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Toothpaste on Vehicle Headlights?

Claim- Toothpaste can clean foggy headlights on your car almost as well as expensive products that claim to do the same thing.

The Claim
Verdict- True. (well sort of.) Over the years your headlights have to take a lot of abuse from the outside world. For starters, you have sunlight, or more specifically, ultraviolet radiation which takes its toll on everything it comes in contact with. This effect is pretty obvious on things you leave outside, and is especially noticeable on clear plastics.

To prevent this kind of damage, headlights and other things are often coated with a sealer to block the UV rays and it does a great job, but it too eventually wears off. Bugs, dust, and other debris in the air can help wear it out even faster and ruin your once clear headlight covering.

  The headlights on my 1999 Dodge Avenger look almost like someone had taken a sandblaster to them - full of scratches and chips, and very foggy from all those years outside. I had looked up online how I could possibly remedy this, and found that the common way without replacing the covers was an extensive sanding and polishing with multiple fine grit sandpapers, with expensive sealants applied afterwards to protect them, or you can buy a kit with everything included and do it yourself.  Definitely worth it over buying new ones, but a lot of work and hassle with no guarantees of a decent job in the end, as you can still mess them up beyond repair if you screw up.. Then I came across an article that claims toothpaste as the answer, that showed the example to the right. My Avenger's lights are worse, and have a lot of deep scratches in them, but anything would be an improvement at this point so what do I have to lose? I no longer drive the car, so even if I ruined the headlights it really wouldn't matter anyway. The lights on my newer car are much better, but eventually they too will succumb to the powerful forces of deterioration.



Avenger with a little bit of scrubbing
Does it work? The Instructions are simple enough to follow. Start by applying a small amount of toothpaste on a rag, and rubbing in small circular motions, until done. After only a couple quick passes the results are already noticeable. As you can see by the image on the left, it worked on the Avenger, but not as well as it could have with a bit more effort, partially because of all the deep scratches and scarring it has, and partially because I wasn't about to put too much effort into a worn out car.

 Does it last? A little tougher of a question. With the toothpaste alone, you may get 2-4 months out of it.  If you apply wax or a good sealant to your headlights to block the UV rays you can get up to a few more years out of them.

 Is it worth it? If you're just trying to get a few more miles out of your ride then why not breakout the toothpaste? Every bit of improved visibility is worth it after all. But if you plan on keeping your car for awhile, I'd suggest the extra bit of work and getting a restoration kit.

What kind of toothpaste works? Toothpaste is a mild abrasive, so it naturally works well to polish things, and fill small scratches. Just don't use any kind of whitening toothpaste or ones with cooling crystals or anything like that, as they can scratch the surface badly. I used regular toothpaste out of my medicine cabinet, and it worked just fine. If you are still unsure try in an inconspicuous spot first.

If you'd prefer to do a good job that will last a lot longer, this instruction video is a great resource.



Sources/More Reading
Livescience- What is Ultraviolet Light?
Wikipedia- UV Degradation 
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