How to Restore Headlights with Sandpaper?

How to Restore Headlights with Sandpaper

Fading headlights are common as oxidization and UV rays affect polycarbonate plastic over time. To deal with this, sanding is one of the most popular methods!

You want to be careful while using sandpaper because using the proper grit is important as well as the motion of strokes. However, it is not the hardest kind of restoration that you have to take help from a professional!

If you are wondering how to restore headlights with sandpaper, this guide is made for you with detailed steps! Let’s learn more about getting rid of faded headlight covers:

What Sandpaper To Use To Restore Headlights

Sandpapers are available in different kinds and are suitable for different uses. For example, some sandpapers are specifically made for wood, like the 60 grit ones, while some are made for metal. For headlights that are usually made of polycarbonate plastic, you need a set of sandpapers of specific grits.

One of the most critical steps of restoring your headlights with sandpaper is using the right grit of sandpaper. However, which kind of sandpaper should you use?

Silicon Carbide Sandpaper

For headlight restorations, we recommend silicon carbide as it works very well for polycarbonate lenses due to the sharp and tough grails. Moreover, since you need to make sure to keep the lens and the paper wet all the time during the process, the waterproof feature of the paper assists you greatly!


1) Works excellent with Polycarbonate covers or lenses.

2) Water-resistant

3) The sharp and tough grains make sanding easier when working on plastic.


1) The grits are more brittle; you will lose the grits faster than other sandpapers.

Even though with silicon carbide you will be losing the grits faster, keeping the paper wet while sanding will be enough for fixing your headlights.

Silicon carbide papers come in different sizes. However, the ones with 3” of diameter are pretty popular as those can fit drills as well as can be used by hand easily. Even though sanding by drill seems to be faster, you should do it by hand if you don’t have enough experience.

What Grit Sandpaper to Restore Headlights

To explain it briefly, you need to use three different grits of sandpaper for this process. For the first sanding process, a silicon carbide sandpaper of 400 to 600 grits is recommended to clean the oxidation layer. After that, you want to use something smoother like 800-1000 grit paper and then a paper of 3000-5000 grit to finish the process.

Can I Use 1000, 2000, and 3000 Grit Sandpapers?

Instead of using 400, 800, and 3000 grit papers, you can also use anything of higher grits like 1000, 2000, and 3000 ones. However, you will have to spend some more time sanding to get the perfect result. Whatever you pick, we recommend not to go lower than 400 grits as it can be too harsh on your plastic lenses and can leave scratches that will be hard to remove!

How to Polish Headlights with Sandpaper

Polishing headlights with sandpaper should be done carefully and with a lot of patience. First, you need to make sure you have everything ready.

Required Accessories:

  • Three different silicon carbide sandpapers of 600, 1000, and 3000 grits
  • Masking tape
  • Water (Better if you have water in a spray bottle)
  • Microfiber towel or cloth
  • Drill (Optional)

After you have all the essential items to start the process, follow these steps:

Step 1: Preparation

The preparation consists of cleaning and masking the surrounding of your headlights. First off, use car soap and water to clean the headlights properly then make sure to dry them with a microfiber towel or just leave them for a few minutes to air dry.

Now, to protect the paint job of the surrounding of the lenses, use masking tape. Make sure if your hands slip during the sanding process, the surrounding area won’t be touched by the sanding paper.

Step 2: Use a 400-600 Grit Sandpaper

For the first stage of sanding, you would want to use sandpaper made of silicon carbide of 600 grits. However, if the oxidation seems to be too high, you can go for 400 grits.

Spray or put water constantly on the surface of the headlight and the sandpaper and never let it get dry.

You have to be careful with the motion of the strokes. For the first sandpaper, use a long horizontal motion of strokes. While going through this process, the water you are using will get a yellowish color from the removed oxidation.

Keep going until the lens becomes cleared and there is not any spot left that is foggier than the rest. You can keep track of how good the sanding has been by frequently wiping off the water and checking the progress.

Step 3:  Use 1000 and 3000 Grit Sandpapers

After horizontal strokes with the 600 grit sandpaper, you will now perform the same task with a 1000 grit sandpaper but in vertical swipes. Keep the angle of the swipes the same throughout the sanding process and keep using water. You need to keep doing this until there are no significant scratches visible that were left by the 600 grit paper.

After that, use 3000 grit sandpaper in vertical swipes in the opposite way of the previous process. Therefore, if your swipes have been left to right with the 1000 grit paper, you should go right to left with the 3000 one. Again, make sure to use water constantly and then finish the process when your headlights appear clean of fogginess.

After the process is done, you can clean the headlights with a soft towel and maybe use some polishing compound to give them a good look. Nonetheless, your job here is done and you are left with crystal clear headlights!

Cautions of Using Sandpaper for Headlight Restorations

A few things you need to keep in mind to prevent damage:

  • Do not wipe the sandpaper with too much force. The paper will do the work for you if you are being patient!
  • Keep using water. Letting the sandpaper and go dry means you will leave unwanted scratches.
  • Refrain yourself from sanding in one spot for too long. Keep going back and forth.

Sandpaper Recommendations

Not sure what sandpaper to get? There are a lot of good sets out there recommended by professionals as well as DIY restoration experts. In our experience, these were two of the best:

1. LotFancy 80-3000 Grit Set – Best for Using with Hands

LotFancy 80 3000 Grit Set

 80/100/120/150/240/320/400/600/800/1000/1200/1500/2000/2500/3000 Grit(15 Kinds)

This set comes with 15 different types of sandpapers including 800, 1000, and 3000 grit ones. Each grit paper comes in a group of three so that you can use them for a long time! Due to the electro-coated feature, these do not tear when you are using them. In addition, the best part of these quality sandpapers is how cheap the entire set is!

2. AutKerige 6 Inch 1000-5000 Grit Set – Best for Drilling

AutKerige 6 Inch 1000 5000 Grit Set

Grit Material: Silicon Carbide , Ceramic

Style: Grit (1000 2000 3000 5000)

If you are going to use a driller, we recommend this set of papers that are 6 inches in diameter. Made of silicon carbide, they are very flexible and your first choice if you are trying to sand the headlights with a drilling machine.

Final Note

With proper caution and attention to detail, you can easily fix the dim yellow headlights with sandpapers. At most, you will have to spend 15 dollars on the equipment! Alongside sanding, there are other ways of cleaning dim headlights if the oxidation level isn’t too high. We have detailed instructions for all of them so make sure to check them out!

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