How To Clean & Polish Your Headlights
By Uncle Verbals
I've seen so many people ask what products to use or how to clean the headlights because of scuff marks or smudges making them appear dirty and non sexy looking. I had some time today so I decided to clean the lights and make this guide for others to use if they want to. Enjoy.
JUST AS A NOTE BEFORE WE BEGIN - Any black marks you see or what appears to be dust is actually from the inside of my headlight, that was there when I bought the car, I plan on writing up a guide for cleaning the inside of the headlight in the next few days.
(Its not too dirty in the pic but up close there are scuff marks and imperfections)
Gather all the products you will be needing to do this cleaning. Its really not that much, in total
cost me maybe $30.
3 x White Terry Cloth Towels
1 x Rubbing Compound (Turtle or 3m I used Turtle since it was avail at the store I was at)
1 x Mequires PlastX
1 x Applicator Sponge (Like what you would use to apply wax)
1 x Waterproof sheet of 600 grit Sandpaper
1 x Waterproof sheet of 1500 grit Sandpaper
1 x Bucket of Soapy Water
Remove Headlights from Car and find a nice grassy spot to park yourself. Wet down the headlight with some water. Note how foggy it kinda looks, most people will say thats on the inside and some of it is yes, but a lot is on the outside. Letting gunk like tree sap, bugs or just dirty water onto the headlights along with stones or other things hitting them can cause imperfections that cannot be removed with just soap and water.
Take some of the 600 Grit sand paper and with Medium/Light pressure make long diagonal strokes across the headlight starting from the bottom and working your way up. REMEMBER!!! to keep the headlight wet all the time while you're doing this. Better to be over wet than under. The water helps clear any debris and stops you from making larger scratches into the plastic with anything that may be on the headlight itself.
The time this takes depends on how badly your headlight is damaged or dirty. I did mine for 3-4 minutes with Medium/Light pressure, remember we're just doing this to scratch the surface and make it rough. Once you're gone over the entire headlight once or twice with the 600 grit your headlight will look VERY hazy don't panic this is normal. Sorry I didn't take a pic of what it looked like after the 600 Grit. The plastic will feel rough.
Wash headlight down to remove any debris from the surface. Again don't worry if it looks VERY VERY hazy this is normal, c'mon we just took sandpaper to plastic it wont look like glass just yet
Now we take some of the 1500 Grit sand paper and do the exact same thing again. Keep the headlight wet all the time you are doing this. Start from the bottom and work your way up making diagonal strokes back and forth. (This is just to keep them uniform and I found doing it this way was easier to make it over the hump our low beam light makes in the plastic) Remember to use Medium/Light pressure. The time this will take is approx double what you spent with the 600 grit, We want to smooth out the majority of the scratches. The headlight should be pretty much smooth at this point. Wash off Debris and let headlight dry or use a cloth. It should look a little less hazy than the 600 grit.
Grab a White Terry Cloth and the Turtle/3m Rubbing Compound. Apply about a Quarter size to the cloth
This is where all your strength and Endurance you've been building up in your arm is going to come in.
Start at a one point on the headlight (I started from turn signal corner) and make small circles rubbing this compound onto the light use HARD PRESSURE. You will notice the compound may have particles in it thats just because its a finer grit than the sand paper we were using. This is going to pretty much remove all the scratches that we put on with the 600 and 1500 Grit sandpaper.
Keep rubbing this stuff in. You know you haven't been rubbing enough unless your arm feels like it is going to fall off and then some.
KEEP RUBBING, C'MON GUYS WE'RE ALMOST DONE... kinda
Remember to use HARD PRESSURE we want to smooth out all those scratches. Once you have rubbed for a while in one area, use a clean part of the Terry Cloth and wipe the excess compound off and start on a new spot. Another quarter sized piece on a clean part of the cloth and continue. You will notice how much clearer the headlight is compared to how the like looked after 600/1500 grit sandpaper. Once you have gone over the entire headlight with the rubbing compound wash off the excess and dry with a towel.
Note how much cleaner it looks compared to before we used the compound, BUT it is still not good enough for those of us who want it to look like sex, For Step 6 some of you are going to hate me for this or wish you never attempted to clean your headlights because your arm feels like death.
REPEAT STEPS 4 AND 5 ONCE MORE
Use the 1500 grit sand paper making long strokes from left to right remember to keep the headlight very wet while doing this. Use Medium/Light Pressure. Wash off the headlight once you are finished with the sandpaper and use a clean part of the Terry Cloth with a quarter sized piece of Rubbing Compound and get back to rubbing circles.
Once you have finished wiping off the excess Rubbing Compound, let the headlight dry or use a cloth. It should seem a little foggy but smooth like glass to the touch, if you still have chips or any imperfections in the plastic you may need to go over it with sandpaper and rubbing compound one more time.
Time to break out the Meguire's PlastX and applicator sponge
Take the sponge and apply another quarter sized gob.
Start at one part of the headlight (I started at turning signal) and apply with medium/Light pressure in circles onto the headlight. You may want to switch to your other arm if you haven't already just to give yourself a break.
(Side note, now you know how it felt for Daniel LaRusso in Karate Kid... wax on wax off grasshopper)
you will slowly start to see the plastic clearing up and almost becoming glass like. Once you have finished in one area used a clean piece of Terry Cloth and just wipe clean the plastic to remove any excess PlastX. (The plastic is probably so smooth you may even hear squeaking as you're rubbing in circles)
You can see where I started on the turning signal and it becomes foggy towards the center of the headlight where I hadn't started rubbing yet. (Note the sponge. I had some rubbing compound on my fingers so thats what the marks are, I was not using that side to apply the PlastX, those are just finger imprints from where I was pushing on the pad)
In this pic above you can see where I had moved to polishing the high beam area its slowly starting to come togeather now. Remember to wipe away any excess goo once you're done, you don't want it cooking onto the plastic if you leave it there while you finish the rest of the headlight.
Once you are done and satisfied with the headlight, how clean it looks, no imperfections on the outside and all that, go ahead and start on the other one. Here is a pic now that I'm done.
As you can see the headlight on the Left still is a little foggy near the high beam area, I was not actually done that one yet when I took the pic, but the headlight on the Right is done and clear/smooth like glass.
Install headlights back on car and admire at what all your hard work has done.
As you can see all that I need to do now is clean the inside. Mostly the plastic covering within the housing itself.
I hope this guide is helpful to others.
good luck polishing.