What You Should And Shouldn’t Use To Clean Your Headlights

To get a vehicle’s headlights clean, people can use any sort of cleaner they find at home. But, most of the time, it may be the wrong one. That’s because most things people assume as cleaners for headlights are not formulated for use on headlights and can even damage headlights.
There are certain things you should never use to clean your vehicle headlights. Using reckless and dangerous chemicals can lead to expensive, unnecessary repairs and a lot of headaches. So, what are the best products for cleaning and maintaining your headlights? Not to worry, in this post I will be answering a few questions you may have about cleaning your headlights yourself at home and sharing things you should and shouldn’t use to attempt cleaning your vehicle headlights.

Can you clean your headlights at home?

Yes, you can clean your headlights by yourself at home provided you know how to go about it and you have all the recommended cleaning agents handy. If you are not sure about anything in the matter, you are at liberty to consult your user manual or make inquiries from those who are very conversant with the entire process, lest you cause more harm to your already foggy headlights.

Can you clean plastic & glass headlights the same way using the same products?

Yes, as much as possible, you can clean both glass and plastic headlights the same way using the same chemicals except probably in a few cases. This is primarily because although most cleaning agents are very effective in cleaning these two different substances with impressive results, some can cause harm or damage to plastic headlights even though they are safe on glass.

Consequently, there are certain types of cleaning that can be used on glass safely but not plastic, which they can damage. One of these chemical agents is acetone, which damages plastic headlights, but is safe on glass. Similarly, Magic Eraser is safe when used on either glass or plastic, but it can corrode the paintwork of the vehicle, therefore, it should be used with caution. Nitro cleaner is also safe on both, but it has the disadvantage of not being able to eliminate roughness on the surfaces of the headlights.

Apart from these few exceptions, you can use virtually the same procedures and chemicals in cleaning both plastic and glass headlights.

What is the best cleaner for glass headlights?

The best cleaner in treating your headlights is also the cheapest as long as it gives an equally impressive result at the end of it all. For this reason, the gritty mixture of baking soda, vinegar, toothpaste, and water is presumably the best headlight cleaner you can use for your headlights, and although others may equally be that good, they come at a price a little higher than the baking soda and vinegar mixture.

What you can and should use to clean your vehicle headlights

There are many substances you should use in cleaning vehicle headlights at home. Below is a detailed discussion on some of the substances you should and shouldn’t use in cleaning vehicle headlights.

1. Alcohol

This may not sound like what you were expecting, but alcohol, rubbing alcohol, denatured alcohol and even Isopropyl alcohol. Be sure to clean your headlights well with soap and water first. Once finished, wipe off the headlight with the alcohol and clean rag for several minutes while applying constant and firm pressure. After this, wait for 10-20 minutes until the alcohol evaporates and your headlights are clear again.

2. Magic eraser

Secondly, there is Magic Eraser, and although this chemical can be used safely in cleaning cloudy headlight surfaces, it can still cause some damage to the paint coating of the vehicle, and for this reason, you should exercise some caution when using it. Simply apply Magic Eraser before wiping it off with a paper towel as it dries up.

3. Window/glass cleaner

A nice option for easy DIY headlight cleaning is to use a window or glass cleaner. Just be sure that when cleaning headlights with the window or glass cleaner, wait at least 30 minutes for the headlight lenses to cool off before using the spray glass cleaner.

4. Nail polish

Nail polish is another effective chemical at home for cleaning vehicle headlights too. You should just apply this polish on a soft cotton cloth in a shady surrounding and wipe the headlights thereafter while turning the rag at least once during every few wipes. Alternatively, you can add nail polish remover when the rag or cloth has dried out. Should you do this properly, you will observe that the rag is getting dirtier as you work with it, and for that reason, you should try using only the cleaner portions of the rag for the cleaning.

5. Steel wool

Similarly, you can also safely use steel wool in cleaning your vehicle headlights too. Specifically, you should use 0000 super fine steel wool and any white toothpaste on the lens, but not gel. Rub the toothpaste on the lens until it looks and feels smooth. When the headlight lens is very clean, then, you should apply a thin film of car wax according to the directions written on its container. Make sure to regularly wash and wax to keep the headlights very protected.

6. Nitro cleaner

Although nitro cleaner can clear the surface of your headlight, it won’t eliminate any corrugations on it. On the contrary, acetone can very well smooth out any corrugations, but the cloth used in the procedure may leave behind ugly streaks on the surface of the headlight. But, should you use the traditional polish method, it will give you a pretty impressive shine on the headlights.

7. Brillo

Brillo can also be used effectively in cleaning headlight surfaces as well. Just rub it on a pad along with a little quantity of water across the gunge, before you wipe it off and rinse with fresh clean warm water.

8. Vinegar

Vinegar is another very recommended headlight cleaning chemical too. It can eliminate dirt and any discolouration from foggy headlights as well. Notably, vinegar can safely eliminate dirt or grime if you simply wash or spray the headlight with it. For hazy, foggy, or yellowed headlights, you are recommended to use a mixture of baking soda and vinegar together in cleaning the surface.

9. Toothpaste

Toothpaste, especially Colgate, makes an impressive cleaner because its ingredients contain minute particles which are very abrasive by nature that can effectively cut through stuck dirt, flying debris, and the products of oxidation on the surface of the headlights.

10. Baking soda and toothpaste

First, among the substances you can use in cleaning headlight surfaces is baking soda, and toothpaste mixed with water. When these substances are mixed, they are capable of producing a gritty mixture that will effectively scrub off dirt from the surface of the headlight thereby cleaning it effectively in the process.

Things you can’t and shouldn’t use to clean your vehicle headlights

Just as there are things to use for headlights, so also there are others you cannot use for the simple reason that they can either damage the headlights or leave ugly marks on either the plastic or glass surfaces. In extreme cases, some of these substances can even cause the materials of the headlights to crack prematurely. Here are a few of them:

1. Brake fluid

Some persons think it is okay to use brake fluid and a towel to wipe their vehicle headlights clean. However, keep in mind that using brake fluid in cleaning your headlights is not advisable. The brake fluid you think would give your headlight a shine can aggressively attack both plastic and rubber stuff. It can solvate the plastic in headlights and cause it to look even foggier.

2. Gasoline

Just like brake fluid, gasoline is one substance you should never use to clean your headlights even if it is the last option you have. Yes, headlights are made from polycarbonate and this cannot be weakened by gasoline, but still, it can eat away at the plastic and wear it off quicker than expected.

Most importantly, gasoline is so flammable and even though it evaporates quickly, you need to treat it with care and not use it for unnecessary things like trying to wipe headlights. Instead of gasoline, use Fantastik or Formula 409 or any other household spray you use for cleaning things like tabletops and kitchen appliances.

3. Acetone

You are not advised to apply acetone on particularly plastic headlights, which can cause severe degradation of its surface, particularly when its concentration is high and is left in contact with the headlight for a long time. Acetone will ruin the surface of plastic vehicle headlights, thereby softening and smearing it at the same time. In extreme circumstances, acetone can even dissolve plastic entirely. Therefore, you must not use acetone in cleaning any plastic vehicle headlights, but unfortunately, most vehicle headlights are made of plastic nowadays.

In essence, do not use acetone in cleaning mainly plastic vehicle headlights, but it might be used on glass headlights as long as you know just how to go about it without damage. Furthermore, do not apply acetone on any acetate, triacetate, modacrylic, or even delicate fabrics such as silk and other things like it to use for the cleaning.


4. Scratchy cloth and rough substance

If you are in a hurry to clean your headlights and you feel your rough car rag and maybe a rough liquid/powder will do a quick job of cleaning your headlights, you might want to think again. These things will scratch your headlights and over time, they can start having cracks and get damaged/broken. A better alternative you can use in cleaning vehicle headlights at home are Windex or a household glass cleaner. You can always have this in your car to do a quick cleaning wherever you find yourself and you need to clean the headlights. Just ensure that the headlights are very clean and dry before you proceed use them.

There are still other harmful substances you must not use in cleaning your headlights which you can confirm from the user manual of the vehicle or ask your car repair expert to forestall causing any willful damage to your headlight ignorantly.


Vehicle headlights can be cleaned easily provided you use the correct cleaning agents in doing so. However, absolute care must be taken to ensure that whatever you are using is not harmful to your headlights. This is because while some are safe on either glass or plastic headlights, others can be safe with glass headlights only but not with plastic.

In this quest, the user manual or specialists in the matter will be your go-to references with regards to what is safe on your headlights and what is not. All in all, your headlights restoration efforts will always pay off in the end, provided you adopt the correct approach.


Hi, just letting you know that all products recommended here have been used by me, or are properly researched to ensure they are the best you are getting without bias.

I am also an affiliate for certain Amazon products and this means that some links here are affiliate links. If you purchase an item through any of them, I MAY earn a commission at no extra cost on you.

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