7 Steps to Polish Headlights


In this post we are going to show you how to polish headlights that have over time become faded discolored and even yellow in color. This applies to plastic headlights and not glass.

These can easily be restored to a crystal-clear condition by anyone using just a few products and the process is real simple.

So, without further a do, let's show you the step by step process on how to restore your faded plastic headlights!

How to Polish Headlights in 5 Simple Steps

To do this we're going to use some automotive grade paint polishes, yes they work on glass as well as paint!

The reason being, all polishes are abrasive and simply remove the scratches on what every surface they are applied to.

We recommend using some specialized V-Line polishes of the types made by Chemical Guys

We are also going to use some buffing pads, for which we recommend the Hex-logic pads and a white tex logic pad.

These are to remove all the oxidation and “Dead Plastic from the headlight surface as this is mainly your problem. You maybe asking what is “Dead Plastic”? This is a dead layer caused by the harsh Summer suns UV ray’s which actually destroys a layer of the plastic.

We recommend to use a sanding block for this stage rather than a rotary polisher. Ideally this should be a foam adhesive block. Also some 2500 grit sandpaper with some 3500 to follow up. These will really shift the dead plastic and oxidation, giving you a crystal clear headlight.

We will also need to remove any water that we're going to be using during the process so you will need some premium microfiber towels we also have some normal tap water in a spray bottle.

Also have some glass cleaner, this is to remove any bugs before we get started to polish headlights.

Rotary polish headlights

For the next stage you will need a either a rotary polisher or you can use a drill that you have at your home with a polishing pad attached.

The only other things we need is some sealant to protect the headlights and for that we are going to use the Chemical Guys Jetseal.  A microfiber applicator pad and some painter’s tape to protect the paint when your sanding the edges of the headlights.

Our full Head Light Polishing requirement list:

  1. Glass Cleaner
  2. Auto grade polish
  3. 2500 grade sandpaper
  4. 3500 grade sandpaper
  5. Hex Logic pads
  6. Rotary polisher or drill with polishing attachment
  7. Microfiber Clothes
  8. Chemical Jetseal or another good wax sealant
  9. A roll of painters tape

Step by step how to polish headlights.

Step 1.  Clean The Headlight

Grab a microfiber towel and some glass cleaner. This is to remove any bugs off the before we start sanding.

Simply spray on the glass cleaner and wipe any bugs.

You will notice that when you spray the cleaner on the headlight looks instantly better. But this will soon return back to the old state once the cleaner evaporates.

Step 2. Sand The Headlight

Start sanding the headlights to remove all of the dead plastic. Take your sanding block and use the chemicalized sandpaper to sand the headlight.

If you use a Foam Sanding block you will find it follows the contours of the headlight better. Spray some water or detailing lubricant onto the paper to start.

As you work away you will see a milky color residue forming. This is the oxidation and the dead plastic coming off the headlight.

Polish headlights with a rotary polisher for best effect

At this stage it’s a good idea to put the painters tape around the edges of the headlight (See picture above) to ensure you don’t damage the paintwork with the sanding block. Use back and forth movements with the 2500 grit sandpaper, continuing until no more milky color residue is coming off the light.

This signifies all the dead plastic and oxidation have been removed.

Step 3.  Sand Until It Runs Clear  

Next clean the light with clean water and a microfiber cloth. Then sand again to see if the residue is still a milky color. If so, continue sanding unti clear then recheck using same method.

Now once you get to the clear residue stage then you will notice that the headlight itself looks more hazed l with the sanding marks but do not worry the next stage will cure that. Even though it looks more hazed the surface will feel really smooth.

Take time to ensure the edges of the light are sanded as this is often where the greatest oxidation takes place due to the acute angle of the glass attracting more of the damaging UV light.

Step 4.  Use Finer Sandpaper 

Next, swap the sandpaper for the 3500 grit sheet. This will make the scratches smaller and easier to remove on the next stage. You will not find this sandpaper in your usual hardware store as it is so fine and only of use on glass. Take a look here at the grades.

Use the same process again by spraying water on the light and continue the sanding process. This time there will no residue as it will have been removed and you are now simply taking the scratches down to a minimum level in preparation for the next stage.

This stage does not take as long as the previous one. But take your time to get those edges just right. Finally wipe it off and inspect for perfect smoothness.

Step 5.  Start Rotary Polishing

Now use a rotary polisher or as suggested earlier a drill with a polishing attachment. A third option is a pneumatic air drill.

Use either of these with a hex-logic pad and apply some Chemical Guys V32 and then V36 polish. These are available in a special four pack offer pack.

Dab it onto the polishing pad, say 7 or 8 blobs on the disc then dab that all over the headlight. Use some water also as a lubricant.

Start on speed one then move up to speed four. Work first with V32 to remove the sanding scratches then V36 until your get the result you want.

When polishing headlights use tape around the edges to protect paintwork

Step 6. Buff Off For The Perfect Result!

Now buff off remaining polish with a microfiber towel and you should have the perfect result. If you are not happy with the resiult then repeat the previous stage.

Step 7. Protect Your Work 

Finally apply a good quality carnauba wax to protect the now perfect plastic headlight from the damaging UV rays. The ideal product for this is the semi synthetic Jetseal.

Apply it evenly with a good microfiber then allow 20 mins for it to dry. Then buff it off and you will have a perfectly clear headlight that is protected for up to a year.

Not just headlights

Its not just headlights that can be polished. This method works for any plastic lights, with the rear brake lights often showing the best results!

We hope you enjoy this method and all the lights on hyour car benefit from the treatment. You can also make some dollars by getting business cards printed. Then walking the parkings lots looking for vehicles with faded head or tail lights. Leave your business card in the drivers side door window and I guarantee you will soone be polishing for dollars!