How to Clean Headlights with WD40: Restoring Clarity and Shine

By Jed Lehman •  Updated: 02/02/24 •  7 min read

Over time, headlights can become dull, foggy, or yellowed due to exposure to the elements, UV rays, and environmental contaminants. This not only affects the appearance of your vehicle but also reduces the effectiveness of the headlights, compromising visibility during nighttime driving. While there are various methods to restore headlights, one popular and cost-effective option is using WD40. In this article, we will provide a step-by-step guide on how to clean headlights with WD40, helping you regain clarity and shine.

Materials Needed

Before you begin the headlight cleaning process, gather the following materials:

  1. WD-40 Multi-Use Product (original formula)
  2. Microfiber cloth
  3. Masking tape
  4. Water
  5. Soap or automotive cleaner
  6. Bucket
  7. Sandpaper (grits 1000 and 2000)
  8. Water-based clear coat (optional)

Step 1: Preparation

To start, gather all the materials and ensure that your vehicle is parked in a well-ventilated area, away from direct sunlight. Cleaning headlights with WD40 can involve some minor disassembly, so consult your vehicle’s manual if necessary. Additionally, check local regulations regarding the use of WD40 or similar products.

Step 2: Masking and Cleaning

Use masking tape to cover the surrounding areas of the headlights, including the car’s paintwork and any nearby plastic trims. This will protect them from accidental scratches during the cleaning process. Next, mix water with a small amount of soap or automotive cleaner in a bucket to create a cleaning solution. Dip the microfiber cloth into the solution, wring it out, and gently clean the headlights to remove any surface dirt or grime.

Step 3: Applying WD40

Spray a generous amount of WD40 directly onto the microfiber cloth. Make sure to use the original formula of WD40, as other variants may have different compositions that might not be suitable for headlight cleaning. With the saturated cloth, rub the WD40 onto the headlight surface in circular motions. Apply firm but gentle pressure to ensure the WD40 reaches the surface evenly.

Step 4: Buffing and Wiping

After applying WD40, use a clean section of the microfiber cloth to buff the headlight surface. Continue rubbing in circular motions until the haze and oxidation start to lift. As you buff, you may notice the cloth becoming discolored, indicating the removal of grime and debris. Once the headlight starts to regain its clarity, switch to a clean microfiber cloth and wipe away any excess WD40 residue.

Step 5: Finishing Touches

At this stage, the headlights should already appear significantly clearer. However, if there are still stubborn stains or scratches, you can use sandpaper to further restore the surface. Wet the headlight with water and then proceed to sand in a back-and-forth motion using the 1000-grit sandpaper. Rinse the headlight and repeat the process with the 2000-grit sandpaper, keeping the surface wet at all times. Finally, rinse the headlight once more and wipe it dry with a clean cloth.

Optional Step: Clear Coat Application

To provide long-lasting protection and enhance the headlight’s appearance, you can apply a water-based clear coat. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and apply the clear coat evenly to the headlight surface. Allow it to dry thoroughly before removing the masking tape.

Tips and Tricks for Maintaining Headlights After Cleaning with WD40

Regular Cleaning Schedule:

Establish a regular cleaning schedule for your headlights to prevent the buildup of grime, oxidation, and other contaminants. Regular cleaning not only helps maintain clarity but also ensures optimal visibility while driving at night or in adverse weather conditions.

UV Protection:

Apply a UV-resistant coating or sealant specifically designed for headlights to provide protection against harmful UV rays. UV exposure can accelerate the yellowing and deterioration of headlights, so applying a protective coating can help prolong their lifespan and clarity.

Headlight Restoration Kit:

Invest in a quality headlight restoration kit containing sandpaper, polishing compounds, and sealants. These kits are specifically designed to restore severely oxidized or yellowed headlights and can provide long-lasting results when used correctly.

Avoid Harsh Chemicals:

When cleaning your vehicle, avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive materials on the headlights. These can damage the headlight surface and diminish clarity over time. Stick to gentle automotive cleaners or soaps recommended for use on headlights.

Sealant Application

Periodically reapply a water-based clear coat or sealant to maintain the protective layer on the headlights. This helps repel dirt, moisture, and contaminants, keeping the headlights looking clear and shiny for an extended period.

Protective Film or Covers

Consider installing a protective film or covers on your headlights to shield them from environmental elements and road debris. These films are available in various styles and materials and can provide an additional layer of protection against scratches and damage.

Check for Condensation:

Periodically check your headlights for signs of condensation or moisture buildup inside the housing. Moisture can contribute to fogging and reduced visibility, so it’s important to address any issues promptly to prevent further damage to the headlights.

Different Headlight Cleaning Methods

Headlight Cleaning MethodEffectiveness Rating (1-10)Ease of Use Rating (1-10)Cost Rating (1-10)
WD-40 Method (Your Blog’s Method)897
Toothpaste Method785
Baking Soda Method674
Commercial Headlight Cleaner979

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Cleaning Headlights with WD40

  1. Is it safe to use WD40 on headlights?
    • Yes, it is safe to use WD40 on headlights. WD40 is known for its versatility and effectiveness in cleaning various surfaces, including headlights. However, it’s essential to follow the proper cleaning process outlined in this article to avoid any potential damage to the headlight surface.
  2. How long does the WD40 method last?
    • The duration of the results obtained from the WD40 method can vary depending on factors such as weather conditions, driving habits, and the overall condition of the headlights. In general, the effects of cleaning headlights with WD40 can last several months to a year before requiring reapplication.
  3. Can WD40 damage headlights?
    • When used according to the recommended cleaning process, WD40 is unlikely to cause damage to headlights. However, it’s essential to avoid using excessive force or abrasive materials during the cleaning process, as this can potentially scratch or damage the headlight surface. Additionally, always test a small, inconspicuous area first before applying WD40 to the entire headlight.
  4. What if the headlights are severely oxidized or scratched?
    • If the headlights are severely oxidized or scratched, additional steps may be required to restore them fully. In such cases, consider using sandpaper with higher grits (e.g., 3000 grit) or seeking professional headlight restoration services. It’s important to exercise caution and follow proper techniques to avoid further damage to the headlights.
  5. Can I use WD40 on plastic headlights?
    • Yes, WD40 can be safely used on plastic headlights. In fact, many modern vehicles come equipped with plastic headlights, and WD40 is suitable for cleaning and restoring their clarity. However, as with any cleaning product, it’s essential to test a small area first and follow the recommended cleaning process to ensure optimal results without damaging the plastic surface.
  6. Will the WD40 method remove foggy or yellowed headlights?
    • Yes, the WD40 method can effectively remove foggy or yellowed headlights. WD40 helps to dissolve oxidation and grime buildup on the headlight surface, restoring clarity and shine. However, for heavily foggy or yellowed headlights, multiple applications of WD40 or additional steps such as sanding may be necessary for optimal results.
  7. Can I apply wax or sealant after using WD40 on headlights?
    • Yes, you can apply wax or sealant after using WD40 on headlights to provide additional protection and prolong the clarity of the headlights. However, it’s important to ensure that the headlights are thoroughly cleaned and free of any WD40 residue before applying wax or sealant to ensure proper adhesion and effectiveness.

These FAQs address common concerns and queries related to cleaning headlights with WD40, providing clear and informative answers to help readers achieve successful results while using this method.

Conclusion

Cleaning headlights with WD40 is a straightforward and effective method to restore clarity and shine to your vehicle’s headlights. By following the steps outlined in this article, you can easily achieve remarkable results. Remember to always exercise caution and follow safety guidelines when working with any automotive cleaning products or tools. Regular maintenance and cleaning of your headlights will not only improve the aesthetic appeal of your vehicle but also ensure optimal visibility for safer driving. With the help of WD40 and a little effort, you can enjoy crystal-clear headlights once again.

Jed Lehman

Jed Lehman is a born gearhead who has been working on cars since he could crawl. He inherited his love for auto from his grandfather who owned a maintenance shop in Carlsbad, California. Jed is the driver behind Gearshift, and started this site to provide straightforward, helpful automobile information. From maintenance tips to product reviews, you can find it all here.