How to Make a Solar Panel With Household Items?

By Kami Turky

Last Updated:

As DIYers, we value being able to stand on our own two feet, especially when unexpected stuff like power outages hit. 

That’s why I’ve spent years experimenting with different ways of how to make a solar panel with household items. 

I’ve finally come up with 2 methods that are both reliable and easy to pull off with basic, easy-to-find materials. 

So, in this guide, I’ll take you through the process step by step, from picking up the right materials to putting it all together. 

Key Takeaways

  • To make a solar cell from household items, there are 2 methods: crafting a DIY titanium dioxide solar cell and assembling pre-made microcells.
  • The DIY method involves mixing titanium dioxide nanopowder, high-proof alcohol, and dish soap to create a paste, applying it to conductive glass, and heating it to crystallize the titanium dioxide.
  • The pre-made micro cell method involves using wired or unwired micro polycrystalline solar cells, attaching them to a plastic backing with silicone-based superglue, and coating them with epoxy for protection.
  • Both methods require connecting the cells to a charge controller and a rechargeable battery to store the generated electricity, ensuring a functional DIY solar power system.

Method 1: Crafting a DIY Titanium Dioxide Solar Cell

Step 1: Mix Titanium Dioxide Powder, Alcohol, and Dish Soap to Form a Paste

To kick off your DIY solar cell project, you’ll start by making a special paste that absorbs sunlight. 

This paste is key to the whole operation and here’s what you need:

  • Titanium Dioxide Nanopowder: About 0.5 grams. This powder is great at grabbing UV light and turning it into useful stuff.
  • High-Proof Alcohol: Something like vodka or grain alcohol, but make sure it’s 40-proof or stronger. This isn’t just mixing things up; it helps transform the powder into a form ready to work with sunlight.
  • Clear Dish Soap: Just a drop. This helps the paste stick smoothly onto the glass without messy bubbles or peeling.

Here’s how it all comes together. 

Mix the titanium dioxide powder with your high-proof alcohol slowly. 

You’re aiming for a mix that feels like toothpaste—thick but spreadable. 

Once you’ve got that texture, mix in a drop of dish soap. 

This little addition helps make sure the paste sticks nicely to the glass and spreads evenly.

Why the strong alcohol? 

Well, as you heat this paste later, the alcohol will evaporate, and this helps the titanium dioxide to crystallize. 

Step 2: Apply the Titanium Paste Evenly on a Conductive Glass Square

This step is all about precision and ensuring the paste lays down just right to work effectively.

So, you’ll start with a square of conductive glass, about 10 by 10 cm should do. 

This isn’t just any glass; it’s conductive, often made of something like tin oxide because it needs to conduct electricity for our solar cell to work. 

You can snag this type of glass online. 

To figure out which side to apply the paste to, you might want to use a multimeter to check each side’s resistance. 

You’re looking for something between 20 to 30 ohms—that’s your conductive side.

Before you get pasting, lay down some transparent tape around the edges of your glass square, like packaging tape. 

Keep the tape about 3 mm from the edge. 

This tape isn’t just for show; it keeps everything tidy, holds the glass in place, and ensures you don’t spread the paste too far out, which helps you get a nice, even layer.

Now, grab an eye dropper and gently drop your titanium paste onto the glass. 

Then, take something flat like a microscope slide or a blunt knife, and evenly spread the paste within the area you’ve taped off. 

Aim for a thin, smooth layer that’s about level with the tape’s height. 

Step 3: Heat the Glass on a Hot Plate for 10 to 20 Minutes

After you’ve evenly applied the titanium paste and taped up the edges of your conductive glass, the next move is to heat it. 

First things first, carefully peel off the tape you used to frame your paste application. 

You’ve got to do this before heating because leaving the tape on could get messy.

Now, place your glass square on a hot plate and crank it up to high.

 You’re going to let it cook for about 10 to 20 minutes

Keep an eye on the coating as it changes color—it’ll start to brown as the heat burns off the alcohol and dish soap from your paste mixture. 

This browning is crucial because it purifies your coating by removing those extra ingredients, leaving behind just the titanium dioxide. 

After it browns, it will start turning white again.

That’s your cue that the process is nearing completion.

Once the coating is white again, turn off the burner and let the glass square cool down naturally for about 20 to 30 minutes

It’s important to allow it to cool properly to ensure the newly crystallized titanium dioxide is set and stable.

If you don’t have a hot plate handy, no worries—you can use the burner of an electric stove to achieve the same effect. 

Just make sure to handle everything carefully to avoid any burns or mishaps. 

Step 4: Soak the Cooled Glass in Strong Hibiscus Tea for 2 to 3 Hours

Once your glass square has completely cooled and is comfortable to touch, prepare it for a tea bath. 

You’ll need to make a strong tea; this can be done by steeping two hibiscus or raspberry tea bags in about 1 cup (240 mL) of hot water. 

Let those tea bags sit and infuse the water to make the tea as strong as possible.

After your tea is ready, immerse the cooled glass in this deep, vibrant tea for about 2 to 3 hours

What this does is dye the titanium dioxide coating a deep purple. 

This isn’t just for aesthetics—dyeing the coating is essential because the colored layer can absorb visible light, not just ultraviolet (UV) light. 

If the coating remains white, it will only absorb UV light, which severely limits the amount of current your solar cell can generate.

For a fruity twist, you could alternatively soak the glass in blended, thawed frozen raspberries for the same amount of time. 

After the dyeing process, whether with tea or raspberries, ensure to rinse off any remaining solids gently using alcohol or distilled water. 

Step 5: Use a Graphite Pencil to Color the Center of Another Glass Square

Start with another 10 by 10 cm conductive glass square, similar to the one you used for the titanium dioxide coating. 

Here, instead of a chemical paste, you’ll use a graphite pencil.

Simply color the center of the glass square with the pencil. 

Make sure to cover it well but leave a small border, about 2 to 3 mm, around the edges uncolored. 

This border is crucial as it helps prevent any short circuits when you assemble the solar cell.

An alternative method to using a pencil is to create a layer of soot on the glass, which can also act as a conductive surface. 

To do this, hold the center of the glass square’s conductive side over a candle flame. 

Let the soot from the flame deposit onto the glass, passing it back and forth until it’s well covered. 

Afterward, use a clean, dry cotton swab to wipe any excess soot off around the edges.

Whether you use graphite or soot, the purpose here is to create a conductive layer that will serve as the counter-electrode in your solar cell. 

This layer is critical because, without it, the cell won’t be able to generate any electrical current. 

Step 6: Tape the Edges of the Titanium-Coated Glass

In this step, we’re going to use tape to prepare the titanium-coated glass for final assembly. 

This might seem like a small step, but it plays a crucial role in ensuring everything comes together correctly.

Start by taking transparent tape and carefully cover the edges of your titanium-coated glass square. 

You’ll want to apply the tape around all the sides, leaving about 3 mm (approximately 0.12 inches) of the edge exposed. 

Make sure that the tape is applied smoothly without any wrinkles or bubbles. 

This ensures a neat, uniform border around the glass.

The tape isn’t just for keeping things tidy; it serves as a spacer when you assemble the two glass squares later. 

By folding the tape around the glass’s edges—rather than taping it down to your work surface—you create a slight gap between the two pieces of glass. 

This gap prevents the glass squares from touching each other directly, which could disrupt the function of your solar cell. 

Step 7: Place a Drop of Electrolyte Solution in the Center of the Titanium Glass

Now, it’s time to introduce an electrolyte solution to the titanium-coated glass. 

First up, you’ll need to whip up the electrolyte solution. 

Just mix one part of high-proof alcohol with three parts of Lugol’s solution

If you’re wondering, Lugol’s solution is just a fancy name for a mix of iodine and potassium iodide in distilled water. 

You can find this stuff online, at health stores, or even at places that sell aquarium supplies. 

You don’t have to mix a lot—just enough for a tiny drop per cell.

Once your solution is ready, grab an eyedropper and gently drop about one to two drops onto the center of the titanium-coated side of your glass square. 

The alcohol in your mix will help the Lugol’s solution spread out and sink into the titanium dioxide layer, making it more conductive.

This little drop of electrolyte solution carries the electrical charge that gets generated when the titanium dioxide gets hit by sunlight. 

As the sunlight excites electrons in the titanium, those electrons start moving through the electrolyte, and that movement is what we capture as electric current. 

Step 8: Assemble the Two Glass Squares and Secure Them With Binder Clips

Now onto step 8, where things start coming together—literally! 

After you’ve applied the electrolyte solution to the titanium-coated glass, you need to move swiftly. 

Take the second glass square, the one where you colored the center with graphite, and place it graphite-side-down on top of the titanium-coated glass. 

Carefully align them so that the graphite and the titanium coatings face each other. 

Once they’re neatly aligned, gently press the two squares together. 

To keep everything securely in place, grab a couple of binder clips and clamp the edges of the glass sandwich. 

Ensure the clips are evenly spaced to apply uniform pressure, which helps maintain good contact between the layers.

If you notice any excess electrolyte solution oozing out from between the glass squares, be sure to wipe it off immediately with a clean cloth. 

This step is important because any stray electrolyte solution can corrode the sensors of a multimeter, which you might use later to measure the output of your solar cell. 

Step 9: Place the Cell in Sunlight and Measure Its Charge With a Multimeter

Finally, let’s take your DIY solar cell out for a spin and see it do its thing! 

Put your cell somewhere it can soak up plenty of sunlight. 

Now, to find out how much power it’s making, you’ll want to hook it up to a multimeter. 

Grab some alligator clips and attach them to the multimeter’s sensors, then clip them onto both the front and back flat sides of your solar cell. 

This setup ensures the multimeter can pick up exactly how much current your cell is pumping out.

Once you’ve got everything connected, take a look at the multimeter. 

You should see it ticking up a bit as it measures a modest amount of electrical current. 

That’s your cue that everything’s working right, and your solar cell is turning sunlight into electricity—pretty cool, right?

This whole project is a fun and insightful way to get a real feel for how solar technology ticks. 

However, if you’re thinking about powering more than just small gadgets or learning experiments, I recommend you use a panel made from commercial solar cells.

They’re usually more efficient and better suited for bigger power needs.

Method 2: Assembling Pre-Made Micro Cells

Step 1: Purchase Wired Micro Polycrystalline Solar Cells for Convenience

Switching gears from the first method where you make everything from scratch, this one lets you start with pre-made micro polycrystalline solar cells

These cells are available in two types: wired and unwired

You can pick them up from major online marketplaces or specialized laboratory suppliers.

Going for the wired option makes your life easier since they’re ready to use right out of the box, which means a lot less soldering on your part. 

But, there’s a catch—wired cells are way more expensive. 

For instance, a 60 mm × 60 mm (2.4 in × 2.4 in) wired cell might set you back about $5 each, while the unwired version of the same size could cost you as little as 25 to 50 cents.

If you’re watching your budget and don’t mind rolling up your sleeves, unwired cells are the way to go. 

Of course, you’ll need to do the soldering yourself, but this can slash your costs significantly. 

Plus, it gives you a chance to get into the nitty-gritty of building your solar panel, which can be pretty satisfying if you’re into DIY projects. 

Step 2: Cut Backing for Individual Cells from a Thin Plastic Board

Now, let’s roll up our sleeves and dive into the structural side of building your solar panel. 

First things first, you’ll need a thin plastic board that’s about 2 to 3 mm thick

You can easily find these boards online or swing by your local home improvement store to pick one up.

Start by measuring your solar cells, then mark your plastic board to cut out squares that are just a tad bigger—about 1 mm more on each side than your cells. 

This little bit of extra room ensures the cells fit just right without squeezing them too tightly, which could damage them.

Then grab a strong craft knife and get to cutting those squares out of the plastic board. 

Take your time to make sure your cuts are neat and accurate because each backing piece needs to match the cells perfectly. 

How many of these squares you cut depends on how many cells you’re working with and what kind of power output you’re looking to get from your panel. 

For example, if you’re putting together a simple solar charger, you might need backing for just one 6-volt 110 mm × 80 mm cell, or maybe two 3-volt 60 mm × 60 mm cells if you’re using different setups.

Step 3: Grease and Solder Cells Together to Create a Circuit

If you’re starting with unwired cells, the first thing to do is prepare the metal contacts. 

Use a flux pen to apply grease around these areas. 

This grease, or flux, helps improve the solder’s ability to bond to the metal, ensuring a strong and stable connection. 

Next, take a small dab of solder and melt it onto one of the metal contacts of the cell. 

Then, heat the end of a strand of tabbing wire and carefully bond this heated wire to the soldered contact. 

The heat and the flux will help the solder flow and create a solid joint.

When it comes to connecting multiple cells, the process is a bit more involved. 

You’ll need two strands of tabbing wire for each connection. 

For example, you’ll use two wires to connect the first cell’s contacts to the second cell, and then another pair of wires to link the second cell to the third, and so on. 

This method ensures that the electrical current flows smoothly and efficiently through the entire string of cells.

If your project involves just a single solar cell, or if simplicity is your goal, there’s a variation you can consider. 

Simply solder insulated electrical wires directly to the metal contacts on the cell. 

From there, you can run these wires directly to a charge controller, which regulates the voltage and current coming from your solar cell to the battery. 

This approach is great for smaller projects or when you’re adding a cell to an existing system and don’t need a bunch of cells linked together

Step 4: Attach the Cells to the Plastic Backing With Silicone-Based Superglue

After we’ve got our solar cells and plastic backings ready, it’s time to stick them together with some trusty silicone-based superglue. 

This type of glue is strong, can handle the outdoors, and gives a little flexibility, which is exactly what we need for something that’s going to be exposed to the elements.

Start by putting just a small dab of glue on two opposite corners at the back of each solar cell. 

You don’t need a lot—a little goes a long way, and using too much might make a bit of a mess.

Next up, line up the cell with the plastic backing you cut earlier. 

Gently but firmly press the cell onto the backing to make sure it sticks well. 

You need to ensure everything lines up perfectly and there are no gaps between the cell and the backing. 

A good, tight fit keeps out moisture and dirt, which could mess up your cells if they get underneath.

Once everything’s in place, let the glue do its thing and cure. 

This usually takes about 24 hours, but it’s a good idea to check what your specific glue recommends. 

Step 5: Coat the Cells Evenly With 2-part Epoxy and Let Cure for 24 Hours

Now, we’ll use a 2-part epoxy for this, which provides a durable layer that guards against environmental damage and mechanical wear.

First off, you’ll need to prepare your epoxy mix. 

Grab a small, clean container and mix the 2-part epoxy according to the instructions on the product. 

It’s crucial to use an epoxy that cures over 24 hours rather than opting for a quick-drying type. 

The slower cure time results in a stronger and more resilient finish that will last longer and protect better.

Once your epoxy is ready, use a dowel or a clean brush to apply it. 

Aim to coat both the solar cell and its plastic backing with an even layer about 1 mm thick

Ensure to spread the epoxy smoothly to cover every part of the cell uniformly. 

This even coating is important because it ensures that all areas of the cell are equally protected from any potential damage.

If you’re working with multiple cells and want to create a portable, foldable solar panel, it’s a good idea to coat each cell individually. 

This method maintains the flexibility needed for a foldable panel and ensures each cell is adequately protected. 

However, if your panel will be stationary, you can place all the cells on a single plastic or glass backing and coat the entire assembly in one go. 

This can be a faster and easier approach if you don’t need the panel to be portable.

After you’ve applied the epoxy, let it cure for the full 24 hours as recommended. 

This curing period allows the epoxy to harden properly, forming a tough, protective shell around the cells. 

Step 6: Connect the Panel to a Charge Controller and a Rechargeable Battery

After the epoxy has fully cured for 24 hours, your solar panel is all set and ready to start generating power. 

Now comes the final step: hooking up the panel to a charge controller and a rechargeable battery. 

First, let’s tackle connecting the charge controller to the battery. 

Charge controllers come with positive and negative output wires. 

You’ll need to attach these to the matching terminals on your 12-volt rechargeable battery

Many charge controllers have handy clamps on their wires, making it super easy to just clip them right onto the battery terminals. 

If yours doesn’t have clamps, you might find ring connectors or bare wires at the ends. 

For these, you’ll need to either twist the wires around the terminal posts or use ring connectors that slide over the posts to make a secure connection.

Next up, connect your solar panel to the charge controller. 

Here’s a quirky bit: you usually connect the positive wire from the solar panel to the negative port on the charge controller, and the negative wire from the panel to the positive port. 

It sounds a bit backward, but it’s the standard way to ensure the electricity flows correctly. 

Not sure which wires are which? 

A quick look at the labels on your solar cells or a test with a multimeter should clear things up.

Now, spot the cylindrical ports on the charge controller—these are where you’ll insert the wires from your solar panel. 

Slide each wire into its designated port and tighten the connections with a screwdriver to make sure everything’s snug and secure.

The charge controller is the real MVP here. 

It manages how electricity flows from the solar panel to the battery and stops electricity from heading back to the panel when the battery is full

And there you have it!

Now, you’ve set up a solar power system that’s ready to roll.

FAQs

What Household Items Can You Use to Make Solar Panels?

You can use items like aluminum foil, copper sheets, and old CDs as reflective surfaces or conductive materials in DIY solar panel projects.

How Can I Make a Simple Solar Panel at Home?

To make a simple solar panel at home, start with materials like photovoltaic cells, a conductive backing, wiring, and a clear protective cover; assemble these components based on the desired power output.

Can I DIY My Solar Panels?

You can DIY your solar panels using photovoltaic cells, a frame, wiring, and other essential components, following detailed instructions or kits.

Can You Make a Solar Panel Out of Aluminum Foil?

You can make a solar panel out of aluminum foil can be used in DIY solar projects as a reflective material to increase light concentration, but it cannot convert sunlight into electricity by itself.

Conclusion

Just like we promised, we’ve shown you how to make your solar panel with stuff you’ve got around the house. 

Tackling this project is more than just a fun weekend activity—it’s a step toward living more sustainably. 

But keep in mind, that these homemade panels are perfect for small jobs like charging your phone or keeping a few lights on. 

If you’re thinking about powering your entire house, you might want to look into commercial solar panels. 

Do you still have any questions or need more tips on DIY solar projects? 

Feel free to reach out or just leave a comment below!

Kami Turky

Kami is a solar engineer with nearly a decade of experience in researching, testing, and reviewing various solar products.He has also provided technical consultation to several organizations on the best ways to incorporate solar energy into their operations.When he’s not busy helping others find the best solar solutions, Kami enjoys spending time outdoors, hiking, camping, and exploring the natural wonders of his home state.

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