Rejuvenating solar garden lights — with nail polish!

Solar LED garden lights are everywhere these days, and by ‘everywhere’ I mean ‘in our yard.’  We’ve had some for a few years now, and simply through exposure to the elements, the plastic that covers the solar cells becomes so opaque that only a small amount of light gets to them any more.  With the solar cells deprived of even that meager light that we get in Massachusetts in the winter, the solar cells don’t recharge the battery, the battery doesn’t power the LED, the LED doesn’t light up, and our yard has a serious bling deficiency.  Eleanor and I took our solar garden lights inside to see if we could make them bright again somehow.

My first thought when confronting the frosted-over plastic was to try to ‘polish’ it with a fine-grit sandpaper.  I had 400-grit handy and tried it on one cell, the bottom one in this picture.  The top shows how weathered the cells were to start.

Solar garden lights, all 'frosted' over

The sanding helped a little.  Then I rinsed the sanded plastic dust off with water in the sink, and while it was wet it looked great, but as it dried it became frosted and opaque again.  Thinking that perhaps we could use a mild plastic solvent to ‘polish’ the rough surface, I dabbed the solar cells with acetone, but again, as soon as it dried, the surface went from clear to cloudy again.  “We need some way to keep it ‘looking wet’ even when it’s dry,” I mused.  Eleanor got a wide-eyed LIGHTBULB! look in her eyes, and grabbed a bottle of clear nail polish!  She applied a few test swatches.

Nail polish on solar cells?

The nail polish made the weathered old solar cells crystal clear again!  I held the lights while Eleanor applied an even coat of nail polish to all the solar cells.  It really didn’t matter whether the cells had been sanded or not, so we didn’t bother.

Using nail polish to rejuvinate solar cells

A few minutes later, the polish was dry, and we planted the lights outside again.  You can see how completely clear the solar cells are.  Our only concern was that the nail polish might block the UV light that provides a good portion of the solar energy to the cells.

Rejuvinated solar cells soaking up sunlight

We waited for twilight to fall, and when we checked the lights: success!

Fully-recharged solar light glowing brightly!

Even though it was mid-February the solar cells were now getting enough light to make the LEDs glow brightly!  The solar cell rejuvenation project was a total success, and once we figured out how to make the cells ‘clear’ again, it was a quick and easy.

So what did we learn? We learned that ‘frosted’ plastic reflects precious light away from the solar cells; clean, clear solar cells can capture much more light.  Clear nail polish is perfect for rejuvenating plastic-covered solar cells that have become weathered and dull. Some of the solar garden lights they sell have glass covers, and we speculated that they probably (1) are much more resistant to weathering, and (2) probably should be ‘cleaned’ differently from the plastic ones.  Sometimes you need to try one thing to find out what you need to try next.  Sometimes restating the problem out loud to someone else can give them new ideas.  During the dim, dark Massachusetts winter, having bright, cheery little lights in the yard is great.

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128 Comments on “Rejuvenating solar garden lights — with nail polish!”

  1. beth says:

    Just fantastic. Thank you so much for sharing!!

    • Debra says:

      Oh my gosh! When we got ours the first thing I did was remove that little flimsy piece of plastic! Was I not supposed to? As they haven’t been very vibrant at all. :/

      • Trish says:

        Debra. they all come with a little plastic tab to pull to activate the batteries. Other than that, nothing else should be taken off.

      • Jean says:

        Do remove the plastic film. I live in Arizona and did not take it off the 1st ones I got. The plastic film will fuse to the solar collector and it will become opaque very quickly. A nightmare to remove once fused.

    • JODI says:

      I polished mine that no longer worked, and they still don’t work.

  2. andreikmy says:

    Great tip for Outdoor Solar Lights fans!!! I will post your link to my article about Solar Powered Lights http://www.squidoo.com/funny-solar-lights-for-garden-or-patio I hope is no problem, I want only to help :)

  3. P.Cunningham says:

    rather genius I’d say. thanks!

  4. Andrea C. says:

    What a great tip! Can’t wait to share the tip with my friends.

  5. Rosemarie Burke says:

    Great idea, can’t wait to try it.

  6. Heatha says:

    OMG! Searching for the polish now, thrown so many away!

  7. Phil says:

    How does the polish hold up to the weather over time? Did it cloud up quickly or not?

    • kriegsman says:

      Phil- The nail polish held up for at least one season before it started clouding over. I’ll let you know what we do next, and what happens, whether it’s a second coat of nail polish, or something else. Thanks for asking!

      • Phil says:

        Thanks. I’ve got 12 deck lights that need rejuvenating. I like the idea of the nail polish, but if it can’t be done more than once, because the cloudy polish cant be rejuvenated, I’ll have to find another way. Perhaps using car headlight restorer would work.

      • kriegsman says:

        I’ll give it a try and let you know.

      • Carlotta says:

        To Phil… I’ve read that car headlights can be rejuvenated by using toothpaste on the. I haven’t tried it yet, but I wonder if this would also work on this part of the solar light. If anyone tries it, please post how it works.

      • Carrie Duncan says:

        to do this more than once I would suggest removing the old nail polish with NON acetone nail polish remover, then re applying new polish. NON acetone remover shouldn’t increase the cloudiness of the solar cover

      • terry nelson says:

        i know it sounds funny but i have used gojo hand cleaner it puts the patrolium back into the plastic i use it on my 1977 harley speedo and rpm guage the clear plastic dullys after time gojo rejuvenates them so i can see…..

      • caryl cook says:

        Sounds great. Maybe when the nail polish becomes cloudy try removing it with nail polish remover and re-coating with the cleat polish again. Just a thought.

      • Connie says:

        I wonder if this would work on the solar lights like it does on headlights. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iUNiaYrzFQ

    • Amanda says:

      How about removing the old polish with nail polish remover and then reapplying? Worth a try :)

    • Frank D. says:

      for redoing the solar cells I sand the plastic using 2000 grit wet sanding when rinsed and dry paint with clear polish or mask of the cell and spry it with clear coat spry works for me

  8. Nancy Rozof says:

    Thanks to you and Eleanor!

  9. Judy says:

    you have saved my yard from going dark. i keep buying new and some of those are expensive
    .. I am for sure using this fantastic idea thanks for sharing it with us…

  10. Cheri Jerolamon says:

    Thanks so much for the idea…I really cannot tell you how many I have thrown away that could have been saved.

    • I am hoping I have not thrown out my lights….I am excited to give this tip a try…
      The lights are in the shed….The shed is covered in snow !!!….IT IS WINTER !! .. Ha Ha…
      Will wait until SPRING ??? to find the lights…

  11. dee gardener says:

    Oh love this! I have bought so many solar lights like this because at night I can still imagine being in the garden! :)

  12. jim says:

    what about toothpaste like they use to restore car headlights. just rub on and wipr off

    • Pamela says:

      I’ve tried that, and it doesn’t work. :(

    • Jodi says:

      You rub it on & wipe it off. Because toothpaste has some grit to it, it works like a very light sandpaper/abrasive. You have to use regular toothpaste, though. It can’t be gel & it can’t have whitener or any of that other fancy stuff in it. Just plain old regular toothpaste. It worked on my headlights. :-)

      • L. gonzalez says:

        My tire dealer shined up my headlights (yesterday) using Repel Mosquito Spray, spray on and rub off. Wonder if it will work on the solar lights too? Am going to try both ideas!

  13. cindy says:

    thank you going to try this soon,,

  14. astrid says:

    thanks for the idea, i’m going to try this as well!!

  15. Cherry says:

    I have used toothpaste to clean the plastic on the solar lights and it works great! I don’t have to put nail polish on to keep them shiny.

    • Crystal says:

      When you use toothpaste it has to be old day brands. Not this new paste with all these toxins in them it wont work like the old plain type they still have it. The Nail Polish (clear kind) works great.

  16. Sp0iler says:

    Great tip.
    Just to add a thought, car rubbing compound will do it all in one swipe.This will also work well on car headlights that are showing that “weathered”

  17. Kristen says:

    Hello, I just stumbled across this on Pinterest, and thought it was a brilliant idea. Since it hasn’t been addressed though (since i’m WAY too into nails than should be shared lol) I thought I’d give some friendly advice on the polish. Most inexpensive (i.e. under $5) clear polishes, those found at say Wal-mart or a drug store, would be your best bet. This is because cheaper polishes tend to absorb UV. Higher end brands or salon brands reflect UV, and if the polish you find does this it will usually say somewhere about UV on the bottle or box. For instance, the brands I use are about $8 a bottle because of this. They do this so the polish doesn’t yellow with exposure to UV, which if you’ve ever had fake nails, you’d know what I mean, since they tend to be kept longer than polished real nails. As for the clouded after the season, my suggestion would be to just remove the polish with nail polish remover and reapply. I’m sure it’ll work again, or it should. All in all it’s a pretty inexpensive solution, even if you have to reapply.

    • Marty says:

      Kristen, I understand being WAY too into nails….LOL. Wore them since the early 80s until one year ago….quite the change. But, yes, you are right about the “better” polishes reflecting the UV rays and that’s why we pay more for it….no yellowing. I just pulled up 8 of my yard lights to clean and see if I could decide why they aren’t burning or aren’t burning much. Thought I’d go by new batteries (which won’t be cheap, I’m sure)…but I will try this tip first. And yes, if you are going to remove it, I think non-acetone would be the one to use.

  18. BB says:

    WD-40 works better.

  19. brennan says:

    400 grit sandpaper is way too rough to buff out plastic. You need 800 then 1600 wet paper to smooth it. Then use a car product like a good wax that is intended for out door use.
    Nail polish or varnish of any kind will make it look fine short term but was not designed to stay clear in direct sunlight so it will become opaque and it’s surface will roughen. The end result will be in a few years more plastic that is blocking light.

  20. innercity51 says:

    Thank you, we have the same kind.

  21. Deb says:

    Awsome, I’m fixing mine right now. Thanks

  22. Lynne Woodhall says:

    sounds a great idea..I can buy solar lights for my garden for $2 to $5. depending on design etc. i had about 12 here & there in my yard & they looked great…. they changed color as well. reds greens blues etc etc BUT after a few months they went dull then finally died. i found out that they had a battery, a recharge battery was needed to recharge them. the battery in the purchased ones were just a normal battery so of course they died. NOW, to purchase a recharge battery is way way way more expensive then replacing the solar light.. so hence I either dont replace my solar lights OR i continue to purchase a new solar light once another one has died..

  23. Lwyo says:

    Toothpaste scrub followed by windex works better. I replace the batteries also because my solar lights are$15 each . They usually last 1-2 years.

  24. […] as bright as they used to be, try rejuvenating them with sand paper and nail polish!  Check out this blog for the step-by-step […]

  25. Virgil Frost says:

    THANK YOU!!! This just saved one of my favorite lawn decorations… The lighthouse my wife bought for me when we first met 6 years ago!

  26. […] Rejuvenating Solar Garden Lights That No Longer Charge […]

  27. Sherry says:

    I clean mine off with “Magic Erasers”.. they work great and just clean them when they quit lighting up. Mine usually last a whole season or two before I have to do it again.

    • linda says:

      what are magic erasers?

      • Sherry says:

        I’m sorry I didn’t know I had a question. Around here in Wisconsin you can buy them in quite a few stores. ( Grocery stores, Menards)On the box cover it says Mr. Clean Magic ERASER, which are household cleaning pads. They have different ones to pick from. I like the ones that have a blue layer on top of a white pad the best. It seems to make them a little stronger. All you do is add a little water and rub a little. I also use these to clean the spider marks off of my house and then hose the area down.

      • Teresa says:

        You can also pick up “erasers” at Dollar Tree Stores, two to a box for $1.

  28. Jackie M says:

    Just did magic eraser on 2 of them and nail polish on 1. Thank you all for the advice.

  29. Darla says:

    You can clean solar landscape panels with 1/4 cup or vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon of dish soap, and two cups of water in a spray bottle. Spray the panel and let the vinegar solution soak in for a few minutes before wiping with a sponge or soft scrubber and then rinse and dry. You might have to repeat the procces for heavily soiled panels but it does take a lot of the ” white” away..

  30. Cathy says:

    I have a lot of solar lights as well… when mine stopped lighting up, I took them in the house and cleaned the solar panels with a clean cloth, changed the batteries.. Then I took some wide clear Packaging tape and put a strip over the Solar panel… I did it that months ago and they are shinning Bright as ever… I also have a Solar class ball / wind chime that changes color.. It feel apart after a few years… I replace the string that holds the chimes with heavy gage fishing line and also installed a new battery… I did that months ago also… Still shinning bright as ever… I love my outdoor Solar walk way lights.. Also I bought 5 pathway solar lights for $3, at a yard sale.. They didn’t work… So I did the same thing to them also.. I got all but one working ..

  31. Michael says:

    Could you try using “nail polish remover” to take off “old” polish and re-new again. .? Just a thought

  32. Dan Johnson says:

    Amazing, I also have those solar spotlights with solar panels black and almost no light in the nighttime, will definitely try this!

  33. Cool idea about the nail polisher, like it!

    I put some transparant (packaging) tape on the panels, so if the tape gets dirty I just replace it with new ones.

  34. Diane says:

    I tried this and it didn’t work. Tried the WD 40 and it didn’t work either.

  35. Denny Rogers says:

    Buy a small amount of exterior grade water based polyurethane and coat the panels.
    It will last 3 or 4 seasons.

  36. FARose says:

    Smart girl! I’m on my way with the clear nail polish now. Thanks!

  37. Elaine says:

    Oh Yes. Definately going to try this. Thank You

  38. Fred says:

    Do the solor lights need direct sun to work? I put 8 solor lights up during the summer, when there was direct sunlight… We have lots of trees and bushes and this time of year several of them are not getting direct sunlight due to the angle of the sun from dawn to dusk. Should they charge in non direct sun?

  39. Solar lights are built with an advanced technology in use, such as the Light Emitting Diode tech. Hence, even minimal maintenance assures long time quality service from these alternative fixtures. And with your ingenious “nail polish” technique, it has added more years to your solar garden lights. They are sure to deliver the brightest illumination that’s expected of them.

  40. Cara-lyn says:

    Thank you so much for this tip. I have ‘polished’ my solar light panels. Fingers crossed.

  41. Karen Leist says:

    I wonder if clear Spar Varnish would work and it’s made for outdoors.

  42. Anita Bailey says:

    Thanks! I’m going to do mine today!

  43. Verona says:

    What’s up, yup this piece of writing is actually nice and
    I have learned lot of things from it about blogging. thanks.

  44. Elizabeth Bidgood says:

    There is something called Wenol silver polish,Just rub some one the area in question and that should work too!

  45. Annette says:

    I wonder if this would work on head lights as well I have tried everything from sand paper to brake fluid and tooth paste I might just give it a try anyways what’s the chances

  46. Try Wenol silver polish! It works like a charm!

  47. Cynthia says:

    Love the idea. Will try it as soon as I can. My husband said “I guess we will have to through them away.” I will certainly surprise him.

  48. Glo says:

    I tried it on mine and they are brighter than before. Thanks. By the way, the plastic was old and discolored so I gave them a good paint and they look brand new!!

  49. […] Your solar lights will likely get weathered and cloudy over time. Read more about it here. […]

  50. Amie says:

    I wonder if clear coating like in a spray paint can I think it is Rustoleum brand would work?? I think you spray it on stuff to give it a glossy finish. I used it out at the cemetery on old figurines and flowers but I bet it would work on the solar lights too! Going to try it, I have cloudy ones I was about to throw away! Going to try clear polish too!

  51. […] Your solar lights will likely get weathered and cloudy over time. Read more about ithere. […]

  52. […] Your solar lights will likely get weathered and cloudy over time. Read more about ithere. […]

  53. […] Your solar lights will likely get weathered and cloudy over time. Read more about it here. […]

  54. j says:

    Excellent. Thanks to all who shared their wisdom.

  55. […] Your solar lights will likely get weathered and cloudy over time. Read more about ithere. […]

  56. […] Your solar lights will likely get weathered and cloudy over time. Read more about it here. […]

  57. […] 12 – Colocar verniz das unhas transparente nas células fotovoltaicas dos candeeiros solares para rejuvenescer as luzes (Lê mais aqui:  blog.kriegsman.org) […]

  58. Ash Harrison says:

    Wow for that, just kept buying new ones so must try this. Thank You

  59. Rick says:

    I recharge the batteries about once a season in a battery charger, clean the solar panel and coat with clear automotive spray from auto zone which is uv resistant.

  60. Anjmacz says:

    Reblogged this on Modern Mountain Woman and commented:
    I ran across this and am going to try it. Thought I would share.

  61. betty telle says:

    Should we paint them with nail polish when we first buy them?????

  62. What a helpful article. Thank you!
    \

  63. Cathy Mierzwiak says:

    Try the same product they put in headlights on your car to restore.

  64. Edna says:

    Shoot! I thought our batteries were dead and threw them out!

  65. delta says:

    Change the rechargeable battery inside. They have a life n’ need to be changed every other year.

  66. Well, this is interesting. I was just ready to throw away my solar lights. I will try the toothpaste & then the nail polish

  67. llh4800 says:

    Thanks for this info! Glad I kept the ones that don’t work.

  68. Kathy says:

    I wonder if this might also work for a solar powered water fountain !!??

  69. Lesia Higgins says:

    I am confused. Do you apply the polish on the outside of the plastic cover, or somewhere on the inside of the light itself? If you polish the frosty part of the plastic, you may not see it, but it will still be there if it can’t be removed, or am I perceiving this wrong?

    • Debi says:

      Lesia, you are coating the clear part of the solar panel. The part where the sun needs to reach to charge the batteries. It usually has what look kinda like wires under clear plastic when they are new. They are different on each light but basically look the same for each item that is solar operated. Sometimes you need to take the batteries out to check them also. If they are leaking you will need to get new ones and clean the contact areas. I use a regular pencil eraser to clean them well and then put the good batteries in, or put new ones in.

  70. wouldn’t clear varnish or acrylic paint paint do the same thing?….

  71. Also…so glad i came across this because just yesterday i purchased some solar butterflies, dragonflies & hummingbirds…

  72. […] Rejuvenating solar garden lights — with nail polish! | blog.kriegsman.org. […]

  73. Perri Booth says:

    I read this on this site and I tried it. I could not believe how great it worked. After about a week I got a yellow coating on my solar panel and the lights did not get very bright. I put more (clear) nail polish on, it did take the yellow away for a few days and then it did come back. Now I have to try nail polish remover to see if I can get the yellow off. I don’t think I will be doing this again.

  74. Kris Taylor says:

    I am so going to try this! But does anyone know why some solar lights after time come on in daylight and then NOT after dark???

  75. Rick Eberhardt says:

    I’m wondering if the stuff they use to defog headlights might work.

  76. Mikey says:

    Tried it ..didn’t work. Any other bright ideas?

  77. john says:

    lovely idea will try it,but, can anyone help with water in headlamps of vw beetle garden light,
    cant seem to remove them to drain or change lamps.
    thanks

  78. Lora says:

    Take your batteries out and put them on a charger for a day, makes a world of difference too! Some of my lights are 5-6 years old and were not working at all, so I pulled all 75 of my lights cleaned them all up charged them all on the charger and waa laa they all are working wonderfully!

    • Wendy says:

      thanks for adding info and not just a comment on the ‘idea’ of using nail polish. Sheesh, people, just comment when you really have something to add-we’re trying to find out if it works, not if you think it will work.

  79. Armand says:

    Will definitely advise my customers to follow your tips. Thanks

  80. cathy says:

    I used toothpaste, then Magic Eraser then Rain-x windshield protectant. It took about 5 minutes and they are like new. I also changed the batteries.

  81. Janice Leathers says:

    Lighter Fluid may help. It will take off tags, labels and does not affect the plastic .. Try on a small area first ..

  82. Denise says:

    I saw somewhere for foggy headlights, (they are plastic) you can use bug spray with deet. Makes them clear again.

  83. Kathleen says:

    Another option. Purchase one of the kits you can use to rejuvenate you headlights. Works like magic.

  84. Robert says:

    Should I put the garden solar lights insude for the winter


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