You can resurface your plastic headlights in a matter of minutes. Depending on the condition of your headlights, you might not even need to purchase anything at all. If your headlights are slightly yellowed and does not have a lot of yellowing you can likely just polish off the deteriorating surface. If the surface of the headlights look completely covered in a crust-like surface you will need to sand off the top layer.

There are no miracle chemicals that you can simply wipe on and fix the problem. You can put chemicals that gives the headlights a wet look, but all of that flaky polycarbonate crust is still causing the headlights to look blurry. The idea is to make the surface of the headlight as smooth as possible. The clearer it becomes the cleaner your lights will look.

This article is intended to only resurface the headlight lens without relying on a particular headlight restoration product. After the lens are resurfaced, it will slowly begin to deteriorate again depending on much exposure to the sun it gets and how much abrasion it encounters.

Some things you may need before you start

    Sandpaper (wet type)
  • 400 grit
  • 600 grit
  • 800 grit
  • 1000 grit
  • 1500 grit
  • 3000 grit
    Polish (any one below)
  • Metal Polish
  • Plastic Polish
  • Paint Polish
  • Rubbing Compound
  • Swirl Mark Remover
  • Any Polish
    Equipment (spray bottle or bucket)
  • Spray Bottle
  • Bucket and Sponge
  • Cotton or Paper Towel
Where to buy?
Sandpaper - can be purchased at any automotive store such as Pepboys, Autozone, Kragen, Chiefs, O'Reily's, Advanced, Walmart, etc. To get good sandpaper you will want to know where to buy 3M or Meguair's W/D (wet or dry) sandpapers used by painters or bodyshops. Both Meguair's and 3M make all grades of sandpapers. For the job you only need 1/8 of a sheet per grade. Unfortunately you can only purchase a sleeve or a sheet at a time at minimum.

Polish - I'm sure everyone has some type of polish laying around. Just use that as it will work. Regardless whether it is for the kitchen or the garage.

Equipment - Any one of the following below can hold water. This is for the sanding.

Sanding Guidelines
Condition of HeadlightSandpaperSanding Time
Heavily Deteriorated400
6 minutes
2 minutes
Slightly Deteriorated800
2 minutes
3 minutes
Lightly Deteriorated1500
3 minutes
4 minutes
The reason why so many sandpaper are required is to minimize on mistakes and to cut the time required to finish. By making so many transitions in different sandpaper grits it allows you to spend less time sanding. You can also physically feel the sandpaper gradually work its way. The most difficult steps is always the first step. Knowing when to stop is the key factor in getting the best and most efficient results.

Condition of HeadlightSandpaperSanding Time
Heavily Deteriorated6008 minutes
Slightly Deteriorated8002 minutes
Lightly Deteriorated1500
8 minutes
4 minutes
If you know how to sand, then you can go through less transition in sandpapers. It does take a few minutes longer but you can save on less materials to use. What makes someone an expert versus a beginner is knowing went to stop.

You will want to make sure you have the patience to sand at least the minimum sanding time required to remove all deteriorated materials. If you don't sand enough during the first step, some traces of yellowing will be visible at the end. It will not be as noticible as before. If the lights look clear but slightly cloudly than meant you didn't sand long enough to remove all of the scratches from the prior step. Another topic is using gloves or not. Personally I don't like gloves because I can't feel the progress as easily.

Know when to stop
A few products that we encountered gave really good sanding instructions such as Permatex and GlassyLite. Both products use the hand sanding method. The method is to sand only in one direction for every time switch to a higher grade of sandpaper grit. The idea is to remove all of the scratches from the prior step.

Wipe clean after each sanding step
This removes all abrasives that were left over by the sandpaper. When you move up in grit, the larger grits can destroy your higher grit sandpaper and you will never be able to sand out those scratches with a higher grit sandpaper. This was one of my own personal problems when I first started sanding out paint scratches. Consider this step vital to your finished results!

Sandpaper sizing
You only need to use 3"x3" or smaller sandpaper when sanding. Anything larger means you will be wasting it and it could cut your hands slowly without knowing it.

Step 1 - Washing
Wash your headlights.

Step 2 - Sanding
Start wet sanding the headlights by hand. Do not use a lot of pressure because it is going to mess up your skin and tire you out. Since you are starting out with the heaviest grit, the sandpaper will cut out all of the outer surfaces fast. Just make sure the you don't hit your paint. You can sand in any direction you like or even in circles which is my favorite. Even though the headlights look clear I want you to keep sanding to make sure you don't miss any spots! After when you are done. I want you to sand in one direction to cover the entire headlight; this creates a marker for the next step.

  • Now clean off the surface with water and wipe dry downwards
  • Inspect the surface inconsistency
  • Sand clear or glossy sections

  • So on the sandpaper grade up. Do the same just keep sanding until all of the marker lines you put in are visibly gone and repeat this step for every sandpaper grit.

    Step 3 - Polishing When it comes to polishing you should stick to a paper towel for less problems. Some cotton towels are slightly rough which can cause scratching. I use the Scott Shop Paper Towels which are the blue ones that you can buy from Home Depot or Costco in a bundle. They cost about $1.50 a roll and can be reused.

    I picked up a lot of different types of polishes from Wal-Mart in the autmotive section. Any of these polishes will work fine. The price has no relevance to the quality of the result. I suggest going with the cheapest one which is the Turtle Wax Rubbing Compound.

    Don't put too much polish, keep it on the dry side. Use a lot of pressure and speed to buff out.