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, and even less paint.
As a result, the traditional glass headlamps have been replaced with plastic lenses that are 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. 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!)
Surely, we’ve all seen an example of oxidized headlights? The plastic lens turns a sort of yellowish-brown color. 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. There isn’t a whole lot you can do to stop it, really.
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. While that’s a neat little trick to do an impromptu ‘repair’, it won’t last long because the headlight will need sealing again. 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 it with the restoration kit. If you follow the instructions and processes, you’ll have shiny, new looking headlights in no time.
Top 7 Best Headlight Restoration Kits
The kit has 3 different grades of abrasive paper, a surface activator, and a sealer, all clearly labeled as ‘Step 1′ ‘Step 2′ and ‘Step 3′ – you really can’t go wrong. Sylvania is 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.
In theory, you’ll never need to redo your headlights again. Even some of the more well-known brands can’t offer that level of satisfaction. This is a truly top-rated kit.
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.
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. It comes with some polishing compound and a pad. With an easy three-step process, you will have 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. Then, swap to the polishing pad and compound. It really is that easy.
3M says that you can restore both headlights in around an hour. However, 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. 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.
Expectations for all Mothers products are high and for this one, 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. It comes with 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 tough oxidation inhibiting polymer layer, but it does need using every month.
The PowerBall polisher is also machine washable. It doesn’t need regular replacement as long as you treat it carefully and there is enough polishing compound to last a while.
Just like the 3M kit, you’ll need a power drill. However, you aren’t using it with an abrasive pad, so the risk of damage is lessened.
This Mother’s 07251 kit works well, and they say it returns any smooth, shiny plastic to 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.
Turtle Wax is a name synonymous with car care and cleaning. It’s very inexpensive, but 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 the varying grit from 2,400 to 8,000, 4 oz. of spray lubricant, 4 oz. of lens clarifying compound and two lens sealing wipes. Turtle Wax says 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 in all manner of plastics, including Plexiglass (just in case your airplane windshield needs some attention!) This kit is simple to use and effective. However, it doesn’t guarantee results like the Sylvania kit. That’s why it’s much cheaper.
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.
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. It’s 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 you may be a little skeptical, but Wipe New guarantees that your car will pass inspection for the lifetime of the vehicle without further treatment.
- Rating: 4.1 / 5
- Brand: Meguiar’s
With fewer 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. However, 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, 4 oz. 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. 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.
- Rating: 3.8 / 5
- Brand: CLT
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. However, they do recommend a light sanding if the headlights aren’t smooth.
With that said, just how well does the kit work? Understanding the limitations of the product is key to doing 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 sandpaper 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.