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What to do when you have foggy headlights

There are two main problems with headlights. They can be too bright and blind other drivers or they can be yellowed and foggy, making it difficult for you to see. Unless you are guilty of riding around with high beams on, there is not much you can do to rectify the first issue. The second problem, however, happens over time on all vehicles. This one can be solved by you, even if you don’t have much (or any) repair experience. Here is why it happens and what you can do to prevent or fix it.

Why do headlights get foggy?

Headlights are on the front of your car. This means they get bombarded with everything that is on the highway, including gravel, road salt, grime, exhaust, mud, chemicals, rain water and more. All of these elements gradually build up, coating the protective polycarbonate cover until it is no longer clear. In some instances, these abrasives can scratch and pit that plastic as well.

Another vulnerability headlights have is sunlight. The ultraviolet rays of the sun gradually turn that clear polycarbonate into a dingy yellow. The good news is both of these issues are superficial, so they can be easily fixed.

Another reason headlights can get foggy is if they lose the watertight seal that keeps water vapor from entering. Over time, the seal may dry out and crack, eventually letting moisture inside. No matter how much you clean the exterior, the headlights will remain foggy because the problem is on the inside.

Is there anything you can do to prevent getting foggy headlights?

If you do nothing, your headlights are going to get foggy — you wouldn’t expect your teeth to stay clean if you never brushed and flossed, would you? To help keep your headlights from getting hazy, there are a few things you can do.

Don’t park your car in direct sunlight

When you drive your car, your headlights will be exposed to damaging UV rays. That is unavoidable. However, if you can park in a garage or in the shade, you will diminish your vehicle’s exposure to those damaging rays and prolong the time needed between deep cleanings.

Wash your headlights

Whenever you wash your car, wash your headlights. This removes road grime and chemicals before they have a chance to build up and create a visibility issue. 

Polish your headlights

After washing your headlights, consider polishing them. This should be done with a non-abrasive product and a microfiber cloth. Polishing your headlights is the best way to keep them clean and clear.

How to fix foggy headlights

Determine the cause

First, it is important to identify the general cause of your foggy headlights. If you see condensation inside, that means there is a leak in your headlight seal that is letting moisture in. While this isn’t a huge problem, it is one that needs to be fixed as soon as possible. Also, it requires a little knowledge about cars, headlights and sealants to repair. If these are foreign terms, or you have no experience resealing a headlight, it is best to ask your mechanic for help.

For all other foggy headlight issues — exterior problems as opposed to interior problems — you can easily restore the headlights yourself.

Restoring foggy headlights

No matter what product you use to restore your foggy headlights, whether it is toothpaste or a headlight restoration kit, the general process is the same.

  1. Clean your headlights. Rinse off any grime or debris that has accumulated on your headlights. You want them as clean as possible to get the best results from the restoration process.
  2. Dry your headlights. Completely dry your headlights with a microfiber towel.
  3. Restore your headlights. If you are using baking soda, mix up a thick paste and apply it to your headlights. For people who want to use toothpaste, simply apply a large dollop and start working it around. If you purchased a headlight restoration kit, follow all directions. Note: many kits require a household drill for application of the medium, sanding and polishing.
  4. Clean your headlights. Once you are satisfied that you’ve covered every inch of your headlights and worked the medium in, wash your headlights clean using only water.
  5. Polish with a dry towel. After washing, polish your headlights with a dry, microfiber towel.
  6. Inspect your work. In most instances, at this point, you will be done. However, sometimes, it can take two applications (or more) to get the clarity you desire. If you see spots that you missed, repeat this process, focussing on the troublesome areas. 

What you need to fix foggy headlights

3M Headlight Restoration Kit

3M Headlight Restoration Kit

When you need heavy-duty restoration, this kit from 3M is up to the task. You get everything required to clean and protect headlights, taillights, directional lights and more.

Sold by Amazon

Meguiar's Heavy Duty Headlight Restoration Kit

Meguiar’s Heavy Duty Headlight Restoration Kit

This kit is designed to clean and coat your headlights for up to 12 months of protection. It is a heavy-duty product that removes oxidation in five steps.

Sold by Amazon

Chemical Guys Headlight Restore and Protect

Chemical Guys Headlight Restore and Protect

If you’d like to clean your headlights without sanding, this highly rated product from the Chemical Guys is a solid option. It is formulated with a UV blocker to provide long-lasting protection.

Sold by Amazon

Sylvania Headlight Restoration Kit

Sylvania Headlight Restoration Kit

This kit from Sylvania includes a surface activator, a clarifying compound, UV block, sandpaper, gloves and more. It is formulated to restore the original clarity to your headlights.

Sold by Amazon and Kohl’s

Car Headlight Restoration Kit

Car Headlight Restoration Kit

There are 24 items in this comprehensive kit. You get a spray bottle, masking tape, a polishing cloth, 16 sanding discs, scouring pads and more. The only things you need to supply is water and a drill.

Sold by Amazon

Turtle Wax Headlight Restorer Kit

Turtle Wax Headlight Restorer Kit

If you are looking for a budget option, Turtle Wax has a low-priced restoration kit that you can use to clean your headlights without a drill. 

Sold by Home Depot


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