Can Outdoor String Lights Get Wet?

Energy-Efficient Landscape Lighting - Green Illumination for Your Home

Do you want to install strings of light bulbs in your backyard or patio?  When you install lights, you must protect them from the outdoor weather. You need to be especially concerned about rainwater, because it can damage your lighting system.

Outdoor string lights do get wet from time to time, and if you want them to last longer, you must protect them from the elements. The most important thing to look out for before buying outdoor string lights is their Ingress Protection (IP) rating. 

The IP rating of outdoor lights indicates their level of protection against moisture and dirt. You must also ensure the cord you use with your lights has a rating that permits outdoor use. Read on to find out more about IP ratings and how they affect your outdoor string lights. 

IP Rating: What Does it Mean?

If you check your lights closely, you’ll see the letters IP on them. Two digits then follow the IP letters. The first digit indicates the resistance of the light to dust, while the second number shows its waterproof capacity. 

The higher these numbers are, the higher the level of protection for your lights against dust or moisture. Both these numbers are significant when you are buying outdoor lights, because these lights are highly exposed to both dust and moisture.  

You will want to buy lights with at least an IP65 rating. Manufacturers LED lights with a high rating are protected against foreign objects, dust, and water.

Protecting the Outdoor String Lights

Buying lights with a high IP rating is one thing, but protecting the lights is another thing altogether. If you don’t protect the lights well, they won’t last as long as you anticipated. Here are a few tips to keep your outdoor string lights safeguarded and secure. 

Use only extension cords rated for outdoor use

Extension cords transmit power to your lights. Just like the outdoor lights, extension cords also have ratings. Before you buy any extension cord, make sure the manufacturers rated it for outdoor use. Electricians specify outdoor cord coverings are either rubber, plastic, or vinyl. Manufacturers design outdoor lights so they can withstand wetter and rougher conditions than indoor lights.

To know whether your cord can withstand outdoor use, check its rating code. Manufacturers stamp the codes on the cords. If you see the letter W on the cords, their rating is for outdoor use. Do not buy a cord stamped with other letters for use outdoors. 

Use outdoor rate bulbs

Just like cords, bulbs also have ratings. Outdoor use bulbs have a C7 or C9 marking. Alternatively, you can use incandescent bulbs. They will work well so long as you don’t expose them to water, and remove them immediately after use. 

Where and when LED bulbs can find design applications depends on their safety rating. Damp-rated bulbs can work in most environments, while wet-rated bulbs are suitable for open-air environments. The wet-rated bulbs are waterproof, meaning water won’t damage them.

Avoid worn out strings

Never use strings with worn or weak wires because these are potential fire risks. You can use a tester to check the string lights for broken sockets, bad bulbs, and blown fuses. If you notice anything that’s not right, repair it immediately. 

Make sure the string lights are for outdoor use

Before putting any string lights in an open place, make sure they are for outdoor use. Look at their safety rating to confirm whether you can use them outdoors. String lights intended for open-area use include rope lights, patio light strings, and Christmas light strings. These string lights contain very strong and durable materials that can withstand harsh weather conditions.

Remember that not all Christmas string lights are manufacturer approved for open spaces outdoors. Before you use Christmas lights outside, confirm their rating. If you use the wrong Christmas lights outdoors, they can short-circuit or stop working if they become moist. Buy heavy-duty, commercial-grade string lights for outdoor use.

Never leave sockets open

Outdoor string lights use sockets that are located outside buildings. When you plug bulbs into the sockets, moisture and dust will not find their way into the sockets. However, if you unplug the bulbs and leave the sockets open, dust and moisture will invade the open sockets and short-circuit them.

If you have a socket that’s not in use, you can seal it using a waterproof material. You can also buy outdoor socket covers to protect your sockets. Again, if you have a light string that has failed to work, don’t remove it from the socket until you get a replacement. Leaving the socket open to the outdoors should be avoided at all costs. 

Don’t overload the circuits

Overloading your circuits can cause tripped circuit breakers, electric shorts, and electric fires. House circuits can handle between 15 to 20 amps. If the circuit in your home has a 20-amp rating, it means you can draw about 2400 watts. If the rating is 15 amps, it means you can draw up to 1800 watts on the circuit. 

You don’t need to draw the maximum wattage. It is advisable to stay at 80% of the maximum drawable wattage. Some outdoor outlets are based on shared circuits, while others have dedicated circuits. To avoid overload, spread your outdoor lights between circuits.

Protect all plugs from water

When installing your patio lights, it may be necessary to plug many lights together. If you do so, don’t leave any extension plugs exposed. You can use electrical tape to wrap them together. The tape will not only keep the lights together, but will also protect them against water.

Since electrical tape alone will not protect your plugs adequately, you can use cord protectors. If your system has power strips, you can use cord domes to protect them against water/moisture.

Other ways of protecting your string lights include:

  • Using insulated metal staples or hooks to hang string lights
  • Using GFCI outlets to protect your system against circuit failures
  • Not exceeding the maximum wattage
  • Storing the string lights well when they aren’t in use


There’s no better way of illuminating your outdoors than using outdoor string lights. Since weather happens outside constantly, the lights will occasionally encounter water. It’s essential to protect outdoor lights from moisture and dust to prevent electrical accidents. Using the tips above, you can keep your outdoor lighting safe for years to come.  

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