Can Toothpaste Really Fix Your Yellowed Headlights?

Having old, yellow or otherwise dull headlights can make driving your car miserable at night or in the rain. It doesn’t look good, and in fact, can be a major factor decreasing the value of your car if you’re looking to sell it, but it is also a major safety concern. Yellowed and dull headlights prevent the lights inside your headlight from shining through brightly, giving them a dim, dull appearance rather than allowing you to see the road ahead to the fullest. There are plenty of DIY gurus out there that will tell you all you need is toothpaste and a wet rag but does this method actually work to fix yellowed taillights?

Why some DIY tutorials seem to work

A dull looking headlights of a mitsubishi mirage
Dull headlight of a 2018 Mitsubishi Mirage GT. | Jim Mahoney/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

If you watch the DIY tutorials or even give this trick a try yourself, you may notice that using toothpaste to restore your dull or yellow headlights might seem to work. This is because to some extent, it does. The abrasive material in the toothpaste will wear away the oxidized layer that gives the headlights a yellow appearance, which works very similar to the compounds that are used for proper headlight restoration. This abrasive compound works to remove the damaged clear coat that gives headlights the dull and yellowed appearance in a way that is similar to using an exfoliant to remove dead skin.

Why it doesn’t work that well for really restoring headlights

Using toothpaste to restore your headlights is a short-term solution at best. For most damaged headlights, the toothpaste you find at the store is not going to be abrasive enough to remove all of the failing clear coat thoroughly, but it might be enough to create noticeable scratches and imperfections in the headlight which can be just as annoying. Toothpastes also don’t come in variations of grit, like sandpaper or most buffing compound kits, so you can’t remove the larger, more obvious scratches in your headlight.

With a proper headlight restoration, you would start with an aggressive grit of sandpaper to remove the failed clear coat, and then work to finer and finer grits of sandpaper to remove the scratches that…well, sanding plastic causes. Because this isn’t an option with toothpaste, depending on how abrasive the toothpaste is, you could end up with some annoying and scratched headlights.

Besides that, the clear coat is there to protect the plastic from harmful UV rays as well as debris that is kicked up from the road, which means that, once you finish removing the old, damaged clear coat, it should be replaced with a new layer of fresh clear coat. Like any type of automotive paint, however, using toothpaste is not an effective way to prep the surface of the headlight for a new layer of clear coat — which, again, has to be done with sandpaper.

Consider new headlights instead

Depending on the age and value of the car, you may just want to consider replacing the headlights altogether. Most headlight assemblies can be purchased online or through your local car dealer, and they can be relatively easy to install yourself, especially using sources like YouTube. This is also a great option if you are interested in customizing your vehicle as well, because you can sometimes find modified, aftermarket headlights with LEDs, day running lights, or additional, more modern features, to give your car’s appearance a bit of a change.

So, while many DIYers would argue that toothpaste is a reasonable way to repair yellowed headlights, it’s far from effective, and really not worth your time or energy. Instead, spending a bit more money on an actual headlight restoration kit, or even buying new headlights, can ensure that your car not only looks nice, but that your headlights are clear and working effectively for your safety, and the safety of those around you.

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