If you do not clean your car often, you may wonder how to clean yellow headlights. You may be surprised to learn that products such as vinegar, baking soda, and toothpaste can clean the yellow “fog” off of your headlights. After reading this guide, you will have multiple methods of cleaning yellow headlights at your disposal.
Why Are My Headlights Yellow?
Before you learn how to clean yellow headlights, it may help to understand why headlights turn yellow in the first place.
You may think that your headlights are yellow just because they are dirty. That may be one reason. But if you have done your best to keep your car clean and still have yellow headlights, the most likely culprit is ultraviolet rays from sunlight.
Acrylic, the plastic that most headlights are made of, naturally oxidizes after exposure to UV light. Sunlight breaks down the top layer of acrylic on your headlights. This layer reduces the amount of blue light coming out of your lenses.
Most headlights come with a protective layer to prevent yellowing/fogging. However, this layer wears off over time, leading to a yellow hue on your headlights. According to GlassDoctor.com, one of the best ways to keep your headlights from yellowing is to park in the shade.
The yellow layer of “fog” can be removed from your headlights; it does not permeate the plastic. Once you get that layer off, your headlights will look good as new. Here are some of the best methods to remove that layer.
There are several common household items that you can use to clean your yellow headlights. These include, but are not limited to:
- Baking soda
- Dish soap
This is not an exhaustive list—there are plenty of other ways to clean yellow headlights. But this article will cover these 7 because you probably have at least one of them in your house. They are also easy to explain.
Covering Our Bases
If you remember chemistry class, you may recall that there are two kinds of compounds: acids and bases. Whether a compound is acidic or basic affects how we can use it to clean yellow headlights.
Of the above compounds, baking soda, toothpaste, WD-40, and dish soap are all bases. Vinegar and alcohol are acids. Salt is not considered acidic or basic; dish soap is also a weak base with a pH slightly above 7 (water).
As per Corvus Janitorial, most cleaning products are basic/alkaline because they are good at cleaning organic stains. Plastics, including acrylic, are organic. Bases also leave metal utensils unscathed. But be careful; some of the cleaning products on this list will also remove the paint on your car.
Overall, however, bases are more effective and efficient at removing the yellow layer from your car. Baking soda, salt, and toothpaste are also abrasive. You scrape the oxidized layer off of your headlights when you use baking soda or toothpaste to clean them.
Giving Lights Acid Baths
If you wish to use an acidic chemical like vinegar or alcohol, however, the process tends to be more complicated. More often than not, you must take your headlight covers off. They will need to soak in vinegar for around an hour. Denatured alcohol and vinegar solutions must be applied very carefully with a clean rag.
Since bug spray is also acidic, please note that some acids are so strong that they will melt your headlights according to the news channel 10 WBNS’s website. Be skeptical. Research DIY methods thoroughly before trying them yourself.
Can I Mix Baking Soda and Vinegar?
Thinking back to chemistry class again, you may wonder what happens if you use baking soda and vinegar to clean your headlights together. The answer is, yes, the same combination that made “volcanoes” in science class is also an effective headlight cleaner.
Mix 2 parts baking soda to 1 part vinegar in a bowl until they form a thin paste. Apply this to your headlights with a clean microfiber towel. The baking soda acts as an abrasive while the vinegar eats through the oxidized layer.
How Do I Clean My Yellow Lights?
Before attempting to defog your headlights, make sure they are made of acrylic/plastic and not glass. All of the advice above only applies to acrylic/plastic headlights. Glass is not an organic substance and may react differently to whatever cleaner you use. Use all necessary personal protection equipment during cleaning.
You should also check how damaged your headlights are. Another common cause of yellowing is moisture getting into your lights. If the damage is more than a few scratches, it is probably better to ask the dealer for a replacement headlight cover and check for any other damage around that area while you are there.
But if all you need to do is clean the yellow off of your acrylic headlights, here are instructions that use items that you already have in your house:
Step 1: Wipe Your Headlights Clean.
The first step to cleaning your headlights does not require any fluid. Run a clean rag over your headlights, effectively dusting them off before you begin cleaning.
Step 2: Add Your Solution
Next, you will have to either soak your headlight covers in vinegar, or rub them with toothpaste, baking soda, or salt. You don’t need to add water for toothpaste, salt, or baking soda.
Apply acidic solutions such as vinegar glass cleaner or denatured alcohol with care. (This is not necessary if you use baking soda-vinegar paste; treat that more like toothpaste.) If you want a thorough cleaning, soak the entire headlight cover in a vinegar bath for an hour.
Step 3: Clean Off Your Headlights
If you use a solution like baking soda, toothpaste, or salt, clean it off of your headlights until they sparkle. Add soapy water to get the cleaning solution off.
Step 4: Wipe It Dry
The final step is to wipe your headlight covers dry. Do this with a dry microfiber cloth. Your lights should look good as new.
If you used an acidic solution, rinse off any grime, then wipe your headlight covers dry before reinstalling them.
If any scratches remain on your headlights, you can attempt to use a mild abrasive. However, major scratches and other types of damage warrant a trip to the dealer.
Step 5: Add an Extra Coat (Optional)
If you like, you can add an extra coat of car wax or petroleum jelly to keep your headlights from yellowing in the future. You can also buy protective film that will prevent your headlights from yellowing similar to the ones that came with your car.
This step is optional. Otherwise, you will have to clean your headlights every 2 weeks or whenever they fog up again.
What About Official Products?
Finally, if you do not wish to use a household product to clean your yellow headlights, several products made to clean headlights exist on the market. However, many of them have mediocre results, and some of them are not worth it at all. Check reviews before buying.
There are many ways to clean yellow headlights, some of which use products you already have at home. The first step is always to dust off your headlights with a clean cloth. Then, apply whatever solution you wish; note that a vinegar bath is labor-intensive. Clean and dry off your headlights, then apply a layer of wax or protective film to delay their yellowing.