Giving Your Outdoor Space a Glow-Up Is as Easy as Adding the Best Solar String Lights
And four of our favorites are on sale.
Published Jul 13, 2022 1:00 AM
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Designers and landscape architects often rely on solar string lights to add a soft, ambient glow to any outdoor space. And you can, too. With the right luminary, your backyard can quickly transform into an alfresco dining destination. Once you’ve placed a string’s stake in the ground somewhere that gets a decent amount of direct sunlight, you can hang these glowing accessories pretty much anywhere, whether that’s draped from a tree canopy or between the pickets of a fence, since you won’t be limited to the proximity of a power outlet. No matter if you are after simple and streamlined or in need of something a bit more high-tech with changeable colors and timers, our list of the best solar string lights offers up options to suit everyone’s style.
- Best overall: Brightech Glow Hanging Solar LED String Lights
- Best paper: Allsop Glow Outdoor Solar Lights
- Best candle: West Elm Rectangular Solar String Lights
- Best value: Brightech Ambiance Pro Solar LED String Lights
- Best mini: Mainstays 50-Count Mini Solar String Lights
- Best metal: Marrakesh Metal Solar String Lights
- Best smart: Avatar Controls Solar Powered String Lights
Best Overall: Brightech Glow Hanging Solar LED String Lights
Length: 28 feet | Hours: 5–6 | Bulb spacing: 1.6 feet
What we like
- Premium brass details
- Free shipping and returns (within 30 days)
- 1.5-watt solar panel
- 5-year warranty
- On the pricier side
- Can’t control when these turn on, only in the dark
Why we chose it: Glass and brass come together for an elevated take on the standard outdoor-safe string lights.
As soon as the sun disappears behind city buildings or your neighbor’s house, these oversize, Edison-like bulbs automatically turn on after dark, transforming any outdoor area into a party-ready space. While most string lights often feature bulkier silhouettes, this set from Brightech keeps things toned down with mid-century modern sockets and a thin black wire, lending a less distracting appearance during the day. And while looks matter, these lights are ones you can rely on, too: They’re resistant against the elements like rain and wind, and they’re long-lasting durability is backed by the brand’s 5-year warranty.
Best Paper: Allsop Soji Glow Outdoor Solar Lights
Length: 35 feet | Hours: 6 | Bulb spacing: 24 inches
What we like
- Long cord
- UV-treated nylon fabric
- Comes in more than 1 color
- Can be battery powered
- Only a 1-year limited warranty
- 10 lights total
Why we chose it: Not all string lights are plastic.
With these nylon lanterns that only look like paper, you don’t have to worry about strong winds ripping through your whole hanging fleet. Ten lights (only 2.5 inches in diameter) are perfectly spaced out along an extra-long wire that’s thin and discrete. And while we love the simple white, it isn’t the only color scheme to covet. You can choose between a peachy ensemble of orange, blush, and yellow, or, if you happen to need festive shades of blue, there’s an assortment that ranges from teal to navy.
Best Candle: West Elm Rectangular Solar String Lights
Length: N/A | Hours: About 5 | Bulb spacing: N/A
What we like
- Unique bulb shape
- Indoor or outdoor
- Modern take on railroad-lantern style
- Priciest on the list
Why we chose it: For an industrial illumination, go with a flame-shape bulb encased in metal.
We picture these caged lights fitting in anywhere, whether they hang from a wood pergola or above a pebble-lined patio. The candle-shaped bulb offers a modern update on the railroad-style lantern, and it’s sure to add a flair of drama to your dining scene. You’ll probably want to stock up on a few sets, though, as only 10 come in each pack.
Best Value: Brightech Ambiance Pro Solar LED String Lights
Length: 27 feet | Hours: 5–6 | Bulb spacing: 20 inches
What we like
- Bulbs are replaceable
- Panel should last for 2-plus years
- Unable to connect multiple strands
Why we chose it: For less than $30, you can enjoy commercial-grade lights.
These lights (also by Brightech) check all the element-friendly boxes. With a commercial-grade weatherproof guarantee, they can stay outside all year long—no need to bring them down every time a storm brews—and can be put to use from summer to winter, enduring up to 50-mile-per-hour winds, rain, snow, and sleet.
These impossible-to-shatter bulbs offer a classic globe shape that provides a soft, warm white glow (though the brightness will largely depend on how much sun the panel can soak up throughout the day). Hang them from a tent or pergola, or simply clip them on to a vertical surface that needs a little brightening.
Best Mini: Mainstays 50-Count Mini Solar String Lights
Length: 17.5 feet | Hours: 8 | Bulb spacing: N/A
What we like
- Lights up all night long
- Not suitable as a main source of light
Why we chose it: Wrap these teeny-tiny twinkles around everything.
If you want to do more with your solar lights than just hang them, wrap these mini string lights around the legs of a dining table, the rails of your deck stairs, the beams of an arch, or the trunk (and branches!) of trees. The latter is a particularly perfect fit since the brown wire blends in with bark; you’ll definitely want to invest in multiple strands for optimal coverage, though—thankfully, these are super-affordable. You won’t spend more than $12 for close to 17 feet of 50 lights.
Best Metal: Marrakesh Metal Solar String Lights
Length: 15 feet | Hours: 12 | Bulb spacing: 12 inches
What we like
- Copper and silver options
- Strong, long-lasting light
- Uniquely shaped globe
- Solar battery only lasts 1 or 2 years
- Shorter length
Why we chose it: Mix and match your metals.
Most string lights will tout the ability to transform your patio into a Paris bistro, but these metal perforated globes promise to instantly transport you to the streets of Morocco. The metallic bulbs cast a glow in the shape of small stars, offering an ambience that’s more akin to bona fide art. While their cords may be a bit short by some standards, we recommend purchasing a set of both the silver and copper to inspire a bit of visual interest.
Best Smart: Avatar Controls Solar Powered String Lights
Length: 48 feet | Hours: Varies | Bulb spacing: N/A
What we like
- App and remote-controlled
- Heavy-duty, weatherproof plastic bulbs
- 20 different modes
- Reviewers note issue with brightness (up to 600 lumens)
Why we chose it: A fully customizable look backed by 2,000-plus positive reviews.
These remote- and app-controlled solar string lights offer up the choice of a classic, warm white glow, or a completely customizable look from a million different choices limited only by the color wheel. Though it isn’t the only setting you can personalize. Users can also dim things down from an intensity of 0 to 100, determine daily timers, or sync one of the 20 different light patterns up with their music. Plus, there are a few specifically geared towards the holidays—and by November 1, you can change your spooky front porch setup for Halloween simply by altering the colors, without having to take everything down to replace it with Christmas lights. However, if an abundance of options is overwhelming, you can simplify and streamline
We Also Like
How We Chose These Products
The best solar string lights never let sunshine go to waste and won’t get tattered after a thunderstorm. Your dinner parties can go on for hours, from sunset to sunrise, in any season, thanks to this durable mood lighting. We made sure our picks went beyond the standard chunky black cables, focusing on design-forward picks that can easily be strung along your balcony fence or even the tree limbs in your backyard. Each product on our list provides a minimum of five hours of glow and won’t require direct-only rays to light up come evening.
Our Shopping Checklist
Style and Shape
The most popular bulb shape for solar string lights comes in the form of globes or an Edison, but those aren’t the only silhouettes you’ll come across. Other options available include a rounded pear or oversize tubular silhouette, as well as different takes on even smaller hexagonal, candle, or fairy lights. String lights, for the most part, are small in size, as they’re tethered together by a main line and can’t be too heavy to sag. Aside from the bulb design—and choosing between frosted, clear, white, or colors—the socket can help make your string lights a decorative fixture. For instance, our list doesn’t only consist of white or standard black (most common when it comes to weather-resistant wires). There are also brass-, copper-, and silver-colored encasings that caught our eye, and even a few that make the string lights feel more like a bunch of floating pendants.
Brightness and Color Temperature
Aside from a bulb’s overall look, the whole purpose of this product is to illuminate and add a bit of ambience to an outdoor area. Solar lights are best suited for string lights since, in most cases, they don’t put out enough lumens to be path or stair lights—the more lumens, the brighter. As Julia Discroll of Katherine Field and Associates has previously told us when talking about the best outdoor solar lights, “Most have a maximum battery life that’s based on brightness (eight hours of light at the brightest setting when fully charged), but it’s not at the same level of hardwired landscaping lighting.” The latter is typically able to deliver 300 lumens of light, whereas solar lights average out at about 30.
Since the best solar string lights require sunlight as their main source of power, these fixtures are designed to be hung outside. That means they’ll need to be durable enough to survive a rain or hail storm. Most common materials include vinyl, rubber, and plastic, but to make sure these are safe to leave outside, you’ll likely need to look for an IP (Ingress Protection) rating higher than 44. These two digits stand for what your lights are protected against; the higher the number, the more they can endure, from solid objects like dust and debris to water drips, jets, spray, splashes, and more. Of course, this number also varies greatly depending on where you install them. For instance, it becomes less of a concern if you’re hanging up solar string lights from a covered ceiling rather than an open deck or patio.
Because these lights are solar powered, you won’t be as restricted by cord length, at least in proximity to an outlet. You’ll still want something long enough to loop or weave, and most size options range from 25 to 60 feet. If you want to figure out exactly what you need, measure the total length that the wire should stretch across, and add 2 feet or more (we wager you won’t be hanging these as taut as can be, but will instead allow for a soft dip in between destinations). Our advice: Buy more than you think you need, then return whatever is extra.
Q: How long will outdoor solar string lights last?
This really depends on the product you choose. While solar lights rely on the sun to operate—often an endless supply of energy—solar panels aren’t effective for long periods of time. You’ll likely only get two years or so out of this product before the lights fail to glow anew.
Q: Where is the best place to put the panels for solar string lights?
All solar string lights come with the panel that captures energy used to power them up. You’ll want to be strategic about this placement, ensuring it’s in enough direct sunlight to work come nightfall. If not, yours may not illuminate fully.
Q: Why do my solar string lights turn on automatically?
Most solar lights come with a manual switch, though they could be left on if you’d like the light to glow once dusk has arrived. The string lights’ solar panel is equipped with a sensor that absorbs sun during the day and then channels all that power to your bulbs.
The Last Word
The best solar string lights are safe to hang up outdoors, giving consistently bright light for five hours or more (i.e., all evening). The decorative accessory can be hung anywhere as the finishing touch to your backyard or balcony. As long as you have the sun shining on them, you’ll have light.
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