The holidays are a joyous time—friends and family, food, festive decorations (once they’re up, that is). Before you can actually enjoy them, you have to deal with the frustrations of burned-out bulbs, tangled wires, colors that don’t pop. One solution to kick off your holiday a little more smoothly is to start with the right lights. To help, we’ve tested some of the most popular LED and incandescent strings of lights to help sort out the differences.
What You Need to Know
Traditional Incandescent Versus LED Lights
Traditional “mini lights” use a tiny incandescent bulb that presses into a plastic socket. The contacts on the light bulb are thin wires that are bent back and contact the socket when the bulb is pressed in. There are some common issues with this type of light. For one, putting them up and taking them down can wiggle the bulbs and cause intermittent contact in the socket, making them go out or come back on. Even worse, if one bulb is out, a whole section of the string of lights will go out. With the larger lights (C7, C9) that screw in, the bulbs can loosen in the socket or possibly overheat, melting tinsel or plastic ornaments.
People often look to LED lights to solve their holiday lighting problems—because they use less power, you can connect more strings to create displays that would impress even Clark Griswold—but there are some issues to consider. One of the big ones is the “color” of white lights—typically, you’ll see white LED lights offered in warm, daylight, and cool. Daylight is generally going to look the whitest, while cool white trends toward blue, and warm white is more amber—like a traditional candle light. When it comes to multi-color lights, this isn’t as big an issue. However, if you light the traditional colors of incandescent mini lights, you’ll find the colors themselves aren’t quite the same. With larger LEDs, meant to mimic actual screw-in bulbs, the colors are a bit closer.
There are two kinds of wiring harness that string LED lights together. The first type is wired almost exactly like traditional mini lights; the LED sits inside a plastic “bulb” and is pressed into the mini light socket. Over time, these may develop some of the same intermittent contact issues of the incandescent lights—it is less likely, but still possible. The upside is that an LED can be replaced if it goes out. On the second type of LED light string, the LED is soldered right to the wire string, and then sealed. The benefit here is that there aren’t any wires or sockets to loosen, but if an LED goes out there’s no easy way to replace it.
Keep in mind: You should always refer to the manufacturer’s product information to determine exactly how many lights can be strung together.
How We Tested
Every holiday light string on this list has been tested and evaluated by our team of test editors. To select the lights, we researched the market, surveyed user reviews, and used our own experience with these types of string lighting to determine the best options. We selected typical examples of the various options and installed them on an artificial tree, stretching them out, stringing them up, lighting them, taking them down, and rolling them back up for storage. We evaluated the lights based on value, function, performance, aesthetics, and ease of use. Here are 10 we recommend.
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EDITORS' CHOICEBrizled Warm White/MultiColor LED String Lights
These LED lights from Brizled have a little something for just about everyone. The 66-foot string of lights features nine color/blinking functions, as well as a 3-step dimmer, a timer, and a remote control. The functions include steady on for both warm white and multi-colors, blinking for both, as well as several versions of blinking or fading with varied timing. The warm white was a pleasant color, not leaning too much toward yellow, and the colored LEDs were a little on the pastel side—as advertised. The wire strand is silver so it is a little obvious in daylight, but the light set is also offered with black wire, which will be less visible. The built-in timer will run the lights for 6 hours on, then 18 off. While these can be used outdoors, the plug and transformer/control box need to be protected from water.
BEST WHITE/CLEAR COLORNoma/Inliten Clear Christmas Mini Light Set
These are traditional white lights with incandescent bulbs. The package comes with two 37-foot, 150-light strands for a total of 300 lights. They include three blinking bulbs, three spare plain bulbs, and two fuses with each strand. The blinking bulbs replace a bulb on each end, and then one in the center, to make the strand blink. Using three bulbs in the sections causes the timing to vary from one section to another, so all the bulbs don’t go on and off together. Both the steady on and blinking modes worked as expected. The interesting thing we found was that when we stretched out the strand, to counteract the wire memory from packaging, we hit a point where that section of the strand went out. When we let go, they came back on. So, they bear some of the traditional frustrating characteristics, even when new. If you like plain white lights, they do look great though.
BEST LED, WARM WHITEYuletime Warm White LED Christmas String Lights
These lights from Yuletime are basically just like traditional mini lights, except with LEDs in bulb housings replacing the incandescent bulb. Due to this, there is a possibility of intermittent contact and lights flickering on/off, although try as we might, we could not get them to blink out. This set comes with 200 lights strung at a length of 66 feet, and does not have a blink option. The LEDs have a warm light, leaning toward an amber glow—by our judgment, slightly more yellow than traditional incandescent lights.
BEST TRADITIONAL COLORSNoma/Inliten Holiday Wonderland’s Mini Multi Color Christmas Light Set
Holiday Wonderland’s multicolor mini lights are traditional incandescent holiday lights. The package comes with two 37-foot, 150-light strands for a total of 300 lights. They include three blinking bulbs, three spare plain bulbs, and one fuse with each strand. We tried the blinking bulbs on each strand, but could not get them to blink—we even attempted to use bulbs from another kit, to no avail. We stretched out the kinks in both strings of light, and did not encounter any intermittent contact issues, although we would expect it would eventually be a possibility. The lights gave off a reassuring, familiar glow—if you like traditional multicolor mini lights, these are your lights. They can be used indoors, or out.
MOST VIBRANT LED COLORSLyhope LED Christmas Decorative Lights
Lyhope’s multicolor LED light string is fully sealed for indoor or outdoor use, although the plug should be connected in a waterproof receptacle. The 72-foot strand has 200 LEDs, and features eight lighting modes, including steady on, twinkle, sequential, slow glow, and fade. The wire strand is black, so it isn’t noticeable, and when strung on a tree it disappears. The colors are vibrant, and a little reminiscent of incandescent mini lights. And, just like traditional multicolor incandescent lights, there are no white/clear lights on this strand.
BEST LED, COOL WHITEYuletime Cool White LED Christmas String Lights
These performed exactly like the warm white option from Yuletime (above), except the cool white leaning toward bluish glow—which might be a bit of a surprise, if you’re not expecting it.
BEST LARGE BULB COLORBoutique Window C7 Christmas Lights
Boutique Window brings you classic, colored, big, holiday lights with screw-in glass bulbs. The light strand is 25-feet long with 27 bulbs, in five colors. The sockets have clips molded into them to help hang the lights and orient them the way you want. We haven’t used this style of light in a while and we forgot how much heat they generate. The thermal cycles being turned on and off can cause the bulbs to loosen, so if you have a bulb out, always check first that it’s tight. The set comes with two spare bulbs, which you'll likely use—the bulbs can break easily on hard surfaces. These lights are designed for indoor/outdoor use.
MOST DURABLE LARGE BULBSSylvania Stay-Lit Platinum LED String Lights
Sylvania has updated the classic big-bulb, colored, holiday lights with LEDs by creating a large, plastic, colored bulb that covers the small LED. We really like that the plastic “bulbs” could take being dropped on concrete without breaking, and that they were not hot to the touch—two big complaints about the old, glass bulbs. The lights were reasonably bright, but not lit as evenly as traditional, incandescent lights. Stay-Lit Platinum lights comes in a 33-foot length with 50 LED lights, in five colors, and are designed for both indoor and outdoor use. The light string will stay lit even if a light is loose, burnt out, or missing.
BEST SPECIALTY LIGHTSTwinkle Star Meteor Shower Icicle Lights
Twinkle Star’s Meteor Shower Icicle Lights will look pretty amazing hung in the right tree. The lights are designed for outdoor use, but there is no reason you couldn’t use them inside. Each string of lights is 8 feet long, with eight icicle tubes, just under 14 inches long each. You can string as many as five sets together with waterproof connectors. The lights are double-sided so they’re visible from any angle, and the LEDs illuminate in a downward sequence within each tube. We liked the pure white of the lights, leaning toward neither cool nor warm white. If you’re looking to step up your holiday light game this year, these icicle lights might do the trick.
BEST WARM WHITE ICICLE LIGHTSBaiYunPOY Led Icicle Lights
If you like this style of icicle lights, this set does away with incandescent bulbs in favor of LEDs. The light color is a pleasant warm white, similar to traditional bulbs. But, there are several advantages to LED icicle lights like this; because they are lower voltage, up to 44 sets can be strung together for 440 linear feet of lighting; LEDs don’t build up heat like incandescent bulbs; they are sealed better for outdoor use; and they have multiple pre-programmed blink modes. The 10-foot light string has a 16-foot lead to reach an outlet, and 24 drops (icicles) with three to six lights each. If you’re stringing sets together, you’ll need to wind up that 16-foot lead to keep the drop spacing consistent. The only frustration we encountered had to do with getting the drops to hang straight—they had a lot of “memory” from being wound up tight in the packaging. Clearly, this is not something that bothers everyone, judging by the installations we’ve observed out in the wild.
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