I went kind of crazy this year decorating my garden with thrift store glassware glued together alongside solar powered lights. I am in love with the solar powered LED strings with lots of little lights (commonly called fairy lights)! There are a ton of options on the market, and it was overwhelming when I started shopping, figuring out the best models based on price and features. I’m now presenting you with a list of what I’ve learned and found useful. There are affiliate links to Amazon and eBay that I may receive money from, but I am not being directly paid for writing this post and am presenting my unbiased recommendations.
Battery type. Light strings can be either solar powered (batteries recharged by sunlight), or non-recharging units that need the batteries to be manually changed when they run out of power. Solar lights typically have AA or AAA size rechargeable batteries, NiMH or Li+. I prefer NiMH because they are not toxic and don’t require special disposal. Non-recharging light strings can be powered by AA, AAA, or watch batteries like CR2032. Lights may be sold without batteries – be sure to check the description of the kind you are buying. Another option on the market is just an electrical plug to put in a wall socket, or a USB plug.
Indoor/outdoor. Outdoor lights have a gasket sealed battery compartment. Note that outdoor does not mean solar (a distinction that confused me at first). Outdoor just means that the power box is waterproof. It could be solar powered, or have batteries that need to be manually replaced. You can also have solar lights that are not rated for outdoor use – sometimes I have seen this in decorative hanging lanterns. (I have used these outside and the world didn’t end, but the light may have a shorter lifespan because of water damaging the solar charger unit.)
Timer and remote features. Solar lights are generally turned on and left that way. Most have sensors so that they turn on when light levels are low, and then will run as long as they have energy for or until light levels come back up. Non-recharging lights can have a basic on/off switch/button that needs to be manually operated; OR they might have an onboard timer feature (which is often a preset 8 hours on/16 hours off); OR they could be remote operated (besides on/off, remote options may include color, modes, brightness, and/or timer options.)
Modes. May be a basic on/off, or include various other modes like blinking, fading, brightness, and any number of pattern variations.
LED size. Usually fairy lights come with 5mm wide angle mini LED lights or tiny micro LEDs.
Bulb decoration. These are typically not intrinsic to the bulbs & string; they are usually decorative bulb caps that pop on and off.
Shape of battery box. In many solar powered lights, the solar panel is a square with a detachable plastic stake. Solar panels can also be found in special mason jar, wine bottle cork, or light bulb socket shaped packages. Non-recharging units have a basic plastic box to hold the batteries (there may or may not be screws involved).
Number of lights and length of string. These are commonly found lights and lengths, but different manufacturers may vary.
10 LED/1.5 m/5 ft
20 LED/2 m/6 ft
50 LED/5 m/16.5ft
100 LED/10 m/33 ft
200 LED/20 m/66 ft
400 LED/50 m/164 ft
Wire or coated wire. Uncoated wire is dainty and pretty, but breaks fairly easily. Wire color can be gold, silver, or copper. You can also buy lights with coated wire, either transparent so that the wire color shows through, or opaque like white, green, or black.
Colors. Lights come in all colors. You can shop around for cool white, warm white, blue, green, red, yellow, orange, purple, pink, multi-color.
There are lots of beautiful uses for fairy lights. Throw a light string in various glass or other containers! String one up in a fairy garden and/or terrarium. Place on trees/plants, indoor and out. A personal favorite of mine is to take a lantern and add a statue, lights, and other gewgaws for a mini shrine or diorama.
I usually buy mine from various sellers on eBay and Amazon. You can also try Etsy, Walmart, Target, or craft stores like Michael’s and Hobby Lobby. They’re popular right now, complementing the whole succulent terrarium fad, so they’re pretty much everywhere. If you’re shopping in person, note that stores might have different options in different departments, so look around. Check party decorating, home decor, and lawn & garden areas.
These are some Amazon and eBay searches to get you started. (“Battery” here refers to non-recharging units.)
Mason Jar Lid Solar on Amazon/eBay
Mason Jar Lid Battery on Amazon/eBay
Wine Cork Solar on Amazon/eBay
Wine Cork Battery on Amazon/eBay
10 LED Solar on Amazon/eBay
10 LED Battery on Amazon/eBay
20 LED Solar on Amazon/eBay
20 LED Battery on Amazon/eBay
50 LED Solar on Amazon/eBay
50 LED Battery on Amazon/eBay
100 LED Solar on Amazon/eBay
100 LED Battery on Amazon/eBay
200 LED Solar on Amazon/eBay
200 LED Battery on Amazon/eBay
400 LED Solar on Amazon/eBay
400 LED Battery on Amazon/eBay