Why Solar Lights Have an On/off Switch

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Solar lights are becoming widespread and they now come in all shapes, sizes and styles. One feature you may have noticed though is an on/off switch. You are probably wondering, why would solar lights need an on/off switch? Don’t they automatically turn on when exposed to sunlight?

Solar lights have an on and off switch so you can turn it on or shut it off to preserve the battery. If a solar light does not have a switch, it means the device turn on and off automatically.

Do All Solar Lights Have an On/Off Switch?

As pointed out above, not all solar lights come with an on/off switch. If yours does not, it will turn on and off automatically. On the one hand that is very convenient. You just install the solar light and it will take care of the rest. The drawback is that it is hard to tell if the light is on or not. What if it is already morning and the light is still on?

There are many ways to find out if your solar light is on or off. Your product guide should have instructions. Another way is to cover the light with a cloth. If it is off, the light should turn on. That is the benefit of having an on/off switch, you can tell if the light is on or not. With a simple flick you can shut it off or turn it back on.

The point above is just one benefit of an on/off switch. Another is if you want or need to store the solar light away temporarily. While portable solar panels can be stored easily, with solar lights it is a bit different but just as convenient.

If there is heavy rain or snow, you should store the lights until the sun comes out again. With an on/off switch, it is just a matter of flicking on or off. No need to guess if it is running or not. If you turn off the switch, the light stops running period. Even the battery doesn’t get used, essential if you are storing the lights for some time. The last thing you want is to leave the battery running after storing the light, so a switch is crucial.

Should Solar Lights be On or Off?

This seems like an easy question to answer, right? Turn on the switch to run the solar light, turn it off to stop. But it’s not that simple because these devices have different designs. Some will still charge even if the switch is off. It sounds odd, but it makes sense in a way.

Solar lights work like solar panels, in that it converts the sun’s energy into usable electricity. Solar lights also store electricity in a battery for later use, just like PV modules. The difference is, some solar lights automatically charge the battery when you turn it off. It is a good thing though because it ensures the light carries a charge the next time you turn it on.

The process will vary from solar light to solar light, so check your user guide. Generally, though, if you turn of the light for a few days, that gives it enough time to fully charge. It is good practice fully charge solar panels and solar generators regularly, and the same for solar lights.

How Do You Turn On a Solar Light?

You take the solar light out of the box, press the switch and it will run. However there are a few things you need to do for optimum results.

When you take a solar light out of the packaging, it may or may not be charged. Check the manual, but there is probably an indicator on the light that will tell you if it is charged or not. If it is not charged, take the lights out, turn it on and let the sun fully charge it.

When the sun goes down, turn off the switch. Do this again the next day. But this time you can leave the light on at night. Why? Since you charged the lights consecutively, the battery is full and won’t run out during the evening. This is a nice feature especially if you use solar lights on plants.

All of this may sound complicated, but it is testament to the electronics in these fixtures. Mechanisms differ from one manufacturer to another, but all solar lights have electronics that control the switches. As the sun goes down, the light receives less and less power. When a predetermined point is hit, the electronics will turn on the light.

The same thing happens during the day. A photo resistor prevents the light from turning on during daytime. When the sun sets, the system sense it is night and will turn on the bulb. The specific steps may vary from light to light, but that is basically how it works.

How Do You Fix Solar Lights That Stays On?

If your solar light is turning on by itself or refuses to shut down, there may be a problem with the switch or other components. Before you call for technical help, try the following to see if you can fix it yourself. Most of the time any of the following tips will get your solar lights working again.

Damaged or Dirty Sensor

Solar lights that stay on or flicker on and off is probably due to a dirty or damaged sensor. Solar panels need cleaning and so do solar light sensors. If it’s dirty, clean it and that should resolve the problem. If that doesn’t work, the sensor might be damaged. It could have been knocked over or simply worn out. If cleaning doesn’t do it, you will have to buy a replacement sensor.

If the sensor isn’t working, a solar light won’t run, no matter how many times you turn the switch on and off. So this is where you should check first.

Caught Under Shade

If your solar light is under a tree or any type of shading, it might misconstrue this as night and turn on the switch. It’s absolutely essential that you place solar lights away from any shade. Place the solar light where it will be under direct sunlight. Leave it there for a few days and observe the sunlight. If the light isn’t getting enough, relocate it.

Remember to change the solar light’s position according to the season. There might be plenty of sunlight now because it’s summer. But a change might be needed when it’s spring time or fall.

Check the Switch For Signs of Damage

This might seem like stating the obvious, but some just forget about it. It’s not uncommon for household switches to cease working due to wear and tear. The same thing can happen with old or heavily used solar lights.

if the solar light is on, you might have forgotten to turn the switch off. Turn the switch on and off a few times. It might simply be loose. Usually this will fix the problem.

The Solar Light Needs to Recharge

Check if the light is carrying a charge. If it isn’t, turn it off and don’t use until it is fully charged. This might take a few hours or 3 days depending on how depleted the battery is. If the always-on problem has been a while, let the light rest for three days. Then try it again. If it doesn’t work, there may be a problem with the battery.

Faulty Battery

Solar lights that never go off could be a sign of a faulty battery. The most common indicators are the

  • Solar light switch doesn’t work, light is always on
  • The battery cannot hold a charge
  • The solar light stops working altogether

If any or all of this happens, the culprit is probably the battery or the sensor. Start with the sensor and follow the steps given earlier. If that doesn’t fix the issue, you probably have a worn out, malfunctioning battery. The best solution is to replace it. Solar light batteries are cheap, and it is more cost efficient to get a replacement than have it repaired.

We recommend the Tenergy Solla AA Rechargeable Battery as it is affordable and long lasting. A few of these should last for a while with your solar lights.

Did Water Seep in the System?

If it has been raining, water might have gotten inside the light, affecting its performance. Solar lights are waterproof, but a very heavy downpour can cause damage. If the solar light is wet, dry it off gently. Pay close attention to the sensor. Clean it but careful not to press too hard.

Try the light again. If there are still problems remove the detachable parts and dry thoroughly. Do not break the solar light apart as that could void the warranty and cause other problems. Look closely and you might see signs of water damage. In that case, the bet option is to have it replaced.


Solar lights continue to gain popularity, whether for aesthetics, serve a specific function or both. They are easy to use which helps explain their appeal. While it is understandable why some may get confused if it has an on/off switch, as we have shown here it is really easy to explain and serves a purpose.