Why Do Solar Lights Have An On/Off Switch?


Ever since I’ve run a solar blog I’ve been asked why do solar lights have an on/off switch, and I have to admit it struck me as funny at first too. But now that I’ve spent countless hours testing and reviewing solar lights it makes more sense to me. 

The main reason solar lights have an on/off switch is for user control. Most solar lights come on automatically when it gets dark out, but there are times when I prefer it dark, and having the off switch provides me with the flexibility to set the lighting exactly how I want it.

How to Use On/Off Switches On Solar Lights

image showing the location of an on/off switch on a solar light

The answer to this is pretty simple and they work like any normal on/off switch. But just to be sure, I’ll explain how to use the on/off switch on a solar light: 

  1. Find the on/off switch on your solar light. It’s most commonly located on the underside of the light, on or near the solar panel.
  2. Turn the switch to the “on” position to turn the light on. If its dark out the light will automatically turn on. If it’s day daytime you’ll need to cover the sensor to for the light to illuminate. 
  3. Turn the switch to the “off” position to deactivate the light. This is useful when you don’t want the light to turn on, such as when you’re enjoying the night stars.

Pro Tip: If you’re going on vacation or won’t be using your solar light for an extended period of time, turn it off to protect the battery. This is because your solar light battery has a limited amount of charge/drain cycles before it dies. So if you are going through those cycles when you don’t actually need the light you are wasting the battery’s power. 

How Do Solar Lights Automatically Turn On And Off?

One of the features that I love most about solar lights is that they turn on and off automatically at dark. Here’s how they do it:

The Light Sensor

The key to a solar light’s automatic operation is the light sensor. This sensor is typically located on the top of the solar light and it recognizes when the sun goes down and it gets dark. When the sensor detects darkness, it triggers a switch in the internal circuits of the light. You can easily see this in action and trigger that sensor by covering your finger over it and the lights will come on during the day

The Large Voltage Circuit

One circuit is tied to the solar panels and is called the Large Voltage Circuit. It powers the internal battery of the light during the day when the sun is shining. The large voltage circuit shuts off when the sensor triggers that it is dark, which means that it stops charging the battery.

The Small Voltage Circuit

When the large voltage circuit shuts off, the Small Voltage circuit turns on. The small voltage circuit is powered by the battery and sends power to the light. As long as the power in the battery exceeds the minimum threshold of power required by the light, it will shine. Check out this guide from an engineer that hacked the circuitry of a solar light to see how it worked.

Turning Off

The light will then turn off either when the battery’s power drops below the minimum threshold of the light (aka when the battery drains) or it will turn off when the sun comes back up and re-triggers the sensor, whichever comes first. Solar lights are designed to automatically turn on and off based on whether the sun is up or whether it is down. It’s a simple and efficient process that allows you to enjoy bright outdoor lighting without worrying about manually turning the lights on and off.

Related: How Do Solar Lights Work?

Why Would You Want To Turn Your Solar Lights Off?

To reduce glare: Solar lights can sometimes produce glare, especially if they are positioned at an angle that causes the light to shine directly into someone’s eyes. Turning off the light can reduce glare and make the area more comfortable.

To prevent light pollution: Even though solar lights are energy-efficient, they can still contribute to light pollution if they are too bright or if they are left on unnecessarily. Turning off the lights can help prevent light pollution and create a more natural environment.

To create a specific mood: Solar lights can be used to create a specific mood or atmosphere, but sometimes the lights can be too bright or too distracting. Turning off the lights can help create a more subtle and relaxing ambiance, especially in areas where people are trying to unwind and relax.


Do I need to turn my solar light off for it to charge?

No, you do not need to turn your solar light off for it to charge. Solar lights are designed to charge during the day when exposed to sunlight, and they will automatically turn on at night. However, if your solar light has an on/off switch, turning it off during the day could help it charge more efficiently, but it isn’t something I personally do.

Can I manually turn my solar light on during the day?

Yes, you can manually turn your solar light on during the day by covering the sensor with your finger or by switching it to the “on” position. To keep it running you’d need to permanently cover the sensor and electrical tape works great for that.

What should I do if my solar light doesn’t turn on?

First, take a deep breath, it could very easily be because the switch is in the off position, so check that first. Is it on? If it is and you’re still not getting light, ask yourself is it dark out? It is? Ok now onto the final inspection. Has the solar panel been exposed to direct sunlight for at least 8 hours with nothing obstructing it? Be sure to check for any film that may have been added by the manufacturer to protect it during shipping. If you’ve checked all those things and your solar light still isn’t coming on then you might have a faulty light or it may need replacement parts.

Why Do Solar Lights Have An On/Off Switch? My Final Thoughts

The on/off switch is a useful feature on solar lights and one that I look for whenever I’m adding installing outdoor solar lights. It provides flexibility for you to set a mood, gaze at the stars, or any other reason that you don’t want light at that moment.

Photo of author

Eric Thomas

Eric is the founder of the Simple Solar Living team and serves as our CEO & Chief Solar Officer. He is passionate about solar powered products and DIY solar projects, and took part in the Solar Energy Technician program at Bryan University. Eric is committed to sharing the benefits of going solar and is a steadfast advocate of clean renewable energy.