Knowing the best way to store Christmas lights after taking down your festive decor is key to avoiding tangles and unnecessary damage to your lights.
While the best artificial Christmas trees can be stored in the orginal box or handy Christmas tree storage bags, and your fragile decorations can be stored safely in Christmas ornament containers it can be difficult to know how to store lights to prevent them from getting knotted.
But it's important to keep your Christmas lights tangle-free, in order to make decorating next year quickier and easier and to make it less likely for your LED bulbs to get damaged.
For quick and easy solutions to the problem, there are a number of simple methods you can try and they all involve using items you likely already have at home. These will not only improve your light maintenance but also make getting the Christmas lights out so much easier next year.
Best ways to store Christmas lights
Before you begin to pack away your lights, Christmas tree stylist Debi Storan advises: "if you have any decorations with batteries, remove them before storage. Battery acid can leak and will destroy the contacts, and your decoration may no longer work. This applies not only to light sets, but lit Christmas wreaths, garlands, and Christmas centerpiece ideas too."
It's also worth checking your lights before decorating again next year too, as damaged batteries can be especially dangerous if used with real Christmas trees.
You'll notice that the common theme across the methods below is that most of them involve wrapping your lights to store them, as opposed to bunching them). This is the main technique for any method of storing Christmas lights that will help avoid tangles in the future.
1. Use a sheet of cardboard
In case you were about to discard any cardboard packaging that came with your recently received presents or Christmas hampers, you may want to reconsider.
Cardboard can be a great way to store lights while allowing you to repurpose and recycle the box itself. "Take a piece of cardboard, around A4 size, should work for most lengths of lights," advises Mac Harman, CEO of Balsam Hill. "Be sure to use a sturdy card, such as packing cardboard, to avoid it crumpling as you wind the lights around."
And if you don't have any typical cardboard delivery boxes, even a cereal box can be helpful. This method of storing Christmas lights is handy if you no longer have a box to keep them in, because they are wound on flat they can be out into the Christmas tree box for safe keeping.
Here’s how to do it:
- Take a square or rectangular piece of cardboard: you only need one flat side.
- Cut small incisions on either side: "Cut small slits at both ends," advises Mac. Alternatively, depending on the length of the lights, your cardboard can be cut into an ‘H’ shape.
- Grab one end of your lights and begin slowly wrapping it around the cardboard. If you have opted for smaller cuts on either side, make sure your light is secure within the slots before you start wrapping."Wrap individual light strands around the sheet and use the slits to secure the plugs on either end of the strand," says Mac.
- Label and store: "You can then label the cardboard sheet according to the color or type of light and store them away in a plastic container or box" suggests Mac. If you want extra protection for your lights, you could always put bubble wrap or tissue paper on top of your finished wrapped cardboard too, as an extra precaution.
2. Wind lights around an empty cardboard tube
Be it an empty toilet roll holder or a roll of kitchen towel, a cardboard tube is a great receptacle for neatly storing strings of fairy lights. Simply tape the end of the cable to one end of the empty tube to keep the wire in place then gently wrap the lights around the supportive cardboard tube neatly. Move from one end of the tube to the other as you wrap to ensure the lights are evenly distributed.
An empty loo roll tube is sufficient enough in size for a set of 200 lights, which is the set we have used to show how it's done.
Keep wrapping until the full length of the wire is wound onto the tube then pop the plug securely inside the tube to prevent the lights from unraveling. The tube can then be stored on its side neatly inside a storage container or cupboard.
3. Use a clothes hanger
If you need to put your lights away quickly, you can use a clothing hanger. Ideally, hangers with indents on either side will be most beneficial for grip, helping to avoid the wires sliding off. We've used a velvet-covered hanger for even better anti-slip.
Start by wrapping the lights around one side of the hanger, there's no need to secure lights if you just wrap the first few loops a light tighter. Keep wrapping around to the other side of the hanger until you get to the plug which you can loop through the middle to keep it secured in place.
When you're done, you can simply store them in a cupboard or on any spare rail in your home.
4. Wrap lights around a cable winder
Using a cable winder (or a reel) is a very easy way to keep your lights neat and tidy. All you need to do is wind your lights as neatly as possible around the device, for an ultra-neat storage solution. This will help you avoid tangles – and best of all, it's a compact option too, as they can then easily be tucked away on a shelf.
"Many sets of lights will come with a wire or plastic spool," says Mac. "Wind separate light strands around individual wire spools and label them accordingly. I recommend avoiding winding multiple strands on a single spool, as light strands can make unspooling a challenge."
If you don't already have a cable winder to hand, we'd advise getting one with grips on either side, to keep your Christmas lights in place as much as possible. And, it's worth noting that some of the best Christmas tree storage bags also come with winders, if you're looking to make a 2-in-1 purchase.
5. Store in a sealed container
One of the best ways to store Christmas lights safely for next year is to place them in a container. However, you will still need to wind them around something before putting them away - remember, never bunch!
"For longer light strands, form a loose circle by using your forearm as a guide, by holding one of the strands and guiding it around your elbow, then back up to your hand," advises Mac. "For smaller light strands, wrap them around your hand. The resulting bundle can be secured with twist ties before being stored in a labeled bag."
"A clear plastic ziplock bag is helpful in allowing you to see the light strands without having to take them out" Mac suggests. "It's a good idea to only place one strand in each bag to avoid them becoming entangled. I would also recommend storing the bags away in another box to offer more protection for the bulbs.
While you can use a woven or cotton basket to store your wound Christmas lights, we recommend putting your lights in a waterproof box with a sealed lid. This way they are protected from dampness, water damage, dust, and other hazards that can cause your lights to deteriorate over time.
6. Encase lights in cling film
It may not have been your first thought, but cling film can be used to wrap away your festive lights too.
First, roll out your cling film, and then proceed to spread your lights out on top. Use the same wrapping technique as above to ensure your lights are kept tangle-free before you wrap.
Loosely group them together in the center of the film, and start rolling your film horizontally until the lights are all wrapped up. The tight cling film will keep your lights secure, and will also provide padding to protect the lights from damage while they are stored away.
Where is the best place to store Christmas lights?
In order to make the most of your lights for years to come, there are a number of things to bear in mind when you consider the best way to store Christmas lights.
You should first make sure to put them somewhere dry, in an area that doesn't regularly experience dampness. "Ideal places to store all holiday decorations including lights would be climate-controlled rooms. Storage facilities that have year-round climate control are also perfect," comments Storan.
Another good tip is to store them in a place where they won't be regularly disturbed. Storan advises: "try to place all holiday items someplace where they won't be moved multiple times. The less they are handled, the fewer opportunities there will be for anything to get damaged."
We'd advise storing them somewhere that's easy to get to, so you're ready to decorate a Christmas tree in no time next year.
Is it okay to store Christmas lights in the garage?
With the correct storage solutions in place, Christmas lights can absolutely be stored in the garage. The best way to store Christmas lights is to put them somewhere safe and dry.
"To best protect your lights in the garage, an airtight container is the ideal storage solution," says Debbie. "You don't want to attract moisture from basements or garages getting into containers, creating mildew."
If storing your lights in a garage, you should be mindful of what it is next to, or generally around – as a substance such as mildew can cause the paint to come off your lights, for example.
Can you recycle Christmas lights?
Although you might know the best way to store Christmas lights to keep yours in good condition, there comes a point when it's time to say goodbye to the set you've had for years if the cable begins to deteriorate or the lights break.
Instead of simply throwing them in the trash, it's worth noting that you can recycle Christmas lights. Recycling them is simple – all you need to do is take them to your local household waste recycling center and make sure you put them in the appropriate section (usually this is the small electrical section).
If you still love your festive lights but they appear to have broken over the last few months, it's worth learning how to fix Christmas lights first before throwing them out.
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Tallulah Rushaya writes is an interior and homes features writer—in addition to sometimes covering topics around culture and history. She has always had an appreciation for the Arts, which was further developed while reading History of Art at the University of York. Having started her publishing journey as part of The Lady magazine’s editorial team, she has since written for a variety of interiors titles including Homes & Antiques, Real Homes, Period Living, Your Home and more.
- Tamara KellyLifestyle Editor