How to Clean Your Car’s Foggy Headlights

Is there anything more disturbing than a pair of foggy headlights? Yes — but that doesn’t mean your dirty lights aren’t eyesores.

It’s not your fault. You can wash your car every week of the year, but without proper maintenance, those beams will still be obscured. The fogginess results from both accumulated filth within the housing crevasses and the chemical reaction of exposed plastic to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Unless you park your car inside or under a cover at all times, your headlights will begin to look like a heavy smoker’s fingernails (sorry for the visual).

how to clean foggy headlights car before 1
Miles Branman/The Manual

Beyond the aesthetic downsides, a pair of shrouded headlights impairs the effectiveness of the bulbs. In other words, over time, you’ll see less and less of the road ahead. The good news is that cleaning these bad boys is one of the easiest and most affordable automotive DIY jobs out there. You can use everyday household items to do a quick restore of your lights or buy a commercial kit to fully freshen those suckers.

Below, we’ll outline the three most common methods for cleaning your headlights, including a before-and-after look at our own ride.

What You Need

At a minimum, here are the products you’ll need to do the job:

  • Soap and water
  • A soft cloth and a rag
  • Painter’s tape (3/4-inch or thicker)
  • Toothpaste (a type without crystals or particles)

How to Clean Headlights

As a first step, wash your headlights and surrounding surfaces with soap and water. Cleaning any exterior grime from the housings will avoid scratching the lenses and shows off your hard work when the project is complete. Be sure to thoroughly dry the cleaned portion so moisture doesn’t make its way onto the headlights during your restoration.

Next, it’s time to bust out that painter’s tape. Avoid using a more adhesive tape so you don’t damage your car’s paint. Make a perimeter of tape around each headlight, leaving all of the actual housing exposed (aka the part that needs to be restored). You can choose whether to tape off your turn signals or leave them exposed for cleaning as well, but these typically don’t fog as much.

With Toothpaste

Of the three cleaning methods, the ol’ toothpaste fix is the easiest and least expensive. As is often the case with quick fixes, this may not be as effective as the other methods, but how many opportunities are there to use toothpaste for anything other than cleaning your own teeth? Live a little.

The process is simple. Apply some toothpaste to a rag or towel, then spread it in circular motions over the entire headlight. Rinse the housing with water, dry it with a towel, and crack open a beer (cuz you’re done). No seriously, it’s that easy. Toothpaste is lightly abrasive, so applying it to your headlights scrapes away the crud while filling in any scratches. Why do you think 5/5 dentists recommend using the stuff to fight plaque? One important caution: Use plain toothpaste like Tom’s or Arm and Hammer. Anything with flavor crystals or other particles can scratch your headlights.

With Sandpaper

Too good for hygiene products? The sandpaper method requires only a bit more effort (mainly finding sandpaper), but can shave away more grime from your headlights. If you haven’t already, clean your headlights with soap and water, then dry thoroughly. Apply a bit of water to the sandpaper (800 grit to start), then work it in circular motions around the headlight, followed by a horizontal path. Do this lightly — pressing too hard can scratch the housing.

Now, grab finer sandpaper (1600 grit or more) and do the same process from the other direction. Once finished, wipe off the headlight with rubbing alcohol (this helps the headlight dry). Everything should look pretty clear at this point, but as a finishing touch, polish the plastic with toothpaste (like above) or a specialized headlight polish.

The Outsourced Method

If using toothpaste seems strange and trying sandpaper is a fearful endeavor, you can always pay for a kit like this one from 3M. You’ll still need to get your hands dirty (or clean?) with an all-in-one setup, and the results will be about the same as the sandpaper method, but at least the kits aren’t expensive and are widely available.


Nestbox Turns Your SUV Into an Off-Grid Camper in Minutes

The only thing missing is a bathroom, but there are shrubs and spackle buckets for that.

Collection Suites Offers Luxury ‘Condos’ Just for Storing Your Car Collection

Because your Bugatti Chiron deserves its own cushy pad.

Camp in Style with FIM Caravans’ Migrator Off-Road Travel Trailer

Take your bedroom, kitchen, and shower everywhere you need them.

The 2019 McLaren 570S Spider Offers More Than Just Mind-Blowing Stats

The 570S Spider is a 562-horsepower convertible, yet its what the numbers can't tell you about this dazzling supercar that makes it a driver's delight.

World’s First All-Electric, Eco-Friendly Motorhome Could Debut in 2019

Early adopters won’t be embarking on any hardcore, off-grid road trips to the Grand Canyon — yet.

Is This $30,000 Porsche 911 Desk Worth the Price Tag?

In celebration of the automaker's 70th anniversary, this one-of-a-kind writing desk sold at auction for a cool $30,000. But is it worth it?

9 of the Coolest Cars to be Auctioned at RM Sotheby’s Arizona

Travis Barker's Cadillac, a collectible camper mansion, and a Ferrari for royalty are just a few of the things you can expect to see on the auction block.

Land Rover is Finally Bringing Its Next-Generation Defender to the U.S.

The details about the new Land Rover Defender are scarce, but we know that it will be the first true full redesign since the vehicle's introduction 70 years ago.

Subaru Teases a Killer New WRX STI S209 for American Buyers

There’s almost no information. There’s just a promise for the gnarliest S-modelto ever grace the shores of the U.S.

Ferrari vs Lamborghini: The Past, Present, and Future of the Italian Automakers

Ferrari and Lamborghini have achieved legendary status based on decades of toil, drama, and passion.

You Don’t Need a License to Pilot the FlyNano One-Man Seaplane

You don't need a pilot's license but we do encourage aviator goggles and a bomber jacket.

How to Handle Your Road Rage and Interacting with Commuters that Drive You Crazy

Dr. Robert Nemerovski, an authority on anger and road rage issues, shares tips on how to deal with road rage — and even prevent it.

Ford Reintroduces the Mustang Shelby GT500 and Teases More Horsepower

We wholeheartedly endorse a 700-plus-horsepower sports car that looks like it had a helluva cocaine problem in the mid-'90s.

Lamborghini’s Rage-Filled Huracan Performante Spyder Is Your Own Personal Anger Translator

With the top down and engine wailing, the Huracan Performante Spyder is the untempered emotion we all long to express.