Over time, a car's headlights can dull due to oxidation. Also, they can be dimmed and dimmer, which can be dangerous. Fortunately, it is fairly easy to clean rusted headlights on your own. The best way to do this is with a glass repair kit from an auto parts store. However, you can also use a variety of household items to repair headlight glass.
Method 1 of 3: Clean and Tape Around Headlights
Step 1. Check if the glass damage is on the outside or inside
If you detect moisture on the headlight, but do not feel water when you touch it, this means that you will have to remove the glass to dry it and clean it. If you don't detect moisture and the headlight glass feels rough to the touch, this means there is oxidation on the outside.
- If you detect moisture trapped inside the glass, it means there is a leak somewhere in the headlight assembly. If this is the case, cleaning the outside of the glass will only minimally improve the appearance and light output. The inside of the glass may need to be cleaned, dried, and sealed to prevent more moisture from entering.
- Headlights with internal water damage take a lot more work to clean. In this case, it may be easier to replace the glass rather than repair it.
Step 2. Clean the headlight glass well with water and car detergent
Spray the headlight glass with water to remove large particles, dirt, or insects from its surface. Next, dip a soft cloth in a bucket of warm water and detergent and wipe it horizontally to clean the glass.
- It is very important that you remove dirt, grime, sticky grime, dust, and other debris that accumulates on your headlights while driving.
- You should work gently and apply moderate pressure with the cloth when cleaning the glass to avoid damaging it.
Step 3. Dry the glass and surrounding areas, and then apply masking tape to the surrounding trim
Use a soft towel or a hair dryer to quickly dry the glass and surrounding areas. Apply masking tape to the trim around the glass to avoid damaging the paint or car body during the cleaning process.
Avoid using silver tape, as it can ruin or peel off the car paint when you remove it
tip- Avoid applying cleaning solution or polish to paint, chrome, plastic, or rubber materials. Consider putting a plastic sheet on any surface (for example, the garage floor) that you want to make sure you protect.
Method 2 of 3: Use a restoration kit
Step 1. Get a headlight repair kit from an auto parts store
Some easy-to-use kits (like the 3M glass repair kit) are available at most automotive retailers. Be sure to choose a kit that includes sandpaper, glass polish, and sealer for the best results.
- If you don't have a lot of experience working with these types of materials, make sure the kit you buy also comes with instructions.
- If the kit doesn't have instructions, you can usually get instructional videos online to guide you through the process of using a polishing compound and sealer.
Step 2. Use damp sandpaper to sand the glass smooth to the touch
Start with 1000-grit sandpaper. Then, use increasingly finer grits to sand the glass until it is as smooth as possible. Dip the sandpaper in water. Then sand the glass with straight horizontal strokes with the first grit. Then change the direction of the strokes each time you use a different sandpaper.
- For example, if you went from left to right with 1000-grit sandpaper, you should sand from right to left or diagonally with 2000-grit sandpaper.
- Always keep the pad and sandpaper wet during sanding. Otherwise, you risk damaging the headlight glass.
- During the sanding process, you will start to detect milky droplets. This is the sticky substance that you are trying to remove from the glass. Continue sanding until the surface feels smooth and these drips become lighter.
tip- The type of grain you use will depend on how damaged the glass is. If you have severe or severe discoloration, you should start with a coarser-grit sandpaper (for example, 600-grit). If the headlight glass is slightly discolored with no apparent scratches, you should start with a grain of 2500). Remember that the higher the number, the finer the grain.
Step 3. Rinse the headlights and then apply the polishing compound
Use cold, clean water to remove any sand from the sandpaper and any milky residue left on the glass. Next, moisten the corner of a flannel cloth with the polishing compound and use it to polish the headlight glass. Apply firm pressure and move the cloth in a circular pattern until you finish polishing all of the glass.
- Continue polishing until the glass looks smooth and clear.
- Depending on the size of the headlight glass, you may need to add a little more polish in the middle of the job.
Step 4. Let the polish dry and then wipe off the residue with a clean cloth
Let the polish dry for 5-10 minutes. Use the same circular pattern and apply firm pressure to buff off the remaining polish that you used first. Repeat the buffing process as needed if there are still dull areas.
- For best results, avoid applying polishing compound in broad daylight, as this will cause it to dry too quickly and the glass won't polish.
- Make sure to use a clean cloth that you haven't already used in this process.
Step 5. Apply sealant to the glass to prevent future damage
Fold a heavy duty towel and squeeze a quarter-size amount of sealer over it and let it soak in for a few seconds. Then, apply the sealer to the glass in a single stroke that goes from left to right, gradually moving across its entire surface.
Once this is done, you should remove the tape from around the headlights and check if they are clean. If they don't look to your liking, you should start the process over again for a more thorough cleaning
Method 3 of 3: Using household items
Step 1. Use toothpaste to clean the headlights with something you already have
First, you need to rinse the headlight glass with water and detergent. Next, apply a small amount of toothpaste (to roughly cover the tip of a finger) on a soft cloth and use it to rub the glass. Continue scrubbing until the glass surface is completely clean.
- You can add more toothpaste as needed, and be sure to keep the cloth and headlight moist at all times.
- You will probably need to spend 3-5 minutes on each headlamp that you clean with this method, depending on how dirty it is.
tip: For best results, you should use a toothpaste that contains an abrasive such as silica or some other fine grain. Whitening toothpastes tend to be the best for this procedure.
Step 2. Mix baking soda, dish soap, and water for a stronger solution
Add 2 tablespoons of dish soap and 2 tablespoons of baking soda to a ½ gallon bucket of warm water. Mix these ingredients to form a paste. Next, dip a sponge into the paste and scrub the headlights with it. Continue scrubbing until the headlights are clean, then rinse off the remaining paste.
- You should scrub the glass in a small circular motion for the most effective cleaning results.
- This method is best for people who have relatively hard stains on their headlights, but don't want to go out and buy a full restoration kit.
Step 3. Soak the headlight glass in a vinegar bath to clean both sides at the same time
Remove the glass from the headlight and place it in a bucket filled with white vinegar. Let the glass soak for an hour. Then remove it and use a sponge to remove any dirt that is still on the surface. Lastly, rinse off any vinegar and grime residue from the glass and put it back in the car.