Solar Lights Not Working: We Explain How To Fix Them

Are your solar lights not working? Then you’ve come to the right place.

Promoting the use of solar products (and other forms of greens technology) is important to us at Climatebiz. But we are also aware of the fact that some of our readers will occasionally run into problems with their purchases.

While solar lighting is a fantastic option for both indoor and outdoor use, these products come with their own unique issues that can occur from time to time.

So what exactly are the issues that you can expect to come across?

Here are 5 common reasons why your solar lights aren’t working:

  • Battery needs replacing
  • The pull tab for the battery
  • Dirty solar panel
  • Faulty or damaged sensor
  • Water ingress/intrusion

In this article, you’ll learn about each of these issues and how to remedy them so that you can fix solar lights with confidence.

Foreword
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Solar Lights Not Working (5 Main Causes)

Batteries Need Replacing

Fixing Solar Lights By Replacing Batteries
Fixing Solar Lights By Replacing The Batteries
Image Source: Liter of Light USA

This is definitely the most common issue associated with solar lights.

The vast majority of solar lights come with rechargeable batteries installed in them. Most of these batteries are of high quality and will last for quite some time (often years), but they do still have a lifespan.

When your batteries reach the end of their lifespan, you’ll find that your lights won’t work as efficiently. In fact, they may stop working entirely.

To fix your solar lights, you’ll need to replace the dead batteries.

Additional info: After purchasing, remember to charge your lights before using them for the first time. Don’t expect them to function at full capacity right out of the box.

Battery Pull Tab/Strip

Picture Showing A battery's Pull Tab/Strip
Battery Pull Tab/Strip
Image Source: Solar Energy Hackers

This issue only applies to newly purchased lights, so technically speaking you won’t need to fix your solar lights.

Most solar lights come with a battery strip or pull tab between the battery and the battery terminal. These tabs are used to preserve the battery life of your lights during the shipping process.

If your solar lights aren’t working after you’ve unboxed and attempted to charge them, chances are the battery tab is still in place.

Dirty Solar Panel

Fixing A Solar Light By Cleaning A Dirty Solar Panel
Dirty Vs. Clean Solar Light Panel
Image Source: Liter Of Light USA

Quality sunlight is your solar lights bread and butter. Without it, they won’t work.

It’s all very well to have your lights positioned well to receive adequate sunlight, but that won’t mean much if your solar panels are grubby.

Dust and debris are the culprits here. So before you go about replacing any batteries or checking for other issues, ensure that your panels are clear of any dirt that may get in the way of them receiving much-needed sunlight.

With the above in mind, make a concerted effort to check up on and maintain your solar panels at regular intervals, cleaning them when necessary.

Faulty Or Damaged Sensor

A Solar Light's Sensor
A Solar Light Sensor
Image Source: Popular Science

Any solar light worth buying will come with a light-sensitive sensor. These sensors are responsible for turning your lights on at night and off during the day.

A faulty or damaged sensor means that your lights won’t be able to differentiate between the different times of the day. This will force you into manually switching them ON/OFF when required, and let’s be honest, no one needs that type of hassle in their life.

Water Ingress/Intrusion

A Solar Panels Light Being Drenched In Heavy Rain.
You’ll Increase The Likelihood Of Having To Fix Your Solar Light’s If You Expose Them To Extreme Rain

Despite the fact that most solar lighting products come with Ingress Protection (IP) to protect against water and weather-related damage, some may still suffer from water intrusion.

When this happens, water or residue may build up inside of the accompanying solar panels, damaging the internal wiring and circuitry.

But if my lights come with an IP rating, why would this happen?

Water damage can result from:

  • Poor build-quality
  • Insufficient protection
  • General degradation

How To Fix Solar Lights When They Break?

Now that we’ve identified some of the most common issues related to solar lights not working, let’s discuss solutions to each problem:

Battery Replacement

It’s easy to forget that solar light’s rechargeable batteries have a lifespan of roughly 3 years. Over this period, you’ll find that the efficiency of your batteries will decrease.

But how do you test for a decrease in your batteries efficiency?

Check The Discharging Time

You should be able to see the average runtime of your lights via your products specifications sheet – either online or offline. Alternatively, it is good practice to test the runtime of your lights during their first discharge.

For example, if your lights used to operate for 12 hours and now they only work for 8, then your batteries are losing their charging capacity.

Deep Charge Technique

Sometimes, your batteries just don’t have enough charge to power your lights. In this case, trying this 72-hour charging technique may yield positive results.

This technique helps your batteries reach their full capacity by charging them over an extended period of time

To use this technique, do the following:

  1. Switch your lights off
  2. Let them charge for 72 hours
  3. Try them out

Use Different Batteries

First, test your solar lights with normal batteries – be sure to use ones with the same voltage. 

If the light works, then it’s clear that the problem is either your batteries can’t hold the charge.

You can also test your rechargeable batteries by using them in any battery-powered device.

If after attempting these steps, you discover that your batteries are compromised, it’s time for them to be replaced.

Battery Pull Tab/Strip

You’ll find this pull tab/strip underneath the battery compartment. Simply remove it to get your lights working.

If you’re unsure about the location of this strip, there should be some instructions that come with your lights – these will point you in the right direction.

Cleaning A Dirty Solar Panel

Pure water is the best way to clean solar panels. Failing that, you can use rainwater or tap water with low mineral content.

Why?

Soaps can leave a film or residue that encourages dirt to stick and build up quicker. Worse yet, using a harsh chemical agent while cleaning solar panels can cause scaling. This can potentially work its way under the frame, and damage the silicon.

If not soaps or detergents, then what?

Here are the steps to cleaning a solar panel:

  1. Choose your time of day – early morning or even is the most suitable time.
  2. Pre-rinse – rinses off initial layer of dirt and debris
  3. Scrub – conduct a soft, yet abrasive scrub
  4. Final rinse – rinse off the remaining dirt and debris
  5. Dry – If you’ve used pure water, you can let them dry naturally. This is because pure water leaves behind no residue or water impurities.

For a more comprehensive guide on solar panel cleaning, check out this article.

Checking A Faulty Or Damaged Sensor

Solar lights with a sensor should only come on in the absence of light. So, in order to test the working condition of your sensor, you’ll need to simulate darkness.

This can be done by placing your hand or a thick cloth over the sensor. If the light does not turn on, then your sensor or some of the wiring is most likely compromised.

You may be tempted to investigate further and replace/fix the sensor or any wiring yourself. If you are very confident in doing so – great. Ideally, you’ll want to reach out to the manufacturer for assistance.

Fortunately, some manufacturers provide warranties that cover you in such an event. Reach out to the manufacturer of your product to see if they offer replacements.

Water Ingress/Intrusion

As previously mentioned, solar lights often come with IP ratings that make them water-resistant. However, this doesn’t mean that they aren’t susceptible to water damage.

Heavy rains and accidentally submerging them can damage them.

In the event of water intrusion, do the following:

  1. Make sure your light is switched off.
  2. Open your solar light/solar panel and gently dry off all of the components – pay special to the sensor.
  3. Carefully re-assemble it.
  4. Place it in a dry, warm spot to dry off even further.
  5. Go ahead and manually test the light to see if it still works.

How To Make Your Solar Lights Last Long?

Here are some tips to increase the lifespan of your solar lights:

  1. Clean and maintain your solar panels regularly.
  2. Charge the batteries before use and replace them when the time comes.
  3. Place your lights and solar panel in an unobstructed area.
  4. If your lights are for decorative purposes or you experience extreme weather conditions over an extended period of time, bring them inside for storage.

Final Thoughts

Fixing solar lights doesn’t need to be a hassle. Sure, you may find yourself running into some issues with them at some stage. But in general, they don’t tend to present you with problems that you can’t overcome.

Give them a little TLC here and there, and you’ll be fine. After all, if you take care of your lights, they will take care of you.

Robert Wortrich

Robert is a content creator and editor. His passion for researching and the environment led him to joining the Climatebiz team. When he isn’t busy writing articles or learning more about everything Green Technology-related, you’ll find him spending time with friends or hiking one of the many wonderful trails that his home – Cape Town – has to offer.

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