Headlight restoration (and toothpaste!)

I have seen a few peoducts that are designed to remove the “fog” from your headlights, giving you a better nighttime view.

I happened to be looking around on YouTube and stumbled onto some guy who claimed that toothpaste would do the trick… And it did. I did a quick search on YouTube, and apparently this is a method that has been confirmed by a number of folks, including a guy who seems to be marketing himself as a DIY guy.

It makes some sense, since toothpaste has some mild abrasives in it.

One thing that no one seemed to cover (and I only watched 3 toothpaste videos, because they all look about the same) is what is used to “seal” the lens after cleaning the fog off.

I watched one video with one of those auto parts kits, and they used a clear coat of some kind after they cleaned the headlight. Apparently the original headlight glass is coverd with a thin protective coating which goes bad over time. But it is needed to help lengthen the time the glass remains clear. UV protection and all that.

My question is, if you don’t use a “kit”, what could be used to “seal” the lens after cleaning it, and is it even necessary? If you cleaned the lens but didn’t use a “clear coat”, would it just “fog” up again over time, or when you clean off the lens, have you damaged the top layer of the glass, and the “clear coat” is necessary to fill in any tiny imperfections that are left over from the cleaning process?

Could a regular spray clear coat simply be used?

From what I’ve read the lens will get hazy relatively quickly if left unsealed. Sorry, I don’t know what materials are used or would be effective to seal it.

You’re probably aware, but I’ll mention that the lens is plastic rather than actual glass.

Something like this, though it’s not really a permanent “seal” but a UV protectant best reapplied somewhat regularly.

When I see those commercials on TV, the person restoring the headlights is always wearing protective gloves. Is that just to make the prospective customer think, “That must be really strong!” or is the glop really that dangerous?

For one thing, it prevents skin oils from getting onto the plastic while removing the old protective coating, where it might compromise the adhesion of the new protective coating.

And of course who knows what solvents are present in the liquid used for removing the old coating and in the goop used to apply the new coating. Likely one or more organic solvents, which generally aren’t good for you when absorbed through the skin. At the very least, dry, irritated skin is a possibility.

Toothpaste is a mild abrasive. If your headlights are very lightly fogged, it might help. A little.

I’ve reworked headlights with actual rubbing compounds and abrasive pads chucked into drills, and it’s still a lot of work.

If you really want to make them look better, buy a quality kit like 3M’s and do it right.

If you want to wear yourself out for little results, try toothpaste.

If you must do it cheaply, just buy some fine sandpaper and wet-sand them…don’t bother with toothpaste.

I’m going to guess the stuff is ultra-fine polishing compound.

The lens is a polycarbonate, IIRC.

When you buy the vehicle, buy a set of replacement lenses for however long it takes them to fog.

If they fog in 3 years and you expect to keep the vehicle for 20 years, buy 7 sets.

If nothing else, your used vehicle will look much better when you sell it if you replace the lenses or include a set with purchase.

And - if any of these kits really worked, how long do you suppose it would take for the manufacturers to install them at the factory?

Huh? The kit works but requires hand labor. The final step is a sealant that’s similar to what the makers do apply, but which doesn’t last forever.

This. I got the kit and did it once. 5 years later I needed to do it again & couldn’t find the kit so I tried what I had on hand. Toothpaste was way too fine (it’s essentially jewellers’ rouge plus flavor and flourine), and the sandpaper I had wasn’t fine enough, so fail. Then I found the old kit and bingo, it worked great. You can get all the stuff yourself but the kit is convenient and not expensive.

Sorry I can’t answer the OP’s question about what the sealant is.

The kit includes that but also a polymer sealant as the final step. You rub the compound. You don’t rub the sealant.

More like 8 years. Lenses are hundreds of dollars, at least for my 2000 minivan. Kits are cheap.

Oh I can answer about omitting the sealant. The first application, I skipped the sealant; I wanted to check it out on the road at night first and maybe do more polishing. And then I didn’t get back around to it until years later.

The lense is clearer after the sealant is applied, and the job seems to last quite a bit longer, too.

On reflection it was probably more like 3 years between 1st and 2nd round.

Thanks folks. I am going to have mine restored tomorrow in point of fact, but they were restored last year, and quickly got foggy again. This time I’ll use that restoration stuff.

yeah. from the factory the headlamp lenses are polycarbonate and have a hard coating applied:


it offers abrasion and UV resistance, but the key word is “resistance.” it doesn’t last forever. so you definitely want to re-apply a sealer coat after you use one of these kits.

This. Most car headlights are not “lenses” like you find on driving and aftermarket fog lights. They’re the entire headlight assembly - lens, reflector, mounting fittings, etc. and they can be $1,000 on some cars. A couple of hundred on many.

I use rubbing compound.
It takes under a minute to remove the haze from each lens, and I do it whenever they start to fog up again, which is pretty fast out here in the desert.
If I cand find some of the sealant, I’ll use that next time.

I did the kit thing, and it was a lot of work with passable results. A neighbor told us to try Deep Woods Off. Wipe it on, wipe it off. Again, not perfect, but as good as the kit, much less work and mess, and so far is lasting pretty long. I thought maybe it was the oils that were the equivalent of spitting on a scratched lens making the scratches seem to disappear until it dried, but after several hard rains, they still look good and there’s a noticeable difference in in headlight brightness.

Probably, but the sealant that came in the Sylvania kit I bought once upon a time was thicker and self-leveling. I followed the application instructions, which say to use a folded paper towel and coat the headlight in 1" overlapping passes. It turned out great, and I had plenty of sealant left in the bottle for more headlights. The rest of the kit is basically junk, an alcohol wipe, rubber glove, and some automotive wet-sand paper that you can get at any parts store. I know $20 is steep for 1 little bottle of UV coating, but it works really, really well.

I usually wipe down the lens with a paper towel with gasoline, to dissolve the oxidized plastic, then seal the lens by buffing with car wax.

My 15 yo Lexus ES300 still looks new, including the headlights.:cool:

Yes… But thanks for pointing it out for anyone who may not have realized this.

Once upon a time, when I was a lad, when your headlight burned out, you bought a new one, which was a self-contained light, enclosed in its own glass case. But now, all you buy is a bulb, and the plastic assembly that is now part of the car is indeed expensive.

So, you just redo everything? I would think that each successive application would dig into the plastic a little more, making the lights permanently foggy. This does not seem to be true based on your answer.

This is an interesting idea. And i have some deep woods off, I think. Hmmm… If I do, I will try it and report.

This makes sense (the thicker, self-leveling coating). Not sure why the other stories seem to have varying levels of success. I wonder if the lens plastic is different on different models?

Just curious, but why gasoline, and how did you come to this solution?

Not arguing with your results. 15 years speaks for itself!
I watched another video on youtube, and the guy used a very fine sandpaper and wetsanded it by hand. Then, he used some sort of spray sealant.

I was wondering if rubbing compound would work, and I guess the answer is yes, but I am curious… Has anyone tried one of the kits (or any other product/method) and permanently damaged their lens? I would think that too much elbow grease could permanently scratch the plastic, making it forever foggy. But no one seems to have had this happen to them, so is it impossible to ruin the lens?

The rubbing compound removes microns of material - it’s the same stuff you use to remove oxidation on the paint of your car. I put it on an old t-shirt and rub it onto the lens, and it just takes moments to remove the haze. Then I’m good for a few more months.

When you start with the coarsest abrasive in the kit the lens indeed becomes completely clouded over - but if you do it correctly (not difficult if you follow the instructions), as you move to the finer grit grades and eventually to the rubbing compound you progressively polish out the scratches left behind by the previous step, and end up with a like-new smooth/clear surface when finished…if you’ve ever done any woodworking it’s analogous to refining the smoothness of a surface using finer and finer grades of sandpaper.