How long do solar lights stay on at night?

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How long do solar lights stay on at night? It’s impossible to give a one-size-fits-all answer because there are many factors involved. 

As an attempt at a short answer for the busy reader: Assuming the solar panel is well placed, a solar light should provide between 6 and 8 hours of ‘always on’ operation. 

If long life from a single charge is a priority for you, then look for solar lights that include variable brightness modes and – even better – motion sensing technology.

That’s the short answer. Now for a more detailed look.

How many hours can solar lights stay on?

Oversimplified, it comes down to this:

Run time = hours of battery capacity ÷ hourly power use. 

Notice that there are two factors to think about. 

Battery capacity is measured in milliamp hours ( mAh ) and will be clearly indicated on the battery or product information page of the solar light. The higher the mAh rating, the greater the capacity of the battery.

Hourly power use is more difficult to put a number on. It depends on factors such as:

How many LEDs does the solar light have? A light with 12 LEDs is going to draw roughly twice as much power as a light with only 6 LEDs.

How intensely is the solar light shining? Some lights have a “dim” setting, and this will greatly prolong the life of the battery. In fact, cutting the brightness in half will more than double the hours of light. Why? Think of the difference between the maximum time you can spend walking versus your limit when jogging at twice that speed. We can walk for hours. Jogging or running is a different story.

So, how many hours does a solar light stay on?

Well, if for example the battery pack has a capacity of 1200 mAh and the light draws 200 mA per hour, then we would expect about 6 hours of light from the batteries. A little less actually, because the circuit board itself is also drawing a small amount of power from the battery.

In practice, well placed lights with batteries that are still in good shape should be able to stay on for 6 to 8 hours, unless the weather has been terrible. And well made solar motion sensing or street lights can operate upwards of 20 hours because they make intelligent use of motion sensing technology and variable brightness modes.

Do any solar lights stay on all night?

There are many different kinds of solar lights. Among the most common are solar street lights, solar powered motion sensing security lights, solar landscape spotlights, solar path lights, solar driveway lights, and solar powered string lights.

These products differ greatly in their brightness, typical battery capacity, and ability to switch between different modes of lighting.

If maximizing the hours of service each day from your lights is a priority for you, then we would recommend looking for lights with variable brightness modes, and/or motion sensing technology. 

Product types that include these features include:

Motion sensing security lights. These can easily function all the way through until dawn because they’re resting most of the time, either completely off or else on a “dim” setting. There are many excellent products available in this category.

Some solar flood or street lights also have motion detection and allow you to choose between different lighting modes. Look for a light with a large mAh rating – some solar lights in this category boast battery capacity of 32,000 and even 40,000 mAh, another factor that helps them get through the night.

We have written a whole article dedicated to the topic of solar powered street lights.

As for solar powered landscape lights, a favorite for long life is the Litom 12 LED model. It has two brightness modes. Under ideal conditions, the lights are advertised as providing 12 hours of light on the low setting. In real world conditions it is likely to be less, but is still going to do better than a light running at full brightness all the time. And if you really need the bright mode for some occasion, it’s as simple as flipping a switch.

Though there are exceptions, path lights tend to struggle to make it through the night. These lights tend to have small solar panels and low battery capacity. You can boost performance somewhat by replacing the stock batteries with something that has a slightly higher mAh rating (don’t overdo it). But these lights tend not to have the variable lighting modes that are pretty much standard on motion sensing security lights.

Conclusion: How long do solar lights stay on at night?

It’s impossible to answer the question with a single number, but now you have some idea of the key features that make a light more likely to make it through the night. Namely, variable brightness modes, motion sensing technology and a battery that’s up to the job.

Since they lack the above features, most landscape spotlights and garden path lights are not going to stay on for more than 8 hours. But do you need them to? In most cases, 8 hours is enough to enjoy the appearance and safety benefits of the lights until you’re in bed, and then some. If security is a concern, then add a motion sensing solar light into the mix and you’re covered.

Thank you for reading.

Before you go…

In the above article we have focused on the question of hours of service from a single charge. You might also be interested in our article, “How long do solar lights last?” where we dive into the equally important question of product lifespan, rather than daily hours of service.

You might also enjoy The best solar lights of 2022, our round up of some of the most exciting solar lights available.

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