How to Clean Car Headlights

You may not think about cleaning your headlights except for doing a quick wipe when you’re washing your car. That’s an important step; however, it’s necessary to take your headlight cleaning a little further, especially when they look foggy. Having dirty headlights filled with buildup can make your lights look dim, potentially placing you at risk for accidents. You may even get ticketed by a highway patrol officer if he or she feels your lights are dulled enough to pose a risk to you or others on the road.

Fortunately, cleaning your foggy car headlights can be as easy as brushing your teeth. Here’s how to do it.

Headlights of a Bloomington Mustang


Good for beginners – A new DIYer will be able to complete the project


Estimated time required

1-2 hours


What you’ll need

  • soft, dry cloth
  • rubbing alcohol
  • sandpaper: 400, 1200 and 1500 grit
  • spray bottle filled with water


The toothpaste method

It may seem strange to use toothpaste to clean your headlights, but it works. Just make sure you’re using regular white toothpaste. Mint paste or those that are designed for whitening or other special purposes can damage your headlights.

Step 1: Take the plain white toothpaste and squeeze it onto a soft, dry cloth. Wipe your headlight lens in circular motions in small sections until the dulling grime is removed. Don’t try to cover a large area. Instead take on small portions of the bulbs and concentrate on them until you get a clean shine.

Step 3: Rinse the area with water and wipe with a clean, wet cloth. You can then apply some polish specially designed for headlights if you wish.

The lasting clean method

You can also use sandpaper to clean headlights and do what is known as a “lasting clean” method. This will not only clean your headlights, but prevent them from becoming dirty again in the near future.

Step 1: Clean your lenses twice with rubbing alcohol and then wipe with either paper towels or a clean, dry cloth towel.

Step 2: Use a spritzer bottle of water to “wet sand” your headlights. Do this thoroughly with the 400-grit sandpaper. You will likely begin to see the factory coating come off of the lights. Keep on sanding until the coating is completely removed.

Step 3: Then, you will have to eliminate any scratches left behind by the 400-grit sandpaper by using the 1200- and 1500-grit paper. If your car headlight bulbs have an interior texture (you will know because you won’t be able to see the light bulb inside), then you can usually finish the job with the 1200-grit paper.

Step 4: Finally, wipe them off with more dry paper towels or a clean, dry cloth.

Complete headlight restoration may require a little more than a home remedy can offer. Try a headlight restoration kit if you’re stumped, and watch our videos to help you tackle the job.


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  2. Hi Jim,

    We just cited your article entitled, “How to clean car headlights to help reduce accident risk” in our article entitled, “How To Wash The Weather Off Your Wheels.” Do you think this would be of interest to your readers?

    I do enjoy shopping at the local Advance Auto Parts store in our area. Your company has saved my bacon on more than one occasion. Thank you.

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