How to Restore Your Headlights

Wet sanding a headlight

If your plastic headlights have seen better days, we have a simple solution. Let us show you how to restore your headlights.

We use the 3m family of products in a two-step process, cutting and polishing. To start with the cutting we use fine sandpaper and an air-powered orbital sanding gun.

Sanding your Headlights

First, clean your headlights to remove road debris, and get set up to start sanding. We start with a 1200 grit, the higher the number the finer the grit. We are only going to use a 1200 grit and a 3000 grit. If you want to add a 5000 grit you can. If you want, you can start with 1500.

3M Random Orbital Sander - Compact Auto Body Sander - Pistol Grip - 3” x 1/8” Diam. Orbit - Pneumatic - Hook and Loop Pad
3M Trizact Hookit Clear Coat Sanding Abrasive Disc 471LA, 02094, 3 in, P1500, 25 discs per carton
3M 02087 Trizact Hookit Foam Disc, 3 in, P3000, 15 discs per carton
3M Random Orbital Sander - Compact Auto Body Sander - Pistol Grip - 3” x 1/8” Diam. Orbit - Pneumatic - Hook and Loop Pad
3M Trizact Hookit Clear Coat Sanding Abrasive Disc 471LA, 02094, 3 in, P1500, 25 discs per carton
3M 02087 Trizact Hookit Foam Disc, 3 in, P3000, 15 discs per carton
$190.69
$42.63
$44.01
3M Random Orbital Sander - Compact Auto Body Sander - Pistol Grip - 3” x 1/8” Diam. Orbit - Pneumatic - Hook and Loop Pad
3M Random Orbital Sander - Compact Auto Body Sander - Pistol Grip - 3” x 1/8” Diam. Orbit - Pneumatic - Hook and Loop Pad
$190.69
3M Trizact Hookit Clear Coat Sanding Abrasive Disc 471LA, 02094, 3 in, P1500, 25 discs per carton
3M Trizact Hookit Clear Coat Sanding Abrasive Disc 471LA, 02094, 3 in, P1500, 25 discs per carton
$42.63
3M 02087 Trizact Hookit Foam Disc, 3 in, P3000, 15 discs per carton
3M 02087 Trizact Hookit Foam Disc, 3 in, P3000, 15 discs per carton
$44.01

When sanding we use a low speed and some downward pressure, using water as a lubricant and to carry away the oxidized plastic. Stop and clean with water after your first run, then you can wet up again and continue to sand. Work out any imperfections in the lens but keep the sander moving, changing directions as you sand.

The lens will look worse after the 1200 grit sand. Don’t worry, get set up for the 3000-grit run. Wipe down the headlight again and wet with water for the next sand. Move evenly back and forth, up and down, with a lighter touch and a higher speed.

The 3000-grit sand should improve the look a lot, even starting to become polished. If everything is smooth and even, you are ready for stage two.

Not the worst aging we have seen, but this headlight needs a refresh
Not the worst aging we have seen, but this headlight needs a refresh

Polishing your Headlights

Stage two is the polishing stage. For this stage, we use a different tool. We use a variable speed buffer with 3” buffing pads. This stage takes three different grades of polish. The 3M set has them easily identifiable as one, two, and three.

Three M uses color-coding to help you go through the steps. One is white, with a corresponding white pad. Step one is more of a cutting agent and will get rid of the fine haze you have on the lens. The matching foam pad is firmer. Just like the sanding, we will start slower and speed up the tool, and lighten the pressure as we go through the steps.

Part 2 is a black pad, which is a little softer than part one, with a grey polish to match. Remember to clean off the lens with your microfiber cloth between coats. Use a lighter touch with step two, combined with a little more speed. Take the time to work back and forth, up and down, and at a nice continuous pace.

Part three is the final polish. Three M has a soft blue pad with matching blue polish. Wipe down the headlight and start your final polish run. This should leave your headlight looking brand new!

Paste polish and pads with a power tool to use them.
For polishing, we use the 3M system
1Pk - 3M - Perfect It Buffing & Polishing Compound 06085 06064 06068
Perfect-It 3M Paint Finishing Pad Kit, 30045, 4 in, Single Sided
FLEX KOMPAKT 3 POLISHER
Torq R5 Rotary Backing Plate with Hyper Flex Technology, Red (3 Inch)
1Pk - 3M - Perfect It Buffing & Polishing Compound 06085 06064 06068
Perfect-It 3M Paint Finishing Pad Kit, 30045, 4 in, Single Sided
FLEX KOMPAKT 3 POLISHER
Torq R5 Rotary Backing Plate with Hyper Flex Technology, Red (3 Inch)
$159.99
$24.19
$235.00
$17.89
1Pk - 3M - Perfect It Buffing & Polishing Compound 06085 06064 06068
1Pk - 3M - Perfect It Buffing & Polishing Compound 06085 06064 06068
$159.99
Perfect-It 3M Paint Finishing Pad Kit, 30045, 4 in, Single Sided
Perfect-It 3M Paint Finishing Pad Kit, 30045, 4 in, Single Sided
$24.19
FLEX KOMPAKT 3 POLISHER
FLEX KOMPAKT 3 POLISHER
$235.00
Torq R5 Rotary Backing Plate with Hyper Flex Technology, Red (3 Inch)
Torq R5 Rotary Backing Plate with Hyper Flex Technology, Red (3 Inch)
$17.89

How to Protect Your Work?

We have seen a lot of headlight restoration videos on YouTube. It shows there are many different ways to restore your headlights!

For us, we like this method we have shown you using the 3M system. Sanding and then polishing to get a super clear finish. After this work, we do not want to spray the headlight with any product. The only way we would spray is if you have a two-part automotive-grade clear that you apply with a spray gun application. And it would have to be safe for plastics!

A fizz can finish will not last long, and can yellow and flake off in no time. To avoid having to go through the process again we use a ceramic coating. Ceramic coatings are very popular right now and they can protect your restored headlight.

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