How To Polish Plastic: 5 DIY Methods

man holding buffing tool to polish headlight plastic

Plastic is everywhere, and it's used to make just about everything you could imagine because it's durable, it's easy to work with, and it's affordable. But even plastic gets scratched up and dulled and old over time, and that's why knowing simple plastic polishing methods is essential for every DIYer.

Little scratches and dulled areas can be repaired with polishing methods that restore the look of plastic. Various tricks and techniques will make plastic look new and shiny again, and it doesn't take a whole lot of work to get there.

5 Simple Plastic Polishing Methods

Spruce up your plastic from time to time to keep it looking new and get rid of the signs of wear and tear. Regular use will make anything get duller and less pretty over time, but regular polishing can make it look nice again.

There are a few different ways to go about polishing plastic to restore its look.

Wash It

Before you do anything to your plastic, clean it. Mix together a few drops of standard dishwashing liquid into one to two cups of water.

Dip a soft sponge into the mix and rub it on the plastic using a circular motion. If you can't remove all the dirt, dip a cotton ball into alcohol and use this to clean off plastic.

Wipe the plastic down a final time with a clean cloth dampened with plain water. Next, wipe the plastic with a dry cloth and let it air dry completely before you move on to the next step.

A good cleaning alone can sometimes work for polishing plastic up to a nice, glossy shine again. But if your plastic needs a little bit more work, there are ways to learn how to get scratches out of plastic and give it a nice shine once again.

Fill In Scratches

If you're going to be buffing or sanding your plastic to get rid of scratches, tape off the area where you will be working. Painter's tape and masking tape work very well.

Put a small dab of toothpaste on a cotton swab. Apply this to the scratches in the plastic in a circular motion, using small movements.

Wipe off the excess toothpaste with a damp cloth.

If the toothpaste doesn't work or you haven't got any, mix a few drops of water into baking soda to create a paste and apply this to the scratches instead.


Use fine-grained sandpaper dampened with water to gently buff away scratches in a circular motion. Work slowly and gently.

Sandpaper might not seem like the answer when you want to know how to remove scratches from plastic, but this is an effective buffing method to restore the smoothness of your item.

Increase the sandpaper grit in increments for stubborn scratches. Harder plastics may require stronger sandpaper.

Using sandpaper for polishing plastic might seem strange, but this is the best way to buff out stubborn scratches. Once the scratches have been smoothed out, switch back to fine-grained sandpaper to create a nice, smooth finish before you work on shining and polishing your plastic.

Shine It

To clean discoloration and stains from plastic, mix one cup of vinegar with one cup of water and put it in a spray bottle. Work on small sections at a time, spraying the mix right on the plastic and using a clean, dry cloth to gently polish the plastic.

Finish It

What's the secret of learning how to polish plastic to a mirror finish? Believe it or not, it's metal cleaner.

The best way to learn how to polish plastic at home is to not use any cleaners that are made for plastic. Metal cleaner is a highly effective way to shine plastic, and it doesn't do the plastic any harm.

Metal cleaner is also super easy to find everywhere, which is not true for plastic polishing compounds.

Preventing Dull Plastic

Regular maintenance will keep your plastic items looking nicer for longer. Follow some basic care steps, and you won't need to do special polishing sessions as often.


Whenever possible, keep plastic out of direct sunlight. The UV rays don't just discolor plastic, they can actually weaken its integrity.

When purchasing plastic items intended for outdoor use, such as outdoor furniture, look for UV-resistant plastic. This type of plastic has been treated with a special coating that protects the material from degradation.


Give your plastic items regular cleanings. This will keep the plastic-looking more polished and prettier and help prevent the dull look that plastic develops over time.

A little white vinegar and water is all you need to clean plastic and polish it at the same time.

Using Plastic Polishing Methods

Keep plastic clean and polished to prevent the dullness and discoloration that tends to happen to all plastic items over time. With just a little bit of maintenance and simple methods, plastic will stay shiny and look new for a long, long time.

Plastic Polishing Methods FAQs

Can plastic be polished?

Polishing plastic is not only possible, it's not even all that difficult. You don't need special plastic polish or anything extra because you can actually refinish plastic with some basic household stuff you probably already have.

It doesn't take a lot of work to learn how to get scratches out of plastic or even how to shine it up so that it looks brand-new. You can see for yourself how easy it is to polish plastic by gently wiping it down with a mixture of white vinegar and water.

A simple one-to-one dilution of the vinegar will work well to give plastic a shiny, glossy finish. When you're wondering how to polish plastic to a mirror finish, or how to polish anything to a nice shine, the answer is usually vinegar.

What is the best thing to polish plastic?

If you want to gently buff away scratches and dull areas on plastic and help it retrieve its former shine and luster, non-gel toothpaste that has baking soda added is definitely a top choice. This affordable and easy-to-find household item does wonders for gently buffing, shining, and polishing up plastic.

Apply it gently using not a toothbrush but a soft sponge and work in small circles, gently applying the toothpaste. Wipe it off with a dry cloth in a soft fabric, and you should see an improvement to even the dullest plastic.

Can you buff scratches out of plastic?

Scratches can be buffed out of plastic. When baking soda and toothpaste fail, sandpaper usually does the trick as a plastic scratch remover.

But when even sandpaper doesn't cut it to remove those scratches, a professional buffing machine will work. This machine works on a lot of different plastics.

Of course, there are some types of damage that no tools can possibly fix. When your plastic is so deeply gouged that all the usual methods won't work, you might want to consider either replacing the item or finding a creative solution for covering up the damaged area.

Maybe refinishing the chair entirely in something like washi tape can give the item brand-new life. Look for your own creative solution to scratches that won't buff out, and you may end up coming up with a super cool solution you never expected.

What grit sandpaper for polishing plastic?

There are actually lots of different types of sandpaper that range from coarse to extra fine grit. If you touch a piece of sandpaper and feel that rough, bumpy surface, you are feeling the grit.

The grit of the paper can be very fine, which is 440 grit, or quite coarse at 40 grit. In between these two grits, you also have 220, 120, 100, and 80.

Grit rated at 220 and 120, along with 440, are all fine grit, while 100 is medium grit. Coarse grit sandpaper is 40 and 80.

Start with the finest grit of sandpaper, 440, and go up from there if the scratches won't buff out and the plastic won't polish up nicely. You probably won't make it up to 40-grit paper before the scratches have been effectively buffed out.

How do you make plastic look shiny?

Plastic is usually made to have a glossy finished sheen to it, but this nice finish becomes dull over time and gives the plastic a more clouded look. One of the most effective ways to shine plastic to give that glossy sheen is to use metal polish.

Pretty much any metal polish will work for them. Use a soft, clean cloth to apply the polish in small, circular motions.

How do you sand and polish clear plastic?

Polishing plastic is possible for all types of plastic, including clear varieties. If you want to sand and polish clear plastic, you follow the same steps you would use to clean and polish plastic in any color.

There is no special method for learning how to polish clear plastic. All plastics can be treated pretty much the exact same way when you're cleaning and shining them up.

Can you polish plastic with a Dremel?

A Dremel is a tool designed specifically for polishing and cleaning items. You can place a buffing cloth or sandpaper on the Dremel and apply it to any surface you want to clean and polish.

That means yes, you can absolutely use a Dremel for polishing plastic and give it a nice, fresh look again.

Is there a polish for plastic?

There are specially formulated plastic polishing agents available on the market, though you will usually have to go to a home improvement store or look these polishes up online specifically in order to find them.

Metal polishers are actually just as effective as a plastic polishing compound, and they are much easier to find.

Is it possible to polish plastic?

Plastic can be polished to restore its shine, the same way you can polish metal or wood. Like metal or wood, however, you just need to have the right plastic polishing compound and the right stuff to polish plastic with.

Clean plastic regularly, and you can spend a little less time working on polishing plastic, as keeping it clean will help keep it looking nice and shinier.

Will baking soda polish plastic?

DIYers know the value of baking soda when it comes to multiple types of household tasks, including polishing plastic. It even works as a plastic scratch remover.

Seriously, is there anything baking soda can't do? Use a mixture of baking soda and water to clean plastics, buff out light scratches, and restore some of the shine back to your plastic.

You probably have plastic polish in your house right now because you've got baking soda, which means you can put this to the test right away and get an idea of how well it will work to get all your plastic stuff looking nice again.

Further Reading

How to Get Scratches out of Plexiglass

How to Maintain Your Plastic Storage Shed

How to Polish a Gel Coat

How to Polish Marble

How to Repair Laminate Countertop Scratches

Remove a Wood Floor Scratch with Ease