How to clean headlights – with toothpaste and sandpaper

Not only are dirty and murky headlights not very good for the looks of your car, but they’re also not particularly safe because they reduce visibility at night. Clear and clean lights are always best.

Thankfully there are some quick and easy ways to get your headlights looking good as new, which don’t break the bank or take hours to complete.

Why do headlights need cleaning?

Simple really – dirty headlight covers don’t let as much light pass through as when they’re clean, so other road users will find it harder to see your car on the road. They can also diffuse light, meaning they don’t throw light as far down the road as when they’re clean, making it harder to see hazards in dark conditions.

The cheapest way to clean car headlights

If you can see the headlight needs cleaning because of dirt and mud, an easy solution is simply just to wash it with a cloth and clean water. That will remove what’s on the headlight in a quick and easy process, with no need to spend money on products.

But, of course, if the headlights have taken a bit more of a battering and are murky, yellowing and cloudy, you’ll need to go for a more thorough process of cleaning the headlights.

How to clean car headlights with toothpaste

No, you haven’t read that incorrectly. We said toothpaste. There are a lot of suggestions out there for cleaning murky, oxidised and dirty headlights with toothpaste. It’s quick, accessible and cheaper than a repair kit. You only need a toothbrush, spray bottle, toothpaste – that features baking soda, if possible – and a cloth.

Here’s how to clean car headlights with toothpaste:

  • Rub toothpaste into the headlight cover using a toothbrush
  • Keep rubbing until you feel and see the headlight getting cleaner
  • Spray warm water onto the headlight and wipe away the toothpaste with a cloth
  • For a deeper clean use a rotary buffer to apply the toothpaste
  • Voila! You should now have more translucent headlight covers

How to clean car headlights with a proper kit

There are quite a few cleaning kits on the market that provide you with all of the tools and steps needed to clear your murky and dirty headlights, but these – naturally – cost more than some of the simpler home remedies.

Some are part of larger car maintenance kits, which can cost well over £50, but you can get a dedicated headlight restoration kit from Autoglym for £25. These kits are more expensive, but come with all of the necessary equipment and will offer a more reliable and consistent finish.

It depends on the budget, time you have and how long you want the clean to last for. Methods like the toothpaste one are only temporary, but cleaning kits will last longer and can be used multiple times depending on the quantity of the equipment. Prices are usually between £10 and £30.

How to clean headlights using sandpaper

This method gives longer lasting results but it is more complicated than the toothpaste method and requires some care. You can remove the headlight for this process, or if not, cover the surrounding paintwork in masking tape.

Here’s how to clean headlights with sandpaper:

  • Mask surrounding bodywork using masking tape (or remove headlight)
  • Wet headlight and 400-grit sandpaper with warm water
  • Sand gently in circular motion, keeping the sandpaper and headlight wet
  • Sand in horizontal lines to finish
  • Using wet 600-grit sandpaper, sand in circular motion
  • Clean headlight with water
  • Using wet 2000-grit sandpaper, continue sanding
  • Dry headlight, clean with water and apply a wax to protect the lens

Can’t clean your headlights?

If your headlights are still not clear even after you’ve spent 20 minutes up to your arms in toothpaste, it may be that they have become murky, dirty or oxidised inside too. In this situation, it may be easier and better to get them replaced.