Car manufacturers are under increasing pressure to improve their fuel economy and reduce costs. They’re employing every trick in the book to do that – thinner glass, the substitution of materials, even less paint, and as a result, the traditional glass headlamps have been replaced with plastic lenses – cheaper and lighter. But the combination of heat, sun and general weather means that the lenses can become cloudy, this is part of the oxidization process.
Normal washing won’t remove the cloudiness, no matter how good your foam cannon is, and nor will spending an hour or two with a clay bar. There’s really only one answer – a quality headlight restoration kit. (Actually, there is a home remedy that’s worth trying – more of that later!)
Table of Contents
- Oxidized Headlights
- Top 7 Best Headlight Restoration Kits to Buy 2018
- 1. 3M 39008 Headlight Lens Restoration System
- 2. Sylvania Headlight Restoration Kit
- 3. Turtle Wax T-240KT Headlight Lens Restorer Kit
- 4. Wipe New HDL6PCMTRRT Headlight Restore Kit
- 5. Mothers 07251 NuLens Headlight Renewal Kit
- 6. Meguiar's G1900K Headlight and Clear Plastic Restoration Kit
- 7. CLT Headlight Restoration Kit, Headlight Lens Cleaning Wipes
- Headlight Restoration
Surely, we’ve all seen an example of oxidized headlights? The plastic lens turns a sort of yellowish brown color, and it doesn’t seem to matter how many times you detail your car, it just won’t come out.
The tempered polycarbonate plastic lens is coated in a special film when they’re made, this protects the headlight. But over time, the heat from the bulb, some road debris and small stones all do their bit to remove that film, and once it’s gone, the UV rays found in sunlight begin the oxidization process, and there isn’t a whole lot you can do to stop it. Sort of.
Regular cleaning of the headlight won’t make any difference whatsoever. You really need something with a very mild abrasive quality to actually buff out the fogged lens.
Ideally, you need a professional headlight restoration kit, but it can be done on the cheap, with a caveat – toothpaste has been found to do a great job of removing the oxidization.
I’ve even used it myself, but while that’s a neat little trick to do an impromptu ‘repair’, it won’t last long because the headlight will need sealing again, and the toothpaste can’t do that.
If you’re a little nervous about attacking your headlight lenses with an abrasive kit, you can read my full guide on how it’s done right here.
The process is simple enough. Essentially, you need to make sure the fogging is on the outside of the lens (if it’s on the inside, you’re looking at a totally different problem, and therefore, a totally different fix), mask the area around the lens, and set to with the restoration kit – follow the instructions and processes and you’ll have shiny, new looking headlights in no time.
Top 7 Best Headlight Restoration Kits to Buy 2018
1. 3M 39008 Headlight Lens Restoration System
As you may expect from a giant like 3M, the elements of this kit are high-end, and they supply (nearly) everything to get the job done to a professional standard.
The kit contains the 3M sanding discs in various grits, some polishing compound and a pad, and with an easy three step process will give you great results. Simply attach the sanding disc to the mandrel (using their hook and loop system) and gently remove the fogging. You need to repeat the process with the subsequent finer grit pads and then swap to the polishing pad and compound, it really is that easy.
3M say that you can restore both headlights in around an hour, but for a first time user that’s being extra careful, you can probably double that.
There is no sealer in the kit, so you’ll either need to seal them separately, or keep on top of them every few months, and … my advice is to go lightly with the power drill, especially when you’ve got the course sanding disc attached.
All in all, a great headlight restoration kit from one of the biggest names in the business.
2. Sylvania Headlight Restoration Kit
The kit has 3 different grades of abrasive paper, a surface activator and a sealer, all clearly labelled as ‘Step 1’ ‘Step 2’ and ‘Step 3’ – you really can’t go wrong. Sylvania are so confident in this professional headlight restoration kit that they give you a lifetime warranty – it’s guaranteed for as long as you own the car, and not many companies are that brave.
In theory, you’ll never need to redo your headlights again, and even some of the more well-known brands can’t offer that level of satisfaction, this is a truly top rated kit.
My one piece of advice – the process can be a little daunting, and when you see your headlight lenses all matte and dull due to the sanding, you may be tempted to have a little moment, but keep going with the process, the results will amaze you.
3. Turtle Wax T-240KT Headlight Lens Restorer Kit
Turtle Wax is a name synonymous with car care and cleaning, and despite the low low price, you shouldn’t discount this kit against some of the higher priced or branded products.
This headlight lens restorer kit has three different restoration pads, all of varying grit from 2,400 right through to 8,000, 4oz of spray lubricant, 4oz of lens clarifying compound and two lens sealing wipes. Turtle Wax do say that for headlights that aren’t that bad, a good going over with the lens clarifying compound could be all you need.
It’s worth noting that it can also be used on all manner of plastics, including Plexiglass (just in case your airplane windshield needs some attention!). This kit is simple to use and effective, but doesn’t guarantee results like the Sylvania kit, that’s why it’s much cheaper.
My advice would be that Turtle Wax T-240KT is great for the headlights that are just beginning to haze over, rather than ones that look terminal, but for the money, it’s worth trying on anything.
4. Wipe New HDL6PCMTRRT Headlight Restore Kit
Wipe New say this as a headlight cleaning ‘in seconds’, which kind of sets the alarm bells ringing – with one simple wipe of an infused ‘Wipe-It’ towel, you’ll get amazing results.
In the kit, you’ll get a ‘Wipe-It’ towel infused with their proprietary formula, a single polishing pad which is 2,000 grit on one side, and 3,000 on the other, and a pair of nitrile gloves – pretty basic, but it does what it needs to. All you will need to add is water.
Unlike some kits, you literally clean off the oxidization with the buffing pad, then wipe the lens with the Wipe-It towel and that’s it. It sounds pretty simple, and a sceptic may think that there must be more to it, but Wipe New guarantee that your car will pass inspection for the lifetime of the vehicle without further treatment.
5. Mothers 07251 NuLens Headlight Renewal Kit
You’d have to say that expectations for the Mothers kit are high, and they don’t disappoint. In the box, you’ll find a PowerPlastic 4Lights compound, PowerBall 4Lights polishing tool, 3” backing plate, restoration discs and a microfiber towel – pretty much everything you need to get the job done.
The PowerPlastic 4Lights polishing compound is designed to cut any flaws, yellowing or oxidation easily. With regular use, Mothers say that it leaves a tough oxidation inhibiting polymer layer, but it does need using every month. The PowerBall polisher is also machine washable, so that doesn’t need regular replacement providing you treat it carefully, and there is enough polishing compound to last a while, providing you aren’t too heavy handed (which you don’t need to be).
Just the same as the 3M kit, you’ll need a power drill, but you aren’t using it with an abrasive pad, so the risk of damage is lessened.
This Mothers 07251 kit works well, and they say it returns any smooth, shiny plastic to a crystal clarity. The only minor thing I’m not set on is the regular usage, aside from that, it deserves its place in this list.
6. Meguiar's G1900K Headlight and Clear Plastic Restoration Kit
With less processes than something like the 3M kit, returning your cloudy headlights to an ‘as new’ finish is relatively easy and fast – around 40 minutes per lens. Everything you need to do that is included in the kit, although a word of advice – there is no sealer included, so Meguiar’s recommend the use of their headlight protectant which is sold separately.
What’s in the box: ‘Easy buff’ wool pad for attaching to a drill, 4oz of the Plast-X compound, a couple of finishing pads for stubborn marks or scratches and a ‘Supreme Shine’ microfiber towel for the final buffing.
The key with this kit is ensuring that you use plenty of water to keep the finishing pads well lubricated and clean when first clearing the lens. Once you’ve done that, dry the lenses properly and then start polishing – really easy.
There should be enough compound to treat between 3 to 5 pairs of headlights, because you don’t need to use that much of the Plast-X to get great results. This is kind of the middle of the road kit that still delivers great results.
7. CLT Headlight Restoration Kit, Headlight Lens Cleaning Wipes
So far, all of the other kits have involved polishing, cutting or sanding, so this kit seems a little … simplified, especially when the instructions tell you that no other tools are needed, and you don’t need to do anything other than wiping, but … that’s not strictly true – they recommend a light sanding if the headlights aren’t smooth.
With that said, just how well does the kit work? I think that understanding the limitations of the product is key to making a successful job. Light fogging or clouding should be fine, but if your headlights are virtually unusable, perhaps try one of the other kits.
The process is super simple. Open packet one, wipe the headlights and let it dry completely, open packet two (don’t unfold the towel) and wipe the headlights again. That’s it, job done.
Typically, they do make a difference to the lenses, but as already stated, don’t expect miracles from a moist wipe – these will clear light hazing and that’s about it.
For a quick, cheap fix, these are definitely worth trying, but if you’re planning on doing something for the long term, maybe not so much.
If the thought of attacking your plastics with some sand paper fills you with dread, remember that you’re not alone, hundreds and thousands of people do this on a regular basis without an issue. Don’t have a power drill? That’s not a problem either – a number of these kits are designed to be used with some manual elbow grease, rather than mechanical, so realistically, there’s nothing to stop you.
Yes, some kits give better results than others, but that’s as much to do with the operator (and lens) as it is to do with the kit itself. The key to making any of these kits perform to their best is preparation and adhering to the instructions – don’t think you know best, unless you’re a professional detailer.