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Solar-powered fairy lights don’t make gardens glitter

Fairy lights on Christmas tree

Can solar-powered fairy lights really work at a time when we’re so bereft of sunshine? Put it this way – don’t expect them to brighten your mood this winter and you won’t be disappointed.

They’re eco friendly, cheap to run and you don’t need to worry about cables – what’s not to like about solar lights? Well, until recently, the dim blue glow they emitted, for starters!

But technology has come on in leaps and bounds in the last few years, and solar lights are now used to illuminate streets and even the runway at Southampton airport. So a string of solar fairy lights is sure to set our festive gardens a-twinkle, right?

Er, no. When Which? Gardening tested 13 sets of solar-powered fairy lights recently (all of them festive-looking and deemed suitable for outdoor use in winter) not one of them produced enough light to transform our gardens into a glittering grotto.

In fact, there was no hope of any of them producing even the dimmest dusk-to-bedtime display – unless you’re in the habit of having very early nights.

The efficacy of solar lights largely depends on the sunlight that they receive during the day, and in December, an average of 80% of days are dull. But having said that, many of the lights we tested didn’t stay on for long even after a sunny day – and the light emitted was a fraction of their mains-powered equivalents.

Sadly we couldn’t recommend any of the lights that we tested, but we’re convinced there must be some decent solar lights out there. Do you have any solar garden lights or gadgets that really do work, even in the depths of winter? If so, we’d love to hear about them!


We have used these from The Solar Centre http://www.thesolarcentre.co.uk/pages/solar_fairy_lights.html
They have proved excellent. All last winter they came on at dusk and went off at dawn. There was enough solar generated electricity to keep the lights on all the hours of darkness. A variety of lighting options is available, twinkling, on/off, etc or you can have all in sequence. We have the multi coloured ones and they are bright and really colourful.
We started with a set of 100 and have been so pleased with them, that we’ve just bought a set of 200 for this year. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Sophie Gilbert says:
30 November 2010

Cheers, M. Fearneyhough. I was looking for such lights, so I’ll give them a go.

Yes, it’s good to hear there are some good ones around – thanks for the recommendation! Any others that people have tried?

T James says:
28 October 2012

I bought the same lights from this supplier & cant fault them. They light up at dusk even at the end of the darkest day & stayed on for hours. would definatly recommend & I will be prrchasing more shortly too

Solar Illuminations says:
3 May 2011

Let us first say that the Which report of December 2010 is very, very misleading. We do not feel that Which acted appropriately with the way in which they sourced and compared these products. They deliberately chose pretty much 13 of the cheapest sets of Solar Christmas Lights on the market and then basically said they are all junk. So let’s put this into perspective. If you go any find the cheapest version of anything it doesn’t take an intelligent person to know that it’s not going to be the highest quality or perform the best. For example, select 13 of the very cheapest and lowest specification laptop computers then put them to the test knowing that they will not perform as well as 13 of the highest priced or highest specifications laptops. You can’t then say the cheapest lowest spec’ed models are junk. They meet the needs of some people especially the budget conscious, for example.
The solar lights that Which decided to purchase from our company (Solar Illuminations) were almost the lowest priced, most basic model that we offer. We have never advertised them as being able to illuminate all night long, in the UK, in the middle of winter, no matter what the weather!
If any customer contacts us and requests solar Christmas lights that have the best chance of running from dusk to dawn even if the weather is poor, we would guide them to the right product. We specifically offer three models (XP03, XP07 and XP08) that are all capable of operating from dusk to dawn, in the UK, in the middle of winter. Had these models been selected they would have scored highly in the tests conducted by Which.
Instead Which chose the cheapest, most basic sets of lights across the board and slated all of them. They then make the bold statement that it’s the first time every product is a ‘DON’T BUY!’. It is irrelevant that Which appointed an independent agent to handle the testing.
We would like to add that Solar Illuminations was the first company in the world to introduce solar powered LED Christmas lights almost 8 years ago and the first company in the world to introduce solar rope light almost 5 years ago. The concepts are great and the products do work. The ideas have been copied over the years and there are some very cheap, poor quality versions out there. But, as always you get what you pay for and we all know that. Solar Illuminations offers a variety of solar Christmas lights across a broad price range. As much as we would only like to offer the highest quality best performing models, price often dictates and we have to offer lower grade versions priced accordingly for those that cannot afford to pay more.
Finally, to conclude, we would have preferred that Which consulted each vendor and selected higher grade products for its tests. The end results would be in complete contrast to what was published. We sincerely hope that this was a one-time error by Which (or it’s agent) or whether all their testing is conducted this way. If so, their reports leave much to be desired.

Sales Department
Solar Illuminations (UK)

Thanks for your comment Solar Illuminations. At Which? we don’t only test the best and most expensive products. In this case, we chose these particular styles of solar lights as they resembled popular mains powered ones that our readers would be familiar with.

All the solar lights we tested were sold as being suitable for winter use but in our tests, none were. We think consumers have a right to know this. If you’d like to discuss this issue with us further, please use our Contact Us form: https://conversation.which.co.uk/contact-us/

So why do you sell them? Clearly those buying your cheapest lights are going to be on the lowest income. Do they deserve items that don’t work? The fact you’ve come in here to write a really long reasoning smacks of “We got caught out and we’re not going to change our ways”.
Just because you sell low-priced lights, doesn’t mean they’re OK to work poorly.

bilbo says:
6 October 2011

To, Solar Illuminations

I guess the question has to be why do you sully your good product range with tat, either you are a market leader or you are a junk seller, why confuse the customer and indeed the market as to your market position. Moaning that Which tested one of your offerings is weak.

To Which, there is clearly a lot of confusion in the market about, battery types, size of solar panel and light types (LED etc), there is also a lot of junk spread all over the gardens of the UK some of which work and some of which do not even twinkle. Could you do some proper research into solar garden lights (and (I can’t believe I’m writing this) christmas/fairy lights) and give us all an update, there is no comparison website out there so you need to do it.

Solar Illuminations says:
16 October 2011

For your information we sell over 200 different solar powered products. Products costing from a pounds to thousands of pounds. It’s obvious there are different quality levels, just like with anything you buy. When you choose a new TV or computer you have the same such choices. Cheap, low cost, basic products or high-end more expensive ones. This is all common sense and something we all know so we are not sure why we are having to explain this to bilbo.
What we are trying to say is instead of testing the very cheapest solar Christmas lights that have specifications that are clearly not going to illuminate from dusk to dawn, a more higher quality set should have been tested. As always you get what you pay for. Solar Illuminations offers a selection of solar Christmas lights and some customers do not want dusk to dawn illumination or cannot afford the higher priced sets. Other customers want dusk to dawn lighting and are happy to pay a little extra for that.
If Which was really looking for something that worked great perhaps they should have selected higher priced fairy lights from fewer vendors. The overall results would have been very much different.
Finally, we would like to correct Which by saying that the set they tested was (and never has been) advertised as working for a specific amount of hours in the middle of winter. Instead, we have always said that the illumination time will vary and is subject to a variety of factors including geographic location, weather conditions, season and location of product. The product Which tested was affected by one or more of these factors unfortunately. However, had they tested our higher end solar fairy lights such as models XP03 or XP07 they would have seen them lighting up from dusk to dawn, even in the middle of winter in the UK!
On a final note, if a solar product is running from one or two AA or AAA batteries it WILL have limitations. That’s very obvious. All the solar fairy lights tested by Which all used these batteries as their power source hence similar results. Our XP03 and XP07 do not use such batteries which is why they cost more.

bilbo says:
16 October 2011

You miss the point, that you sell a wide range is merely demonstrating lack of a selection process. You are not offering the customer a service you are offering everything and letting the customer sort out the mess.

That you don’t understand why you have to explain this to me is not really a surprise either, “customers having a voice how dare they”.



Corinne says:
29 November 2012

We have lots of different solar lights in the garden which we have bought over the years from Ikea, and they are all really good. Our large lanterns are on their last legs now, but they have been in the garden now for over 2 years, so thats not too bad really.

Is there any likelyhood of Which? revisiting Outdoor Solar Lighting, given the proferation of products and choice available since they were last tested?



In 2010, when “Which?” carried out these tests, I possessed a Solar Powered Watch which never was able to keep any sort of time because the display turned off after about an Hour. In July of last Year (2013), I purchased from Amazon a Casio Solar Powered Watch which has kept perfect time since I’ve owned it.

Obviously, Technology has increased a lot in the four Years that “Which?” originally carried out these tests and I think “Which?” should test the products that are now on the British market, again.

I don’t agree with the Company that sells expensive Models opinion. Southampton Airport would hardly have purchased cost effective products to light their Runways and the fact that these lights work is axiomatic. “Which?”, I hope, is not around to test products which by their very nature and price, most average People can ill afford to purchase but rather everyday products that the average Human can. That Company’s choice of example: a cheap Laptop or TV is exactly why, I think, “Which?” should be around to test products. My £350 42″ Plasma Goodmans TV works as well and produces the same quality of picture as my £1,200 42″ Plasma LG one. If I’d read a report from any Consumer Comparison Website, like “Which?”, about these products, I would not have purchased the expensive LG 42″ Plasma.

Linda says:
5 November 2014

I am totally confused after reading all of the above ! Can someone explain to me why a solar lights needs a battery – when it is supposed to be solar powered?? I already own some battery fairy lights – so what would I gain from solar lights. It all sounds like a BIG con to me.

A battery is needed to operate lights when it gets dark.

LauraL says:
12 November 2014

Solar panels gather energy which is stored in a battery pack.

Linda, the solar cell simply produces electricity during daylight but does not store it for when it goes dark. The batteries are charged from the solar cell to do that job.

Looking back at this conversation – and as Christmas approaches – I take Solar Illuminations point about getting what you pay for. Their website shows cheap lights with information on likely lit time – up to 8 hours after several hours of sunshine (clearly not dusk to dawn at Christmas!). If you read their blurb then you should not be misled. But nothing in between those and expensive commercial sets, it seems, which is a pity; I dislike running extension cable around the garden to power our outside Christmas tree; decent solar powered lights would have been ideal.

I have had a cheapish solar powerd (wind-up for backup) radio which I use when gardening to listen to Classic FM. It works brilliantly after 6 years.

Y Moram says:
19 December 2014

I have bought some for the first time this year and they were great for…ONE night! They looked superb for about 6+ hours… next two nights nothing. Just had a sunny Dec day and only 0.47v in the fixed-in battery… so, thinking – how to do an upgrade? Maybe fit-in a rechargeable that can be removed and charged indoors… Ideally if I could fit a PP3 in as I have a spare clip with leads that could be soldered in series.. Maybe a pp3 (9v) that is only partially charged – would it blow the bulbs?? Any ideas?

Adrian Haw says:
11 December 2021

Just wondering, is that wind or wind powered back up? and do you grow radishes!!

Interested to read this dialogue. I tried to visit Solar Illuminations’ website but it seems the lights have gone out there. I want to buy some genuinely good quality garden solar lights and would be grateful if anyone can recommend some models/supplier. Thanks.

I bought some solar powered white LED Christmas lights in a sale for £12.99, more in hope than expectation. They last about 1.5 to 2 hours this time of the year. I was also bought a couple of solar-powered LED wall lights to stick on my gate posts – similarly tempered with pessimism – which also last around the same time. So they are both pretty useless and, when contacting suppliers, so far feel that you won’t get more than 6 hours or so even after a bright long summer’s day with fairly expensive ones – no use then in winter.

Two other solutions. Conserve stored power by using ones with presence detectors, so they only come on when someone or something moves nearby. Or use a decent sized solar panel and controller with a servicable car battery and run a 12v supply to your lights.
However, if someone knows a supplier with long-lasting wall lights I’d like to hear.

I am thinking of eating my words. Today was sunny and tonight – 11pm – one of the gate lights is still alight (the other is in shade so probably explains why it is out) and the white “Christmas” lights left on a bush are also still alight. So if they remain reliable it looks like for much of the year they might be useful. And they were both cheap :-D.

I have seen some solar fairy lights from the solar center that not only are designed for our winter they also can be recharged via usb . They do sell cheaper ones but their own Everbright has usb port. I am thinking of trying these , they start at £19.99 for 100 white which compared to the cheap tat isn’t much more. I like the idea you can get liitle flowers and butterflies to push on to personalize the leds.I will report back and let you know how they are.

Update – my fairy lights and gate lights all stay on well into the small hours. Given the price I am content. One of the gatelights got smashed by an incoming car, so I replaced it from Amazon. £6.77 for two including postage. So far it is also working as late as the other. How do they make them for that money?

Jasmine Waters says:
4 September 2015

Since this piece was written, solar lights and technology have come leaps and bounds. So much so, I find that no new decent articles are being written. As such I launched my own blog hoping to make things a bit clearer for the average searcher. http://www.solarpoweredgardenguide.co.uk/

Hi I feel very strongly that this article is out of date and does not represent the current view held by our customer base, we have spent years at Powerbee developing solar fairy lights specifically designed to work in UK winter. I believe the units tested in this were inferior cheap units, and that the test should now be re- run as our customers report that our lights really do work in winter.

Hello Nathan, you’re right that this conversation is out of date as it was published in 2010. We don’t currently plan to test these lights in the near future.

I think there are more important issues for Which? to tackle than the quality of solar-powered garden lights. At least this old Conversation provides the opportunity to continue the discussion.

Zen says:
5 June 2016

Most solar powered garden lights certainly cannot be described as environmentally friendly. I’ll keep it brief: the vast majority of these products last little longer than 1 or 2 seasons. Their usual problem is leaking. Rain or condensation builds up inside the devices & the electronics short out or rust away. I’ve had so many products from different sources, and most have died this way. The few that have managed to stay waterproof, have had the clear plastic layer over the solar panel haze over, due to UV light damage, preventing them from receiving sufficient sunlight to charge adequately. Even if you were lucky enough to find a product that lasts through the winter, you’ll need to ensure that the batteries are replaceable (as not all are) because cold weather &/or constant charge/discharge cycles are sure to make them die prematurely.

I’d hope that there are a few good products out there, but I’ve yet to come across them in any of the common UK retailers which sell them, and higher priced products don’t fair any better. They all seem to be designed by idiots/scammers in other countries who care little for their long-term durability & who are just interested in getting a quick sale.

I recently looked at one of the solar lights that a friend had bought recently and was disappointed to find that they contained nickel-cadmium cells. I thought that Ni-Cd had been phased out because cadmium is hazardous. When these cheap lights fail, I doubt that many people will extricate the battery for safe recycling.

7 years ago I purchased a string of blue solar lights from Tesco direct, since then I have only once replaced the 2 x AA rechareable batteries and are still going strong.
Wanting to have more solar lights I have recently (over the past few years) purchased other so called “quality” solar lights only to find after a short few months the Solar panel no longer works or the rechargeable batteries no longer accept the charge, Some of these units contain sealed batteries which are non replaceable. !!!
I wish I could find the name of the manufacture of the original Solar lights supplied by Tesco but unfortunately having enquired they do not keep records going back that length of time

I have been using these for more than a year and I am more than excited!

These are super bright and work all year long, even on not so sunny days.

Adanma says:
16 April 2017

I recently bought a 2 sets of lights from The Factory Outlet Shop; although they only lasted about 3 weeks, they did power up well most evenings and stayed on for up to 6 hours. As they were relatively quite inexpensive (around £12 for 6 or 7 metres of lights), I was not too upset but they should have lasted more than a month.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Duncan – It might be that you need to look under “The Original Factory Shop” – there are quite a few in the our part of the country [East Anglia] and they tend to have medium-sized sheds on the edges of medium-sized towns.

What are the most effective and reliable PIR lights compared with mains units?
Suggestions would be welcomed.
Dennis Mardon