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Can I wash a car after headlight restoration?

Restoration can result in your car being dirty and the thinking is that it is easier to get the car cleaned to match the newly restored headlights.

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For most techniques used, it is fine to wash the car, but there are special cases where one should not wash the car immediately after restoration. Rather, one should leave the car for a day and then continue washing it as normal. We will discuss this further and categorize the various methods of headlight restoration used and whether it is okay to have the car washed immediately after.

The main techniques used for headlight restoration are as follows:

  • Restoration using toothpaste
  • Restoration by polishing
  • Restoration kits
  • Permanent restoration

Restoration using toothpaste

This is one of the easiest methods to do, especially considering no special equipment is required, Just a brush and toothpaste and we are good to go. In this method, the toothpaste grain acts as an abrasive and cuts the oxidation formed on the headlight. Hence, it is recommended that one use toothpaste that is grainy rather than one which is smooth. It is important to note that the grain in the toothpaste is not aggressive enough and one will be required to repeat the process several times until the desired outcome is achieved.

As expected, this will be messy, and there will be toothpaste deposits on the headlight and the bumper as well. Clean up the deposits and the job should be done. The headlight will look great for a while but the oxidation will return after a few days because it has no protection against UV rays.

Restoration by polishing

This technique requires one to prep the car for sanding by protecting the paint with masking tape and then sanding the headlight using different grit of sandpaper. Sanding is done from the roughest to the smoothest to get rid of oxidation and work on a fresh surface. Sanding tends to leave the headlight a bit hazy and hence for the last stage, one is required to finish off the process with a polishing machine. This refines the finish, making the headlight look as good as new.

It is important to note that this process requires skill, and it is better to get the job done with a professional. After polishing, the job is done, and one can wash the car. It is okay to wash the car because no sealants have been used at this stage.

Restoration kits

These are bought as a do-it-yourself package. Everything that you need is in the package; all that is required is to follow the instructions. Even though the instructions are in the package, it is prudent to have watched a few tutorials. This makes the process much easier and avoids lots of mistakes. There are lots of headlight restoration kits available, and in my opinion, most of them will get the job done; the only difference is your choice.

At the end of the process, restoration kits do have sealants that enable the results to last much longer than usual. These sealants have UV protection properties that aid in protecting the headlights against oxidation but also require time to cure. It is advised to let the car cure for some hours and then proceed to wash the car. In my experience, this curing/drying stage is the most important, and rather than leaving it for a few hours, it is better to leave it for an entire day. After a day, one can wash the car. Before then, a simple wipe on the deposits when restoring the headlights will have to be done.

Permanent Restoration

The procedure is the most advanced when restoring headlights and by far offers the most lasting results. As with other techniques, it requires protecting the body paint tape on the area surrounding the headlight, then wet sanding the headlight with different stages of sandpaper. After that, the whole car needs to be covered except for the headlights. This protects the paintwork from overspray. Once that is done, you can proceed to spray the headlight with a clear coat or your preferred sealant. As a precaution, I will use Infrared light to aid in the drying process. This also prevents dust and raindrops from destroying the finish of the headlight. After drying, we are done and the headlights are as good as new.

The car should be washed after a day so as to allow the clear coat/ sealant to cure fully. It should also be noted that the headlight should not be touched as this may leave fingerprints on the sealant. Once fully cured then the car can be used and cleaned as normal.

The table below summarizes what one should consider when washing a car after headlight restoration.

Technique Used 
Restoration with ToothpasteOkay to wash
Restoration by PolishingOkay to wash
Restoration kitsWash after a day
Permanent RestorationWash after a day

Please note that if sealants are used after the process, one must let the car cure for a day before washing. To learn more about headlight restoration, please read more here.

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