How to Clean Oxidized Headlights and Restore Luminescence!

Have you noticed that your headlights are not as bright at night? Do they appear dingy, foggy, or yellow? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it is likely that your vehicle has oxidized headlights.

Unlike older vehicles, cars today are not made with glass headlights.

Modern headlights use plastic, which is lighter and less expensive to produce. However, plastic headlights are more prone to oxidization than glass. Fortunately, there are several quick solutions to this problem.

Learning what headlights work best for your vehicle and how to clean oxidized headlights will have you on your way to a brighter drive in no time. It may also save you some money, and buy time before you need to replace your headlights.

What Are Oxidized Headlights?

Oxidized Headlights on a white BMW showing the lower light escaping
Headlights dimmed by oxidation

Most cars manufactured today are made with plastic headlights. While plastic headlight lenses need less care than glass, they are prone to oxidation.

What are oxidized headlights? They are lights that become cloudy and tarnished over time, allowing less light to pass through the lens.

Headlights that have oxidation may appear dirty or foggy and often have a yellow tint. Oxidized headlights are not always a sign of poor vehicle maintenance.

Rather, they become diminished through exposure to UV light, road debris, and chemicals in the atmosphere. Conveniently, there are several methods to remedy this situation.

We’ll cover how to clean oxidized headlights, thus making the process relatively inexpensive and painless.

Why Do I Need Clean Headlights?

Headlights are an essential part of your car that is often taken for granted. That is, right up until the road becomes difficult to see at night.

Headlights that are hazy or have reduced light output make it difficult to see the road — and other hazards — and also make it difficult for others to judge where your vehicle is on the road.

Your safety, and other’s, rely on good lights.

With today’s headlight technology and so many methods for cleaning oxidized headlights, there is no reason to settle for inadequate headlights.

How to Clean Oxidized Headlights

how to clean oxidized headlights: man with a sponge and a headlight

There are three easy methods for learning how to clean oxidized headlights that use the following items:

  • Toothpaste
  • Glass cleaner and automotive polish
  • Polishing compound or headlight restoration kit

It is important to note that a hazy appearance on a plastic headlight is not always the result of oxidation. The headlight may just be dirty. Always give your headlights a thorough wash before applying any restoration product. If the headlights remain cloudy and discolored after washing and drying, move forward as necessary with headlight restoration.

How to Clean Oxidized Headlights Using Toothpaste

via GIPHY

Toothpaste not only removes stains from your teeth, but from your headlights too. Most toothpastes contain mild abrasives that can buff out the surface of the headlight resulting in clearer, shinier lights.

Materials

  • Masking tape
  • Clean, soft cloths
  • Toothpaste of any kind
  • Water
  • Car Wax (optional)
  • Gloves (optional)

Method

Start by washing the headlights with soap and water. Using a soft cloth or sponge, wipe the headlights in a firm back-and-forth motion. Rinse with water and let them air dry. Next, apply masking tape to any areas surrounding the headlights to protect your car’s paint and trim. After applying masking tape, dampen the soft cloth in water and add a dab of toothpaste to the damp cloth.

Firmly rub the toothpaste in small circles onto the surface of the headlight. Add water and toothpaste as necessary and clean your lights for at least five minutes per headlight for best results. Finally, rinse the lights with water and let them air dry. Consider applying car wax to the headlights to prevent future oxidation damage.

How to Clean Oxidized Headlights Using Glass Cleaner and Automotive Polish

via GIPHY

Using standard glass cleaner and automotive polish is another simple method for how to clean oxidized headlights. The glass cleaner is used to prepare the surface of the headlight, while the polish — which contains a more coarse abrasive — buffs the surface of the headlight.

Materials

  • Masking tape
  • Clean, soft cloths
  • Glass cleaner
  • Automotive polish
  • Water
  • Car wax (optional)
  • Gloves (optional)

Method

Begin by applying masking tape to any areas surrounding the headlights to protect your car’s paint and trim. Generously spray the headlights with glass cleaner and then wipe clean using a soft cloth.

Next, apply the automotive polish to an additional clean, soft cloth and then firmly wipe the surface of each headlight in a smooth, circular motion. For best results, prepare to spend at least five minutes on each headlight.

Finally, rinse the lights with water and let them air dry. Consider applying car wax to the headlights to prevent future oxidation damage.

How to Clean Oxidized Headlights Using a Polishing Compound

Car Brite - DIY Car Headlight Restoration Kit | Professional Results...

If you have tried the previous methods without favorable results, learning how to clean oxidized headlights using a polishing compound or restoration kit will probably be the most effective.

Restoration kits are inexpensive and can be shipped to your door.

SYLVANIA - Headlight Restoration Kit - 3 Easy Steps to Restore Sun...

These types of kits work best with headlights that have heavy oxidation. A polishing compound or restoration kit will provide everything needed to restore clarity and brightness.

Materials

  • Masking tape
  • Clean, soft cloths
  • Polishing compound or restoration kit
  • Water
  • Car wax (optional)
  • Gloves (optional)

Method

Start by applying masking tape to any areas surrounding the vehicle’s headlights. Next, thoroughly clean each light with the cleaner included in the kit. If the kit does not include a cleaner, wash the lights with soap and water, rinse, and then let air dry.

3M Headlight Renewal, 39162, 8 oz

Every kit should contain a polishing compound. Using another cloth, apply the polishing compound by rubbing firmly it in small circular motions. To allow the compound to work properly, prepare to spend at least five minutes on each headlight.

If your kit includes sandpaper, dampen the sandpaper in cool water and rub the surface of the headlight in a back-and-forth motion. For proper results, ensure the sandpaper stays damp at all times.

Finally, rinse the polishing compound off the lights with plain water and allow them to air dry. Consider applying car wax to the headlights to prevent future damage.

Always follow the instructions provided with your chosen restoration kit, as each kit contains different items.

What About the Inside?

Although oxidation mostly occurs on the outside of headlights, moisture can also cause oxidation on the inside. Regularly inspect the inside of your headlights for droplets of moisture.

Moisture inside the headlight probably means there is a crack in the plastic or a leak in the seal. If you find droplets of moisture, the headlights will need to be removed and repaired.

Take the same steps to treat the inside of the light as you did the outside. If any of these techniques do not improve the clarity of the light, it may be time to consider replacing your headlights.

Choosing the Best Headlights and More

Headlights are a vital part of your vehicle, both visually and for safety reasons. Having no headlights or lights that barely function is a safety hazard.

Having lights that are burned out may also cause you to pay hefty fines for traffic tickets. Besides understanding how to clean oxidized headlights, it is vital to understand how to choose the best headlights for your vehicle.

Proper headlights will help you see the road with ease, and regular maintenance of your headlights will go a long way in helping them to stay brighter longer.

Understanding the differences between headlight bulbs may seem daunting, however, there are only three types of bulbs in which to familiarize yourself:

  • Halogen
  • LED (Light-Emitting Diode)
  • HID (High-Intensity Discharge)

Halogen Bulbs

SYLVANIA H6054 XtraVision Halogen Sealed Beam Headlight 142x200,...

Halogen bulbs are the traditional, low-cost headlight option. Halogen headlights use a tungsten-halogen filament combined with halogen gas to produce light.

These bulbs are widely fitted and are the most popular in the automotive world. There are several options for halogen upgrades which include brighter bulbs, energy-saving bulbs that last longer, and bulbs that emit white or blue beams.

As a rule, the whiter the beam, the brighter the light. Headlights with a whiter color temperature produce beams that resemble natural light.

LED Bulbs

HIKARI 2020, 9006 HB4 LED Headlight Bulbs, 150% Brightness, 100% Extra...

LED, or light-emitting diode bulbs, require less energy, run cooler, and last longer than halogen bulbs. LED bulbs are also more expensive than halogen bulbs.

The light they produce is more comparable to daylight, which makes them less likely to blind other drivers and provides less glare. These bulbs power and turn on much faster than other types of bulbs. Because LED bulbs produce little heat, they are prone to frosting over in the wintertime.

That causes reduced light output.

HID Bulbs

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HID, or high-intensity discharge bulbs, are also known as “Xenon.” HID bulbs use an arc of high-voltage current rather than using a heated filament to produce light.

HID bulbs are brighter, operate at a lower temperature, and last longer. These bulbs are more expensive than other lighting options and may not be standard for all vehicles. Besides the high cost, HID bulbs may also require professional installation.

If you are unsure about what type of headlights your vehicle uses, consult your owner’s manual or ask your mechanic. When selecting new headlights brightness, color temperature, and cost are all factors to consider.

Halogen headlights are the standard light on most cars; however, the owner’s manual will list the specific bulbs you can use with your vehicle.

If HID bulbs are not standard for your type of vehicle, a conversion kit will need to be installed. This may take several hours and cost more, as it may need to be installed by a professional. Always consult an automotive professional if you are unsure.

When to Change Headlights

Knowing how to clean oxidized headlights is one way to restore luminescence, but you should also be knowledgeable about when it is time to change the headlights themselves.

Obviously, when one light is dimming or gone, it needs to be replaced. When one bulb fails, it is good practice to replace both bulbs, as the other is likely not far behind. Regularly changing your headlights is recommended.

Especially since new headlight technology shines more light down the road and allows for improved visibility.

Maintaining Your Headlights

Chemical Guys GAP11516 Headlight Restore and Protect, 16 fl. oz, 1...

After you have learned how to clean oxidized headlights and which headlight bulbs are best for your specific needs, you will want to protect your lights from future damage.

Follow these tips to maintain the clarity of your headlights:

  • Get regular car washes to help keep dirt and debris off of headlights.
  • Clean your headlights regularly with household items such as glass cleaner or vinegar and water.
  • Schedule professional headlight restoration to maintain clarity.
  • Repair any broken headlights. Broken or cracked headlights cause oxidation from moisture.

With regular maintenance, you should not need to restore your headlights for several years. Establishing a regular detail routine helps to further keep the oxidation away.

To do this, simply apply a small amount of buffer to the surface of the headlight every six months and perform regular checks that your headlights clean and clear.

Also, the use of headlight covers during the day protects the headlight from UV exposure and dirt or grime. All of that can wear away the plastic surface of the light.

Conclusion

Understanding the differences in headlight bulbs and changing your lights is easier than it seems. However, even the fanciest of bulbs cannot fix a headlight that is cloudy and yellow.

Over time, headlights lose their shine and clarity. This loss of luminescence may impair the driver’s visibility. Impaired visibility affects the driver’s ability to see hazards and react to them hastily.

Fortunately, there are many methods for learning how to clean oxidized headlights. Toothpaste, automotive polish, and compound or restoration kits are all proven methods for headlight restoration.

Only perform oxidation repair on a headlight that remains cloudy after a thorough wash.

For headlights with heavy oxidation, or if any of these methods do not reduce headlight haziness, consider scheduling a professional restoration or contacting your mechanic.

If you are ever in doubt, contact your mechanic for a full diagnosis of why your headlights may not be working. Clear headlights not only amplify the look of your vehicle, but keep you safe on the road.

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