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Shopping for light bulbs may seem like a simple task, but there are actually a number of factors to consider. There are several primary types of light bulbs: long-lasting, energy-efficient LEDs, budget-friendly but fleeting incandescents, and middle-of-the-road (in terms of both cost and energy efficiency) CFLs.
Regardless of which type of light bulb you’re shopping for, consider what color temperature you want in your home. Soft white, daylight, and bright white are the usual categories that bulbs fall into and will deliver different illumination levels and ambiance. In addition, check the wattage of the bulb to match it to your fixture and ensure that it will provide enough light for the setting or task you have in mind.
Here, the best light bulbs on the market.
Best LED: Philips 60-Watt Equivalent Soft White LED Light Bulb
If you want to go for the latest technology, opt for LED, which stands for “light emitting diode.” It used to be that these bulbs were only for specialty lamps, but nowadays they can fit into the standard screw-in connector featured in most lamps and light sockets.
While the bulbs are longer-lasting and more energy efficient than your standard incandescent bulb, they focus their light in one direction as opposed to diffusing around a room. This makes them great for lighting up a specific space. They are ideal in reading nooks, as under-cabinet lighting, and as task lights. Plus, they don’t heat up as much as incandescent bulbs do during operation.
Philips' 8.5-watt Soft White LED Light Bulbs—that's equivalent to 60-watts in an incandescent bulb—are available in two different styles: soft light, which gives off a warmer and more cozy vibe that’s perfect for a relaxed mood (great for your living room and bedroom lamps), and daylight, which has the look of natural sunlight. This product is said to have a lifespan of 10+ years, and is estimated to save you about $60 in energy costs over those years compared to traditional incandescent lights.
Runner-Up, Best LED: TCP 60-Watt Equivalent LED Light Bulbs
TCP's 60-watt-equivalent bulbs are another great option for those looking to shop LEDs. It can replace a standard 60-watt incandescent bulb and save you an average of $678 over the course of its life when you figure that the average lifespan of an LED bulb is more than 18 years, and it only costs about a dollar per year to operate.
These TCP bulbs distribute light evenly and last for a long time. The light is a pure white, which some people find too harsh, but it works well anywhere you need task light, such as in the kitchen or bathroom. One of the only other drawbacks is that the bulb doesn’t work with dimmer switches.
Best Budget: Philips 60-Watt-Equivalent 2700K A19 LED Light Bulb
Looking for an energy-efficient light bulb that isn’t too expensive? The estimated yearly cost of running this Philips bulb is only a dollar, and it has an average lifespan of 10,000 hours, giving you good quality and longevity. Just think of all the money you’ll save not having to buy so many replacement bulbs!
The bulb produces a nice soft light, and it perfectly emulates an incandescent bulb, making it a good choice for the bedroom or living room. All-in-all, this is a dependable light bulb at a very reasonable price.
Best Smart: Philips Hue 60-Watt-Equivalent A19 Dimmable LED Smart Bulb
For a handy, easy-to-install smart bulb that's compatible with Alexa's voice control, look no further than the Philips Hue White A19 LED Smart Bulbs. With these dimmable bulbs, you can create a customizable lighting scene that can be controlled via your phone, a switch, or a tablet. Once you screw your bulbs into the light socket, you just connect them directly to your smart home device.
The bulbs are 10 watts, or the incandescent equivalent of 60 watts. In addition to Alexa, these bulbs are also compatible with most other smart-home systems, including Google Assistant and Apple HomeKit. Just note that to get the full Hue experience, you’ll need to purchase the Philips Hue Bridge, which is sold separately.
"The lights are energy-efficient LEDs and come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and models to suit your space." — Deanna McCormack, Product Tester
Best Incandescent: GE Lighting 3-Way 50/100/150W Incandescent A21 Light Bulb
Incandescent bulbs tend to use more energy and burn out more quickly, but many people prefer using them because they give the room a warm glow and can be complementary to skin tones. Because incandescent bulbs are what most people are familiar with, LED or CFL bulbs can seem harsh or stark by comparison. Incandescents also have some other added benefits—they can be used with a dimmer and are less expensive to purchase initially. If you prefer to use incandescent, this one from GE is a great option. It’s a three-way light bulb with 50/100/150 watts and is rated to last for 1,500 hours.
Best for Bathrooms: AmazonBasics 75-Watt-Equivalent Dimmable LED Light Bulb
Since LED lights are more durable and use less energy than other bulbs, these make for wonderful bathroom lighting—and the AmazonBasics 75-watt-equivalent A19 LED light bulbs are a solid choice. In terms of durability, a single bulb has a lifespan of 15,000 hours (over 13 years), and it provides 1000 lumens of light, which creates a bright and inviting atmosphere.
This bulb won’t react to humidity and uses just 11.5 watts of energy, so it's an economical choice for rooms that see a lot of use. The soft white light is flattering and easy on your eyes, and the bulbs are dimmable. Also, for your peace of mind, this product is backed by an AmazonBasics limited 3-year warranty.
Best for Kitchens: Cree 100-Watt-Equivalent A21 Dimmable LED Bulb
When it comes to kitchen lighting, you'll want to look for a light bulb with higher Kelvin so it will simulate daylight—and because we’re talking about a room where good visibility is crucial, brightness and color temperature are important factors to consider. Enter the Cree 100W Equivalent Daylight (5000K) A21 Dimmable LED Light Bulb, which boasts a correlated color temperature of 5000 Kelvin, so you can clearly see everything that you're cutting.
This bulb provides maximum visibility and makes the other colors in your kitchen nice and vibrant. Expect a bright, white (almost blueish) glow. This indoor/outdoor bulb is also dimmable and designed to last around 22 years.
Best Halogen: Sylvania 60-Watt Equivalent Dimmable Halogen Light Bulb
If you're a fan of the look that incandescents give off you might want to try halogen light bulbs which give off an equally warm, natural glow. This bulb—which offers a 60-watt equivalent—works great for table lamps, pendants, and hanging fixtures, and it's also dimmable.
Unlike CFLs and LEDs, this bulb won't give you a long lifespan (1.8 years at three hours a day), though halogen bulbs provide more light than an incandescent and use less energy. The bulbs give off a bright (but not blinding) white light that makes them great for bedside reading.
Best Vintage: Feit Electric 40-Watt-Equivalent LED Vintage-Style Light Bulb
Vintage (or Edison) light bulbs seem to be all the rage these days. From trendy restaurants using them in breathtaking chandeliers to interior designers using them on sconces and hanging pendants, there isn't anywhere they can't be used. The problem with vintage bulbs, though, is they can be hard to match to your desired use. Our suggestion is once you find the right fit, buy multiples so you won't be left without light till your next trip to the store.
This light bulb from Feit Electric is actually an LED so it'll last a long time and it can also be dimmed. It gives off a 40-watt equivalent so you will need a few to light up your space. This bulb will last up to 15,000 hours so you won't have to worry about changing it out monthly.
Best CFL: Philips 60-Watt-Equivalent CFL Twister Light Bulbs
CFL stands for compact fluorescent bulbs, and they’re known for their energy efficiency and long-lasting power compared to incandescent bulbs. You can use them in place of incandescent bulbs and they’ll ultimately save you money since you won’t have to replace them as often. One thing to note about CFLs: to help them last longer, leave them on for at least 15 minutes each time you turn them on. This will maximize the lifespan of the bulbs.
This CFL bulb from Philips is a bestseller in its category and lasts up to 12,000 hours. These 13-watt bulbs are the equivalent of a 60-watt incandescent bulb, and provide a natural light similar to daylight. The bulbs are also Energy Star rated and won’t flicker as many other CFL bulbs do. Note that you shouldn’t use these with dimmers, though. And like all CFL bulbs, these need to be properly recycled when they burn out. Contact your city or town’s waste management department for instructions.
The best light bulb for you will depend on a number of factors including budget, wattage, color, whether or not you want them to be smart home compatible, and whether you’re interested in incandescent, LED, or CFL bulbs. Our top pick for LEDs goes to the Philips 10W Frosted LED Light Bulb (view on Amazon) which is available in two colors and is said to have a lifespan of 10+ years. If budget is a concern, the Philips 60W Equivalent 2700K 2-Pack A19 LED Light Bulb (view on Home Depot) is a great choice. The energy-efficient bulbs are estimated to cost only a dollar a year to run.
What to Look for in a Light Bulb
Dealing with burnt-out bulbs is becoming less of a routine event and more of an occasional annoyance, thanks to the long lifespans offered by the latest in bulb technology. LED bulbs typically offer a lifespan between 10 and 20 years and are the longest-lasting bulb. CFL bulbs will last for several years, and halogen bulbs typically need to be replaced once every year or two. In contrast, incandescent light bulbs will fizzle after about 1,000 hours of use, with some bulbs lasting slightly longer.
The amount of energy used by a light bulb is measured in watts. Incandescent bulbs and halogen bulbs have the highest wattage, making them less energy-efficient choices. CFL bulbs use fewer watts, but LED bulbs are the real winner in energy efficiency—an 8 or 9-watt LED bulb emits as much light as a 60-watt incandescent bulb.
The mood and functionality of a room can be impacted by the color of its light bulbs. For any given room you're outfitting, decide whether you prefer a soft white bulb with a yellow hue or a whiter, brighter light (often called a daylight bulb). In between are warm white or bright white bulbs. Choose brighter bulbs for areas where you plan to read or study and softer, yellow-hued bulbs for accent lighting or a warm ambiance.
There are four common types of light bulbs used in homes, however, three of them are currently being phased out in many areas due to their lower energy-efficiency.
- Light-Emitting Diode (LED): The most popular type of light bulb today is the LED bulb, and for good reason. These bulbs are highly energy efficient, don’t contain mercury, don’t heat up during use, and provide bright light with a slightly cool cast. You’ll find LED bulbs in every size, shape, and color.
- Incandescent: Once the mainstay of light bulbs, today, incandescents are on the way out and are no longer available in many communities. While inexpensive to purchase, incandescent bulbs use a lot of electricity and don’t last nearly as long as LED bulbs, plus they generate considerable heat during use. Incandescents do work with dimmer switches, however, and give a warm light that many people prefer to the cooler light of a LED bulb.
- Compact Fluorescent (CFL): Another type of light bulb that’s now on the way out, CFL bulbs are more energy-efficient than incandescents, but not as efficient as LEDs. CFL bulbs take a few moments to reach their full brightness, which is not quite as bright as the light emitted by a LED bulb.
- Halogen: Already banned in California and soon to be banned in many other states as well, halogen bulbs are energy-efficient but not long-lasting. They give off an intense white light that works well in outdoor fixtures.