How To Restore Yellow Headlights: The Bug Spray Fix

Your car may be plagued by that hazed and or yellowed headlamp lens. If so, this article will go over how to restore yellow headlights affordably. Granted, some headlights may be too far gone, and they can be expensive to replace. But before going into that expense, let’s look at trying to restore them first.

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Unlike the old days, car headlamp assemblies are made all out of plastic. Some cars still use glass, but 99% of today’s cars use plastic for headlight lenses. The UVs from the sun, day-to-day weather and dirt, deteriorate and discolor the plastic lens.

This increase in opacity will decrease your illumination of your bulb. This will make driving at night more and more difficult over time.

I am going to provide you with some tips and tricks that can help restore those hazed and yellow headlight lenses and save money. One trick is using bug spray, so continue reading to find out how!!

Why are Headlights Made of Plastic?

The sad truth is, more parts on cars today are made of plastic, to keep the overall weight down. This includes headlights. The weight of a glass lens to withstand road debris, is far heavier than plastic.

The weight of a 7-inch sealed beam headlight is around 1.7 pounds. The time you add the headlight adjustment cradle, housing, springs and hardware, you have about 8 pounds.

A plastic headlamp assembly weighs between 5 to 7 pounds. Even though that doesn’t sound like a big savings, they figure every little bit helps.

The other and more prominent reason is aesthetics. Designers started making cars more rounded and molded looking in the mid to late 80’s.

Plastic is far easier and cheaper to mold than glass. You can actually find many of the late 80’s cars, with molded glass headlight lenses. But due to the expense and weight, plastic won out.

What Causes Headlights to Haze or Yellow?

Headlight are made from a thermoplastic polymer called polycarbonate. This type of material is designed to withstand heat. However, it still can break down over time.

The combination of the heat from the actual bulb inside the light and the sun, can start the oxidation process. If the headlight lens starts hazing or yellowing on the inside, the headlamps assembly will need to be replaced.

The biggest reason headlights deteriorate and oxidize are as follows.

  • UV Rays
  • Harsh soaps and chemical exposure
  • Salts on the road
  • Sand like debris on the road
  • Insect impacts
  • Bird droppings
  • Over powered light bulb – High Performance

How to Restore Yellow Headlights with Sanding and Buffing

I am sure you have heard of sanding and buffing paint on a car. Surprisingly, you can do the same thing to plastic. Paints are polymers, just like plastic, so they both can be polished out.

There are kits, some with sanding disc which is nice, but I feel sanding by hand gives a better job. When sanding by hand, you have better control in the narrow corners.

Restoring yellow headlights with sandpaper is more for when the plastic lens really has a rough finish to it. If the headlight has a heavy texture to it, sandpaper or sanding disc are about your only options.

Using sanding disc may be your only options if the headlight lens is really rough. The smoother you get the lens, the clearer it will be. If the headlight lens has a mild roughness or is smooth but just discolored, sand it by hand.

Things You are Going to Need

This list is all from Amazon, as I am an affiliate and collect commissions at not extra cost to you. But I also picked these items because much of it can be picked up at Walmart and local parts stores.

Sand the Headlight Lens

Restore Yellow Headlights

Before you get started, using green masking tape, mask off the area around the headlight. You want to do this to protect the paint on the vehicle. I wanted to share a tip as well.

There is no need in masking off the hood if it sits over top the headlight. Just open the hood, because it gives you more room to work and saves on masking.

Using either the wet-or-dry sandpaper, start with a rougher paper, usually 800-grit. If the lens is really rough, you may want to use 600-grit.

I recommend using the wet or dry paper and get a bucket of water with a few drops of dishwashing liquid in it. Do all the sanding wet with the mix of water and dishwashing liquid and the sponge pad.

Thoroughly sand the lens. Wipe dry and look for any yellow, clear or glossy spots. If so, repeat the wet sanding.

Wipe dry again and examine your work. If all the headlight lens looks evenly hazed without any discolorations, then proceed to the next finer grit sandpaper.

You will want to repeat this process but use the next finer grit sandpaper until you reach the final sand with 3000-grit.

Each time you sand it with finer sandpaper, the clearer looking the lens will be. Continually wipe and fry to check your work.

Restore Yellow Headlights by Hand Video

The method in this video is to dry sand, I do not recommend that. Wet sanding helps keep the sandpaper lubed and from packing up debris in it.

Packed up debris in the sandpaper can cause deep scratching and gouging. Plus, this video seems to use rougher sandpapers. The purpose is to give you an idea of the process and to help you visualize what you are to do.

Buff the Headlight Lens

The above sanding is the first key to restore yellow headlights. The second part is buffing the lens, and this can be done with two methods.

You can use the little 3-inch buffing pads on a drill or do it by hand with a towel. Both will require using the Meguiar's Professional Fine-Cut Cleaner M0216.

This compound is designed to remove the sanding scratches made with the 3000-grit sandpaper. Apply the compound by cloth and rub the entire lens. Rub thoroughly for at least a minute or two.

Wipe the compound of with a clean cloth to check your progress. If it still looks a bit hazy, rinse and repeat the rubbing process.

If you choose to use to use the 3-inch buffing pad on the drill, the process will be the same as above. Apply compound to the buffing sponge, run for a minute or two and then wipe to see progress.

Once you feel the lens looks clear, buff it with the next compound, Meguiar’s Professional Swirl Remover, M0916.

Using either a clean towel to rub with or a clean 3-inch foam pad. Apply the swirl removing compound and polish until the lens looks clear and new.

Protect the Headlight Lens

Wash the headlights with clean dishwashing liquid mixed with water. Dry the headlight lens thoroughly to prepare it for the protectant.

Apply some Mothers Headlight Protectant with a clean dry towel. Rub the protectant in circular motions as much as you can. Let it set for about 30 seconds and then using a clean dry cloth, wipe it off.

This Mother’s Protectant will add a coating that will protect the plastic lens from the UV rays and street grime.

Restore Yellow Headlights with a Headlight Restore Kit

Restore Yellow Headlights

This section will guide you using one of my favorite headlight restore kits. The 3M Ultra Headlight Restoration Kit (39195).

I have other kits I like to use, but this 3M kit works great on headlights that are really rough. The sanding disc are a little more aggressive than my above sanding method, but you get a nice finish.

This is still pretty much the same process as from above. However, this kit requires you to use a drill and disc for the process.

Watch this video to see how to use this kit properly.

How To Restore Yellow Headlights with the Bug Spray Trick

This method will work and I have had some great results. However, it isn’t one I highly promote due to how you can mess up the headlight if not done correctly.

This will be by far the quickest and cheapest methods you can do to restore yellow headlights.

Your supply list will be short.

  • Soap and water
  • Clean cotton or microfiber towel
  • Deep Woods Off bug spray or any bug spray with Deet in it

Clean your headlights with soap and water. Wipe it and avoid spraying it with a water hose. The reason is, the headlights cannot have any water on them. If you have washed it, then let it dry thoroughly.

With a clean towel, spray a medium amount of bug spray onto the cloth. Do not spray directly on to the headlight lens.

With gentle one direction wipes, make even smooth passes on the headlight. You will see that it starts clearing it immediately.

You will also notice that the towel might feel like it is sticking to the lens. That is because it is, if so, lighten up on the pressure and keep moving.

The Deet in the bug spray actually will melt the plastic if applied to heavily.

Once applied, let it sit in the dry for a least half a day or longer. Do not touch the lens until at least a half days’ time has gone by.

You can read more in depth details on this process with images, by viewing, “Headlight Lens Restore Trick.

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