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How to Restore Car Headlight Lenses to New

Updated on May 23, 2012

Since the 1980's, car headlights have been made of plastic ABS material. Long gone are headllights made of glass. Sooner or later, the headlight will suffer damage from the sun and the lense will turn yellow and dull. While most owners think little about this, if the headlight is bad, how far the light projects at night can be greatly diminished. Also, the appearance of the car is diminished just as faded paint does the same thing. Your options are to buy new headlights, spending hundreds of dollars , or do it yourself and restore the headlights to like-new for less than $30. Even cars that are just five years or more, can have headlights with sun damage.

There are many kits you can buy and they all do a decent job, however, the most critical element some kits do not include is UV-clear coat. Why? I am not sure, but without it, your headlights will turn dull and yellow much more faster than without it. Make sure your kit states it comes with UV clear coat which is usually put on by hand in the last step.

To remove the yellow and dullness, you need the following:

  • Waterproof sandpaper of 400, 1000. 2000 grit
  • Windex
  • Polishing compound
  • Clean towels and water
  • UV clear coat (you should be able to find it in paint or auto stores)

Step 1: Spray the glass cleaner on the lens and let sit there for 30 seconds or more. Wipe off with water.

Step 2: Using the 400 grit sandpaper, soak in water and rub lightly on the lens using circular motion. Keep sandpaper wet. Do this until the surface seems smooth. Your lense will be hazy free of yellow or clear spots. The 400 grit removes haze, oxidation and failed, chipping UV coating.

Step 3: Do the same in #2, except using 1000 grit for about 3-5 minutes. Make sure the sandpaper is wet.

Step 4: Do the same in #3, except using 2000 grit for about 3-5 minutes. After this step, you may wonder if this is going work because the lense is not that clear, but certainly clearer than after using 400 grit.

Step 5: Using the polishing compound, put a small amount on cloth and rub as in Step 2 for 3-5 minutes. Rinse the lens with water, dry off. The lens at this stage should be fairly clear unless you have missed oxidized areas in Step 1. At this point, the lens is naked with no UV coating to protect it.

Step 6: Apply the UV clear coat on clean, cotton, smooth rag, saturate it. Apply the coating from top to bottom of headlight in unbroken strokes covering the headlight. Apply once and let dry for one hour before additional coats are applied. The thicker the UV coat, the less chance you will have to do this again. Once all coats are applied, let dry for 4-6 hours to harden.

The whole process takes less than 30 minutes. The end result will have the headlight looking almost like-new. If you do have scratches on the lens, it is because you did not keep the sandpaper wet in previous steps.

I think one of the better kits on the market with everything you need is the Sylvania headlight restoration kit for around $25.


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