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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Check out the attached PDF for images of the steps and all, read the update on this post FIRST.

UPDATE: Almost 2 years after I did this and my headlights weren't yellowing, but the rattle can clear coat was looking a little rough. I HIGHLY recommend you use a 2K Epoxy-based clear coat OR use a high quality clear vinyl on top of your clear coat. Yesterday I re-did this restoration using the Sylvania Headlight Restore kit (it has a UV protectant in it) and today I am covering the lenses with 3M ScotchGuard clear vinyl. This kit actually goes through a process very similar to the process I characterize here, and I would suggest you save yourself the time and money of going through this whole post and just go get the Sylvania kit and 20 dollars worth of 3M ScotchGuard vinyl. If you have a bunch of sand paper and rubbing compound laying around then you can use this method with good results, though.

What's here is just the text.

Many headlight restorations use wax, polish, or silly things like toothpaste to clear the lenses. This works for a little, but depending on what you use it can last as little as 2 to 3 months or as long as 7 or 8. This method is more permanent. This is because you are using a UV protectant clear coat >:).

I had to buy everything involved in this project and it cost me about 35 dollars, I'm sure you will do it for less because I imagine you have a few of the things needed for it lying around.




Headlight Restoration DIY
Thing you’ll need:
400, 800, 1500, and 3000 grit sandpaper Painters Tape
Spray bottle with water A Trash Bag
Clear coat with UV protectant Microfiber Towels
Polishing compound



My starting point, mildly hazy, some yellowing, lots of little scratches and crap.

1. Tape off your headlight with painters tape

Make sure you get all the little cracks around it covered, alternately you could remove it, but this is way easier.



2. Wet down your headlight with your spray bottle. Then spray down your 400 grit sand paper and get to work. First go in circular motions till the whole thing has been hit, then go horizontally until the entire headlight is has noticeable grain in that direction. Make sure to keep your surface and your sandpaper well irrigated with the spray bottle. When you’re done and you’ve sprayed off the headlight it should look like this:


3. Repeat step 2 for 800 and 1500 grit sandpaper. This picture was taken before it dried (except those little spots where it was… it’ll look hazy when dry)



4. Now, clean off the headlight with some isopropyl alcohol, and attach your trash bag to the car over the headlight using your painter’s tape.


5. Cut out the headlight and tape it off.

Yea my car moved for this part.. I realized I was right next to another car and didn’t want to be spraying clear right next to them.

6. Now you’re ready to paint. I used Rustoleum Gloss clear with UV protectant (non-yellowing). You can find it at most autoparts stores.
7. Your first coat should be pretty light, I actually messed this up the first time and had to start over again because I’m the world’s worst painter and slathered on the paint and got nice drips. Second coat is thicker and Third is about the same. I did a fourth coat as well, but it was lighter than 2 and 3. Just make sure you don’t neglect the curved edges.
8. Now let the paint dry for a few hours (I waited 4, you can wait less if it’s warmer… the can suggests 1… but that sketches me out). Pull off your trash bag.
9. Now you’ll see there is likely some orange peel on your headlights, yay. You can , like I did, get after it with some 3000 grit (2000 would be fine) wet sanding (same process as above). Make sure to use circular motions. If you use 2000 don’t go heavy, follow up with 3000 grit. Once you’ve gotten it in a nice even haze polish it with whatever polish you fancy (I use cheapo cheap turtle wax … but you can be fancy if you’d like)


10. Finally pull off the tape and admire just how much better that headlight looks and get ready to enjoy it for a long time, because unlike toothpaste or even the 3M kit, this will last years.



I am aware my bumper is wrecked. Best of luck!
 

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Even with a clear coat, I wouldn't be surprised if you still got some pitting from little rocks being flung by the cars in front of you. IIRC, I had my lights protected with clear bra around 2009. There is still no pitting today, and I have never had to polish my lights again. I'm not sure what the shop used to cover my lights, but I'm guessing it was expel.
 

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Check out the attached PDF for images of the steps and all.
What's here is just the text.

Many headlight restorations use wax, polish, or silly things like toothpaste to clear the lenses. This works for a little, but depending on what you use it can last as little as 2 to 3 months or as long as 7 or 8. This method is permanent. This is because you are using a UV protectant clear coat >:).

I had to buy everything involved in this project and it cost me about 35 dollars, I'm sure you will do it for less because I imagine you have a few of the things needed for it lying around.




Headlight Restoration DIY
Thing you’ll need:
400, 800, 1500, and 3000 grit sandpaper Painters Tape
Spray bottle with water A Trash Bag
Clear coat with UV protectant Microfiber Towels
Polishing compound



My starting point, mildly hazy, some yellowing, lots of little scratches and crap.

1. Tape off your headlight with painters tape

Make sure you get all the little cracks around it covered, alternately you could remove it, but this is way easier.



2. Wet down your headlight with your spray bottle. Then spray down your 400 grit sand paper and get to work. First go in circular motions till the whole thing has been hit, then go horizontally until the entire headlight is has noticeable grain in that direction. Make sure to keep your surface and your sandpaper well irrigated with the spray bottle. When you’re done and you’ve sprayed off the headlight it should look like this:


3. Repeat step 2 for 800 and 1500 grit sandpaper. This picture was taken before it dried (except those little spots where it was… it’ll look hazy when dry)



4. Now, clean off the headlight with some isopropyl alcohol, and attach your trash bag to the car over the headlight using your painter’s tape.


5. Cut out the headlight and tape it off.

Yea my car moved for this part.. I realized I was right next to another car and didn’t want to be spraying clear right next to them.

6. Now you’re ready to paint. I used Rustoleum Gloss clear with UV protectant (non-yellowing). You can find it at most autoparts stores.
7. Your first coat should be pretty light, I actually messed this up the first time and had to start over again because I’m the world’s worst painter and slathered on the paint and got nice drips. Second coat is thicker and Third is about the same. I did a fourth coat as well, but it was lighter than 2 and 3. Just make sure you don’t neglect the curved edges.
8. Now let the paint dry for a few hours (I waited 4, you can wait less if it’s warmer… the can suggests 1… but that sketches me out). Pull off your trash bag.
9. Now you’ll see there is likely some orange peel on your headlights, yay. You can , like I did, get after it with some 3000 grit (2000 would be fine) wet sanding (same process as above). Make sure to use circular motions. If you use 2000 don’t go heavy, follow up with 3000 grit. Once you’ve gotten it in a nice even haze polish it with whatever polish you fancy (I use cheapo cheap turtle wax … but you can be fancy if you’d like)


10. Finally pull off the tape and admire just how much better that headlight looks and get ready to enjoy it for a long time, because unlike toothpaste or even the 3M kit, this will last years.



I am aware my bumper is wrecked. Best of luck!
Thanks a lot! Gonna try and get this done tomorrow after work!
 

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Clear vinyl might work even better, as mentioned, since it would provide protection from bugs and rocks. Good write up. This is essentially the method I used to restore mine (in addition to painting the housing), and my headlights look brand new.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
I got my 3000 grit from Autozone or Advanced. It was more like cloth than paper. Mildly more expensive.

I think Vinyl is probably a great way to go here, particularly AFTER you clear to keep the edges where the vinyl might not be totally tight from getting UV damage.
 
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