How to Clean Foggy Headlights: The Easy Way Anyone Can Do

I’m seeing a ton of advice on the internet that shows people how to clean and restore foggy headlights. But let’s be honest; baking soda and lemon juice won’t help you fix oxidized headlights. In this post, I’ll show you the exact steps I use to clean and restore foggy headlights on cars.

The whole process is extremely simple and beginner-friendly because we’ll use a headlight restoration kit made for DIYers.

Key Takeaways:

  • Using a headlight restoration kit is the easiest and simplest way to restore fogged headlights.
  • Clean the surface and tape delicate areas.
  • Wet sand headlights.
  • Polish headlights and apply protection (clear coat).
  • To ensure long-lasting protection, I suggest also applying paint protection film or ceramic coating to the car headlight.

How To Clean Foggy Headlights With Headlight Restoration Kit

restoring fogged car headlights, illustration

First, I suggest that you buy this headlight restoration kit because it contains all you’ll need to successfully clean, restore, and protect oxidized headlights on your vehicle.

3M Auto Restore and Protect Headlight Restoration Kit, Use On Plastic Lenses, Headlights, Taillight,...
  • KIT INCLUDES: 1 - 3M Trizact Refining Disc 1000 grit, 3 in/7.6 cm 1 - 3M Trizact Refining Disc 3000...
  • FOR USE ON plastic lenses – headlights, taillights, fog lights, directional lights and more
  • 3M abrasive technology removes yellowing and buildup without damaging plastic lens surface

Besides that, you’ll also need a spray bottle with water and a few microfiber cloths.

1. Clean the Headlights

Before you start the process of headlight restoration, headlights should be clean of any dirt. If you want, you can wash your car, but wiping headlights with soapy water and a microfiber cloth is more than enough.

After cleaning them, wipe them dry with a clean microfiber cloth.

2. Use Masking Tape To Protect Areas Around Headlights

Use adhesive tape to mask the area around the headlights. This step is important because you don’t want to scratch the paint while sanding headlights.

Just cut the masking tape into many smaller pieces and tape it around the headlights so you can’t touch the trim or paint with the sanding disc.

3. Wet Sand Headlights

Now it’s time to wet sand the area. Wet sanding removes that oxidation and fogginess from the headlights.

Oxidation and fogginess removal with 1000-grit sandpaper:

  • Grab the 1000-grit sandpaper from your kit and attach it to the pad.
  • Give the sandpaper and your headlights a gentle spray of clean water.
  • Begin sanding your headlights in gentle, even strokes. Keep them glistening by spraying them regularly to ensure they’re always wet.

Finer sanding with 3000-grit sandpaper:

  • Now, switch to the 3000-grit sandpaper and attach it to your pad.
  • As before, dampen it with a spray of clean water.
  • Sand the headlights, focusing on removing any scratches or marks left by the 1000-grit sandpaper. The goal here is to achieve a uniformly smooth surface, prepping your headlights for the clear coat.
  • Remember to maintain the wetness of the headlights throughout the process.

Cleaning & drying:

  • After the sanding, it’s time to wash off any residue. Use soapy water to clean the headlights thoroughly.
  • Finish off by patting them dry with a soft microfiber towel. They’re now gleaming and ready for the protective clear coat!

4. Apply a Clear Coat on the Headlights

By now, all the haziness and oxidation should’ve been removed from the headlights. But they still look dull, and to fix that and also protect the headlights, you should apply a clear coat.

Steps for clear coat application:

  • Dive into your kit and fetch those clear coat wipes.
  • Gently unfold a wipe. With steady hands, glide it across the headlight in even, straight motions, ensuring the entire surface of both headlights is covered.
  • Allow the first layer to set and dry for about 10 minutes.
  • Once dry, use a new wipe to reapply the clear coat, ensuring a thorough coverage.
  • After the second application, let your headlights dry for a solid hour to ensure the clear coat sets perfectly, leaving your headlights fully restored and gleaming.

And when you’re finished, your headlights should look something like the picture below (the “after” version, of course).

how to clean foggy headlights the easy way, before and after results
Image by: Anthony Grathanelli

If you need additional guidance, I suggest checking out the video below. This guy uses a heavy-duty kit, while I concentrated on a medium kit that’s more than enough for most oxidized headlights. Anyway, here’s the video:

Why It’s Important To Clean Foggy Headlights

According to a AAA study, foggy (cloudy) headlights produce only 22% of the light a new headlight produces when working at full capacity. 

They also said that restoring a foggy headlight will improve the amount of light by up to 70% compared to a new headlight capacity.

With the 22% that I mentioned above, you can imagine how dangerous foggy headlights can be during the:

  • Night
  • Sunrise
  • Sunset
  • Bad weather conditions (rain, snow, storm, etc.)

Those are times when we need the full capacity of our headlights. Without a good amount of light, your visibility during the drive will reduce a lot.

If your headlights are moderately foggy, you may not be able to pass the vehicle inspection and extend your car’s registration.

One day, when you decide to sell your car, potential buyers will likely offer you less than you expect because of cloudy headlights.

What Causes Headlights to Become Foggy

You may think that your headlights are foggy only because you’re driving an old car. 

Well, the situation is not so simple. Yes, aging is a process that no one can stop, but there are several other reasons for foggy headlights:

  • Bad Protection: I mentioned this first because not a lot of people know that they should also protect the headlights. New cars come with manufacturer protection, but it doesn’t last forever. After some time, that protection layer wears off, and your headlights become exposed and unprotected.
  • UV Rays: The Sun’s UV rays are harmful to almost everything, so it’s for the car headlights. With time, UV rays will destroy them, causing them to oxidize.
  • Rocks & Debris: When you drive, they are the most exposed part since they are positioned in the front of the car. All the rocks and debris flying on the road will hit them and make tiny dents. You can easily check it just by passing with your finger on your headlights, and if they aren’t smooth, you should protect them ASAP.
  • Dust, salt, and other chemicals: With the little dents on your headlights made from rocks and debris, all the harmful substances will easily stick to your headlights. This will cause your headlights to illuminate the road.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to clean oxidized headlights on the car?

The time it takes to fix foggy headlights depends on your knowledge and experience. Mostly, you’ll need anywhere between 1 and 3 hours to restore them entirely. Of course, it can also depend on the level of haziness.

Does WD-40 clean foggy headlights?

WD-40 may shine headlights temporarily, but it won’t fix haze and oxidation. I don’t recommend you do it.

What is the cheapest way to clean headlights?

Buy some wet sanding papers (400, 600, 800, 1000, 2000), borrow some polishing paste, and do the work. That way, you can restore headlights for under $10.

How do professionals restore headlights?

Professionals use wet sanding techniques to get rid of the haze, and then they use compounds and polishes to bring back the original shine and clearness. Lastly, they apply high-quality headlight protection, such as paint protection film or ceramic coating.

Will car wax clean the headlights?

Car wax can’t clean headlights. Car wax is a paint protectant that can protect headlights from Sun, UV, and other harmful elements, but it can’t be used for cleaning them.

Wrap Up

As you can see, fixing oxidized car headlights isn’t something very hard, and by using headlight restoration kits, you can do it in less than an hour (except for the drying time).

There’s also another method that you can use to restore headlights – headlight polymerization. Which I also highly suggest, and is even easier than this method.

Now, since both headlight restoration kits promise to last for ca. 12 months, I suggest that you also do your best to protect headlights from UV rays. That way, headlights won’t become oxidized and foggy for a long time.