Is it safe to cut string lights hanging over your deck?

Any of the many outdoor lighting options out there have the capacity to transform any backyard, deck, or patio into something remarkably beautiful. But have you ever bought a string of lights only to have it be slightly too long for where you want to hang it? And then you have to decide where to put the excess portion because you don’t want to leave it dangling, but you might not want it to look off-balance from the other end. If you don’t mind a little asymmetry, then don’t sweat it! But if you do, you’re probably wondering, “Can you cut string lights?” The short answer is: yes.

Choosing your outdoor lights

Before even thinking about how to cut string lights, you should make sure that the ones you choose are safe for outdoor use. Not only is it unsafe to use indoor lights outside in general, but it will be even more unsafe after you cut them. So always double-check before purchasing  lights for outside to make sure that the ones you have can endure the outdoor conditions!

If you’re unsure which lights can be used as outdoor hanging lights, there should be a safety rating on most of them to help you out. A good rule of thumb is that most rope lights, lights that are labeled as patio lights, and Christmas lights are usually safe to be used outdoors because they’re made with durable materials. Some Christmas lights are only for indoor use, so even under these labels, it’s always a good idea to look at the rating.

When you use indoor lights outside they’re more prone to dying out in a small amount of time or even shorting out when they get wet, which is even more likely once they’ve been cut. It’s also important to make sure that if you need any extension cords, you buy ones that are safe for outdoor use. Their thicker insulation makes them better for withstanding weather conditions, and it’s as easy as looking at the rating that’s stamped on the cord.

Modern deck lighting
Photographee.eu/Shutterstock

What lights are best for cutting?

In theory, you can cut any type of outdoor hanging lights as long as you know how to do so safely; however, there are companies that sell string lights specifically designed for being cut to a desired length. Note that the ones designed to be cut are far more expensive than standard strands because they come with a large amount of lights to accommodate more customizable lengths.

If you have the budget to purchase these types of lights, they’ll be your best option. Since they’re designed to be cut, there’s much less of a safety risk, and you’ll wind up having extra if you ever decide you want to cut more. Due to their customizable nature, they don’t come with attached plugs, so that’s something you’ll have to purchase and put on yourself once you cut a section to your desired length.

That said, it is possible to cut regular string lights to a desired length as long as you do so safely and don’t plug them in until you’re sure they’ve been cut and mended correctly. So if you can’t afford the price of the designed-to-be-cut outdoor hanging lights, you can still buy regular strands labeled for outdoor use and snip them to your preferred length.

How to safely cut string lights

Make sure you have wire cutters, outdoor/waterproof wire connectors, and electrical tape on hand before you begin. It’s a somewhat complicated process, which we’ll outline as best we can, but if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to research further! There are videos and tutorials available to help you, if needed.

Because you’ll be working with exposed wires, you’ll want to use an abundance of caution. Make sure nothing is plugged in while you’re cutting and repairing the lights, and don’t plug them in until you’re sure the hazard is minimal and all the wires are properly covered.

Start by identifying each side of every section on your strand. If you’ve ever had to replace a bulb on Christmas lights, you know that if one goes out, a whole portion goes out. This is one section. So, to identify each one on the strand, simply remove a bulb and mark the beginnings and ends of where the lights go out. This is an important step. When cutting standard outdoor hanging lights, your best option will be to remove a whole section at a time.

After you’ve identified each section, cut the (unplugged!) strand where there are only two wires and cap each cut wire with an outdoor/waterproof wire connector. Be sure to cover any remaining exposed wire with weatherproof electrical tape. Once everything is safely finished, plug them in to make sure they work! As long as everything is done neatly and the proper tools are used, you’ll be able to hang these lights outdoors with no problem.

Hanging string lights with larger bulbs
papa studio/Shutterstock

What if I only want to remove a few bulbs, not a whole section?

Although not an ideal scenario, it is possible to only remove a few bulbs; however, you don’t want to remove too many. The reason why removing a whole section is the best way is because outdoor hanging lights that are wired in sections spread 120 volts throughout the whole strand. When you only take away a few lights, and not a whole section, the voltage that’s sent to the remaining bulbs increases and will prematurely blow out the strand. If you’re only removing a small amount of bulbs, this isn’t a big deal; however, be cautious of removing too many.

The most ideal scenario would be cutting outdoor hanging lights that are designed to be customized, but that isn’t always an option. As long as you do everything safely and properly, you’ll be able to cut standard string lights to a desired length and still be able to enjoy a nice outdoor atmosphere.

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