How to Restore Your Headlight Lenses
Headlights are critical components of any automobile, and while they hold up well, they do require upkeep like any other elements of your car. The lenses for your headlights are typically made out of polycarbonate plastic. The dense and durable surface of this material is ideal for handling the varying conditions and debris that you regularly experience on your daily commute. However, while the material is quite robust, it does not hold up well against the continued abuse of the sun's rays. Most vehicle manufacturers combat this particular dilemma by sealing the outer surface of the lenses with a UV protective film. Unfortunately, even that film wears over time, allowing the plastic underneath to oxidize. As a result, you might be wondering how to clean headlight lenses, or if they can even be restored.
Thankfully, most damage to your headlight lenses can be reversed, especially if you catch it early. You can tell if the oxidation process has begun by the hazing or yellowing of the lens. When this hazing occurs, it likely means that the protective film is damaged or nonexistent, in which case, you can follow the steps below to restore your headlight lenses with little hassle, expense or headache.
Get Your Supplies
When preparing to restore your headlight lenses, you have a couple of options. You can purchase a headlight restoration kit, which should have everything you need to perform the job, or you can buy the elements of those kits separately. Buying the kit removes most of the guesswork when purchasing supplies. However, purchasing a kit might also be wasteful if you already have some of the elements. Therefore, if you decide to buy everything separately, you will need at least the following six things on your shopping list.
- Different grits of wet/dry sandpaper (1000, 2000 and 3000)
- Blue painters tape
- Polishing compound
- Paste wax
- UV sealant
- Microfiber towels
How to Clean Headlights with Toothpaste
Let's say you need your headlights clean, but you don't want to buy a cleaning kit, or you are unable to. If so, you can do a pretty good job with a toothbrush, some toothpase, a spray bottle full of water, and a cloth. Ideally, the toothpaste should feature baking soda for maximum efficiency. Here's how to restore headlights with toothpaste:
- Rub toothpaste into the headlight lens with the toothbrush (You can use a rotary buffer for a deeper clean)
- Keep rubbing to scrub the lens housing clean
- Spray warm water onto the headlight and wipe away the toothpaste using the cloth
It might seem simple, but if you follow those steps, you should have cleaner headlights. That said, this is an easy fix, so you may want to use a true headlight restoration kit for a better clean. Headlight restoration kits feature cleaning solutions that are designed to clean headlight housings, rather than teeth.
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How to Restore Headlights
Clean the Headlights First
Next, you will want to get the headlight lenses as clean as possible. The best way to do this is by using car soap and warm water with a rag. While it might seem unnecessary, you will need to clean the lenses thoroughly to ensure that all dirt and grime is gone before moving onto to steps for polishing, waxing, or sealing. If the lenses are not clean, then you run the risk of the leftover dirt affecting the finish of the lenses. Beyond scrubbing the lenses, you should also clean the surrounding area just outside of the headlights because you will need to secure blue painter's tape to these surfaces in the next step.
Tape Around the Headlights
In the next step, you will be sanding the lenses. If you are not careful, it is relatively easy to scuff up the paint job of your car by over sanding accidentally. Therefore, to protect your vehicle's finish, it is wise to use the blue painter's tape to block off the headlight lens. Use the tape to create a border around the lenses that is at least a few inches wide, this way, if your hand slips while sanding, the tape will protect your vehicle's paint job.
With the appropriate precautions taken, it is time to start the pivotal restorative process. Whether you purchased a kit or not, this is the moment that you ready the wet/dry sandpaper. Select the most abrasive grit you have, which in this case, is the 1000 grit paper. Next, wet the sandpaper as well as the headlight you will be working on first. You want to begin sanding in horizontal and straight strokes, keeping every stroke in the same direction. Also, make sure that the lens and the paper remain wet the entire time. Allowing either item to dry risks damaging the lens. Take your time and do the job right. You should spend at least five to ten minutes using the coarsest sandpaper.
Next, you will repeat the above process with the 2000 and 3000 grit sandpaper. However, do not use the same direction. For the 2000 grit paper, sand in a diagonal direction, and for the 3000, sand in the opposite diagonal direction. Remember to keep both the surface of the headlight lens and the surface of the paper wet and to take your time. You should be spending between five and ten minutes with each sandpaper grit, which means the sanding process should take between 15 and 30 minutes, depending on the level of oxidation on the lens.
Clean, Polish, and Wax
With the sanding finished, it is time to see how you did. Take a microfiber towel and wipe off any remaining dust and dry the lens completely. Next, take a fresh microfiber towel and apply some polishing compound to the surface. Using circular motions, you will want to rub the compound into the lens for at least a few minutes. If you happen to have an orbital buffer, you can use it to speed up this process. Once the lens is polished and clear, you can apply the wax, which is done in the same way you apply it to the body of a car.
Finish with UV Sealant
Next, you will need to apply a UV sealant to protect your hard work. To do this, wet a paper towel and apply the sealant in broad, sweeping strokes. You want to ensure full coverage, but you should only need one layer of sealant to accomplish this. Do not put on more layers unless the instructions explicitly say.
Test the Lights
Last, once the sealant is completely dry and cured, it is time to test the results. If you see a significant improvement, then you might consider doing the process again. However, some lenses are too far gone and should be replaced.
Now that you know how to restore headlights, you should give it a try. Head on down to your local AutoZone and check out the headlights aisle. You should be able to find everything you need to restore your headlight lenses to like-new condition.
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