How to Clean Headlights

A hand wiping a white sedan headlight with a yellow microfiber cloth.

There are many misconceptions about cleaning headlights. The first is that it is a difficult process. The second is that cleaning means sanding out the scratches and dings from the road. Neither is true. The process of sanding out road damage is meant to restore your headlights, and is complicated, though not difficult. However, this article is going to cover how to clean and remove the oxidation from your headlights, and make them shiny and pretty once again.

Cleaning Headlights (and Taillights, Too)

  1. Bucket of Cleaning SuppliesGather your materials. You’ll need a bucket, dish soap (Seventh Generation makes an inexpensive Earth friendly dish soap that works perfectly for this purpose), a sponge, a hose connected to a spigot (a hose by itself will not help you at all), 3 tablespoons of baking soda, a clean towel, and a bowl. If you do not have a hose (or an outdoor spigot, really), you will need a second container of water. This will be for rinsing your sponge, so it doesn’t have to be very big.
  2. Water in a bucket and dish soapMix your headlight cleaning solution. Fill your bucket with about half a gallon of warm water, add 2 or 3 tablespoons of dish soap, and give a good mixing. Set that aside for the moment. Put 3 tablespoons of baking soda into the bowl and add enough water to make a healthy paste. Once you’ve done this, move the operation outside to where you’ve hidden the shamefully dirty headlights (and supposedly the car with them).
  3. Scrubbing headlightsClean thy headlights. Take your sponge, dip it into your bucket of soapy water, and scrub your headlights. This will clean off bugs and other minor road debris. Small, circular motions will work best for this, so wax on, wax off, grasshopper. Do this to your headlights and taillights, applying generous amounts of soapy water. Rinse off your sponge and wipe away the soapy solution. But wait, there’s more.
  4. Putting on baking powder pasteApply the paste to your clean headlights. Rinse your sponge thoroughly, or use a second sponge if you have one available. Dip a corner of your sponge into the baking soda and water mixture, and put small dabs evenly across all the lights. Don’t be stingy with the paste; you have more than enough for all of your headlights and taillights.
  5. Scrubbing off the paste from the headlightsProceed to scrub the headlights. Once you have applied your cleaning solution, scrub the paste into the lights using the same small, circular motion from above. You don’t need to apply a great deal of pressure, as the baking soda will do most of the work by soaking up the oxides that makes your lights discolored and unsightly. Bear in mind, you may need to rinse the solution off and repeat the process two or three times to get any kind of significant results. And you will see results.
  6. Rinsing the headlightsRinse off the headlights. With a rinsed sponge, proceed to wipe off the lights until they are completely free of the baking soda paste. You may want to give them another once over with the soapy water just to make certain it is all clean. Use your towel to dry off the lights once it is clear of soap and baking soda. Turn on the car and flip on the lights. Proceed to admire your beautiful sparkly clean headlights. If you’re doing this in a garage, be sure the garage door is open when you do this; I don’t wish to be responsible for your slow asphyxiation as you gaze in wonderment.

PSA On Clean Headlights & Clean Taillights

Headlights and taillights are even more important than most people realize. It’s important to remember that as much as they help you to see at night, or when it’s overcast or raining, they also help other people see you. If your head- or taillights are filthy, or worse, not working, that reduces the chance that oncoming traffic can identify you. Police can and will pull you over for either infraction, so keeping the lights on your car clean and functioning is in your best interest. Okay, lecture over.

Headlight Cleaning Products

Bottle of Seventh Generation SoapSeventh Generation Dish Soap. An Earth friendly, inexpensive, and commercially available product that is perfect for cleaning headlights. Plus, it can clean your dishes pretty well. It’s available plenty of different retailers, I buy mine from Target.

Box of baking sodaBaking soda.Keep this stuff on hand! The more research I do on these articles, the more I realize how much baking soda can do. You can clean headlights, jewelry, and shoes. Plus, it makes a neat volcano if you just add vinegar! Adding an open box in your fridge helps absorb sells, but remember to replace it every three months.

picture of a headlight restoration kitHeadlight restoration kits.There are kits available to come with instructions on how to restore your headlights, and everything you need to do so. This is for unsightly dings, dents, chips, and scratches that a simple cleaning won’t be able to fix. There are quite a number of Headlight Restoration Kits available at Amazon.