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Headlight Restoration

This article was submitted by Ian Crosson (username IanBMW) from DetailCity. Thank you Ian for providing this excellent article on a great way to restore cloudy headlights.  We look forward to more great articles in the future!

OK so we have all owned or seen a car with fogged up headlights. And I'm sure most people here don't own expensive buffing machines, or feel safe wielding sand paper. So most of us either leave it alone, or spend a hour buffing them by hand with some "magic product".

So first lets examine what exactly causes the haze. When you drive what hits your headlights? Bug guts (very acidic), dirt (70mph sand blasting anyone), and other airborne materials that get peppered all over these things. Being that in the US all headlights (almost all) are plastic so these things get pretty nasty quick.

Mine had a added ugliness added thanks to sloppy wax job a while back.

So my first thoughts were I finally find a use for that dremel. Being that this thing starts off at 5,000rpm and goes up to 13,000rpm I had to be VERY careful and only use speed 1. Anything above 3,000 rpm will generate heat VERY quick. So I go to Home depot and buy a $3 polish pad.

Looking at this I realized this would take FOREVER to do with this little thing and the metal bit in the middle make it only usable on the end. So I cut up strips and fold it into thirds like so...

I quickly found out a dremel has a weak clutch and absolutly no torque. If you put the cloth under the end and try out speed one nothing happens, except that all familiar smell of burning clutch :oops: So I decide to tempt fate and just use the end of it. Here are the results after a very careful play of speed 1 off headlight, rev up dremel, put on surface, slows to a stop, remove repeat.

While this works It take WAY too long. Time to bust out the big guns, no jacking around~!


Well this baby definitally has the torque to do the job. I left nothing the end and let the cut come out about 1 mil to get a little bite on the cotton to spin my little trifold pieces. The trick to this is to use alot of lubrication/polish (Autosol plastic cleaner/polish ... Can be found at ....but any plastic cleaner will work). Do NOT apply any pressure, and don't go faster than the slowest speed (est. 1,000-1,500rpm).


This method works great, and if careful requires no effort. It saves your arms from scrubbing, but I had to be certain the results were good.

^^^Can you tell the difference between the side I did at hand, and the side I machine buffed^^^
Of course the answer should be I see no difference.

So what did we learn from this lesson boys and girls? Use less muscle and more ingenuity. Not everything has to be hard. Just take some terry cloth and cut it up. Pull out a decent drill (take out all bits and pull the chuck almost all the way into the housing). Put the strips in 1.5 inch squares and a dab of your plastic cleaner on the tip. Drill in your headlight at 1,000rpm (speed 1, Low on most drills), Counterclockwise moving left to right, applying no pressure. Stop if the cotton stops spinning. It means it needs more plastic cleaner. Buff off access and enjoy your results with maybe 15min tops for 2 headlights.

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