How To Clean Your Headlights

Plastic headlight lens covers on cars really take a beating from the elements such as rain, sleet, snow and road debris.  If you notice your headlights getting dimmer, it’s likely that the lenses have yellowed and darkened, not allowing the full beam of your lights to shine through.  You need all the light you can get, especially on those dark roads at night.

There is a simple fix for this problem, which will completely clean the lenses, taking you no more time than around 20-30 minutes, and for a cost of less than $10., which would leave much extra material to clean the lenses many more times as needed.  The simple steps below will work for “any” vehicle which has plastic lens covers.

Supplies needed:
-Very fine rubbing Compound (small can)
-Terry cloth (round) wax applicator
-Clean water in a bucket or container, (about a gallon), or a water hose
-Cleaning rag
-Paper towels or dry towel

Where to Buy Supplies:
-Auto Parts Store or Hardware store

Cost of supplies:
- Very Fine Rubbing Compound   (Turtle Wax) (O’Reilly’s Auto Parts)    $4. to  $5.
- Terry Cloth wax applicator         (O’Reilly’s Auto Parts)   $2. to  $3.


  1. Clean and rinse the headlight lenses with water.  Add a little common dish soap if needed.  The object is to be sure any debris is off the lenses, so the surface is smooth.
  2. Leave the lens you will be working on dripping wet.  It should be wet at all times during this treatment.
  3. Completely wet your application pad with clean water. Ring out excess water.
  4. Apply about a 1/2 teaspoon of rubbing compound to the middle of your applicator pad.
  5. Work the pad on the wet lens in a circular motion with firm pressure, making sure that the lens and pad is wet at all times. This is very important to avoid any surface scratching.
  6. Dry the lens regularly to view your work.  You should be able to see the lens become clearer as you go along.
  7. Repeat this process until you are satisfied with the result of clear lenses.

NOTE: The rubbing compound acts as a mild abrasive to remove only the yellow surface.  If you have more of a serious yellowing problem, and the above treatment is not working as you would like, you may consider moving up to a very high grit of sandpaper, of no less than 1500.  Cost for (1) sheet of this sandpaper, should be no more than $2., and available at any hardware store.

The procedure using sandpaper would be the same as the above steps, except now the applicator is the sandpaper and not the terry cloth. Both the sandpaper and lens would continue to still remain wet at all times, using a firm pressure while working in a circular motion on the lens.
Never use dry sandpaper on the lens.

Interesting Facts:

  1. In 1957, Cadillac introduced four headlights per car. One high beam, and one low beam for each side of the vehicle.
  2. In 1974, Ford Motor company was allowed by the US to use the first rectangular shaped headlights. Prior to this, only round lights were allowed cars made in the U.S.
  3. Hideaway head lights first appeared in 1936 on the Cord 810.
  4. In 1983, the US allowed nonstandard shaped headlights, not round or rectangular, which had been the requirement till then, but instead, aerodynamic shaped lights with plastic lenses covering them, only requiring the changing of a light bulb rather than the entire headlight.
  5. The Volkswagen GTI has an automatic headlight cleaning system that squirts a window washer solution onto the headlights.