Driving down the road in dark or inclement weather conditions, including fog and rain, can make you feel frazzled very quickly. Top off an already stressful situation with foggy, yellowed headlights, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Protect yourself, your passengers, and anyone else sharing the road with your ride by ensuring your headlights are in their best working order.

If you’ve noticed that your headlights are looking particularly dirty, dingy, or dull, check out the following steps below for a restorative DIY clean.

What Causes Dingy, Yellow, Foggy Headlights?


Before you come up with a plan of attack to get your vehicle’s headlights back in fighting form, getting to the root of the issue is always a wise route to take.

  • If you’ve noticed a cloudy film or dimmed, yellowed-out appearance on your headlights, there’s likely a common culprit to blame.
  • Most headlight “lenses” (yes, similar to lenses on eyeglasses) are made of a thick plastic. This thick plastic is comprised of polycarbonates.
  • Unlike older car models, which used glass lenses, newer cars are made with this thick plastic due that is far more durable and scratch resistant.
  • While the durability and less damage-prone performance is superior to the older alternative, these polycarbonate lenses are more subject to yellowing, fogging, and dimming over time.
  • This deterioration in appearance (and, ultimately, functionality) is simply due to the passage of time. Although going out and purchasing new bulbs is always an option, you’d be smart to try an at-home solution first—you’ll likely be very pleased with the results.
  • Over time, factors such as repeated UV exposure cause these polycarbonate plastic lenses to break down, degrading their quality. This is just an unavoidable occurrence that is bound to happen to everyone—and every vehicle—at some point in time.
  • Degraded polycarbonate lenses begin to absorb blue light from the bulbs, resulting in a duller, yellow-tinted light emittance from the bulb.
  • Once you’ve noticed this unsightly appearance, it’s probably already time to take action. No one wants to risk riding around with barely-functioning, outdated and dull headlights.

Get Prepped for Cleaning


The good news is, there are several methods of self-cleaning you can take a crack at to replenish your bulbs’ brightness and clarity. It’s up to you which method you feel most comfortable with undertaking.

Before you begin, make sure you’re stocked up with the necessary tools of the trade. Here are the basics of what you’ll need:

  • Several old rags, towels, or cleaning cloths (ones you won’t mind getting down and dirty)
  • Latex gloves (especially for sensitive skin or hands—you can never be too safe)
  • Bowl or bucket of clean water for rinsing
  • A soft-bristled brush for cleaning power that’s sufficient but not too abrasive
  • A mild cleanser

Choose Your Cleanser


There are several options for substances to clean your headlights with that are strong enough to get the job done without causing scratches or other types of damage.

Toothpaste or baking soda:

  • For our first set of tips, you most likely already have what you need in your house—just head to your bathroom or kitchen cabinets.
  • Auto enthusiasts and tried-and-true DIY consumers alike recommend toothpaste and baking soda to rid your headlight bulbs of fog because they’re both abrasive enough to remove the filmy appearance without risking scratching or otherwise damaging the headlights themselves.

Headlight restoration kit:

  • If you want to forego the home remedies, simply head to your local auto part store (or look online) for a headlight restoration kit. This will include a mild cleanser that can also get the job done just as well.
  • It all depends on which route you want to take. When done carefully, any of these three options should work wonderfully.

The Cleaning Process

  • The first step to getting your headlight bulbs clean and clear is to wipe them down with a clean, dry cloth or towel.
  • Once your headlights are wiped clean and free of any obvious dirt or debris, dry them off thoroughly—no obvious moisture should remain. This ensures the cleanser will adhere more fully to the clean, dry surface.
  • If you purchased a headlight restoration kit, this is when you will apply the cleanser that was included. If you’re going with toothpaste or baking soda, you’ll need to mix either substance with a small amount of water—just enough water to make the combined ingredients form a thick, hearty paste.
  • Next, let the cleanser sit on the lenses for a few minutes in order to let it partially dry.
  • Now it’s time to use the soft-bristled brush.
    • Using soft, circular motions (you want to avoid being too vigorous with the cleaning to avoid breaking into the plastic surface of the lens), clean around the entire surface of the headlights.
    • As you clean, you should be able to see the dinginess, yellow tint, and/or fogginess begin to dissipate.
  • Once you’re finished cleaning, use a dry cloth or towel to wipe away any excess cleanser.
  • If you notice any dried-on cleanser bits and pieces, simply spray on a small amount of water to break it up and wipe it clean.
  • Polish each headlight lens until they’re both completely dry—and you’re ready to hit the road!

The next time you’re out and about with your headlights on, you should be able to immediately notice a brighter, whiter shine and increased visibility.

As always, if you feel uncomfortable tackling any car or truck problem on your own, it’s always in your best interest to visit or consult with a professional. Otherwise, simply following the above-listed steps and taking your time should provide you with your desired outcome—a safe, secure drive to your destination.

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