DIY Guide: How to Clean Car Headlight Covers

what can you use to clean headlight covers

DIY Guide: How to Clean Car Headlight Covers

Writer – John Linden


Have you ever noticed that over time, your headlights seem to get dimmer and dimmer? Even if the dimness isn’t severe, the fact that you’re experiencing dimness at all is a clear warning sign that your headlights are in need of a good cleaning.

Your headlights will accumulate dirt and grime as you operate your vehicle on a daily basis. The change is usually very gradual, but over time your headlights will begin to dim, and before you know it you’ll begin to notice a physical difference in headlight intensity.

Dim lighting typically occurs for two reasons:

  1. The dust and grime you pick up from regular wear and tear.
  2. The chemical reaction that occurs from the plastic on your headlight cover reacting to UV rays.

Why cleaning your headlights is so important

Imagine driving at night. The road is dark, and it’s difficult to see. You throw on your hi-beams to illuminate the road and realize that the light is so dim and foggy that you can barely see a few feet in front of you. It would be frightening if something were to jump out at you in those conditions. It would be even more frightening to hit another car because you couldn’t see where you were going.

This is why cleaning your headlights is important. The better you can see, the less likely you’ll get into an accident. With that being said, let’s jump into how to clean your car’s headlight covers properly. We’ll talk about how to properly prep, what products you’ll need, and the actual process of cleaning your headlights.

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DIY Guide: How to Clean Car Headlight Covers


Before you really get in there to give your headlight cover a truly thorough detailing, you should begin with a good prewash. Spray down your headlights (and likely the front of the car while you’re at it) and wash away the excess muck and other debris covering your headlights.

During this phase, you should clean both the surrounding panels as well as the headlights themselves. After you’ve washed the appropriate areas, dry the vehicle until you’ve eliminated every droplet of water.

Masking Tape

Once you’ve cleaned and dried the front of your car, proceed to tape the perimeter of the headlights. Painter’s tape will do just fine. Essentially you’re looking for something that isn’t too sticky (like duct tape). Trace the perimeter of the headlight, avoiding any areas you intend to polish.

Keep in mind that cleaning your turn signals are optional. Your turn signals are typically yellow and don’t haze nearly as quickly as your clear headlights. Protect any areas that you don’t wish to be damaged as you proceed to the polishing phase.

Different ways of cleaning your headlight covers


It might come as a surprise that one of the easiest and cheapest ways to go about cleaning your headlight covers is to use toothpaste. Toothpaste is a light abrasive. Thus it’s great at cleaning up any debris that may be sitting on the surface area that you’ll be cleaning.

First, spread the toothpaste over the entire length of the headlight cover using a washcloth. Then rinse it off and dry thoroughly. That’ll definitely get the job done, and it’ll save you a ton of money. Toothpaste can be found at your local 99 cents store for less than a dollar.

Avoid toothpaste with any sort of abrasive material within, such as crystals and cooling beads as this could lead to potential scratching.

Soap, sandpaper, and polish

This step is a bit more expensive than using toothpaste, but it certainly gets the job done. First, use some elbow grease and get rid of as much buildup as possible using soap and water. You’ll basically be cleaning up anything you’ve missed with the initial prewash.

Dry very thoroughly and then use sandpaper to get the gunk that’s really stuck in there. The best sandpaper to use is 400 or 800 grit. After initially sanding down your headlight cover, go back over the same surface with finer sandpaper. Afterward, polish until it’s clear as possible. You can either use toothpaste again, or you can go for a commercial polish that you can buy at your local automotive store.

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Commercial Products

If you’re willing to spend the money, you could always stock up on commercial cleaning solutions. This is the most expensive method, though it typically brings the peace of mind that your headlights will shine sparkling clear when you’re finished with your detailing job.

There are numerous cleaning commercial products out there that all pretty much do the same thing. Most headlight commercial cleaning solutions are fairly affordable. Despite being the more expensive option, commercial products work just as good as tooth paste or soap and water.

Keeping your headlights clean with preventative care

At this point, your headlights should be clean and looking as good as new. Hooray! But how do you stop your headlights from getting dirty all over again? Preventative care is just as important as the act of cleaning.

There are three products you can use to keep your headlights clean for the long term:

  • Film
  • Protectant
  • Sealant

These products will form a shield that protects your headlights from the harmful effects of UV rays.

Once you see that your headlight covers are getting dirty again, don’t wait until the situation gets critical. Clean them quickly. With constant upkeep and preventative products in place, your headlights will look like new every day.

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