Photo: Debbie Wolfe for Bob Vila
Solar string lights illuminate your outdoor space while adding sparkle and whimsy, creating a pleasant atmosphere for entertaining or relaxing outdoors. You can hang them over a dining table, weave them into the beams of a pergola, or string them from trees to turn your backyard into an atmospheric oasis.
Compared to standard outdoor string lights, solar-powered options are useful if you don’t have a conveniently placed electrical outlet. They’re also an energy-efficient option because solar panels don’t add to your electricity bill. With that in mind, keep reading for our tips on selecting the best solar string lights for your outdoor space and to learn more about these featured picks.
- BEST OVERALL: Brightech Ambience Pro Solar String Lights
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Sanjicha LED Solar String Lights
- BEST GLOBE LIGHTS: Sunlitec Indoor/Outdoor Globe Solar String Lights
- BEST LIGHT EFFECTS: Supsoo 8-Mode Globe Solar String Lights
- BEST WATERPROOF: MagicPro Waterproof Heavy-Duty Solar String Lights
- BEST EDISON LIGHTS: Sufeimas Edison Bulb Solar String Lights
- BEST WATERDROP: Brightown Outdoor LED Water Drop Solar String Lights
- BEST WITH BRASS SOCKET: Brightech Glow LED Edison Bulb Solar String Lights
How We Tested the Best Solar String Lights
Many of the solar string lighting sets in this guide are constructed for year-round usage and can be used indoors, if desired. Some solar string light sets stand out for their extra features as well, including multiple lighting modes and USB charging. We tested the solar string lights for sun-charge time, runtime, and brightness. After unboxing them, we switched on the solar panels and laid them in the sun for 12 hours to fully charge. We hung the lights close enough to one another so that we could compare brightness and installed the solar panels where they would receive direct sunlight for at least 8 hours during the day. After observing and recording the results on three different nights, we noted our impression of the appearance and quality of each set.
Our Top Picks
We tested the following solar string lights with key features like length, brightness, bulb style, and runtime top of mind. These picks offer a variety of choices for a top-notch string of solar lights that will suit your needs, style, and budget.
Most high-quality solar lights use LED bulbs because they are long lasting and emit plenty of light but very little heat, making them a safe choice for many settings. These LED Edison-style bulbs have a vintage look and last 5 to 6 hours on a full charge. Six hours of direct sunlight fully charges the solar panel.
The light strand features 12 bulbs spaced 20 inches apart to span 20 feet. A 6-foot wire connects to the solar panel to allow for placement in the sunniest location. The bulbs are protected with shatterproof plastic shells that resist heat up to 122 degrees Fahrenheit.
To determine the warmth of a light bulb, find the color temperature in Kelvins (K). The lower the number, the warmer the light. This set of lights is available in both warm white (2700K) and a slightly cooler soft white (3000K).
After testing the Brightech Ambience solar string lights, we were impressed by the heavy-duty feel and classic appearance. Although we had to use a few extra fasteners to hang them in order to eliminate unwanted sagging, we preferred the sturdy feel and refined look of this LED light set for a semipermanent patio or deck installation. Along those same lines, we appreciated the ability to easily replace individual bulbs if they break or when they eventually burn out.
From an operational standpoint, the large solar panel was a nice addition. It easily recharged the battery within one sunny day, providing enough electricity for the advertised 5 to 6 hours of runtime. Also, in testing we noted an important but subtle difference between this light set and some of the others we tested. This solar panel had a sliding on/off switch that made it much easier to know the status of the lights, compared to those with push-button switches. Plus, this panel included an adjustable-angle mounting bracket with built-in options for mounting on a ground stake, onto a squeeze clamp, or onto other surfaces via a screw mount.
This was a really nice-looking light set with plenty of installation flexibility, providing bright light for the advertised 6-hour runtime, and heavy-duty hardware for a long working life. At 27 feet long with just 12 bulbs, one string may not be enough for a complete patio installation, but it’s a great starting point, and the price is right for adding on more as needed.
Read our full review: Brightech Ambience Pro Solar String Lights
- Bulb type: 12 S14 LED bulbs, 20-inch spacing
- Length: 27 feet
- Runtime: 5 to 6 hours
- The full-size S14 light bulbs provide an attractive vintage aesthetic
- The heavy-duty components are heat-resistant up to 122 degrees Fahrenheit
- The shatterproof and weatherproof bulbs are appropriate for indoor or outdoor use
- Larger, heavier bulbs require extra planning and hardware for a secure installation
- Limited size; the 27-foot 12-bulb string may not be enough for a full installation
Get the Brightech Ambience solar string lights at Amazon, Target, or Oriental Trading.
Add a little flair to any outdoor space with this cost-effective two-pack of Sanjicha LED solar string lights. Each of the decorative copper-colored light strings measures 72 feet long and holds 200 micro LED fairy lights. A push-button selector allows you to choose from firefly, flashing, waves, fading, chasing/flashing, slow fade, twinkle, and steady lighting modes. Choose a favorite and the built-in memory function automatically selects the last mode setting. The small solar panel that attaches to the included ground stake fully charges the integrated battery in about 8 hours, providing up to 12 hours of runtime per charge. An IP65 waterproof rating makes the Sanjicha solar fairy lights a great option for any outdoor location.
We installed the Sanjicha lights on a wire topiary form in a front porch planter with the ground stake and solar panel inserted in the soil. The long length allowed us to thoroughly wrap and weave the lights all over the form for an excellent decorative effect at night—and in the daytime, too, thanks to the copper wire color. The lights charged fully every day, including some slightly overcast days during the test period, and consistently ran for 10.5 to 11 hours every night.
Because the lights were rolled up neatly on a thin, flat framework, they were easy to install without tangles, but uninstalling neatly required a bit more care and effort. The only real negative point was the push-button power switch that did not indicate “on” or “off.” Also, buyers should note that the muted light level produced by a single strand of these fairy lights is far less bright than that emitted by the small globe lights and waterdrop lights reviewed later in our lineup. But, they have a convenient low profile that makes them a great choice for wrapping handrails, posts, arbors, and other architectural elements at a budget-friendly price.
- Bulb type: 200 warm white micro LEDs, 4-inch spacing
- Length: 72 feet
- Runtime: 10 to 12 hours
- Charges quickly in full direct sunshine and runs a long time per charge
- Lightweight string bulbs are easy to install just about anywhere
- Budget-friendly price point for 2 strings of quality LED fairy lights
- Copper wire adds a decorative element in the daytime as well
- The power button does not have an on/off indicator
- Tiny fairy lights provide a lower light level, which may not be adequate for all applications
Get the Sanjicha solar string lights at Amazon.
Folks who like the look of globe lights may want to check out this Sunlitec set that has 25 large solar light bulbs spaced 10 inches apart. This 27-foot set can be used either indoors or outdoors. For indoor use, a micro-USB charger is provided. It takes 5 to 8 hours to charge the battery using solar power or 4 hours with the USB charger. Having both options ensures the lights can illuminate even on a cloudy or rainy day. On a full charge, the lights shine for up to 8 hours. The string’s color temperature is 3000K, giving them a versatile neutral color that is neither too cool nor too warm.
We wanted to install the Sunlitec globe solar string lights around the rim of a patio umbrella, using cable ties to fasten it to the umbrella frame. But the 2-foot wire from the solar panel to the first light made this configuration impractical, so instead we set it up beneath the covered deck rafters. Since the lights were spaced just 12 inches apart along the cable, the condensed light was easily bright enough to read by. This was the brightest light set of our whole test, but with a cooler, bluer quality at 3000K. We preferred the warmth of 2700K.
We appreciated the large 3-watt solar panel’s ability to charge the battery in just 8 hours and that the lights actually provided an impressive 8-hour runtime—the longest runtime of all the large-bulb styles we tested. However, we questioned durability for two reasons: the glass bulbs, which are a notable breaking hazard, and the lighter-weight cable (compared with that used in our Best Overall pick and a few others). But the price was also half that of our top pick, so if these lights last half as long, then we consider it a fair price.
- Bulb type: 25 G40 LED bulbs, 12-inch spacing
- Length: 27 feet
- Runtime: Up to 8 hours
- Large G40 bulbs are replaceable and have a working life of 50,000 hours
- 25 bulbs at 12-inch spacing provides the brightest lighting in our test group
- 3-watt 5-volt solar panel and 3.7-volt 2.0-amp-hour (Ah) lithium-ion battery deliver excellent runtime
- Includes micro-USB charger for alternative power on cloudy days
- Larger, heavier bulbs require more planning and hardware for secure installation
- Glass bulbs increase the potential for breakage
- Short distance from the solar panel to the first bulb at only 24 inches
Get the Sunlitec solar string lights at Amazon or Sears.
Lights in motion can bring attention to a focal point or add a layer of excitement to the atmosphere. Supsoo eight-mode globe solar string lights feature opaque LEDS that emit soft white light and adjust to eight different lighting modes. The 20-foot light strand is equipped with 30 bulbs, spaced 7.5 inches apart, or about the same spacing as standard holiday lights. These lights come with an IP65 waterproof rating for all-weather outdoor use. After charging for 8 hours, the lights run up to 12 hours.
The roughly quarter-size LEDs, close bulb spacing, and smaller solar panel on the Supsoo solar string lights inspired us to create a tabletop centerpiece by simply piling them into a clear jar. In “twinkle” mode, they added just enough light and motion to capture some attention without becoming a total distraction. The battery was fully charged after 8 hours and the lights stayed on for about 11 hours per charge.
The size and opacity of the globes really made a fun and bold statement when the lights were in motion, although the color was much whiter than they appeared in the Amazon listing. We really liked these lights as a highlight feature, but because of the short string length, they seemed impractical for lighting up a large space. The wiring is about the same material as holiday lights, and the bulbs are not replaceable, so the low price is probably about right.
- Bulb type: 30 globe LEDs, 7.5-inch spacing
- Length: 20 feet
- Runtime: Up to 12 hours
- 8 different lighting modes to choose from for different occasions
- Approximately 1-inch-diameter opaque globe lights emit soft white light
- Battery charges fully in about 8 hours and the lights run 8 to 12 hours per charge
- LEDS are closely spaced for a more dramatic effect
- Small size limits the functionality to highlighting or accessorizing
- Single-use string light, about the same material quality as standard holiday lights
Get the Supsoo solar string lights at Amazon.
A few splashes shouldn’t put the damper on this versatile set of string lights from MagicPro thanks to an excellent waterproofing rating of IPX5, meaning it can withstand even strong water jets. The lights can function via solar power or with a micro-USB cable, both indoors and outdoors. The string is 44 feet long and features 15 Edison-style LED bulbs. Multiple strands can be connected for larger spaces.
The solar panel and integrated rechargeable battery take 6 to 8 hours of continuous sunlight to charge completely, and can then power the lights for up to 8 hours. The lights have four modes: steady, slow flash, quick flash, and pulsating. The solar light bulbs are also shatterproof.
We installed the MagicPro waterproof solar string lights over an outdoor seating area by attaching them to overhead tree branches with cable ties. Each bulb fixture had its own hang loop, so securing the lights was not a problem. The charge time and runtime were accurate as listed: Our lights fully charged in a little over 7 hours and then ran for about 8.25 hours per charge.
We also liked that the S14 bulbs were replaceable, and the overall construction of this set felt substantial, much like our Best Overall pick. However, the lights were spaced 34 inches apart along the wire, or 14 inches further apart than our top pick, so the overall lighting effect was reduced. Those with a large outdoor space to light will appreciate the spread lighting effect, but they might consider adding supplemental lights where added brightness is needed.
- Bulb type: 15 S14 LEDs, 34-inch spacing
- Length: 44 feet
- Runtime: Up to 8 hours
- Larger bulbs and longer strand to light up a larger area
- Can be charged with a micro-USB cable or the included 3-watt solar panel
- Shatterproof LED bulbs and an IPX5 waterproof rating for outdoor use in all weather
- Affordable price point among Edison-style LED string lights
- Wider LED spacing with 34 inches between bulbs makes the lighted space less bright overall
- More expensive than other types of string light sets
Get the MagicPro solar string lights at Amazon.
Edison light bulbs add cool style to many settings, especially in outdoor entertaining spaces. This set of Sufeimas Edison-bulb solar string lights is 48 feet long and holds 15 bulbs. It features heavy-duty electrical components, shatterproof bulbs, and an IP65 waterproof rating for a long working life outdoors. The S14 bulbs are replaceable, and the kit includes two replacement bulbs.
The string lights are controlled by an on/off button, photocell, and a mode button. They can operate in four different modes: continuous, slow strobe, fast strobe, or heartbeat strobe. A 3-watt 5.5-volt solar panel charges the 3.7-volt 4.4Ah battery in 8 hours of direct sunlight. The battery powers the lights for up to 8 hours. A built-in USB port lets you easily charge the battery when sunlight isn’t available.
We installed the Sufeimas string lights along a privacy fence for soft ambient light. They charged in 8 hours, and ran 7.5 hours per charge, accurate to the time noted in the promotional material. At 35.5 inches between bulbs, this was the least-bright Edison bulb set we tested, but the long 48-foot wire allowed ample flexibility for different configurations. For instance, we considered setting them up in an overhead 3-by-5-bulb grid that would have measured approximately 12 feet long by 6 feet wide over a patio seating area. That setup would have concentrated the light significantly, but we ultimately decided on the linear setup for expediency of testing and ease of installation.
The included bulbs and wiring of this set were almost identical to our Best Overall pick, with the exception of the wider light spacing. Also, this kit was chargeable via USB. The quality was quite good, but, as noted on other kits, we would have preferred to have a sliding on/off switch for easier indication instead of having to guess with the push button. At a slightly higher price, it seemed like a fair deal due to the additional material cost. This was a really nice, durable light set with plenty of options for customized installation.
- Bulb type: 15 S14 LEDs, 35.5-inch spacing
- Length: 48 feet
- Runtime: Up to 8 hours
- Shatterproof Edison bulbs and an IP65 waterproof rating for all-weather use
- 3-watt solar panel charges quickly and the 3.7-volt battery powers up to 8 hours of runtime
- 48-foot 15-bulb string light allows options for customized installation
- Charges via solar panel on sunny days or via USB when the sun is not out
- Push-button on/off switch makes it difficult to know whether the unit is actually on or off
- Wider 35.5-inch bulb spacing dilutes the available light in linear installations
Get the Sufeimas solar string lights at Amazon.
Unique light bulb shapes can add a whimsical flair to a gathering space. The elongated bulbs on the Brightown outdoor LED watedrop solar string lights emit a warm white glow that looks great in linear or massed installations. The 25.7-foot light string features forty 3-inch droplet-shaped LEDs, spaced 8 inches apart. Eight lighting mode options add motion and excitement to the party: Choose from waves, combination, sequential, gradual, chasing, slow fade, twinkle, and steady on. It is IP65 waterproof rated for all-weather use. The small monocrystalline silicon solar panel charges the 1.2-volt battery in about 8 hours to power the lights up to 10 hours at night.
We installed these Brightown waterdrop lights in a spiraled overhead configuration at varied heights so that the LEDs resembled rain; they were especially effective in “twinkle” mode. Both the charge time and runtime were as advertised. The overall quality of the lights was fair for the price, which is to say comparable to a good-quality set of holiday lights. These lights were lots of fun and the different mode options really made the difference.
- Bulb type: 40 mini LEDs, 8-inch spacing
- Length: 25.7 feet
- Runtime: 8 to 10 hours
- Unique waterdrop bulbs extend the light emitted by the LED for a glowing appearance
- 8 lighting modes to choose from; makes for a highly customized experience
- Good-quality single-use lights at a budget-friendly price point
- Single-use lights will not last as long as types with replaceable bulbs
- Relatively short length at 25.7 feet, so some applications may require multiple strings
Get the Brightown solar string lights at Amazon.
Brightech Glow LED Edison-bulb solar string lights include many of the same features as our Best Overall pick, but with the addition of attractive brass bulb sockets. This 12-bulb 28-foot string light is built for all-weather, all-season use with shatterproof bulbs and a commercial-grade rubberized cord. The S14 LED lights emit 2700K of warm white light for up to 6 hours per charge, after charging in direct sunlight for 6 hours via the 1-watt solar panel.
The Brightech Glow solar string lights performed very well in our tests. As with Brightech Ambience Pro, this selection features closely spaced (20 inches) Edison-style LEDs, which made them a great choice for linear applications. And we really liked the look of the brass sockets. The system charged and ran as advertised and lit the space very well. The bulbs were replaceable, and the whole package felt sturdy and durable. We also liked the sliding on/off switch on the heavy-duty solar panel.
We objected to the lack of hang-loops above the individual bulbs. This was the only Edison-style string light we tested that did not offer that feature, but it appears that hang loops are available on some versions of the Brightech Glow. They may cost a bit more, but in our opinion, it’s probably worth paying a little extra. Other than that, these are great-looking lights with a sturdy build and bright lighting capability.
- Bulb type: 12 S14 LEDs, 20-inch spacing
- Length: 28 feet
- Runtime: Up to 6 hours
- Attractive brass sockets dress up the appearance for day or night viewing
- High-quality bulbs, wires, and solar components add up to a durable investment
- Closely spaced bulbs provide good light density for linear lighting installations
- Not all Brightech Glow models include hang loops to support the individual LED bulbs
- The somewhat short 28-foot string may not be enough lighting for certain applications
Get the Brightech Glow solar string lights at Amazon, The Home Depot, or Brightech.
What to Consider When Choosing Solar String Lights
To create an inviting, illuminated outdoor space, consider the size and shape of the bulbs as well as brightness and color. A weather-resistant design, a lengthy cord, and remote or app-control features can make outdoor solar-powered string lights safer and easier to use.
Style and Shape
Solar string light bulbs are available in a variety of styles and shapes, including globe bulbs, Edison bulbs, lantern bulbs, fairy lights, and rope lights.
- Globe: These spherical bulbs, which come in a range of sizes, are commonly used in hanging pendants, modern chandeliers, and outdoor string lights. Their classic, timeless style complements a range of outdoor decor setups, from angular modern seating areas to cozy bohemian patios. Globe bulbs add a touch of glamour and charm to an outdoor space.
- Edison: Edisonbulbs are designed to look like Thomas Edison’s original invention. Thanks to their visible internal filaments, these traditional incandescent bulbs have a warm glowing vintage appearance. Modern LED Edison-style bulbs offer this classic light bulb look but in an energy-saving LED design.
- Lantern: Lanternbulbs are covered with a lantern made of paper, plastic, nylon, or tarpaulin (a durable, waterproof material that resembles canvas). Lanterns come in different colors, patterns, and shapes.
- Fairy: These tiny bulbs, which are usually no larger than a grain of rice, resemble fireflies shimmering on a wire. These are ideal for background or Christmas lights, and you can create a magical effect by draping strands of fairy lights over tree branches, in bushes, or along a fence.
- Rope: Ropelights are mini bulbs encased in a transparent cover to protect them from the elements. Often made with LED bulbs, rope lights can be wound around deck posts, hung from fences, or used to illuminate garden spaces.
When choosing bulb size, consider the available outdoor space, ease of installation, and desired look. Small bulbs are a good choice for small outdoor spaces; they won’t overpower the space or other outdoor decorations. They’re generally more subtle, providing gentle background lighting. Because they provide less light, they are commonly chosen for decorative purposes.
Large bulbs are more striking and offer a bolder look. Moreover, their larger size provides more direct illumination. They are generally brighter and are suitable for larger spaces that need additional lighting. Large decorative bulbs, such as globe bulbs and Edison bulbs, make a style statement.
The amount of light output a bulb can emit is specified in lumens—the more lumens, the brighter the bulb. Don’t confuse lumens with wattage: Wattage measures how much power a bulb consumes and not how bright a light appears. When deciding on bulb brightness, consider the desired lighting effect.
Solar string light bulbs can range from 5 to over 100 lumens per bulb. Buyers often choose solar lights for their glowy appearance rather than their brightness, so lower lumens often work well to set a mood.
Lighting color temperature is measured using the Kelvin temperature scale. This scale measures how warm or cool the lighting appears. Lower numbers on the Kelvin scale look warmer, while higher numbers appear cooler.
Most home lighting falls between 2000K to 6000K. Bulbs around 2700K have a cozy, warm white color with a yellow hue, while bulbs over 5000K provide stark, crisp lighting with a blue hue.
Warm lighting makes a space look more cozy and inviting, while cool lighting may appear harsh, especially at night. As a result, warmer bulbs are generally preferred for ambient outdoor lighting.
Consider the size of the outdoor space and the lighting layout when choosing the ideal length of solar string lights. The best way to determine the required wire length is to use a piece of twine to measure where the lights will go. Consider the following recommendations, based on the size of the outdoor area:
- For lining one side of a balcony or porch, use a 10-foot string of outdoor patio lights.
- A small 8-foot-long by 6-foot-wide patio space typically requires 25 to 50 feet of string lighting.
- A medium 12-foot-square outdoor space may need 50 to 100 feet of string lighting, depending on the desired layout.
- For more spacious areas or to illuminate a large event, more than 100 feet of string lighting is usually necessary.
Since outdoor solar lights are exposed to the elements, selecting a set that stands up to rainy conditions and heavy gusts of wind is important. Having to take down the string lights every time they face inclement weather is not ideal.
First, check the product description to determine if the lights are intended for outdoor use. Using indoor lighting outside creates a potential fire hazard. Secondly, make sure the product is water-resistant or waterproof—even spots under a roof can grow damp in bad weather.
Weather-resistant lights can handle direct exposure to water and feature watertight seals to protect their interior parts from accumulating moisture and causing safety issues.
For those who want to upgrade from basic solar lights, consider a model with extra features like color-changing bulbs, dimming options, and remote-control or app operation.
- Color-changing bulbs: For a fun pop of color, look for patio string lights with color-changing bulbs. These solar string light options can set the mood for different events, seasons, and holidays.
- Dimming options: Whether for a romantic outdoor dinner or patio drinks with friends, dimming the lights can add to a cozy ambience. Some outdoor solar string lights include built-in dimmers, while others are compatible with a dimmer.
- Remote/app controls: A remote control allows for the operation of different lighting settings within a certain vicinity of the lights. App controls add even more convenience. WiFi-enabled options make it easy to switch lights on and off, even when away from home. Some lights also integrate with smart-home devices, like Amazon Alexa and Google Home.
To be sure that you’re using your solar string lights correctly, safely, and effectively, read the questions and answers below and learn more about selecting the best option for you.
Q. Can you leave solar string lights on all night?
Since solar lights charge during the day, yes, these lights can be safely left on all night. But be aware that any solar-powered string lights that contain lithium batteries are at higher risk for overheating or catching fire if unattended.
Q. Do solar string lights work in the winter?
Solar string lights can operate in the winter as long as they have access to sunlight to charge. Since many of these lights are also made to be waterproof, you can leave them outside throughout the year.
Q. How long do solar string lights last?
Depending upon the model, you can expect outdoor solar string lights to last from 2 to 4 years.
Q. What color light is best for outdoors?
White light is the most effective lighting color since it’s closest to natural light. Warm white lights have a glowy yellow tinge that is cozy and inviting, making them a popular choice for outdoor lighting.
Colorful bulbs are another option that buyers often choose for their ambience rather than their lighting ability. These lights add a decorative flair and can be a fun addition for different seasons and holidays.
Q. How do you hang solar string lights on a patio?
The easiest option is to hang string lights from existing fixtures or wrap them around columns and railings that surround a patio. If necessary, create hanging options by using heavy-duty sticky hooks, metal hooks, or nails.
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Meet the Tester
Mark Wolfe is a writer and product tester with an extensive background in the nursery and landscaping industry. For more than 20 years he mowed, edged, planted, pruned, cultivated, irrigated, and renovated beautiful landscapes. Now he tests and writes reviews about the latest outdoor power equipment, hand tools, lawn-care products, and other outdoor-living goods.
Additional research provided by Savannah Sher and Debbie Wolfe.