How To Polish Yellowed Headlights

Yellowing headlights afflict millions of cars. You see them every day in parking lots and on roads. If your car suffers from the same affliction, you better address it immediately. Cloudy and yellowed headlights are not only unsightly, they can also significantly diminish your vision when driving at night. To solve this problem, you can buy another set of headlights or clean and restore the existing headlights to their original state. Car dealerships charge around $80 dollars to clean the headlights for you. However, if you have time and a few basic tools, you can do the restoration by yourself.

  • Protect all the areas of the car surrounding the headlights. You can choose either to detach the headlights or leave them on the vehicle as you work. It is easier to do the restoration if you remove the lamps, but if you are new at working with automotive repair and might find it hard to put the headlights back, it will probably be better if you leave them on. Cover the surrounding surfaces with auto tape. This should be sufficient to protect the paint job when you begin working with sandpaper.
  • Remove the yellow buildup from the surface of the headlight. Prepare a bucket of water and a sponge. You will need these to keep the headlight wet all throughout the sanding process. Get a sponge and wipe the headlights before working on it with an 800 to 1,000 grit sandpaper. Sand the area in circular motions. Dip the sandpaper periodically in the water bucket to get rid of grit that can badly scratch the headlight further. Do this for about thirty minutes or until all the yellow buildup has been sanded off. The surface will appear whitish and the lamp should have a uniform matte look.
  • Continue wet-sanding the headlight using finer grit sandpaper. Get the sponge and wipe the sanded area to remove the grime from the precious step. Spend about 10 minutes sanding each lamp using the finer 1,500 and 2,000 grit sandpapers. Make sure that after using the two sheets, you will no longer see any traces of the yellow buildup and the scratches that you have made are getting finer and lighter. Rinse the lamp and begin working on the surfaces with the 2,500 grit sandpaper. Sand the surface horizontally for a couple of minutes then continue rubbing vertically after. Check your work by allowing drops of water to fall on the surface. If the drops begin to bead up rather then spread out, you can stop sanding.
  • Polish the sanded headlight. The headlight should now look sufficiently clear, however, it will still need a bit of polish to make it shine as if it was a new assembly. You can purchase a plastic polish from your automotive or hardware shop. Pour a small amount on a dry polishing cloth. Follow the manufacturer’s direction found on the bottle. Remember to work on small areas at a time.

Once you have restored your yellowed headlights to their almost-original state, make sure to protect the surface against the elements to keep it from yellowing again in the next six months. Remember to apply wax on the headlights whenever you have the car washed and waxed. Apply a form of UV protectant if possible. You can buy these as part of a restoration kit for headlights.


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