Why Your Solar Lights Are Not Working

Solar lights are great for several reasons. They’re environmentally friendlier than other options, save money in the long run, and work just as well. Unfortunately, they’re also prone to failure, just like most things in life. If your solar lights are not working, there are a few things to consider.

The most common causes of solar lights not working are improper sunlight, old or dead batteries, faulty sensors, dirty panels, water buildup, and proximity to other lights.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

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The Basics of Why Your Solar Lights Are Not Working

solar panels on house

So you have an array of solar-powered lights, but they’re just not working. Here are the most common reasons that solar lights stop functioning and how to fix these issues.

Dirty Panels

In case your parents never taught you this, let’s get this out of the way early: to keep nice things nice, they need to be clean. This applies to most items in life, though solar panels are more subject to this than others.

Because your solar panels rely on the sun to provide power, they need to be clean. If they’re covered in a layer of dirt, sunlight won’t reach them easily. If they’re filthy, the sun won’t hit them at all.

To fix this, it’s pretty simple. Remove debris like leaves, and give them a good wipe with a soft microfiber cloth and gentle cleaner such as dish soap. Once you’ve wiped the dirt off, wipe the panels again to ensure they’re entirely dry. If you don’t, you’ll run into the next issue on the list…

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Water Buildup

Water buildup on solar panel

Water buildup is a major problem, whether this means that water has accumulated inside the panels or out. Surprise, electronics don’t like water, and solar panels are no exception!

Not only can internal water damage the wiring and circuitry, but it can prevent sunlight from properly transferring its energy, especially if there’s a film of dried water over your panel. To fix this, dry fully when cleaning your panels and regularly inspect them for water inside the panels. You can simply detach the panel head from its mount to ensure no water has built up inside your solar panels.

This brings us to another, tertiary point – waterproofed appliances aren’t necessarily truly waterproofed. Always check in periodically on products that claim to be water-resistant or waterproof, rather than just assuming that they’re doing what they claim. Treatments can wear off or fail, and it’s no fun to discover that your expensive solar panels were ruined because you didn’t check in on them occasionally.

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Not Enough Sunlight

Believe it or not, solar panels need sunlight to function. If you’ve already cleaned your panels and checked for water buildup, take a look at where you have them positioned. If they’re in an area that gets a lot of shade over the day or is always shaded, they’re just not going to work properly.

Consider either moving them or making a space for them that gets continuous sunlight over the course of the day – this means trimming trees and moving them out from your deck. Generally, outdoor solar lights need roughly six hours of direct sunlight to charge fully – more with indirect light.

Proximity to Other Lights

Dark patio with solar lights

We’ll talk about sensors in a second, but let’s talk about other light sources. The sensors in your solar lights are designed to detect when things get dark so they can turn on. In short, if you have other lights like those on your home or street, this could affect your solar lights.

The only real fix for this is to see if there’s light from other sources near your solar lights and, well, move them. This can be a bit of a pain, especially if you’re dealing with street lights or an invasive light from neighbours, but there’s only so much you can do.


Now it’s time to move onto mechanical and technical faults. Batteries should always be your first stop when inspecting electronics, as they tend to have a shorter lifespan than other electronics. On average, you can expect to get between 5 and 10 years of life out of batteries for outdoor solar lights, though this changes with the model and your location. On the other hand, solar panels will generally last at least 20 years, so you’ll need to replace at least one battery before replacing the panel itself.

Even if your batteries claim an extended, long-lasting lifespan, they’ll perform worse as time goes on. Additionally, batteries that have outlived their useful days can begin to erode (especially in wet environments), causing acid leaks. These can damage other parts of the lights and reduce the lifespan of the contraption as a whole.

In short, don’t try to Scrooge your way into not replacing batteries. Not only could it cost you much more money in the long run, but you’ll get worse performance out of them the longer you keep them in operation.

solar battery and charge controller

Faulty Sensors

If your solar lights are not working, it could be due to a faulty sensor. These are designed to detect darkness, allowing them to turn on at night and off during the day. If the sensor is broken or old, this simply won’t happen.

To figure out if this is your problem, cover the sensor at night. If that brings light, then the sensor isn’t the problem. If it is, it’s time to order a new one and maybe contact the manufacturer, depending on how old they are. It’s also possible to manually bypass your sensors, though we’re going to assume you don’t want to do that. If you do, check out this guide.

Final Thoughts

If your solar lights are not working, there are a lot of factors to take into account. Are your lights getting enough sunlight? If not, is it because they’re dirty, waterlogged, or in a poor place? These are relatively easy fixes if caught early, but that may not be the cause.

You could potentially have old batteries or faulty sensors. And while nobody wants to shell out money for a new battery, it’s essential that you do. Avoiding replacing faulty or old parts can not only damage your solar lights further, but it can also cost you more money in the long run. As a rule of thumb, try to replace your batteries every 7 years or when you see a decline in performance.

And finally, take care of your things! If your panels are dirty, clean them, and if they’re in an area that they could get damaged by severe weather, consider moving their location to protect them. Additionally, don’t rely on “waterproofed” panels – check them regularly to ensure water hasn’t wormed its way into your panels.