How To Remove Oxidation From Headlight

This is our guide on how to remove oxidation from headlights. 

Oxidation and dirt buildup can make your headlights look yellow or foggy over time. This reduces visibility and also ruins the look of your vehicle. 

Thankfully, removing oxidation from a headlight is really simple, and you don’t need any special tools to do it. In fact, the method we are about to use is quite cheap and anyone can do it from the comfort of their own home. 

All you need is some sandpaper, a few cleaning products, and a couple microfiber towels. 

We’ve been working on and testing headlights for over a decade, and we’ve had to remove oxidation from plenty of headlights. So if you aren’t sure how to go about remove oxidation from your car’s headlights, you came to the right place. 

Keep reading for more information on how to clean oxidation from a headlight. 

What Causes Oxidation In Headlights 

Oxidation on headlights appears as a thick haze that reduces light output and ruins the aesthetics of your vehicle. 

So what exactly causes this oxidation on your headlights? Well, there are a couple different things that could be causing the oxidation on your headlights. 

UV damage

The headlight lens on your car is made of a durable polycarbonate material. This material can become yellow and hazy over time due to UV damage. This is especially true for vehicles that get parked in the Sun a lot. 

Road Grime/Dirt

When you drive behind other vehicles, all kinds of dirt, dust, and road grime gets kicked up by their tires. All of these nasty contaminants bombard your headlights and embed in the surface of the lens. Over time, all of that dirt and grime builds up, causing the oxidation you see on your headlights.

Exposure to chemicals

It is also possible that your headlights were exposed to chemicals, such as from smog, rain, or in the form of abrasive cleaning products that cause the polycarbonate to oxidise and become hazy.

What You’ll Need To Get Remove Oxidation From Headlights

Dishwashing Liquid/Soap

Before we remove the oxidation from headlights, we need to take care of any large surface contaminants that might be on the headlight lens. These include bird droppings, dead insects, dust and dirt. 

Dishwashing liquid or soap work well for breaking down the contaminants and clearing them away before we start removing the oxidation. You can also use your automotive shampoo of choice.

Distilled water

It is absolutely essential that you use distilled water when removing oxidation from headlights. This is because distilled water lacks the minerals, heavy metals, and other contaminants that are present in regular tap water. 

These could cause microscratches on the headlight surface, or otherwise mess up the cleaning process. 

Masking tape

We will use masking tape to cordon off the headlight from the rest of the car’s bodywork. This is important since we’ll be using sandpaper and abrasive chemicals to remove oxidation from the headlights, and don’t want our car’s bodywork getting damaged. 

Sand paper

You’ll need three different types of sandpaper to remove oxidation from your headlights: 600 grit, 1500 grit, and 3000 grit. 

Cutting compound

You can find a cutting compound at your local automotive store, or online. This will be used to clean off the haze left over from sanding the headlights lens. 

Polishing compound

We recommend using an automotive wax or a specific  headlight polish. This will help give your headlights that sparkle and shine that you get on a brand new car. The headlight polish will also act as a barrier that prevents oxidation of the headlights in future. 

Microfiber towels

We will be using microfiber cloths or towels in this guide. These will be used to apply the various cleaning compounds, and buff the headlight oxidation out without leaving behind any particles of fabric. 

How To Get Rid Of Oxidation In Headlights

Step 1: Wash The Headlight

Wash the entire headlight with a cleaning solution made from water and soap. 

Dry off the headlight with a clean microfiber cloth. 

Step 2: Tape Off The Headlight Assembly

Use masking tape to make an outline of the headlight lens. This is done to avoid damaging the car’s bodywork when sanding the headlight oxidation. 

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

Wrap a piece of sandpaper around a foam pad. This will help you apply even pressure, and also give you better coverage of the entire headlight assembly. 

Spray the whole headlight down with a cleaning solution of soap and distilled water. Make sure to cover all of the parts of the headlight that exhibit oxidation. Also spray the cleaning solution liberally on the sandpaper. 

We’ll be starting with 600 grit sandpaper. Sand down all the parts of the headlight that show oxidation. Be sure  to do even horizontal strokes over the entire headlight lens, and don’t apply too much pressure or spend too long on any one spot. 

As you sand the headlight, you should start seeing the oxidation and contamination coming off the lens. 

Clear away any excess cleaning solution with a clean microfiber towel and wait for a little while. You should see a thick haze developing over the headlight lens. 

Now, repeat the process with 1500 grit sandpaper to remove this haze. 

Once you’ve sanded the headlight lens with 1500 grit sandpaper, the haze should be a little clearer, though it will still be quite noticeable. 

To remove this haze, sand down the whole headlight lens again, this time using 3000 grit sandpaper. 

Once you’re done sanding down the headlight with the 3000 grit sandpaper, the haze should have cleared up quite a bit, though there will still be some left over. 

Step 4: Use The Cutting Compound To Remove The Haze

Now, squirt a little bit of the cutting compound onto a clean microfiber cloth. You shouldn’t need more than a dollop. 

Use the microfiber to spread the cutting compound all over the headlight lens. Be sure to follow a similar technique as when you were sanding the oxidation off the headlight. Use even, horizontal strokes, and avoid pressing down too hard. 

Here, we recommend using a power drill and a wool pad. We find that this makes the process a lot faster, while also allowing you to apply even pressure over the entire headlight. 

As you go over the headlight, you should start seeing the haze clear up. 

Once you’ve buffed the entire headlight, clear away any excess compound with a clean microfiber. 

Step 5: Polish The Headlight

And lastly, use the headlight polish to buff the headlight lens. Use the same technique as you did with the cutting compound, taking your time to cover the whole headlight. 

When you’re done, you should be left with a clean and shiny headlight lens that is free of any oxidation or buildup. 

Before

After

How To Prevent Oxidation In Headlights

Once you’ve removed the oxidation from your headlights, it is important to protect them so that the oxidation does not return. 

Here, we recommend a couple different ways of preventing headlights from developing oxidation. 

The first and least expensive method is to apply a clear headlight protection coating on the headlight lens. These are specially-formulated compounds that prevent headlight oxidation. 

They also prevent the headlight from becoming yellow or getting damaged by UV rays from the Sun. They don’t however, provide the best protection against larger rocks or stones that might get kicked up from the road. 

Another solution is to use a headlight cover. This is an additional layer of polycarbonate material that goes over your headlight and prevents it from getting damaged by large stones and rocks. However, because there is a bit of free space between the headlight and the protector, road grime and dust are bound to get inside and cause oxidation. 

But in our opinion, the best way to prevent your headlights from experiencing oxidation is to use a plastic headlight protection film. This is kind of like the plastic protector you might be using for your phone screen, and works muhc the same way. 

Besides preventing the headlights from getting oxidized, it also protects against most small rocks and chips coming off the road. Larger stones will be a problem though. 

Conclusion

So, to sum up, your headlights might get oxidized for any number of reasons. It could be dirt and grime embedding on the surface over the years, UV damage, or even smog from the atmosphere!

But the good news is that oxidation is pretty easy to remove from headlights at home, with only a few supplies necessary. 

Moreover, once you’ve removed the oxidation, there are plenty of ways to protect the headlight and prevent it from getting oxidized 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.