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How to Clean Cloudy Headlights for Safer Nighttime Driving

How to Clean Cloudy Headlights for Safer Nighttime Driving

Clear, bright headlights are key to safe nighttime driving. They not only light the way ahead but also make sure that other drivers can see us. Unfortunately, headlights can become cloudy or yellowed over time due to sun damage, light scratches, and environmental contaminants. That’s why knowing how to clean cloudy headlights is an important part of basic auto maintenance.

Luckily, there are several simple, cost-effective ways to restore clarity to your headlights, ensuring optimal performance and safer driving conditions. In today’s post, we highlight some of those methods and the results we’ve had with those we’ve tried ourselves.

What Causes Cloudy Headlights?

Headlights get cloudy when the protective layer on the surface of the plastic headlight lenses breaks down, leading to oxidation and discoloration. This is often caused by UV rays, harsh weather conditions, environmental contaminants, and general wear and tear that causes fine scratches over time.

This looks bad, but there’s much more to worry about than appearance. The amount of light that both car & motorhome headlights put out decreases as the lenses become more and more cloudy. Foggy headlights reduce nighttime visibility, especially during adverse weather conditions.

When headlights don’t work as well as they should, the safety of the driver and others on the road is compromised. That’s why it’s so important to keep all your vehicles’ headlights (RVs included) in the best possible shape.

How to Clean Cloudy Headlights

There are lots of ways to improve cloudy headlights. Most involve polishing compounds and oxidation removers. We’ll share the methods we’ve had the best luck with over the years and a few other popular restoration systems that reportedly work well.

First, we’ll talk about how to prepare your headlights for restoration or thorough cleaning. You’ll also need to choose the cleaning solution and method you prefer. We’ll get to those in the next section. And it should go without saying (but we’ll say it anyway) — products differ, so following the manufacturer’s instructions for the product you buy is always the best way to go.

Materials Needed

Before starting the cleaning process, gather the following materials:

How to Clean and Restore Cloudy Headlights

We’re sharing the general steps you’ll want to take as you prepare to work on restoring your vehicle’s cloudy headlights. These steps may vary slightly depending on the type of restoration you’re doing and the headlight lens restorer solutions you’ve chosen.

Park in the Shade

It’s best if headlights are cool to the touch for this, so park your RV or car in a shady spot if possible.

Wash the Headlights

If the headlights are dirty, clean them with a good car wash to remove any surface debris. Dry them off with a towel, or allow them to air dry. If you’re only cleaning the headlights and not washing the whole car or RV, you can, of course, use any mild cleaner to clean just the headlights first.

Mask the Area Around the Headlights

To protect the vehicle’s finish, apply a line of painter’s tape all around the edges of the headlight.

The photo below shows our 2003 Honda CR-V being prepped for headlight cleaning and defogging. As you can see, we used painter’s tape and sheets of paper around the headlights to protect our car’s paint job.

Masking tape and paper isolating the headlight from the vehicle's paint

We used our favorite FROG tape and sheets of paper around the headlight to protect our Honda’s paint job.

Apply Headlight Restoration Solution

Most headlight restoration kits come with a cleaning solution and abrasive pads or light sandpaper. Apply the solution according to the manufacturer’s instructions, typically by spraying or wiping it onto the headlight surface.

Buff the Headlights

Using the abrasive pads (or sandpaper if that’s what’s included in your kit), gently buff the headlights’ surface in circular motions. Be sure to apply even pressure and keep the surface wet with the solution to prevent scratching. Again, follow the directions that came with your kit since they can vary.

Continue buffing until the cloudiness starts to fade and the headlights look clearer.

Polishing a headlight using an abrasive pad and polish

Most headlight restoration kits include an abrasive pad for applying the polish solution and buffing the headlight.

Rinse and Dry

Once you’re happy with the results, rinse the headlights with clean water to remove any residue. Dry the headlights thoroughly with a microfiber cloth to prevent water spots.

Apply Protective Sealant

To prolong the clarity of your headlights and provide additional protection against UV damage, apply the sealant that comes with your cleaning and restoration kit. You can also use your favorite UV-resistant sealant or clear coat. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application and drying times.

We like Meguiar's Clear Headlight Coating 

Inspect the Headlights

Take a look at your headlights to make sure they look clearer. If they still appear cloudy, you can repeat the process to see if they’ll improve even more. But once you’ve applied the clearcoat sealant, you should already see, ahem, a clear difference.

Remove the Painter’s Tape

Once the sealant has dried completely, carefully remove the painter’s tape from the areas surrounding the headlights.

What Are the Best Methods for Cleaning Cloudy Headlights?

There are lots of options for cleaning cloudy headlights. We’ll start with the cheapest method, which you can try using something we’re sure you’ve got lying around the house. We’ve tried several methods ourselves and will fill you in on which ones they are and how we liked them.

Whitening Toothpaste

Yes, toothpaste. This was the first method we ever tried, and whitening toothpaste works surprisingly well as a quick, down-and-dirty way to get your headlights clearer in a pinch. It needs to be whitening toothpaste because it has small abrasives similar to those found in dedicated headlight restoration options.

Colgate Total Whitening Gel Toothpaste, Mint Toothpaste, 5.1 oz Tube
  • One 5.1 oz tube of Colgate Total Whitening Gel Toothpaste
  • Enhanced Flavor

While whitening toothpaste works well to restore clarity to your headlights, you’ll want to add some UV protection once you’ve cleaned your cloudy headlights with the toothpaste method. Meguiar’s Clear Headlight Coating works well for this purpose:

Meguiar's G17804 Keep Clear Headlight Coating - 4 Oz Spray
  • CLEAR LIGHTS: Maintains clarity on new or restored headlights
  • UNIQUE FORMULA: Proprietary headlight coating provides durable UV protection

It may be hard to believe that an ordinary tube of toothpaste can clean your cloudy headlights. Well, we’ve done it ourselves, and here’s the video to show you how well it works:

Headlight Restore Wipes

Another method that we’ve found works well (and quickly) is using Headlight Restore wipes. This was the second method we tried.

After we’d been towing our CR-V around by the nose for nearly 17 years and spending most winters in the Desert Southwest sun, its headlights needed some TLC. The toothpaste we’d tried worked pretty well but didn’t last as long as we’d hoped. Next, we tried these wipes, and they cleaned and restored our cloudy, yellowed headlights to like-new condition.

Headlight Restorer Kit, Easy 3-Step Process Car Headlight Restoration Kit - Headlight Cleaner and protective Wipes
  • Restore Headlight Clarity: Eliminate yellowing, haziness, and oxidation for brighter, safer nighttime driving.
  • Easy 3-Step Process: Clean, dry, and protect lenses in just minutes - no power tools needed!

This safely removes oxidation and yellowing and includes a wipe-on protective UV coating that makes your lenses stay clearer for longer. You can see the results in this video:

Meguiar’s PlastX Clear Plastic Polish

Meguiar’s PlastX is well-reviewed but only removes the haze/yellowing from the lens. It doesn’t include anything to add back the UV protection that was “baked into” the original lens surface. But it does have thousands of great reviews, so clearly it’s worked well for many people.

Meguiar's PlastX Clear Plastic Polish, Fast & Easy Plastic Restorer for Headlights, Taillights, Soft Top Windows, and More, Remove Scratches, Cloudiness, Yellowing, and Oxidation, 10 oz.
  • PLASTIC CLEANER & POLISH: Rich gel formula quickly restores clarity to both rigid and flexible uncoated clear plastics, removing cloudiness,...
  • HEADLIGHT CLEANING AND MUCH MORE: Great for use on headlights, Plexiglass, plastic convertible windows, brake lights and other uncoated clear plastic...

Since it doesn’t include a fresh UV lens coating, you’ll probably want to pick up some Meguiar’s Clear Headlight Coating to add protection to keep the lenses clear for longer.

Meguiar's Clear Headlight Coating 


Meguiar’s Two-Step Headlight Restoration Kit

Meguiar’s headlight restoration kit is the method we used most recently on the headlights of both our Honda and our motorhome. It works really well and is our favorite of every headlight restoration method we’ve tried. Our headlights are still very clear after more than a year and a half. We’re happy campers.

Meguiar's Two Step Headlight Restoration Kit, Headlight Cleaner Restores Clear Car Plastic and Protects from Re-Oxidation, Includes Headlight Coating and Cleaning Solution - 4 Count (1 Pack)
  • RESTORE HEADLIGHT CLARITY: Introducing a car detailing kit featuring high-quality car care products that quickly and easily restore headlights. The...
  • YEAR-LONG PROTECTION: The revolutionary headlight coating in this car care kit helps your car shine brighter, longer by protecting against yellowing...

Cerakote Ceramic Headlight Restoration Kit

While we haven’t used the Cerakote headlight restoration kit ourselves, we’ve seen that it’s highly rated, so we wanted to include it here.

Cerakote’s kit is similar to Meguiar’s 2-step kit above but uses a wipe-on “ceramic” coating to protect the lenses after the haze has been removed.

CERAKOTE® Ceramic Headlight Restoration Kit – Guaranteed To Last As Long As You Own Your Vehicle – Brings Headlights back to Like New Condition - 3 Easy Steps - No Power Tools Required
  • LASTS AS LONG AS YOU OWN YOUR VEHICLE! - Our chemists developed our Ceramic Coating Headlight Restoration kit IN HOUSE at Cerakote HQ. We aren't...
  • NO POWER TOOLS REQUIRED - Everything is included in the kit for your car. There are no tools required that could potentially damage your headlights or...

Sylvania Headlight Restoration Kit

We haven’t tried Sylvania’s restoration kit either, but it’s a popular choice with lots of excellent reviews. This kit includes fine sandpaper for prepping the surface and an activator that softens the plastic for easier sanding. The sand and polish step removes imperfections from the headlights and a bottle of UV block clear coat is included to keep the lens protected longer.

SYLVANIA - Headlight Restoration Kit - 3 Easy Steps to Restore Sun Damaged Headlights With Exclusive UV Block Clear Coat, Light Output and Beam Pattern Restored, Long Lasting Protection
  • Restores Headlight To A Like-New Appearance and Removes Haze: Headlight lenses on your vehicle can become yellow, dull, and hazy from the sun. Our...
  • Restores Headlight Light Output: Restores original clarity and vision to sun damaged plastic headlight lenses. The lenses will be clearer, the...

Meguiar’s Heavy-Duty Headlight Restoration Kit

Finally, we’re including Meguiar’s heavy-duty headlight restoration kit. This might be the one to try if you’ve got really cloudy headlights.

It includes Meguiar’s PlastX Clear Plastic Cleaner & Polish and a spray bottle of Meguiar’s Headlight Coating that helps retain the clarity of freshly cleaned or restored headlights for up to a year.

Note that this is a somewhat more aggressive method that uses heavier-duty sandpaper and a wool pad on a standard corded drill to polish the headlight cover to restore its clarity.

Meguiar's Heavy Duty Headlight Restoration Kit, Car Headlight Cleaner and Restorer
  • PROFESSIONAL RESULTS: Cleans oxidized, yellowed and hazy headlights
  • REVOLUTIONARY COATING: Protects against yellowing and re-oxidation of headlights for up to 12 months

No matter what method you use, cleaning the headlights of your vehicle(s) so that they’re clear and performing optimally is an important maintenance task that contributes to your safety and the safety of everyone else on the road around you.

For more about cleaning glass, see our posts on how to clean RV windows and how to use steel wool to clean glass.

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Eric Phillips

Sunday 3rd of March 2024

3M also makes a great product. I read about it in Handyman magazine and tried it on my 10 year old Cadillac with amazing results.

Brian Nystrom

Sunday 3rd of March 2024

If the headlights are really bad, not just lightly hazed like yours were, you won't be able to avoid sanding and polishing them. If you want long-term protection of the restored lights, wipe-on or spray coatings won't cut it, as they generally only last a year or two. The best results come from using fillm products like 3M paint protection tape. Yes, it costs more that a restoration kit, but over the life of the vehicle, it may actually be cheaper and it's definitely less work than buying a kit and repeating the restoration process every year or so. Plus, your lights will always be clear and bright.


Sunday 3rd of March 2024

Automotive finish rubbing compound takes the haze off, use the fine grade.


Sunday 3rd of March 2024

Thanks Bruce!

William Moore

Sunday 3rd of March 2024

Deep Woods Off works well, the higher the DEET content the better. This is a short lived fix, but if you get cause out at night and can't see... this will get you there. I've found it works for about a month or so.


Sunday 3rd of March 2024

Thanks for adding that, William! We'd forgotten about this quick down & dirty trick.


Monday 22nd of November 2021

Great articles on the headlight restoration! I’d never pay those ridiculous prices places charge for this service. QUESTION: We have a 2014 Honda CRV Toad. Wondering if you (RV GEEKS) or any others out there have found reasonably priced LED Headlight Bulbs that work well, have bright white light - increase the night time view and don’t burn out?


Monday 22nd of November 2021

Hi Jim! We installed LED headlights we got from M4, and LOVE them. They provide brilliant, clear white light, far better than the originals, with great visibility. We're pretty sure the 9003 is the right one for a 2014 CR-V: If you decide to go with them, make sure you use the RVGEEKS discount code to save 5%.

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PLEASE NOTE: We're handy RVers, not professional technicians. We're happy with the techniques and products we use, but be sure to confirm that all methods and materials you use are compatible with your equipment and abilities. Regardless of what we recommend, consult a professional if you're unsure about working on your RV. Any task you perform or product you purchase based on any information we provide is strictly at your own risk.

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