As an ardent DIY-er, I'm seen as a miser (unwilling to pay for services) and a perfectionist (I do all my cars my way), and quite frankly - I agree. I am a miser and and I am a perfectionist - when it comes to my car nothing but the best... but at a reasonable budget la.
So when my badly weathered headlamps (both sides) started to look like this, I thought : "Hey! What's the best way to remove this without blowing 6 holes in my pocket?"
After asking around and consulting other fellow DIY enthusiasts, I ended up with the 3 most effective removal methods.
1. Toothpaste! Yes, this nifty flouride packed toothwash apparently is a capable contender in todays mythbuster showdown. Sworn and proven by the 'older' generation of car fanatics. Specifically my fathers generation.
2. Autosol! Several DIY enthusiasts swear by this miracle cream but I'm reserving comment and will let the results speak for themselves.
3. A proper plastic / headlamp cleaner! In this case the tool is Meguiar's Plastx which I quote : "This easy-to-use, rich gel formula quickly restores optical clarity to both rigid and flexible clear plastics. Cutting-edge advancements in Meguiar’s® exclusive Microscopic Diminishing Abrasive™ Technology (MDAT) remove light oxidation, chemical degradation, surface contamination, stains and light surface scratches with ease".
Now I don't claim to be a good detailer nor do I even think of being one. So to do this test it's only appropriate I get a properly good detailer to carry out the testing for me. Besides, I only have one microfiber cloth at home that's usable and 3 cheap waxing sponges.
This guy has a lot more stuff I do.
Meet Fishbonezken of wetshine.net.
I've known Fishbonezken for a long time, in fact I knew him before he went all car detailing crazy and got real good at it. Looking at his website (http://wetshine.net/) tells you exactly how crazy he can be.
He has all the necessary testing tools, the necessary know-how and the necessary enthusiasm to get this mythbuster going. We spent a good 30 minutes discussing the headlamps, microscopic marring, cracks, camera zooming, halogens, etc before we actually got started on the test.
First up, Fishbonezken taped off 3 sections on one of the headlamps to experiment using only just a microfiber sponge and water. Both headlamps were cleaned with car soap prior to the test (no claying was done).
First contender - Darlie toothpaste. RM4.50 for the smallest tube I could get my hands on.
Wax on... wax off (in this case it was toothpaste on, toothpaste off).
A quick rinse with water and wipe with a dry cloth.
Hey presto! And wow... left side is the toothpaste section and the right is the untouched section.
The toothpaste did a pretty impressive job of removing the oxidation-caused yellowish tinge! But upon closer inspection revealed it did nothing to cut the top layer off and was quite bumpy to touch. Meaning dirt and what not was still embedded there but with a toothy minty smell!
Not bad for RM4.50!
Next up - Autosol! The same process was applied with the same amount of pressure. Wipe on, wipe off, rinse off and dry off.
I must point out that Autosol took more time to remove than the toothpaste. Don't know why.
O-M-G. Can you see the scratch marks left behind? It was so badly scratched all over! But upon closer inspection the dirt and what not had been removed and it felt smooth to touch. Clean but scratched... badly!
Last but not least - PlastX
The amount of effort it took to apply and remove PlastX was similar to Autosol. Perhaps it's because toothpaste is water soluble so it was easy to remove.
This produced the best results! Oxidation removed, no scratching (minimal actually, not completely none), smooth to touch and had this really nice cherry smell to it.
Final result. You can tell already that the PlastX yielded the best results for manual hand application. The worst was Autosol and since it's a metal polish, the abrasiveness was expected! Toothpaste was surprisingly effective though.
However I have to point out that the one that lasted the longest was PlastX. Toothpaste oxidised quite quickly after that (about a month) followed shortly by Autosol. (This test was done separately and not shown in this article)
Next up - machine polishing with the exact same 3 contenders. As always, the ever diligent detailing nut taped up 3 sections on my other worn out headlamp.
Again, first up is toothpaste!
This time the technique was rotary buff it in...
Hand buff it off.
Again the results were amazing! Toothpaste does pretty well with the rotary. Embedded dust and dirt were removed but upon feeling the surface, it was obvious that the toothpaste did nothing more than just remove the oxidation layer - it was uneven and had 'hills and mountains' and wasn't smooth at all. Not that it really matters but later tests showed that toothpaste again didn't last very long.
Next up Autosol.
Same technique, rotary on, hand buff off.
It was clean, smooth to touch but scratched again beyond belief! Sigh.
Toothpaste didn't scar the headlamp at all but you can see the even surface in this picture.
Last up - PlastX with the rotary.
As expected the PlastX produced the best results. Smooth to touch, no uneven surfaces, very little to almost no scratching, clean and it was the longest lasting among the 3 before it started to oxidise as well.
Final comparison was a professional cleanup. A combination of Osren, Meguiars, GTechniq and a rotary buffer for the final comparison.
Needless to say this yielded the longest lasting protection and clarity (until today) and was flawless in terms of clarity, embedded dirt, etc. It's also the most expensive compared to the earlier 3 methods but also the most satisfying in terms of results.
I've come across some wet-sanding techniques as well but that can't be tested here as my headlamps didn't require that extreme level of detailing to get it clear as it is now.
The ultimate loser here is Autosol. But hey, it's a metal polish, what did you expect? A miracle?
PlastX wasn't bad at all. But at almost RM70 a bottle, it's not exactly cost effective. Buying it the first time is always the hardest, but once you do, you're somewhat forced into using it and getting your butt in gear to make sure you don't let it go to waste.
Toothpaste honestly is my choice if I were hardworking and since it's cheap, I can share it with my car and brush my own teeth too to keep this nice shiny smile of mine.
But I'm not hardworking and I'm a lazy ass.
So I'd rather pay Fishbonezken to clean up my headlamps the next time it gets all foggy and oxidised. At least it lasts longer and requires minimal maintenance compared to PlastX or Toothpaste.
Nothing beats a professional job. But you can get pretty good results with the proper cleaner liquid and the next best thing - toothpaste! Never use anything else unless someone wants me to try some other home remedy?
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