Introduction: LED Christmas Light Repair

Picture of LED Christmas Light Repair

Christmas lights are a real nuisance to repair.  The hard part is finding the bulb that is burnt out and most people do this by trial and error.  If you have a string of LED lights that are of the non-replaceable type you may think all is lost.  But don't be too hasty.  What if you could find the problem LED and then repair the string.  Let me illuminate the solution.

You will need some tools that most people who tinker with electricity will have.


Picture of WARNING

The following involves working with electricity.  Electricity can kill you if you don't know what you are doing.  So if you are not qualified to repair devices that require electricity then don't attempt the following repair.  If you do follow these instructions then you take full responsibility for getting electrocuted  - which as mentioned previously can kill you - or for any other risks associated with the activity outlined in this set of instructions.

For example, if you burn yourself with the soldering iron that is your fault.  If you get lead poisoning from eating the lead solder this is you fault.  If you burn down your house because you did not insulate your repair properly this is your fault.  If your spouse whacks you with the rolling pin because you destroyed his/her Christmas lights guess what - your fault.

Step 2: Tools and Materials Required

Picture of Tools and Materials Required

The tools needed are:
Voltage Detector (see picture for example)
Soldering Iron
Heat Shrink Tube
Wire Cutters
Wire Strippers

Step 3: Circuit Explanation

Picture of Circuit Explanation

I am working with a 70 light string which consists of two parallel circuits that have 35 lights each in series.  When one of the LED's fails the circuit breaks which affect all the other lights (half of them) that are in the same series circuit.

Another factor to consider is the current limit of an LED.  LED's do not like a lot of current so besides the LED there is also a current limiting resistor in each light.  For this repair we are actually going to bypass the faulty light.  This will increase the current that goes through the remaining lights because we have eliminated part of the resistance.  However, taking one light out should not increase the current enough to damage the remaining LED's in same circuit.  There is of course a limit.  Bypassing any more that two lights in the same series circuit will likely increase the current enough to put the remaining LED lights in jeopardy which will definitely destroy the entire half of the light string.

Step 4: Detection

Picture of Detection

The fist step is to find the LED that is no longer working.  The non working LED will obviously be in the string half that is not working.

With the lights plugged in, use the voltage detector to check the live voltage wire between each light, starting at the end that plugs into the wall outlet. There should be voltage detected at the live wire going into the first light.  Then check the wire that goes from the first light to second light.  This is assuming that the first half of the light string is not working.  If it is the second then start at light 36 for a 70 light string.

Keep checking for voltage between the lights.  As soon as you find a wire between the lights that no longer has voltage detected the light prior is likely the light that is fault.  As an example, if there is voltage on the wire between light 6 and light 7, but there is not voltage between light 7 and light 8, then light 7 is likely the problem.

Just to make sure test for voltage between the next set of lights just to make sure.  There should be no voltage detected.

Step 5: Verification - DO NOT ATTEMPT

Picture of Verification - DO NOT ATTEMPT

I did this to prove a concept.  It is not part of the instructions.  You could get electrocuted.

When I was sure of the LED that was faulty I unplugged the lights from the electrical source and then put a sewing pin through the wires going into the LED to bypass the light in question.

After making sure the pin was not touching anything conductive I plugged the lights back in and the light string half that did not work before now worked except for the light I bypassed with the pin.  This proved I found the faulty LED.

I then unplugged the lights and began the repair.

Step 6: Repair

Picture of Repair

At this point I cut the wires going into the faulty LED, put on my heat shrink tube (2 tubes), soldered the wires, and shrunk the tube.

Step 7: Conclusion

With the faulty LED light removed the light string half that did not work is now working minus 1 light.

As I mentioned earlier the removal of a light will increase the current and LED's do not like high current.

I measure the current in the light string half that was not faulty and it was 9mA.  Measuring the current in the light string half with the one light removed the current was 12mA.  The general upper limit for LED's is 20mA so the current level is still reasonable even with the one light removed.

I am happy to say the lights are still working fine after two weeks.


Half Lit (author)2017-12-10

I am looking for a new conclusion. The 2nd half of my 50 light C7 led string is not lit. My voltage detector indicates power right to the last bulb and the next plugged into it works. Thoughts??

davidpmc (author)2017-01-15

A little off the subject, but someone mentioned scouting and I thought I'd expound on that just a little bit. There's WAY more to scouting than campfires and singing Kym-Ba-Ya (although there's that too). A lot of life's lessons are taught in scouting, and practical things like how to fix a broken wire or how to do one of those McGyver projects where you make do with what you've got to make or do something practical. It's these kinds of activities that give scouts a heads up in the adult world which some of them are about to enter.

AllenW41 (author)2016-11-29

I accidentally came across a solution to finding which are bad and which are good LED's in a string. I think so, but, check it out and comment.

Plug in the LED string. It doesn't matter if it or the section in question lights or not. Now, examine in a darkened room or dark shade. There will be a faint (and I mean FAINT) blue glow--a tiny dot--in every good LED. Bad LED's will have no faint blue dot of light. Let me emphasize the words 'faint' and 'tiny' again.

Let me know if this proves out to you. For me, no-blue-glow correlated with LED's that were bad. In each case, one leg of the LED had broken off (seems like a sucky material design mistake.) My strings were two quality strings of 100 lights purchased at Costco, and they made it through last season. Winding on a spool for storage probably disturbed the delicate LED leads. I was only able to repair one of those strings where I was able to find the one (1) bad LED and the whole thing LIT! The other had far too many bad LED's--far more than I had replacements for.

If this proves out, all that I humbly ask is that it forever be known as The Allen Whitlock Method. :-) (Book available on Amazon.)

dave705 (author)AllenW412016-12-17

We just repaired a string that was half out with this method - one bulb did not have the FAINT TINY GLOW (TM) you described and we replaced that bulb and the string sprang back to life. Thanks!!! (with lots of extra exclamation points)

LisaF138 (author)AllenW412016-12-03

we tried this on 2 sections that were out, we found no blue glow anywhere. Maybe it doesn't apply to colored C6 lights......

AllenW41 (author)LisaF1382016-12-05

If an entire section is out (no blue glow on ANY LEDs,) I have to wonder if that is a wiring problem rather than individual LEDs. Or, it could be that the thick covers are obscuring the glow.

AllenW41 (author)LisaF1382016-12-03

Lisa, Sorry to hear that. The C6 lights have a faceted plastic cover. The lights I was using have a clear, small and thin cover.

You bring up a flaw in my scheme. I have not tried this except on the lights I was using.

From an ad for C6 lights: "The decorative, faceted lens diffuses the light creating bright attractive colors perfect for any indoor or outdoor displays."

jimhokie (author)AllenW412016-12-04

This is my first attempt with fixing LED light strings. I have 3 matched strings with icicle covers over the light, and one string stopped working, and I need all three, but can't find a replacement. Using your idea to plug in the string in a dark room, I can see 13 out of 30 LEDs that faintly glow. The other 2 strings don't have a single LED not working. Does it sound possible that this one could have 17 out of 30 go bad all of a sudden? I removed 2 LEDs that did not glow, and replaced them with the 2 spares that came with the set, and one of those glows. Are all the ones not working really bad or can something else be wrong. The ones that don't work are not all together...separated by working LEDs. Is this string unfixable, short of finding a bunch of replacement LED to fit this set?

AllenW41 (author)jimhokie2016-12-05

I don't know about the icicle lights. If a whole section is bad, I think it's natural to suspect a wiring fault, rather than the mass death of individual LEDs.

But you did see the faint glow--that's some confirmation that it may be helpful, IF there is power to a section in the first place.

I am disappointed in LED lights--they seem not ready for outdoor, unsheltered, winter use. You're presenting a problem that's over my head. I'm not an electrical engineer--I'm just someone who is sharing what they noticed (the lack of a faint blue glow on bad LEDs.)

CEVMarauder (author)2014-12-07

For anyone scared to attempt this because electricity is *scary*, relax. 120V can kill you, sure--hell, 1v can kill you, but it's all about the amperage and cross-the-body(heart) shock, at least at the relatively low amperages most people will work with. Lucky for you, you have a nice 2000ohm covering protecting you. It's called skin. Remember, electricity always takes the path of least resistance--given the choice between a nice copper wire, and your sweaty, nervous skin, it'll take the wire every time.

The most you can realistically expect to get if you were to touch the bare wires of this in such a way that current manages to flow is a little zap that scares you more than anything. Don't go stripping live 60 amp wires with your teeth while standing in a saltwater pool and you'll be fine.

Thanks for the 'ible, man. Nicely done.

HuttonFrank (author)CEVMarauder2016-12-11

I think that this is slightly misleading. I doubt if 1Volt ever killed anyone. As CEVMarauder says you have a built in resistance of APPROXIMATELY 2000 ohms ( but can be lower or higher depending on sweat, contact size, etc) therefore 1 volt will only cause about 0.5 mA to flow through you. The Nazi did tests on people and found that currents below 60mA are not usually fatal. In Europe our mains supplies are 230 Volts, so that is quite a lot more dangerous than 110V.

A favourite rule is to stand on an insulating surface, like a rubber mat and keep one hand in your pocket. I.e. don't touch conductors with 2 hands!

HuttonFrank (author)2016-12-11

The lights that I have are somewhat more complicated. They have a little plastic box with an IC and some transistors etc and a push button switch. They can flash with different sequences. There are 4 circuits of 4 different colour leds. My Multimeter doesn't register ac or dc voltage coming out on the 4 lines. Maybe there is high speed switching. I have an oscilloscope, but didn't want to have to get it out!

Also LEDs only work on DC, but maybe they have 2 connected back to back?

JBrust (author)2016-12-08

I have a LED Christmas tree yesterday I saw it blink a few dozen times and as I got closer I heard a sound out of the adapter and then it went out nothing, any ideas I think I need a new adapter but I'm having a hard time finding one and GE says it's just for their brand is that true? Does anyone know where I can get one?

gardnerty6 (author)2016-12-05

I have three strands, the one furthest from the power source is working fine, the other 2 strands are fully out. I took down one strand to try your test. The fuses are fine, all the lights have the "glow". Every now and then the strand flickers, turns on and then goes out again. They are c9 NOMA lights. Help please!

AllenW41 (author)2016-12-03

The plastic cover might come off--they do even on the smaller lights I was using, although not always easily. There should be an LED in there, somewhere. Let me know. I've had good luck with the C6 type lights strings, I think they are protected by the larger covers.

AllenW41 (author)2016-11-29

An easy (2 minute) way to avoid having to cut/splice, solder--if it comes to that:

Find a twist-tie. With scissors or wire cutter, clamp gently and strip off the plastic. You will be left with a section of a nice, thin, malleable wire. AFTER UNPLUGGING THE LIGHT STRING: Remove the complete bad plug from the socket. Remove the LED (or bulb) from its holder. Make a 'U' shape from your piece of wire and insert, upside down into the holder so that--when inserted again--it will bridge between the contacts. Your two wire ends should be located where the LED (or bulb) leads were. Cut to size. Put the bad LED (or bulb) back and any cover it might have had.

This has the same effect as cutting and splicing the wires and carries the same cautions as noted for that method under this topic. I'm not an electrical engineer, proceed at your own risk.

If this proves out, all that I humbly ask is that it forever be known as The Allen Whitlock Easy-Peezie Wire-Splice Method. :-) (Fiction book available on Amazon.)

ErcellF (author)2016-02-28

This was super helpful, so are the comments but I have another problem. My light wires break right at the end of the plug-in socket and right beside what I think is a rectifier ( I really don't know what it is) fat spot in the wire. Where do I get this stuff to repair? Mostly what I think is a rectifier.

jsamson5 (author)ErcellF2016-03-06

i think it is a chip on board (the ic that controlls the pattern of lights)

MarkM154 (author)2016-01-13

I did exactly what you suggested and found a bad socket. The LED itself was fine, which was confusing, but the socket was bad. Power on one side, none on the other. Put the pin through the wires to double check and all the lights that were out lit up. Cut out the socket and installed a coupler from another product that had a resistor in it to maintain the proper current and life is good again.

BrianD22 (author)2015-08-16

i have 21,000 lights most led on both types of sets its almost always the bulb. hardly ever the wires the key to keep the lights work 1. don't pull hard on the light strands and 2. after using them put back in the boxes that came from the store. to fix one find the burned out bulb and changed it most sets come with 2 Exeter bulbs. test the set the way he said with volt tester. I got about 400 set of lights. if you put a lot of sets together end to end fuse will burn out. read the box and never roll all sets in a big ball if you do kiss most of the sets good buy I got some sets that are 25 years old and slowly getting rid of my non led lights the paint on them fad out over time led,s don't do this. and buy them after Christmas and save up to 75% off.

brucelclarke (author)2015-01-19

I just fixed a 70 bulb LED light string using roughly the approach described here. However, I used a really handy gadget that I purchased on clearance for about $20 at a store called Canadian Tire. The gadget is called LEDKeeper and it works like this.

You have 2 plastic clips that you attach so that the bulbs that do not light up are between the clips. When I plugged my 70 bulb string into the wall, there were 35 bulbs that didn't light. The clips marked off this section of the light string.

The LEDKeeper is the size of a fat banana, and I plugged the light string into a socket at one end. The LEDKeeper has a 9 volt battery which applies power to the 2 plug prongs. Next I located the middle of the section of 35 bulbs that do not light up. I placed the wire in the middle into a hook at the opposite end of the LEDKeeper and squeezed its trigger. A metal pin penetrated the wire and the LED lights on one side lit up. These bulbs are all good

The other side doesn't light. So the bad bulb is in that half. Now I moved a clip to the place where I connected the LEDKeeper. The section with the bad blub is now half as long as originally. I repeated this process until I discover one bad bulb.

This works because the LEDKeeper has a 9 V battery, and a circuit board that controls the voltage, current and polarity so that it can light up just one bulb or 20 bulbs.

The kit comes with a plastic bulb replacement POD. I just cut off the bad LED bulb, and clipped the POD over the wires to rejoin them. The POD has a 22 ohm resistor inside. Now my light string works just like new except for 1 missing light bulb.

People in this forum are talking about buying a device that senses the voltage. The LEDKeeper might be cheaper and can probably be found on clearance now that Christmas is over.

ntewinkel (author)2015-01-04

Thanks! I am happy to report back a 50% success rate. Two strings were fixed on the first try, two i couldnt figure out. So for those I removed the dead part leaving two shorter strings :). One thing i noticed was that the workshop 20amp plugins made it really hard to find any dead parts of the lines, as the tool would start beeping from half a foot away. Taking it to the 15amp garage plugin made it easier.

knowhereman1. (author)2014-12-31

Another tip: You might expect to find the spot where you lose voltage as you move further from the plug. But you might have it at the far end and loose it as you move towards the plug. It depends upon how you connected the non-polarized plug.

noteabaggersplz (author)2014-12-11

When you say LED, are you referring to the newest strings of lights out there, or just the lower wattage mini lights that have been available for a long time? For someone who went through 2 of 5 semesters of Digital Electronics Tech 10 years ago, I have forgotten just about everything. I saw a video a while back that said some lights have a third wire, and that wire can be snipped out without any problem.

LED, Light Emitting Diode as opposed to incandescent mini lights. They're lower wattage than mini lights which are lower wattage than C7 and C9 incandescent bulbs which get hot to the touch. Although the same troubleshooting method can be used for either LED or mini incandescent, since they use series circuits. When a mini light shunt fails or a bulb becomes loose, you have to find the faulty bulb the same way. As for snipping out a third wire... don't. A typical string uses 3 wires and they're all necessary (the hot wire that carries the 120v to the next series circuit and socket at the end of the string, one that daisy chains the bulbs for the series circuit and the return or neutral wire). Remember to replace bulbs with the same voltage rating, 3.5v for strings with multiples of 35 lights and 2.5v for multiples of 50.

bpellerin (author)2014-12-21

Good work. I like knowing the diffence in mA by measuring the current before and after removing the blub.

david.wills.52831 (author)2014-12-20

I see this was posted a few years ago and I wonder if the technology has changed a bit. I followed the method but it was very misleading with the voltage sensor seeming to beep everywhere. Finally I thought I found the light that had voltage on one side and what seemed like a lower voltage on the other side. I cut it out and spliced the wires and now the half string that was out glows dimly.

I bought a new set with replaceable LEDs and took one out. The whole half string goes out. Then I went along as suggested but even knowing where the "bad bulb" was there seemed to be voltage everywhere. If an LED fails and you don't know which one it is and there's no test, replaceable LEDs seem pointless.

Anyone having success finding and fixing LEDs? Actually I had one success. The squirrels chewed out about four lights and when spliced the rest lit up OK.

AlanM5 (author)2014-12-13

Hi, I have recently bought 2 sets of outdoor led net lights as part of my christmas display, after about a week 1 line of leds stopped working then eventually only a couple of lines of lights are working, the rest are either out completely or very dull. The sets are 6mx2m and multi-coloured, any advice or help would be greatly appreciated, thanks

paulgol (author)2014-12-12

Finally a very good explanation for led users. This is of great help, nice job.

terzyans (author)2014-12-06

I like the idea of finding the faulty LED. But It is a little strange that taking out one of 36 LEDs will increase the current that much. If you have 36 LEDs in series and each has an inner resistance of R then the current flowing will be I=U/36R. For resistance R=U/36I. Now if we have 110V and 9ma or 0.009A in normal part, then R=110/0.324=340 ohms. So each LED has a 340ohm resistance. If you shorten one LED we will have 35 LEDs with total resistance of 11900 and the resulting current will be 9.2ma but not 12. Something must be wrong in conclusions or LEDs are connected in groups or something else.


bpark1000 (author)terzyans2014-12-08

That's not the way LEDs work. An LED has a "forward voltage" that is about 4 for blue/green, and 1.5 for red. This voltage changes little with current. Built into the light string are resistors, which in total are way smaller than the formula you give (typically at least 4 times smaller. If this were not true, the string would be inefficient, as the LED voltage is the one that absorbs energy from the line, and makes light). The energy absorbed by the resistors only ends up as heat, but the resistors are needed to "ballast" (control) the current.

I can't imagine the voltage detector scheme working, as where you show probing, there are multiple wires in most strings, giving confusing readings. It is better to probe on the wire going right to the socket. For LEDs with small lenses, you can probe right on the lens. The bad LED will show different voltages between the wires going to its socket.

For whose without voltage detectors, you can use an oscilloscope set on high gain. If you don't have that either, use an audio amplifier with a magnetic mike input, and probe with the "hot" mike wire, unshielded at the probe point. Put a speaker on the output and listen to the loudness of the hum. It may help in any of the schemes to reverse the power plug so the wires near the bad LED are nearer the "hot" end of the line.

The voltage drop in LEDs make all these schemes more difficult than when testing incandescent sets.

Never use a "zapper" sold for repairing light sets on LED sets! Especially blue LEDs are sensitive to static discharge.

terzyans (author)bpark10002014-12-09

Yes, I agree. I tried to give a rough estimate. If we go by voltage drop then on each LED we will have only 110x1.4/36= 4.28. May be a little less because of resistors. If we have 35 LED then we will have 4.4 V. I do not think this will increase the current that much, especially with ballast resistors.


Joefer (author)2014-12-07

Hello Mr. Author! I think it might also be very helpful of you if you could also post a similar ible without using a non-contact voltage detector. I've checked our local stores and can't seem to find them. Would the use of a conventional multimeter be such a pain? I'm one of those novice tinkerers and figured an ible for such would help us improve a lot :)

Nealva61 (author)Joefer2014-12-07

You should be able to find a non-contact voltage detector at Sears, Home Depot, Lowe's or even Radio Shack. Look in the area with the mutlimeters or the electrical supplies.

Joefer (author)Nealva612014-12-07

thanks good sir,. but i'm in the Philippines and sad to say i have limited options :-/

Taranach (author)Joefer2014-12-09

You may need to go to an electrical supplier... however many websites have these things as well... for example: has several and shipping is free to the Phillipines...

Joefer (author)2014-12-07

THANK YOU!!! time to buy a Voltage Detector.

nakutnij (author)2014-12-06

thank you thank you thank you. Does this apply to old non-LED lights as well?

By the way my LED strings come with replacement bulbs.

kaizenbob (author)nakutnij2014-12-07


bighathi (author)2014-12-07

Using a LED from a set that no longer works, I replace the burnt out LED on the newer set so there is no problem with the current. I just cut the LED with the wires from the old set and use the heat shrink tubing to join it in to the new set making sure that the + and - are the same.

Good Instructable.

brianlloyd1959 (author)2014-12-06

Thanks for the tip. A short cut is to jam aluminum foil in the socket of the defective bulb; God forbid we would actually change the bulb. People will still throw out the $3 string. I leave all of my ornaments and light on the tree when I dispose of it. Now that is a cost savings!

Gerry_D (author)2014-12-06

There are some rare sets that have the LED as a replaceable device. But YOUR method is sure the thing to locate the problem. The voltage detector should detect all the HOT wires right up to the defective LED.

Kudos to you!


MT1 (author)2014-12-06

How about soldering in a resister to make both legs current match?

Or soldering in a new LED?

Just need a little math to find the right value LED. ( colors must be the same, or matching resister used for proper voltage)

MarthaV (author)2014-11-20

Thanks for your instructable! it looks too difficult for a housewife afraid of electricity though ... :(

PeteM1 (author)2014-10-22

Even though it seems all pretty easy and the directions are clear and easy to follow, I could not repair my lights. Weirdly yet, my friend who runs a local computer service in the Broch was able to quickly repair the chain for me - it looks like it's better to trust electronically minded people rather than attempt repairs on your own. On MY own at least :D

kewrw28 (author)2013-06-23

Wow! Now that's using your head. Very, very informative! Thank You!

ringai (author)2012-12-06

I think that maybe soldering the LED's leads together might keep the current draw lower by keeping the current limiting resistor in the circuit. If you dremel off the cap, you might be able to tack in a replacement for the dead LED, too.

Biggsy (author)2012-12-05

Brilliant, i'm all for made do and mend. So much so i made sure all my scouts know how to change a plug and fix a broken wire... it's these sorts of life skills that will save a fortune... and the planet too i guess ;)

Phil B (author)2012-12-02

Thank you. Just last week I used one of the voltage detectors like you show to check for the correct polarity on some wall outlets I had to replace at my daughter's house. I wondered if they would work on Christmas tree light strings, too. You answered that.

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