris, and even small rocks or stones. These chip away at the protective layer on top of the headlight, making it appear yellow. 

Exposure to chemicals

If your headlights have been exposed to any chemicals in the form of cleaning products, smog, or other substances, they may become embedded on the top layer and cause the headlight to appear yellow.

What You’ll Need To Clean A Yellow Headlight

Dishwashing Liquid/Soap

Before cleaning yellow headlights, It is important to remove any surface contaminants so that they don’t mess up the actual cleaning process. Soap helps break down layers of dirt, grime, and even biological material such as residue from bird droppings or insects.

Distilled water

We recommend using distilled water as it is free of all minerals, contaminants, and heavy metals that could cause damage to the headlight assembly. 

Masking tape

You will be using various chemicals and abrasive materials to clean yellow headlights. Masking tape helps separate the headlight assembly from the other parts of the car such as the bodywork, so that it doesn’t get damaged. 

Sand paper

We recommend using different ‘grits’ of sandpaper to remove the top layer of contamination that is causing the headlight to appear yellow. In this guide, we use 600, 1500, and 3000 grit sandpaper. 

Cutting compound

You can purchase a cutting compound at any automotive store or online. This will clear away the haze left by the sandpaper. 

Polishing compound

A polishing compound such as headlight polish or wax will help restore that factory sheen to yellow headlights and also protect them from yellowing in future. 

Microfiber towels

We also use microfiber cloths throughout this guide to clean the headlights, and apply compounds without leaving behind any particles or contaminants. You can also use drill pads if you have a power drill. 

How To Clean A Yellow Headlight

Step 1: Wash The Headlight

Use a solution of distilled water and soap to clean the headlight assembly 

And then wipe it down with a microfiber cloth. 

Step 2: Tape Off The Headlight Assembly

Apply masking tape around the edges of the headlight assembly. This prevents damage to the bodywork when you use the sandpaper or cleaning chemicals. 

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

Wrap the sandpaper over a foam pad. This ensures even pressure is applied as you go over the headlight surface. 

Wet both the headlight and the sandpaper with a cleaning solution of distilled water and soap. 

Start with 600 grit sandpaper, going all over the headlight surface. Work your way horizontally with even strokes over the entire surface. 

You should start to see the top layer of contamination coming off the headlight.

Clear away excess water and cleaning solution with a microfiber and wait a few minutes. The headlight assembly will have developed a thick haze. 

To remove this haze, repeat the sanding process with 1500 grit sandpaper. 

Once you go over the headlight assembly with 1500 grit, the haze should clear up a bit but will still be apparent. 

Now, repeat the process with 3000 grit sandpaper.

After the 3000 grit, your headlight should look a lot clearer. There will be a bit of haze left over, but that’s normal. 

Step 4: Use The Cutting Compound To Remove The Haze

Apply a bit of the cutting compound to a microfiber cloth. 

Now, go over the entire headlight surface with the microfiber, taking care to do it in consistent horizontal strokes. Do not apply too much pressure, and don’t spend too much time on any one spot. 

Alternatively, you can use a drill and a wool pad. This will be a bit faster and easier, but you should still take care not to apply too much pressure or spend too long on one spot. 

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

Wipe away any excess compound. Be sure the cloth you use to clear away excess compound is different from one you used to buff the headlight. 

Step 5: Polish The Headlight

Finally, use the headlight polish or wax to buff the headlight again. Apply the same technique as with the cutting compound. Now, you should have a clean headlight that has that factory shine to it. 



How To Keep Headlights From Becoming Yellow Over Time

So, now that you’ve cleaned your yellow headlights, what can you do to prevent them from becoming yellow again? 

There are a couple different methods you can use. 

One is to apply a clear headlight protection coating. These are special compounds, often available in spray form, that cover the headlight surface and prevent it from yellowing. However, these only last about a year or so before needing to be reapplied, and don’t offer the best protection against rock chips or road debris. 

You can also use a headlight cover, which is an additional layer of polycarbonate material that goes over the actual headlight assembly. This is the ultimate protection against physical damage to the headlight, such as from rocks and stones kicked up from the road. 

However, because there’s a bit of space between the actual cover and the headlight assembly, it still lets a bit of moisture and grime inside, which causes headlights to yellow. 

The best way to prevent your headlights from becoming yellow or getting damaged is to apply a protective film. This is a thin layer of plastic that goes over the headlight and preserves the look, while also preventing damage from rock chips, dirt, or scratches. 


So, to sum up, we learned what causes headlights to yellow, how we can remove the yellowing, and also what we can do to prevent the headlights from yellowing after they’ve been cleaned. 

If you aren’t confident cleaning yellow headlights yourself, you might want to have a professional detailer do it for you. That said, the process isn’t particularly hard if you try to do it at home either!

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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.