What are Rope Lights?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Rope lights are strands of lights which are enclosed in a flexible plastic casing, causing them to resemble strands of rope. They are often made with light emitting diodes (LEDs), rather than light bulbs, and they are especially common in holiday displays, although rope lights can also be used at other times of the year. Many hardware and lighting stores sell rope lights, and in the month of December, it is common to find a profusion of colors, styles, and lengths available in regions where people decorate as part of their Christmas celebrations.

House with rope lights.
House with rope lights.

One of the primary advantages to rope lights is that they can usually be used outside, even in inclement conditions, because the lights are protected by the rubber casing. They are also very easy to handle, tending to tangle less than more conventional strands of lights, and they can be arranged in a wide variety of ways. Some stores use rope lights to outline window displays or to bedeck the eaves of their buildings; many people like the smooth, even look of rope lights. They can also be wrapped around trees and power poles, or strung along pathways.

Rope lights are very easy to handle, and may be used outside.
Rope lights are very easy to handle, and may be used outside.

LEDs are generally preferable to light bulbs because they tend to last longer, and they can be colored with a computer chip, rather than by encasing the LED in a colored lens. LEDs are also very easy to program, for people who want to create chasing or blinking patterns, and they are quite durable, withstanding shocks and repeated on-off cycles.

Many rope lights come in basic white, although it is also possible to find blue, green, red, purple, orange, and other colors. Some manufacturers also make strings with multiple colors, or ropes which can cycle through an assortment of colors when they are programmed to do so. The rope is generally around the width of a thumb, although thicker versions are available for projects when an extremely thin rope light might not show up.

As a general rule, it is not advisable to pass anything through a strand of rope lights, since it can cause their wiring to malfunction. Some companies sell clips which attach to strands of rope lights so that they can be hung as decorations. It is also possible to suspend the lights from hooks or screws. Over time, sections of the rope light may die out, although the other LEDs will remain lit.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


A friend of mine has these amazing neon rope lights that she has hanging all over her dorm room. The effect is really trippy.

I am not sure where she got them but I have never seen another set of rope lights like them. In fact, the colors are different than any other Christmas lights I've seen.


Where is the cheapest place to buy rope lights? I love the quality of light they produce but I feel like they are always way overpriced. I have seen them for like $20 a strand before which is just ridiculous.

So does anyone know of a web site or a store that sells them cheap? I will probably be placing a very large order so I am also open to places that offer discounts for bulk orders.


Rope lights are great for all kinds of things. They are basically just Christmas lights except they are easier to work with and they can be exposed to any kind of weather conditions. A long time ago I switched from using Christmas lights that I would always have to untangle to using rope lights exclusively.

Where they really come in handy for me is when we take our camper down to the lake. It has a collapsible awning and with a few strands of rope lights we are able to take care of all of our exterior illumination.

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