DIY Headlight Restoration

How to restore headlights DIY project

I have a 2007 Saturn Vue and overall it’s in pretty good shape.  The paint has held up well but the headlights definitely age the vehicle.  I wanted to bring them back to life but it’s an old car so I wasn’t about to put a ton of money into it.  There are a bunch of DIY headlight restoration kits online so I researched the heck out of them and decided to go with the one from Sylvania.  It had great reviews, claims to be award winning and has a lifetime warranty.  For less than $20 it sounded too good to be true.  Turns out it actually works!  With about an hour of my time and some significant elbow grease I brought my foggy headlights back to their original glory.  Now my car not only looks newer but the light output from my headlights has increased significantly making it much safer to drive in the dark.  Want to find out how to do this yourself?  Well keep reading!

Why do headlights get foggy?

Headlight lenses are made of plastic and over time they degrade when exposed to UV light and oxygen.  Over several years the plastic will oxidize and a layer on the surface of the lens will become cloudy and often yellow.  Mine weren’t as yellow as others that I’ve seen but they were most definitely cloudy!

Here are a few pictures of my headlights before I used the headlight restoration kit.

how to restore headlights before 1

how to restore headlights before 2

how to restore headlights before 3

how to restore headlights before 4

DIY Headlight Restoration

Ok, now let’s talk about how you can bring your headlights back to their original glory.  You’ll need just a few supplies which are all listed below.

This post contains affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will make a commission if you click through and make a purchase.


Headlight restoration kit

Painters tape

Spray Bottle (filled with water)

Paper towels

How to restore headlights materials

Directions – How to Restore Headlights

Before you get started

Move your vehicle to a shaded area before you start the headlight restoration process.  Also, keep in mind that the kit requires temperatures above 32 degrees F.  If you’re wanting to restore your headlights in the winter make sure that you do it on a day above freezing.

Step 1 – Clean your headlights

First, pop your hood.  It will be much easier to work around the headlights with the hood open.  Clean the headlights with water and a paper towel.  Be sure to not only clean the plastic headlight but also the adjacent areas around it where you will be applying the tape.  The tape will not stick well to a dirty surface.  Dry the headlight and surrounding areas before moving on to step 2.

How to restore headlights - Step 1

Step 2 – Tape around your headlights 

Tape around your headlights to protect the paint during the headlight restoration process.  While the headlight restoration kit claims to be formulated not to harm the vehicles paint, if the headlights are worn out, the vehicle is probably pretty old and the paint isn’t in it’s original condition.  I would recommend using painters tape specifically designed for delicate surfaces.

How to restore headlights - Step 2

Step 3 – Apply surface activator

Before you spray the surface activator keep in mind that you’ll need to use it again later in the process!  So don’t use more than half of it in this step (1/4 of the bottle for each of the two headlights).

Spray the surface activator all over the headlight lens until it is covered entirely.  Let the liquid sit for 30 seconds and then wash it off with water from the spray bottle.  The surface activator loosens the corrosion so it’s totally normal to see orange/yellow build up dripping down the lens during this process.

How to restore headlights - Step 3

How to restore headlights - Step 3.1

How to restore headlights - Step 3.2

Step 4 – Sand the lens

In my opinion, this is the worst part of the process.  It isn’t by any means difficult, just tedious and very time consuming.  The kit comes with three different grits of sand paper (400, 1000 and 2000).  Fold each piece of sandpaper in half as you’ll need to use it for both headlights.

Start with the 400 grit paper.  Spray the headlight with water and spray the sandpaper as well.  Then using circular motions and medium pressure, sand each headlight for 5 minutes.  Continue adding water as needed making sure that the headlight remains wet.  You’ll know when you can move on to the next sheet of sandpaper when you dry the headlight and run your fingers over it.  The entire headlight should feel smooth.  If there are still rough spots go over them again with the 400 grit.  After sanding, the headlight should have a uniform light white haziness.  You shouldn’t see any clear spots or yellow spots.  If you do, go over those again.

How to restore headlights - Step 4

Next, repeat the sanding process with 1000 grit paper.  Using medium pressure, sand in a circular motion making sure that the headlight and paper are wet the entire time.  Sand each headlight for 5 minutes.

The last sanding step is to use the 2000 grit paper.  Use firm pressure this time and sand in a circular motion for 5 minutes on each headlight.  Remember to keep the headlight and sandpaper wet the entire time

Yes, your math is correct.  When you add it all up, you’ll need to sand for at least 30 minutes.  You’ll get a nice arm workout in while restoring your headlights. 😉

After the sanding process, your headlights will look worse than they originally did and if you’re like me you may be thinking “oh crap, I just ruined them!”  Don’t worry, it’ll get better.  Just keep with the process.

How to restore headlights - Step 4.1

Step 5 – Apply clarifying compound

Add about a quarter size of the clarifying compound onto one of the white towels that comes with the kit.  Wet the headlights and then rub the clarifying compound over the entire headlight using a circular motion and firm pressure.  Do this for about 5 minutes on each headlight.  Then, rinse the lens thoroughly and dry it off completely.

How to restore headlights - Step 5

Step 6 – Apply surface activator for the 2nd time

This is the step where you’ll need the rest of the surface activator.  Spray it on the headlights completely covering them and then let it sit for 30 seconds.

How to restore headlights - Step 6

Step 7 – Apply UV Block Clear Coat

This is where the magic happens.  Before you apply the clear coat, make sure that the lens is clean and dry.  If needed, add water and then dry with the other clean white towel that was provided in the kit.  Remove the tape before applying the clear coat.

Use a paper towel to make sure that the lens and surrounding areas are completely dry before applying the UV clear coat.

Wear the glove provided and then soak the edge of the blue towel that came in the kit with the UV block clear coat until it is saturated about 1/2″ wide.  Starting at the upper corner of the headlight, wipe the clear coat across the headlight.  Working from the top down, repeat the process with a slight overlap of the previous swipe.  Continue to apply clear coat to the towel as needed throughout the process.

How to restore headlights - Step 7

How to restore headlights - Step 7.1

In the photo below you can see the UV clear coat applied to top half of headlight only.

How to restore headlights - Step 7.2

This is what it looked like after I had applied it to the entire headlight!  There is a glare from the sun since my garage door was opened.  The entire headlight was very clear after I had fully applied the clear coat.

How to restore headlights - Step 7.3

The clear coat application was my favorite part of the process.  It brings immediate clarity to the headlight almost like an eraser and it’ll provide protection against harmful UV rays which will hopefully keep my headlights looking new for a long time.

Step 8 – Allow time for curing 

After you have finished the headlight restoration process it’s important to give it time to properly cure.  Do not touch the headlight for at least 1 hour.  Do not drive or allow the headlights to be exposed to rain for at least 6 hours.

Headlight Restoration Before and After

How to restore headlights DIY project

It was quite the transformation.  I really hope that they stay looking this great for a long time.  I’ll try to remember to come back and update this post 6 months and a year later to let you know how they are doing.  If I forget just leave me a message in the comments.

Here are some more after photos to show you how it turned out.

DIY headlight restoration after 2

DIY headlight restoration after 3

Look at how clear it is!

DIY headlight restoration after 1

Here is a link to the headlight restoration kit again.

If your vehicle is older like mine you probably have at least one chip in your windshield.  Shoot, it could be a brand new vehicle and have a chip!  I shared a tutorial a few months ago on how to fix a chipped windshield on your own.  I couldn’t believe how well it worked!





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