Lipid packing is a crucial feature of cellular membranes. Quantitative analysis of membrane lipid packing can be achieved using polarity sensitive probes whose emission spectrum depends on the lipid packing. However, detailed insight into the exact mechanism that causes the spectral shift is essential to interpret the data correctly. Here, we analysed frequently used polarity sensitive probes, Laurdan and di-4-ANEPPDHQ, to test whether the underlying physical mechanisms of their spectral shift is the same, thus whether they report on the same physico-chemical properties of the cell membrane. Their steady-state spectra as well as time-resolved emission spectra in solvents and model membranes showed that they probe different properties of the lipid membrane. Our findings are important for the application of these dyes in cell biology.