How Best to Clean Your Cars Headlights

How Best to Clean Your Car's Headlights

Your car’s headlights are a major safety feature, helping you to drive safely in low light and at night. On most cars they are made of a polycarbonate plastic, which is durable and relatively scratch-resistant. But polycarbonates can oxidise, become hazy over time after exposure to UV (i.e. sunlight) rays that can cause the outer layers of plastic to degrade.

That not only gives your car the appearance of having cataracts, but also affects the projection and strength of the light they give out – and even cause an MOT failure. So how can you avoid that?

Everyday maintenance

Wipe each headlight clean regularly, even if you’re not washing the whole car. If you’re using a sponge, take care to ensure it hasn’t fallen onto the pavement at any point – tiny bits of grit in the sponge can cause microscopic scratches to the surface of your headlights, ultimately accelerating the speed at which the plastic degrades. You may prefer to use something cheap and disposable, like a wet wipe, instead of a sponge.

Removing cloudiness with at-home remedies

Degradation in just a few layers of the plastic are the cause of your cloudiness. So the solution is to simply remove those top layers of plastic.

To achieve this, you’ll need some kind of abrasive substance. You could try toothpaste and a firm-bristled toothbrush, with lots of water; or a paste made of baking powder and vinegar, applied with a cloth in a circular motion. This can remove the outer layers of the plastic, helping the headlight to appear clearer. It’s possible that the oxidation will return soon, though, as there is nothing protecting the newly-revealed layers of plastic from the elements.

Removing cloudiness with DIY kits

You can now buy at-home headlight restoration kits, all of which include roughly the same things. To take advantage of one of these, you’ll need an electric drill. The kits include a drill bit and various grades of sandpaper, essentially turning your drill into a detail sander.

The idea is to use ever-finer sandpaper to shave away the outer layers of plastic (the headlights will usually look worse before they look better), and often include a finishing compound that you buff in with a sponge. This compound adds a new layer of protection to prevent the yellowing from returning.

Autoglym’s instructional video shows you how their kit works:

Kits will usually set you back less than £30, but remember you’ll need a drill if you don’t already own one.


If no amount of elbow grease can solve your hazy headlights, it may be that the inner surface has become oxidised too. In this instance, you may want to consider replacing them entirely.

New units can be easily ordered through your main dealer, Including a selection of brands through Inchcape dealerships. If you’re running an older model and don’t want to stretch that far, try your nearest scrap or breaker’s yard to see if they’ve been able to salvage good parts from a similar car.