Headlamp washers often are still referred to as headlamp wipers. But the systems with the little wipers disappeared along with glass headlamp lenses. Headlamps with polycarbonate lenses would only get scratched by the wiper blades. The latest form of the headlamp washer is a high pressure cleaning system.
It is a widespread fallacy that headlamp washers are only compulsory for xenon lights. This is wrong on several counts. The latest generation of xenon, the 25-Watt version, doesn’t actually need one at all. Meanwhile, halogen and LED headlamps do need one if their light sources emit more than 2000 lumens. Indeed, this is required for ECE approval. (Under the DOT regulations in North America headlamp washers are not mandatory at all.) These do not refer specifically to xenon, but as no approved halogen lamp exceeds this threshold value and as this also is the case with most LED systems, only xenon headlamps are, in fact, affected in practice. They emit around 3000 lumens.

Headlamp washer systems operate at high pressure. In this version, the nozzle only extends when activated. It is otherwise located behind the trapezoid cover. Photo: Osram


„Hold on though,“ the insiders will be saying, „There are halogen lamps with an output of over 2000 lumens.“ That’s quite true: The H9 is one such lamp, emitting 2100 lumens. But this lamp is intended for high-beam light and the ECE regulations only apply to the low beams.

So why do headlamps need a washer system at all? Most people think it is so that dirt cannot dim the light. This is only partly true, and in fact, this wouldn’t be a particularly crucial concern with xenon lights, which have such a very high light output. The main reason for the requirement is that dirt can impair the optical features of the headlamp and cause glare. Incidentally, headlamps which are only slightly soiled cause a stronger glare, and of course the brighter the headlamp, the stronger the glare.

Headlamp washers originated in Scandinavia. From 1972 up to the early 1990s, they were compulsory in Sweden and today almost all cars in the country are supplied with them – even if they have halogen headlamps. The nozzles for the high-pressure washing system spray the water onto the headlamp lenses with pressures of up to 50 bar. Using an unsuitable antifreeze or insect remover in the summertime can wreak all kind of damage. The headlamp lenses are dulled prematurely: New headlamps are expensive – much more expensive than buying antifreeze and the like from a reputable brand.

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  • I recently installed HELLA 1el008369101 on my Mercedes E200 (initially it was equiped with normal lights). Do i need washer system or not?

    • Hi Dimitrios, as the 1el008369101 is equipped with D2S xenon lamps, a headlight cleaning system and an automatic level regulation need to be installed in the car.
      Best regards your OSRAM Automotive Team.

    • Dear Athan, if washers are necessary depends on the luminous flux. If the luminous flux is above 2000 lumen, washers are mandatory. If it is below the 2000 it’s not necessary. If washers are mandatory for your car and you don’t have them, you will most likely lose warranty. Have a good day, Your OSRAM Automotive-Team

  • Headlamp washers are necessary in northern climes where salt is used on highways
    After a short distance the lamps brightness is dangerously impaired !
    I dan a 1989 Pontiac thar had 2 spray streams
    on each lamp that were activated every 2nd tine the windshield wipers were activated ,
    Need an after market device

  • Originally from Europe, I now live in North America and it is appalling how much further behind is this side of the Atlantic when it comes to automotive lights. (red turn signals that blend in with brake lights are my ‚favorite’…not to mention the lack of asymmetric headlights) In any case, I’d love to install an aftermarket headlight washer on my cars…but seems like no one is making or selling them. Can you help point me to a resource? Great blog! Thank you

    • Hi Peter, thanks for the compliment! Unfortunately we do not sell a headlight washer. Maybe you could ask your workshop? Best regards, your OSRAM Automotive-Team

  • Hello,

    Could you please confirm if the regulation of needing headlamp cleaning devices is the same as when the article was originally written? i.e. cleaning mechanism is mandatory only when the low beam light source exceeds luminous flux of 2,000lm?
    has the regulation changed,for example: for a specific type of light source, cleaning mechanism is mandatory irrespective of luminous flux levels?