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2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee - Headlight Restoration

Mother Says Brush Your Teeth - On your headlights too?

Verne SimonsPhotographer, Writer

Don’t get us wrong. We are all for doing things as inexpensively as possible without compromising the quality of the end product. Brushing your teeth twice a day is more than a good idea. So is flossing, and maybe once before bed and after dinner is all right. After all. we aren’t dentists. However, the interwebs are abuzz with videos and forum posts about polishing or restoring headlights with toothpaste. Luckily for web wheelers, the theory is at least somewhat solid. Toothpaste is a paste that contains a fine abrasive (pumice) designed to help scour plaque and once-delicious junk food off your chompers. This means that toothpaste should hone, grind, and polish off all the cracking and peeling coatings, plaque, schmutz, and road grime from the surface of your faded, old-looking plastic headlights. At the same time, just about every automotive wax and polish company this side of Pluto is manufacturing, marketing, and selling headlight restoration or polishing kits. Is there any reason to fork out the big dough for a headlight kit, or can we, as cheapskate Jeep owners, get away with repurposing our Crest, Aquafresh, or Colgate? A simple, partially scientific test using some spare toothpaste and NuLens, a headlight renewal kit from Mothers, ought to settle this little debate. Read on, reader, to see what we found.

This is what our ’01 WJ’s headlights look like. Now touch the picture. Can you feel that? Oh, you can’t? Well, trust us, it feels just about like 800-1000 grit sand paper. The coating on the outside of the plastic housings has been damaged by the sun and is cracking and pulling up, causing the surface to feel rough and look yellow and foggy. We don’t like that. We taped off roughly half of the lamp to test some Colgate on the left and Mothers’ NuLens Headlight Renewal Kit on the right.

Using a polishing pad from our local parts store, we got after the left side with the Colgate and a little water. Don’t forget to grab the tub of elbow grease. We used circular motions to scrub and polish the plastic lens for a few minutes, covering the left hand side of the headlight.

We then took the PowerBall 4Lights included in the NuLens kit, inserted it into our beat-up electric drill along with the supplied polish, and followed the directions on the box for the right side. You can see that the Mothers kit did a better job of cleaning the headlight than the toothpaste. We are betting that that is due to two things: One, the mechanical advantage of the Powerball, and secondly, the Mothers Plastic Polish includes some polymers and UV shields that the toothpaste does not (because your teeth don’t need that). Mothers recommends starting with the PowerBall and polish as we did here, but if your lens still shows pitting or other imperfections, the kit also includes three sanding discs as part of the “Severe Damage Headlight Restoration Pack” included in the NuLens kit.

So you may say that our mildly scientific test is not fair. Because we are comparing the toothpaste side after a minute or two of polishing with the Mothers side that got lots more attention. This is mainly because of the PowerBall’s mechanical advantage. Fine. We agree and thought let’s see what would happen if we hit the left side with the Colgate a second time for a few more minutes with a bit more elbow grease. The result is the toothpaste side looks way better than what we started with, but it is still slightly yellowed and has pitting, micro cracks, and haze that the Mothers kit did a better job of eliminating.

Next we went through the instructions included with the Severe Damage Headlight Restoration kit. This includes starting with the 800-grit sanding disc (two included with kit) and wet sanding the headlight to remove pitting and other defects. We then moved to the 1500-grit disc (two included with kit) that we also used to wet sand the lens to reduce the haze. After completely drying the lens we dry-sanded the headlight with the included 3000-grit foam finishing disc. Lastly, we reattached the PowerBall 4Lights and again polished the lens using plenty of the supplied Mothers Plastic Polish. Here is the comparison. Toothpaste left, Mothers on the right.

After the test and while washing the Jeep off (from toothpaste and Plastic Polish splatter) we noticed something that will probably make a big difference in the longevity of the lens. Water beaded-up and ran off the Mothers side while the toothpaste side seemed to almost attract the water. We are betting that between that water attraction and the Mothers’ added UV protectant, the toothpaste side is gonna haze up way faster. Of course, the NuLens kit advises reapplication of the polish once a month and that is more than just a good idea as we have just polished off the factory’s protective coating (that was cracked, yellowed, and pitted). Check back with us to see how these lenses hold up to the Arizona sun.

Other Uses for Jeeps
Mothers NuLens kit can also be used to polish taillights, bug shields (If you are into that kind of thing), plastic marine windows (for your boat) and your Jeep’s soft top soft plastic windows. That means you can buff out those stubborn off-road pin stripes from your last (or last several) off-road trips.

Other Uses for Jeeps
Mothers NuLens Kit $25.00 Colgate Total Whitening $4.50
Bag-o-rags $5.00 Bag-o-rags $5.00
Velcro backed polishing tool with various sanding discs $15.00
Wax (after toothpaste) $9.00
Totals $30.00 $33.50

We’re Professionals, Don’t Do This at Home
Since so many internet wheelers were recommending toothpaste for your headlights we thought we would be fiendish and do the exact opposite. That is, test the PowerBall and Plastic Polish Mothers gave us to see how well it worked for cleaning our teeth. It turns out after minimal testing that both products are not very good for brushing your teeth. After returning from the hospital after an impromptu stomach pump and administration of a mild burn cream to his face, Editor Simons reported: “The PowerBall deeply exfoliated my gums and lips, and the Plastic Polish tasted funny and left a film on my tongue.” Seriously -- don’t do this at home.