Restoring Clear Plastic our guide about how to Clean, Polish & Protect your headlights back to perfection

What are your headlights made from & Why have my headlights gone hazy

Firstly, it is important to know what your headlights are made from so you can understand what products or techniques you need to use to restore, clean or polish them to look like new.

Unless you have an older car, your headlights are almost certainly made from polycarbonate plastic. This is much less likely to crack like glass, but one of the big downfalls is that the material is porous, which means it will absorb some contaminants and ultraviolet Ray's. To minimise this, manufacturers apply a UV coating to help protect the headlight, however over time this will deteriorate or completely fail, resulting in a cloudy or hazy appearance or in extreme cases a yellowing on the headlights. When this happens, then UV protective layer will have to be entirely removed to ensure 100% clarity.

The methods

If your headlights are looking just a little dull, or have very minimal haze, you should be able to use a headlight cleaner and polish by hand. This requires very little effort or time to remedy.

And for anybody that asks does toothpaste work? The answer is NO!!!it doesn't, it is the wrong sort of abrasive and will have almost no positive effect with either cleaning or polishing, and will offer no protective factors to the headlights, so as it says on the label, it is designed to clean your teeth, so leave it in the bathroom.

Applies to all methods

We recommend lifting up the bonnet to access the whole area of the headlight.

It may be necessary to tape over some parts of the car to protect the trim or paintwork.

Apply protection after polishing

Per cleaning of the area needs to be done before each method can be done

Method 1

Designed for light cleaning and polishing or where there is very light oxidation haze.

Step 1

Firstly, remove any loose dirt using a quick detailer or waterless wash, this step is unnecessary if you have just washed the car.

Step 2

Use a clay bar or Iron X to remove any contamination from the surface, please read our guide for information about claying techniques and the use of, Iron X.

Step 3

Wipe the surface dry, or ideally, use an air blower or compressed air to blow away any trapped water from around the bodywork.

Step 4

Use your choice of clear plastic cleaner or polish.We like to use Plastx™ clear plastic cleaner & polish by Meguiars. We find it one of the best products for this method, and as it contains both a cleaner & polisher, it is more time efficient as you can combine the cleaning and polishing in one step. Use a small amount initially, you can add more if necessary. Apply onto a foam or Microfibre pad, using a fair amount of pressure, work the cleaner in straight lines or a circular motion, until you have removed all the contamination.

Step 5

Wipe clean, using a clean, dry microfibre towel to reveal a crystal clear finish. Apply a sealant or coating to help protect the surface. Repeat the application of the sealant if necessary. Note, if there is still a hazy, cloudy appearance or spots on the headlight, you may need to use a more aggressive product or technique, prior to applying the sealant or coating. In these circumstances we would recommend trying flexipads 75mm (3") headlight restoration kit, it has everything you need to remove any haziness on your head lights and to clean and polish them back to perfection.

Addition Tips.

Use on the back tail lights as well.

Repeat if necessary, sometimes the oxidation may take two or more attempts to remove the oxidation if it is unsuccessful, then you should follow the directions given for method 2 or 3.

Method 2

Where there is more contamination or light swirls requiring a Dual Action or Rotary Polisher to aid removal.

This method uses a machine, i.e., A dual action or rotary polisher, with a cutting and finishing pad to help increase the cleaning and cutting power. This gives a better result on more hazy or oxidised headlights.

Use a headlight cleaning kit, or a small Microfibre cutting pad and foam finishing pad. This should be fitted to a backing plate, suitable for the machine you are using. We recommend the using the, 105 Meguiars Ultra-Cut Compound or a similar product with a high cutting power. Afterwards, you will need to polish the surface to enhance and remove any fine scratches.

Step 1.Cleaning and Preparing the Surface.

Ensure the surface is clean and free of contamination before proceeding, i.e., Wash and clay the surface. Use a low tack tape to cover the paint or plastic surfaces to avoid damaging the surface whilst polishing.

Step 2. Choosing the right pad and compound

Fit the Microfibre cutting pad. (we would recommend using a DMC3-DA Microfibre Cutting Disc 3" by Meguiars on the backing pad), and make sure it is centred. You can also use a wool pad to apply the compound. With regard to the right compound, we like to use the, 105 Meguiars Ultra-Cut Compound. However, you can use whichever one you prefer.

Step 3. Priming the Pad, and Polishing.

Apply the compound to the pad, work the compound in using your hands to ensure you coat the whole pad evenly. Then begin polishing as normal, using an overlapping motion on the surface. After completing this polishing process, repeat if there is still oxidation, or use 3000, 2000, 1500 grit to remove the failed UV sealant if this is still present.

Step 4. Finishing off and further polishing to enhance the finish.

Wipe off any residue polish and continue to polish with a polishing or finishing product. Use a foam finishing pad, centred and prime the pad before using.Finally, wipe using a clean, dry Microfibre towel.

If you have not been able to remove all the oxidation.

You will need to use 3000, 2500, 2000, 1500, 1000, or even 800 if it is really badly hazed, to remove the failed UV coating.

A quick guide to grit/ sanding grades.

The higher number, the less cutting power, so 3000 is a finishing grit, where as an 800 is the heaviest cut.

3000 is an extra fine grit,designed for finishing and removal of very minor defects.

2000 is again more of finishing grit but it has more cut that the 3000 grit.This means it is better for use where there are slightly more defects.

1500, is an excellent balance, providing a medium grit, it will remove most failed UV sealants which occur on the majority of headlights and is what we would recommend starting with.

1000 is high cut grit that will quickly cut through and remove stubborn haziness caused through contamination.

800 is about the lowest grading you will want to go. It is what you will need for the worst cases of oxidation.

You always need to finish off with a 3000 or 2000 grit. We recommend where possible using a 3000 grit, as it will give you a better finish, and make polishing easier and quicker.

When cleaning, you don’t want to jump up any more than 1000 grit at a time. Especially when using a grading like an 800 grit, moving to a 2000 or 3000 grit basically means you would have a very poor finish because there would still be the grit marks left from using the 800 grit and the 2000 grit would not be able to remove all these scratches. By stepping up to use 1500 grit in between, would help to remedy this.

You use any grit by both hand or machine.

Method 3

Step 1. Cleaning and preparing the surface.

Ensure the surface is clean and free of contamination before proceeding, we recommend following the advice given in the earlier two methods.

Step 2 Which grit to start with.

You will always want to use the least aggressive grit possible. However if you know, it is very bad then you may need to use a more aggressive grit.

It is best to start with a 2500, 2000 or 1500 grit and see what results they produce, only using a 1000 or 800 grit if absolutely needed.

Step 3 Using an 800grit or 1000 grit, carried out by hand or machine.

This can be done both by hand or machine. The best way is to work in a side to side action, rather than going up and down. Don’t do any random strokes after using the 800 grit over the whole surface of the paintwork. Any part that is not hazy means that you have not completed the process correctly. It is imperative that every part is worked over by the 800 grit. Mist a small amount of water when using the grit and wipe with a clean towel to remove what you just sanded off.

Please note if you are starting with 1500 grit you will want to follow the above steps, always remembering to work in a side to side motion.

Step 4. Using 1500 or 2000 medium cut grit. (using a small amount of water)

Mist a small amount of water onto the pad and the headlight, this time, work in an up and down motion, without using any random strokes. This is important as it will enable cutting on the high shave points, once you have sanded down the head light check that you have removed the 800grit marks. It is a good idea to do this by turning on the headlights to full beam and check there are no marks going side to side only up and down. If there are still side to side marks continue to sand the spot then mist a small amount of water and wipe over the whole headlight you start to see some clarity appearing this step can all so be done by machine

Please note if you have used 1500 grit to start and you are now going to use 2000 grit 2500 grit or 3000 grit then you need to use the grit in an up and down action.

Step 5. 2500 – 3000 grit

Again, mist the pad and the headlight, use a side to side action as you did in step 3. It is important to do this as it cuts down the fine marks which have been put in with the 1000 or 1500 grit sandpaper. Work over the whole area and then wipe clean with a dry clean microfibre towel to remove any residue.

Step 6 Using the cleaner or polisher to remove to the 2000,2500 or 3000 grit marks.

The next step is now to use a polishing compound and finish to remove the sanding marks. And use a fine polish to restore the surface of the headlight back to as new.

Fit the Microfibre cutting pad onto the backing plate, making sure it is centred. If using a restoration kit, it may have a different pad type.

Step 7 Applying the compound to the pad.

Apply a small amount of compound to your pad. Work the product well into the pad with your fingers, ensuring the whole pad is well coated, (this is called priming the pad).It is important to ensure you cover over the entire pad before any polishing takes place and polish, as usual, using an overlapping technique. As you work, be mindful that polisher does generate considerable heat, and may cause other problems if you are not careful. You may need to repeat the polishing process if there are still grit marks on the surface of the headlight.

Step 8. Creating a Crystal Clear Finish.

Wipe off any remaining residue and continue to polish with a polishing or finishing product. Use a foam finishing pad, ensure it is centred before using the standard polishing techniques and wipe clean using a clean, dry Microfibre towel.

Step 9.Keeping the Headlight Protected and Maintained

Apply a sealant or coating layer to help protect the surface of the headlight. The product must have Ultraviolet protection properties because the sanding will have removed the UV clear coat that was applied when the headlights were new. Without any protection, the headlight will start to become dull and haze quickly.

Additional Sanding Tips.

If you are using a machine, you will need to use a little more water than you would if you were completing the gritting/sanding process by hand. So we recommend that you have a spray bottle to hand, and never let it run out. It is important to keep the grit paper clean and the surface sprayed with water, you will still need to spray the surface with water even if you are completing the process by hand.

When using a rotary polisher machine for this task, keep it set at a low speed for the majority, if not all of the time.

Using a machine can be more time efficient, and also generally creates a smoother finish then when you do it by hand.

The DIY restoration kit

First, of course, we open the bonnet up so we have full access to the headlights.

Rinse off the loose dirt and wash carefully with a mitt and hose.

The first image shows the right side headlight, you can see how cloudy and hazy it was. The next picture is a close-up of the left one, illustrating, how bad these headlights are, especially around the top.

After removing the loose dirt, we used a synthetic Clay disk to remove the contaminants from the headlight. The Images below show this process, although visually, you really can't see any difference it was a lot smoother to the touch.

We used 800 grit with wet sanding to remove the oxidation and cloudiness, normally you would have to use a drill, but we used a rotary polisher on a slow speed setting. We sanded over the whole surface of the headlight for around 2 mins. The next Image shows the headlight during the sanding process and the one after illustrates the even haze you should see, (ensuring you haven't missed any areas).

Next, we proceeded, with the 1500 grit, using the rotary polisher again, on slow speed for about 2 mins, ensuring every part of the surface is sanded. It is important to keep the surface fairly wet at all times during this process.

The next 2 images show the headlight after 1500 and then after 3000 grit. You will see the difference between the two images 1500 is more cloudy while the 3000grit looks a lot clearer with less sanding marks, and you can start to see how effective the end result will be.

Once we had finished, we used are master blaster to dry the headlight throughly to ensure there was no hidden water or drips, that would spoil the result when we were polishing and applying the protective coating.

1500 grit - 3000 grit

We then moved on to using the cleaner included In the flexipads 75mm (3") headlight restoration kit, this was applied using the pads which were also included in the pack. We covered the pad in a small amount of the product and then applied this to the headlight as detailed in the picture below. We then reapplied the cleaner onto the pad and using a finger spread the product evenly over the pad, ensuring the entire pad was covered. The pad was then placed onto the backing plate of the rotary polisher and centred. This time, we used a slightly faster speed and polished for about five minutes, ensuring every part of the headlight was evenly cleaned. Wipe off any residue cleaner, with a clean, dry microfibre towel, you should be able to, see that all the sanding marks have gone, and the overall appearance of the headlight is excellent.

Then, we used the clear plastic polish, also included in the kit. We used exactly the same technique as detailed for the application of the cleaner above, ensure that you have primed the pad correctly first, and it is a good idea to apply some to the headlight. After polishing, we wiped off any residue polish with a clean, dry Microfibre towel. From the photographs, you can really see just how effective a DIY restoration kit can be.

Even if you have not done any wet sanding or polishing before it is very easy to use these types of kits. By following our step by step guide, you will be able to achieve the same fabulous results. We were very lucky to have an old cloudy headlight from a VW mark 4 that we could practice on, enabling us to see what the different grits are cable of, it also allowed us to try different methods safely, without worrying about the effects on a customers car.

We think overall this kit is excellent, it is cheaper than replacing even one headlight and considerably cheaper if you need to do both.Especially if you consider that one of our customers was quoted £55.00 for just one replacement headlight, that did not included being fitted to the vehicle.

Left side cutting compound | Right side polishing compound

We advise you use a slow speed to keep the surface of the headlight cool, as it is plastic, it can quickly become hot and start to melt. If you use the machine on a high-speed setting or concentrate the polisher in one place for too long, especially during the sanding process, the plastic is likely to become damaged.

The purpose of spraying the water onto the surface when you are sanding, is to help flush away any of the failed protective clear coating or other contaminants which are being removed during this process.

Your headlights should now be polished to perfection . we hope you found this guide helpful.

Created By
Tom Robinson


Mad for Detailing All Rights Reserved.

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