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Cloudy headlights are common on older vehicles. More than just an unsightly problem, those cloudy lenses inhibit nighttime visibility. However, this unsafe condition isn’t something you have to deal with long-term. There are plenty of lifehacks out there purporting car care solutions, but can you really restore headlights with toothpaste? You can, but there are much easier options out there.

The toothpaste headlight restoration trick

If you aren’t up to speed on this latest car cleaning hack, it is a fairly straightforward one. Because toothpaste contains abrasives, the idea is that you can use it to remove the cloudy layer of plastic from older headlights.

From here, it’s as simple as buffing the toothpaste onto the surface until the plastic clears up. And while this can work as a short-term solution, you’ll find that this trick only works for a few weeks or months.

Why doesn’t the toothpaste trick work to clean headlights?

Upon initial application, it looks like the toothpaste headlight cleaning hack works to clean up those cloudy headlights. However, any time you apply an abrasive to headlight lenses, you’re wearing through the UV coating on the surface.

Because the protective coating is now gone, the remaining plastic will be even more susceptible to UV and environmental damage going forward. It’s for this reason that the toothpaste trick is only a temporary solution.

These Jeep headlights have been restored to look like new
A Jeep with freshly-restored headlights | Robert Alexander/Getty Images

A professional process can bring more permanent results

Rather than using toothpaste, Insider says a professional process can bring more long-lasting results for restoring cloudy headlights. The most important step is to tape off the painted area surrounding the headlight if you aren’t planning to remove it entirely.

Once this is done, you can begin by wet-sanding the headlights to remove the top layers of oxidation. This is the quickest and most effective way to cut through the cloudy, oxidized plastic that is marring your headlights.

Next, apply a cutting compound to the headlights to help remove the sanding marks and being clearing up the surface. If doing this by hand, it may be necessary to repeat this step up to three times.

Next, switch to a finer automotive polish to further refine the clarity of the headlight lens. Again, you may need to repeat this process two or three times to achieve the best possible result.

Finally, you’ll need to add protection to your headlights. Without this step, even this deep level of clarity can’t last for very long. A headlight clear coat contains the proper UV protection to maintain your freshly-polished headlights for years to come.

Instead of toothpaste, use a headlight restoration kit

If you’re not prepared to spend hours restoring your headlights to showroom new, there are other options out there that are better than restoring your headlights with toothpaste. Many reputable brands sell pre-made headlight restoration kits.

These kits have everything packed into one neat package to help bring some clarity back to your headlights. It’s a good middle ground between toothpaste and the multi-step professional process and will make your nighttime drives safer.