As a car ages, the headlights inevitably get foggy — almost like cataracts. That’s because the lenses are made of acrylic, which oxidizes after years of exposure to the sun’s UV rays. Not to mention the dead bugs, dirt, and gravel that hit those headlights for years; it’s no wonder they start to look old! While it might be tempting to leave them the way they are, that’s a dangerous choice. Cloudy plastic obscures the headlight bulbs, limiting visibility and making it difficult to see where you’re going, especially at night.
So, what can you do to get rid of foggy headlights if a simple glass cleaner doesn’t do the trick? A DEET bug spray hack recently went viral on TikTok; for this hack, users encouraged others to spray DEET on their headlights and wipe it clean with a cloth or paper towel. However, car experts strongly recommend that you don’t do this. Instead, use baking soda or toothpaste. Learn more about the correct hack (and why DEET is a bad idea) below.
Why the DEET Bug Spray Hack for Cleaning Headlights Doesn’t Work
YouTuber and car expert “Chris Fix” tested the DEET bug spray hack himself to show viewers why it’s a bad hack. “First off, you don’t want to spray this directly on the headlight,” he says. “You have all your paint and your rubber trim here that is going to get damaged if you do that.” Instead, Chris sprays the bug spray onto a towel and then rubs it on the headlight. Instantly, the headlight gets clear… but that’s not the end of the story.
“The reason why the headlight is getting so clear is because the DEET actually [dissolves] the plastic on the headlight,” he says. He admits that the DEET does a great job of cleaning off the oxidation, dirt, and grime, but at too great of a cost. In addition to dissolving the plastic, the bug spray can run down onto the front of the car when it rains, eroding the car paint. Plus, Chris’s headlights got foggy again after just two days.
How To Clean Foggy Headlights With Baking Soda
If you really want to clean your headlights in time for an inspection or to improve their brightness in general, experts recommend using baking soda or toothpaste. You’ll need: baking soda or toothpaste (preferably one that contains baking soda or a similar, gentle abrasive), lukewarm water, a cloth or paper towels, a soft-bristled brush, and a mild cleanser. If you have sensitive skin, you may want to wear latex or latex-free rubber gloves. Here’s how to do it:
- Clean off headlights with a mild cleaner (like soap and water). Let dry or dry with a towel.
- If using baking soda, create a paste by mixing baking soda and water. Use your eye to adjust. (It should be smooth and gloopy.)
- Using a cloth, rub the toothpaste or the baking soda paste onto headlights. Let sit for 10 minutes.
- With a soft-bristled brush, gently brush paste into the lenses in a circular motion.
- Wipe off with a cloth or towel. Do not rinse.
You may need to repeat this process every few months or so, but it should last you for some time. Alternatively, consider using a headlight restoration kit — available at most auto supply stores for $15 or less. Either way, say goodbye to cloudy lenses.