Momma Told Me: How To Restore Your Headlights (In About An Hour)

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Sunday, October 9, 2016

How To Restore Your Headlights (In About An Hour)

How to restore your headlights for about $20 in about an hour!
Momma Told Me: Sometimes you have to take ownership and invest to feel pride in something.

Many of you know now that I was rear ended, at a complete stop, on the freeway this past St. Patrick's Day and was forced to say goodbye to my purple PT Cruise (aka my 'rolling sanctuary'.) After over a month of searching for a replacement car I came across a cream colored PT Cruiser convertible with an exceptionally low odometer reading for it's age. Those who know me well know I dislike white/off white cars, and convertibles- I was simply feeling beat down and decided I needed a familiar car with reliability more than 'the car of my dreams.' Besides, the car was in mint condition, except the headlights which looked as though they had been transplanted from a vehicle 10 years older.
How to restore your headlights for about $20 in about an hour!How to restore your headlights for about $20 in about an hour!
Life being as it is, things don't always turn out as expected, so, upon purchasing this vehicle, I decided I would make it my own so that I could one day take as much pride in it as I did my precious purple PT. The first step was to give it a little extra TLC- to invest a bit of myself into it.

The headlights had to go. Well, they had to at least look like new, as the rest of the car so brilliantly did.

I wasn't the only one who thought so either, both Jay and my father took one look at the car and pointed out the glaring (erm, dull) elephant in the room- the headlights were UV damaged and covered in layers of grime and stains. Weren't there commercials for some miracle product to fix this? Hadn't I seen, on TV, somewhere a woman wiping off her crusty old headlight to reveal a sparkling new one?  Well, for about $20 you can own one of these magical products- but it's a kit- not some miracle single shot treatment.
My headlights most likely weren't near as bad as those belonging to the average person considering this project. I don't live on the East Coast, where my car would be subjected to extreme humidity, salty air, and harsh Winters (though we do live near the beach)- and the car was primarily garaged for the second half of it's life before I purchased it. But the passenger's side headlight was covered in strange splotchy patches of buildup and the driver's side was considerably fogged over. It was clear at one point in it's life the car had received primarily direct sun to the driver's side.
Well, remember that kit I said we invested in? Well it's a bit more involved than just wiping away the years from your headlights- But it does include everything you need (no extra tools required) and will take the average DIYer about an hour to complete both headlights. Keep in mind that, while anyone can do this project, your results will vary depending on how strictly you follow the instructions and if you have an previous experience with restoration or wet sanding. Yes, I said sanding.

Begin by taping off the liner and paint immediately surrounding your headlight with a durable painter's tape. The kit claims that the materials used will not harm paint- but the instructions suggest taping- and I certainly would for 2 reasons: 1.) We noticed the first solution we used took the color off our shop rags, so it seemed to have some sort of acid or bleach in it, 2.) You will eventually be sanding right up against your car's paint- not point in risking anything there. You will also want to start with a clean car.
Next, treat the headlight surface with the Step 1 Activator, generously spraying, and allow it to sit about 30 seconds before washing away. Here's what we noticed about this process- 1.) The spray is very aromatic in a chemical sense- you will need to step back for air, and you should always be working in an open, well aerated, shady area. I highly suggest wearing a simple paper face mask to help diffuse fumes, and that you keep your face as far back from the solution/mist as possible. 2.) You will be using this bottle a total of 4 times, 2 treatments each headlight, so you should expect to use about 1/4 of the bottle each time. 3.) Given the nature of the product and spray we suggest you wear gloves and wipe the solution off with a wet rag to clean the lens before continuing- rather than use a hose which may send the solution flying onto your car and other surfaces.

Once the Activator solution has been cleaned off the lens, and the lens has been dried, it will quickly begin to cloud. This is normal and you will see this after every step from here until the final UV coat.
Now you're ready to begin sanding- the kit includes 3 sheets, 1 each of 2000, 1000, and 400 grit wet sanding paper. You should tear them in half and make note of which is which with a written indicator on the back since you will be using half a sheet for each lens.

My father and I had some disagreement as to whether a mask should be worn through the sanding process- since this is a wet sanding procedure. I am going to suggest you do since we did see quite a bit of kickback debris on clothing and even in his ear after the sanding process.

To wet sand you will want a small bowl of clean water nearby, and a clean cloth (to wipe up any drips that may make their way onto your car's paint. Wet the lens with the wet cloth, and submerge the sanding paper into the water. Begin sanding (you'll start with the 400 grit for the first step) in circular motions from the top corner of the headlight inward. You should expect to continue sanding for approximately 5 minutes- though cars with less build up may require less time. You will be able to tell you are done when the headlight has reached a uniform, smooth, texture, and there are no clear sections visible.
Rinse your headlight and continue with the repeating the above process of sanding, using the 1000 grit sandpaper. Sand in circular motions with a wet lens and sandpaper for approximately 5 minutes, clean, then repeat with the 2000 grit. When you are done sanding you should have a clean, dry, foggy lens.
Next you will apply the Clarifying Compound, which we closely attribute to a sort of buffing wax. Wet your lens with a clean wet rag and apply half of the compound to the provided white towel. Starting at the lower corner of the headlight, in sweeping circular motions, buff the clarifying compound into the lens for approximately 5 minutes.

We were worried this compound would dry out during a 5 minute buff, but it actually seemed to break down and glide even more the longer we worked it into the lens. Once you are done clean and dry the lens. You will begin to notice the lens will maintain a glossy 'wet' look as though it is holding water along the surface.

Now you'll treat with the activator once more- spraying evenly, approximately 1/4 of the original bottle fill. Allow the solution to sit on the surface of the lens for 30 seconds then clean thoroughly and dry. It's important after this step that you remove the tape, and any residue, and dry the lens, and surrounding rubber gasket. The lend and surrounding surfaces should be entirely dry before moving on to the final step. Of course Nora oversaw the entire process from the comfort of the cool garage.

It's important to note that all of the steps up to this point should be completed on BOTH headlights before moving onto the final step as to ensure one headlight is not disturbed while curing, etc.
You're provided one glove for the final step, the UV treatment- both of us agree you'll want 2 gloves if possible. This UV Block Clear Coat sets really quick and feels like superglue nail polish as it tacks to your skin- be sure to avoid contact with your fingers, and have a damp, clean, rag on hand to wipe up any drips that might get into your car's paint surface.

For this final step you really can't 'go back' and add a second layer, or adjust it after the fact. The UV coat dries rapidly, so you'll want to try and get as much of the solution onto the provided shammy as possible so you can really drench the lens and apply in as minimal strokes as possible. Going back and 'swiping' through after even 30 seconds can leave tacky streaks and impurities in the final coating. It's also important to note you will not want to drive your car, or touch the headlights for a minimum of 4-6 hours- the surface of my headlights was still 'tacky' at around 4, so I suggest going the full 6.
How to restore your headlights for about $20 in about an hour!
How to restore your headlights for about $20 in about an hour!
Throughout this process you really don't have a proper idea of the final impact until that last UV treatment reveal- it truly does instantly clarify. I'll admit, the thought of sanding my headlights to make them clearer was initially unnerving, but it really makes a lot of sense! There's no arguing my headlights look practically new to the naked eye, and the kit's manufacturer guarantees the new UV coating will last the life of my car. Even better I've gained over double the visibility at night, which was a huge safety concern before!

I was not compensated, contact by, or in any way solicited for sharing this process- I'm just a DIYer who thought others might be on the fence about refurbishing their headlights too. I hopes this helps inspire you to tackle this task- for a $20, one hour, investment, I think it's well worth it!

What Daughter Says: Investing time into restoring my headlights has really helped me find some personal ownership and pride in my 'new to me' vehicle!

How to restore your headlights for about $20 in about an hour!


  1. Your post is useful for many person.. keep it up..

  2. That is utterly awesome. I see a Saturday morning project in my future. Our headlights look abysmal.

  3. Wow that looks absolutely awesome! I for some reason that all the dirt was just on the inside and you could just wipe it out obviously I am way off base. I went to good right now but I will keep this in mind when they are not.

  4. Hmm I might have to invest in the kit. I've been thinking about cleaning my lights but don't put to much confidence in the home remedies i've seen on pinterest

  5. I am so impressed with how easy this is and how great they look. Love that this kit can make my cars look newer!

  6. I have to say I have never seen anything like this, wowzers it really does work nicely!! Glad you are getting your new car all spiffed up!!

  7. I need to get this for both our cars! I hate the filmy stuff that gets on there. This stuff is pretty cool!

  8. This is a really great way to keep headlights clean, I always forget to clean mine!

  9. We just washed the family car yesterday. I wish we had had this resource beforehand, now I know for next time!

  10. Most people pay no attention to their headlights when they clean the car. But, this is an important part of car maintenance and driver safety.

  11. I need to get this for my Daughters new car. She just bought it and we nee to make the headlights clear again so she can drive it.

  12. This looks like a great product. I will have to pick some up to fix the headlights on my car.

  13. Great post again and looking forward to read more.