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Updated October 2022
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Buying guide for Best solar string lights

String lights are among the easiest and most effective ways to add ambiance and character to a space, especially outdoors. The multiple bulbs running or hanging from posts, beams, and rails create a wonderful feeling of relaxation and enjoyment.

However, in the outdoors, it can be difficult to find a way to power them — either you have to keep them close to an outlet or run a thick extension cord across your space to where you want them. Come rain or watering, they can become damaged or a safety hazard. You may have to remove them now and then, which can be a chore.

Solar string lights are string lights that use a solar panel to charge a battery that powers the bulbs. Solar string lights can be placed anywhere their solar panels receive adequate sun. They’re often indoor/outdoor or outdoor-rated, so you don’t need to uninstall them for rain or winter. Solar string lights charge all day to shine all night if need be. They draw no power from your home’s outlets, saving electricity. Some solar string lights even change color or connect to smart home devices.

Solar string lights come in many different lengths and a dazzling array of bulb shapes, from the straightforward to the fantastical. If you’re looking to get some solar string lights, here’s some info you can use.

a man and a woman drinking alcohol outdoors with string lights lighting the night
The warmth of light is called its temperature and is measured in degrees Kelvin (K). The lower the temperature, the warmer the light. Soft white light from 2,700 to 3,000 is a good temperature for cozy outdoor string lights.

How to buy the best solar string lights

Bulb shape

Solar string lights come in all sorts of bulb shapes, from the simple to the fanciful. Aside from holiday-style lights, popular bulb shapes for solar string lights are round globe lights, vintage-chic Edison bulbs, tiny fairy lights, and lantern lights made of different materials. These are suitable for general outdoor lighting and all occasions. Solar rope lights are also popular and can be wrapped or run in all sorts of settings. Some of the more imaginative bulb shapes include starbursts and dragonflies and are especially suited for special parties and occasions.

LED lights

By and large, solar string lights use LED bulbs rather than incandescent or fluorescent bulbs. LEDs are vastly more efficient than incandescent bulbs, allowing solar string lights to maximize the amount of illumination they provide from their batteries. LEDs come in a huge variety of bulb shapes and allow for an array of color and lighting effects. They’re generally the best choice for solar string lights.

Length

Solar string lights come in many different lengths, from less than 10 feet to well over 150 feet. Shorter solar string lights are best for illuminating sections or individual objects, while longer string lights can cover a large area. It’s often a good rule of thumb to get longer string lights than you think you need.

Duration

Most solar string lights available should stay illuminated from six to 12 hours on a full charge, although some shine for only four hours per charge. Their actual duration depends on how fully charged their batteries are, which in turn depends on how much sunlight they were exposed to during the day. Solar string lights do best if allowed to charge in at least eight hours of direct sunlight.

Shade tolerance

While all solar string lights charge best in bright direct sunlight and all allow some level of charging in lower light, some sets advertise the ability to charge well even in partially shaded conditions. These solar string lights offer somewhat more flexible location and placement than string lights that require full sun.

a man and a woman setting up string lights outdoors
DID YOU KNOW?
Place the solar panel of your solar string lights facing the direction of the most sunlight throughout the year. In the northern hemisphere, that’s south.
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Features of solar string lights

Lumens

The amount of illumination provided by a set of solar string lights is measured in lumens. While more lumens per bulb means more light, most people use solar string lights to create an ambiance rather than to provide strong illumination. A long string of dozens or hundreds of low-lumen bulbs can create soft mood lighting.

Lighting and color effects

Having lighting effects and color changes are great features in many solar string lights, especially those with LED bulbs. LEDs can be programmed to emulate different colors and display a wide variety of effects, like running, blinking, twinkling, and more. Even non-LED solar string lights can contribute some lighting effects. One of the most welcome and basic lighting effects is dimming, which is ideal for mood-setting.

Solar panel

Solar string lights get their power from solar panels. A set of solar string lights includes a solar-powered battery, usually designed to be staked into the ground. Solar panels can be polycrystalline with blue solar cells made of multiple crystals or monocrystalline with black cells made of a single crystal. Monocrystalline solar panels are more efficient but usually more expensive than polycrystalline panels.

Weatherproofing

Whether or not you can leave your solar string lights up in inclement weather or during the offseason depends greatly on how weatherproof they are. Good weatherproofing allows solar string lights to remain installed even through rain, wind, and winter. Weatherproofing may not allow you to operate your solar string lights during adverse conditions, but it should at least allow you to leave them up rather than going through the trouble of taking them down every time there’s a storm or the seasons change. Look for solar string lights with IPXX ratings for water and dust resistance.

Shatter resistance

Shatter-resistant or shock-resistant bulbs are a smart feature to consider in solar string lights. It can sometimes be harder than it should be to find replacement bulbs for solar string lights, and you should be able to trust that the bulbs on string lights can stand up to bumps, accidents, and the wind.

Remote control and automation

Many solar string lights have the ability to turn themselves on automatically at nightfall. Having a remote control allows you to conveniently operate solar string lights from a distance. Automation can also be convenient to activate string lights at a certain time of day, such as sunset, and turn them off after midnight, for example.

two women setting up string lights outdoors
DID YOU KNOW?
The batteries used in solar string lights, like those used in portable devices like smartphones, contain lithium. Lithium batteries can be dangerous if overused or overheated, so take care not to abuse them.
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Solar string lights accessories

Backup power

Some solar string lights allow you to charge the batteries via alternative methods. These methods include plugging them into an AC outlet by means of a USB cable and adapter.

Mounting

You have several options for mounting your solar string lights. Some string lights come with clips on their cables to attach to railings or guide wire. You can also use hooks, zip ties, Velcro, and even staple guns.

Ladders

You should have a sturdy ladder if you plan to hang your solar string lights. Short folding or step ladders should be enough for most patio or yard jobs, but extension ladders may be needed for stringing lights around trees or gazebos. Choose ladders with stable footing, especially on lawns or uneven ground.

How much do solar string lights cost?

Inexpensive

Inexpensive solar string lights can be found for under $25. These are shorter strings in the 10 to 30-foot range, occasionally going up to 50 feet. You can find fairy-style lights, as well as smaller holiday-style bulbs and rope lights. Larger bulbs in this price range usually come in very short lengths under 10 feet.

Mid-range

Mid-range solar string lights cost between $25 and $99. The most established brands, with a variety of bulb shapes including Edison and lantern, can be found in this range, in lengths of at least 20 feet up to 100 feet. They may offer smartphone apps, remotes, or other convenient controls as well as partial shade tolerance.

Expensive

More expensive sets of solar string lights cost more than $100. These can measure 50 feet on up, and feature unique, hard-to-find, or unusual bulb shapes and materials. They may offer multiple sets with several solar charging units and boast advanced app-based controls and compatibility with smart assistants.

a man setting up string lights outdoors
DID YOU KNOW?
Most solar string lights are either indoor/outdoor or outdoor-rated, which means they can be used in outdoor environments. For safety reasons, it’s never advisable to use indoor-rated string lights outdoors.
STAFF
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Tips

  • Measure with string. To get a good idea of how long your solar string lights need to be for a particular installation, do a dry run with a piece of string. Hang it, wrap it, and run it the way you want your final string lights to look, and you’ll get a better measure of the length you need.
  • Use a guide wire. To give your solar string lights cleaner lines and more support, consider running them along a guide wire rather than letting them hang on their own.
  • Watch the hot lights. While LEDs have mostly overtaken small incandescent bulbs in solar string lights, there may be times when the lights generate heat. Be careful hanging such lights around dry foliage or flammable materials, as they may create a fire hazard.
string lights outdoors lighting the night
Some solar string lights can’t be linked or chained to other string lights. If you want to link multiple strings of lights together, make sure they’re pairable.

FAQ

Q. Can I leave solar string lights out in winter?

A. Most solar string lights do fine if they’re left out in the winter, as long as they’re rated for outdoor use. Outdoor-rated solar string lights with good water resistance should be able to withstand the wet and cold of winter. Some solar string lights are able to operate in winter, even with shorter daylight hours. However, their battery may not perform as well in significantly cold temperatures.

Q. Can you leave solar string lights on all night?

A. Yes, most solar string lights can be left on all night. Many solar string light sets can last at least six hours on a full charge, and many can turn themselves on or off automatically with the use of photoreceptor switches. Keep in mind, however, that the longer lights are kept shining (even LED lights), the more heat they’ll produce, which may become a fire hazard.

Q. How long do solar string lights last?

A. In terms of lifespan, a good set of solar string lights should last at least three or four years. The most consumable part of solar string lights is the battery, which is generally the first component to show wear. LED bulbs can last for more than 10 years if not abused.

 

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