In today's connected world, everyone is an expert in the eyes of the internet. From Instagram and YouTube influencers to TikTok celebrities, there are hundreds of folks ready and waiting to show you the quickest way to clean a catfish, the best way to sneak candy into a movie theater, or how to MacGuyver together an ice cold air conditioner with just an oscillating fan and bottles of water. Whatever problem you have, task you need to learn, or subject you need a crash course on, the people of the internet are chomping at the bit to help you solve it.
But for those of us old enough to remember MacGuyver, we also know that not everything is as easy and straightforward as a video can make it look. Is it possible to disarm a burglar alarm using foil from a gum wrapper? Maybe, but we know we wouldn’t have much success if we tried it ourselves.
When it comes to DIY tricks and hacks for automobiles, there is no shortage of experts ready to save you time, money, and elbow grease keeping your vehicle running and looking like new. Take headlights, for instance. It is common for older vehicles to experience dimmed or yellowed headlights, so there are plenty of ideas floating around the interwebs to help you get them clear again. But are any worth your time and how well do they work?
WHAT CAUSES YELLOWED AND FOGGY HEADLIGHTS?
Over time, as a car is exposed to the UV rays of the sun, the elements, and debris kicked up from the road as it is driven, a car's headlights may begin to yellow or become foggy. Because most headlight lenses are made of acrylic, it oxidizes in the sunlight, becoming yellow and developing microscopic cracks. These cracks, in turn, can collect more dirt and debris, further reducing the headlight's ability to shine light clearly.
SOME OF THE BEST DIY HACKS TO CLEAN YOUR HEADLIGHTS:
- TOOTHPASTE: Most regular toothpastes contain enough abrasive elements to scuff away the yellow film that develops on old headlights. They are also gentle enough not to scratch the plastic coating. You can also use baking-soda-based toothpaste for extra abrasion and cleaning power. Just take care that you do not leave any on the surrounding bodywork or paint to avoid discoloration or damage.
- BAKING SODA: There's a reason this common household substance is used to clean everything from carpets to pots and pans…because it works! You can mix baking soda and white vinegar paste using a two-to-one ratio of vinegar to baking soda. Once mixed, use a clean microfiber cloth or soft-bristled toothbrush to apply the mixture to your headlight, moving in a circular motion. Once you’ve finished, rinse the lamp with warm water. Repeat the process until you’ve achieved the desired cleanliness.
- LEMON: The acidic properties of lemon juice can help clear away dirt and oxidization on headlights. You can either apply lemon juice to a microfiber towel and use it to wipe away dirt or add a little baking soda to a lemon half, then rub it directly on the headlamp itself. Be careful using the second method as lemon juice left to dry on bodywork or paint can damage it. Always rinse and use a clean microfiber cloth after cleaning. Repeat the process until you have achieved the cleanliness you want.
- HEADLIGHT CLEANING KIT: Of course, one of the best, most thorough ways to clean and restore your headlights is to purchase a purpose-built headlight kit. These usually include fine-grit sanding pads, a clarifying compound, cleaner, and lens wipes. Not only are these kits cost effective, but they are easy to use and do a fantastic job clearing up cloudy headlights.
SOME OF THE WORST DIY HACKS ON CLEANING HEADLIGHTS:
We recommend you avoid all the following "hacks" if you are trying to get your headlights clear and clean again. While some may technically work, the risk of damaging your headlight or vehicle bodywork in the process means they are just not worth it.
- BUG SPRAY: While there may be some immediate clearing of the lens when using bug spray or mosquito repellent to clean headlights, they also contain chemicals that can melt or destroy plastic. You should avoid this "hack" as well as spraying any of these chemicals on or near your vehicle.
- ACETONE: This is another solution that, while it may technically clean your headlight, its highly abrasive nature will do more damage than good in the process. It is highly dangerous to use acetone near any painted bodywork or plastic as it will damage these things on contact, so we do not recommend trying.
- CLEAR COAT PAINT: While this hack might be a temporary fix, it's time consuming and its efficacy isn't totally certain. Some vehicle owners sand away oxidation to clear it and then use a fine application of clear coat paint to seal in the clear finish. The problem is that over time, this clear coat will also oxidize and crack. Although these products are made for automotive applications, they were not designed to cover headlights and could wind up making your visibility worse.
- HOME CLEANERS: While there are many home cleaning solvents like Bar Keepers Friend, Murphy's Oil Soap, Windex, and oven cleaners that can all be used to clean headlights, many of them also damage paint and colored plastic after repeated uses. It’s always best to do what you can to preserve your vehicle's paint and shine as much as possible, so care needs to be taken when using any household cleaner to clear headlights.
It should be clear that as many ways as there are to clean yellowed headlights, there are as many methods you should avoid completely. We recommend sticking with purpose-built products for cleaning headlights if you want to achieve the best, longest-lasting results.