Tired of your headlights looking like this?
You could go to a detailing shop and get the 20 minute treatment, which really doesn’t look too bad. But get ready to be paying for that restoration again soon! Most times, when a shop does headlight restorations, they are not meant to last!
I’m about to show you a great way to restore your headlights by removing all yellowing of the surface, known as oxidation, and then sealing the restoration with acrylic clear coat.
Supplies you’ll need:
-Assorted sandpaper grits (400,800,1500,2000)
-clear coat spray
-twin cartridge breather mask/painters breathing mask
-lots of microfiber towels
So to start out, make sure to clean the area where you are working as good as you can. You don’t want to sand dirt particles into your headlights!
Now we have to tape off all of the edges around the headlight, as to not damage your paint on the bumper, fender, or anything else that surrounds the headlight. Blue Painter’s tape works great!
After you finish taping off the edges, rinse the area and grab your trusty bottle of soapy water and spray away. Make sure to spray your 400 grit sandpaper for the next step! Some people say to soak your sandpaper in soapy water for up to an hour before wet-sanding in this fashion, but in my experience I’ve gotten perfectly normal results from just keeping the paper soaking wet during sanding constantly.
BE SURE to keep both the sandpaper and the surface of the headlight completely soaking wet. This is critical as to not gouge the surface of the headlight too deeply to achieve a perfect finish.
Now its time to wet-sand the headlight! I like to sand in horizontal (left to right) patterns in the 400 grit step so that later on, when we spray clear coat, the clear coat has a surface to cling on to that opposes gravity and prevents runs.
Make sure that you sand the entire surface of the headlight! It helps sometimes to section off parts of the headlights and do them one at a time for more complex shaped housings, but most of the time its simply just a matter of cover all of your grounds.
For headlights with a lot of corners and crevices, here is a cool product you can get at most auto parts stores:
This product above must be used with a polish, so in this case 400-grit to 2000 grit polish set.
When you complete your 400 grit wet-sand, rinse the surface with water. you should see a milky residue washing off, which is the oxidation you are removing. Now it’s time to move up to the 800 grit. It is the same process for every sandpaper grit, so just repeat these steps!
Now you are all done with your sanding job. Here is where the real fun begins. Completely dry the headlights and the areas around them. To speed up the process, I sometimes use a hair dryer or a heat gun on the lowest setting until there’s no moisture left.
Next, we have to tape on some protection around the area of the headlight in order to protect from over-spray onto other areas. At home, i like to use heavy-duty copy paper. There are also rolls of paper you can get at home-depot for this exact application, which also works great!
Now that you have all of your areas around the headlight protected, we can spray our clear coat!
Depending on what quality clear coat you decide to use, you must have some form of lung protection. This is what I used on this particular restoration:
but this clear coat has its problems. I used it so I don’t have to worry about poisonous fumes harming the small animals in my house in any way, but it is more prone to developing small cracks and chips.
A more professional clear coat is this:
You need a twin cartridge charcoal breathing mask to use it, because the fumes are so harmful. But man, the results are spectacular!
When spraying clear coat, you want to start spraying before going over the headlight, quickly move the spray over the headlight, and stop spraying only after you are no longer directly over the headlight. This is critical so that you don’t develop thick spots of clear coat and ultimately running of the coat.
Here is a short video demonstration to make sure that this step is total clear:
Wait 5-10 minutes after you have done your first coat, and then do a second one! and then one more after that! I like to have a thick layer, at least three coats, of clear coat on the surface so there is more room for error when polishing.
Now that you’ve done your three coats of clear coat, you’ll have wait at least 24 hours before attempting to sand the coat you’ve just applied. If you have the time, the longer you wait, the better. For this job, I usually wait about 48 hours. This is what it should look like after waiting:
Now that you’ve waited 24-48 hours, it’s time to do the entire sanding procedure again!! Start with your 400, and move on all the way to you 2000 grit sandpaper. make sure to keep the two surface as wet as possible when sanding.
Here are some photos of when I was sanding the clear coat on this 2008 Ford Escape (which has some pretty tricky headlights by the way):
You can literally see the yellow disappear with every sand! This yellowing is not from oxidation, because that was already removed at this stage. This is typical yellowing of clear coat before its been polished.
When you are done sanding the clear coat finish, you should have a clean, dry, and hazy white headlight like in the far right picture. Now you’ll need some polish and an electric buffer. Here is the polish I use:
Here is the buffer with a 100% wool pad that I got from Harbor Freight for around 30$:
Remember not to hold the buffer on the same spot when polishing, always keep the buffer moving so that you don’t over-heat the surface. Do this step twice to be sure you’ve polished every square inch!
Next, work that polish into the headlight with a microfiber rag. You’ll end up with a pretty handsome headlight!
and finally, grab your spray detailer or spray wax, and work that stuff into your newly polished headlight.
Now you have brand-new looking headlights that you just restored YOURSELF! These results will last years, and if they are properly maintained with periodic washes and waxes, the results will last you a lifetime.
Thanks for reading! Follow my blog for more writes about literally anything under the sun. Comment about what you’d like me to write about, or if you have a better way to do things, let me know!