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How to know when your solar lights have burned out

Solar lights are a great addition to a walkway or a garden — that tiny bit of light emitting from the solar lights in your yard can add a finishing touch of ambiance to any landscape. But how do you know when solar lights have burned out, and what do you do about it once they have?

Believe it or not, solar lights do burn out after a time, and sometimes you want them charged and shining, but the weather isn’t cooperating. We’re here to help with all of your solar light needs — from knowing how to charge solar lights without sun to figuring out when it’s time to replace the lights or swap out the whole unit.

Why solar lights stop working

Solar lights are easy to install and seem like a great idea…until you find yourself with a few lights that don’t work. Before you know it, your simple solar-powered lights aren’t so simple anymore. Solar lights have a few qualities that make them less reliable as they age, but many of them are quick fixes that you can tackle in no time.


Sometimes solar lights are placed in spots that don’t allow them to get enough sunlight during the day. Shadows and the position of the sun can cause the light to charge improperly. Additionally, if your lights have been in your yard for longer than one season, the plants in the area may have grown to the point where they obstruct the sunlight from getting to the solar panels on the lights. To fix this issue, you have two choices: Trim the overgrowth back or move the light so it receives more direct sunlight for more extended periods.


Outdoor lights have to deal with nature in ways that indoor lights don’t. Small animals that run or fly through your yard can bump into your lights and cause the panel to sit at an angle that doesn’t give it direct sunlight. Burrowing animals like moles and chipmunks can disrupt your solar-powered lights to the point where they knock them entirely over. If you have strand lights, animals may chew on the wires and cause your lights to stop working.

Even the weather can cause your lights to shift into not ideal positions once in a while, whether it be strong winds or simply due to the ground’s natural cooling and warming. To solve this problem, be sure you’re checking on the lights once in a while. Bring a soft cloth with you so you can wipe any dust or debris off of the solar panels while you’re at it.

Technical issues

If you’ve cleared the area of obstructions and positioned your lights so they receive the most possible sunlight, but they still aren’t working, you may need to dive a bit deeper.

Check the switch

First, check the switch on the light to ensure it is entirely in the “on” position. If you can’t find the switch, it may be on the bottom of the light capsule or under the cap. Some models require that you turn the cap to loosen it from the light’s long plastic portion to get at the switch. Once you’ve made sure the switch is on, set the light in an area where it gets full sun for several hours and then test the light by covering the solar panel with your hand.

Check the panel

Sometimes the solar panel on the light is the reason the light isn’t working correctly. The more inexpensive the light is, the more likely it is that the panel will get cloudy. If your panels look cloudy after you’ve wiped them with a soft, damp cloth, you can apply a coat of clear nail polish once the panel dries completely. This clear coat will help the solar panel receive sunlight again, thus charging the light so it works correctly. Be sure to let the polish dry completely before setting it in the sunlight for a test run.

Check the batteries

If you’ve checked, cleaned, and tried all of the above and you’re still not ready to give up on your solar lights, you can check the batteries. The batteries are typically under the solar panel assembly. You will likely need a tiny screwdriver and new batteries. Replace the battery with a new one of the same type and see if the light works.

If you’ve gone through all of the steps above and your solar lights aren’t working, it is time to give up and buy some new lights. Sometimes things just run their course and need to be replaced, especially if they live outside. Usually, solar lights are relatively inexpensive, so replacing them shouldn’t be too much of an investment. If you happen to have the extra cash, you may want to buy a few additional lights if you need to replace one or two down the road.

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