Solar garden lights have become incredibly cheap and widely available. If they stop working it can be tempting to throw them out and get some more. But problems can be fixed – which is better for the environment and your pocket.
And while solar lights may save energy, if you end up buying new ones every year the old ones just add to the growing mountain of plastic and metal that goes to landfill. So, before they go in the bin, try these simple repairs. And if you do need to dispose of unfixable ones, I have some tips for that too.
What you’ll need
- Spray penetrating oil
- Spray contact cleaner
- Replacement rechargeable batteries (if required)
- Clean cloth / kitchen roll
- Cocktail stick or spent match (trust me, you’ll thank me later)
Taking the light case off to clean
Lights would last longer if we stored them somewhere dry over the winter. but most of the time we leave them in the garden where they fall victim to damp and creepy crawlies.
Most standard javelin solar lights, which just stick straight into the ground, have plastic light casings that simply unscrew. Spray a clean cloth with a little penetrating oil and gently wipe the inside of the casing and around the light itself.
Check out the battery compartment
Batteries are normally in a small compartment that’s designed to be accessed. Don’t replace the batteries at this stage unless they’re showing signs of leakage.
Clean the compartment with your cloth sprayed with oil, paying particular attention to contact points. Remove any oxidisation with fine sandpaper wrapped round a cocktail stick or spent match (which allows you to work the sandpaper into small areas). Shiny metal contact points look pale grey if oxidised – these can often be restored to working order with cleaning. Brown staining denotes rust and is more likely to be terminal.
Getting to the wiring
To get into the wiring and connections you normally need a small crosshead screwdriver to remove the complete underside of the light. This is usually when the reason why your solar lights are not working becomes abundantly apparent.
Again, spray a dry clean cloth with penetrating oil and gently wipe clean. Don’t poke at connections too roughly and don’t use water or a damp cloth as it just introduces more moisture.
Once clean, gently spritz the main contact points with the contact cleaning spray. Then reassemble.
Test and then change batteries if necessary
Because both the oil and the contact cleaner have penetrating properties it can take a day or so for your lights to start working again. Leave them in the garden to charge.
If they still don’t work you can try changing the batteries. Not all rechargeable batteries are the same. Check what’s in there already. Solar batteries are typically Nickel Cadmium and should last about 2 years (longer, if you take care of your lights). Another tip I’ve learned is to switch your garden lights off for two or three days occasionally (there should be an on off switch on the bottom) as this lets the batteries fully charge up.
Disposing of unfixable solar lights
Despite your best efforts there will be lights that can’t be brought back into service, such as those which are heavily rusted (pictured).
I try and minimise what goes into the general rubbish by removing metal casings and stakes for metal recyling through my local tip and disposing of spent batteries safely (not in the rubbish). I’d put the plastic parts in a seperate bag as you may be able to put them in with electrical recycling rather than general household waste.