Soft White vs. Daylight Bulbs: When to Use Each Type

Pendant light with globe and bronze shade

Artit_Wongpradu / Getty Images

When designing a space, choosing the right lighting is key for enhancing the feel and functionality of the room. Aside from picking out lamps or light fixtures, you should give attention to the type of lightbulb that you’ll use in the room since the light emitted can completely transform a space and impact the ambiance

Two common lightbulb types are soft white and daylight bulbs. What exactly is the difference and which type should you choose? Learn more about the color temperature that separates soft white and daylight bulbs and where and when you should use each one. 

What is Color Temperature? 

Color temperature refers to the color of the light itself and is measured in Kelvins. The Kelvin scale spans from 1,000 to 10,000 Kelvin. The lower on the scale you go, the warmer the light is—in other words, the light is perceived as more red or yellow. The higher you go on the Kelvin scale, the cooler the light is, giving it a more blue or white cast. 

Soft white lightbulbs are between 2,700K and 3,000K, meaning they have a warm, yellow coloring. Daylight bulbs are between 5,000K and 6,000K, giving them a much whiter, almost blue, hue that is similar to bright daytime sunlight.

Soft White vs. Daylight Bulbs

Soft white bulbs, because of their warm, yellow tone, are perfect for spaces that require soothing, calm lighting. Daylight bulbs are ideal for areas that require bright light to perform tasks. Each lightbulb type has its benefits and drawbacks. 

Soft White Bulbs

  • Soft light for creating a calm atmosphere

  • Helps make a space feel warm and inviting

  • Enhances warm, earthy colors

  • Compliments wood grains

  • May not provide enough light for tasks that require visibility, like office work or cooking 

  • May be incandescent bulbs and therefore not energy-efficient

Daylight Bulbs

  • Bright, cool lighting for a lively, energetic space 

  • Increases visibility for precision tasks

  • Compliments cool colors such as white, gray, and blue

  • Very efficient LED bulbs

  • Detracts from a warm, cozy space

  • May be too bright in some areas 

Where to Use Soft White Lightbulbs

As mentioned above, soft white lightbulbs are perfect for creating calm, relaxing spaces and adding to a warm, inviting atmosphere. This makes soft white bulbs perfect for spaces where comfort and relaxation are key, such as living rooms, dining rooms, and bedrooms. These bulbs can even be used in bathrooms when you are trying to achieve a calm, spa-like atmosphere

Soft white lightbulbs are often chosen for spaces with earthy color palettes. The warm lighting enhances and compliments the soft color tones. They are also used to enhance natural wood grains. A cooler, blue lighting would detract from these colors and clash in these spaces. 

Where to Use Daylight Bulbs 

Daylight bulbs are perfect for areas where specific work or detail-oriented tasks are performed. These rooms include kitchens, offices, and basements. Bathrooms may also be a good place for daylight bulbs, as these provide ample light for getting ready. As you can see, though, some rooms can benefit from both kinds of lighting, such as the bathroom. Therefore, it is not uncommon for people to include both kinds of bulbs in a single room depending on what they will be using the space for. 

Daylight bulbs pair well with cool colors, such as white, gray, or blue. Rooms with cool color palettes or contemporary designs often look striking with daylight bulbs, as this type of lightbulb enhances these cool-toned rooms.

  • Where should you use daylight bulbs?

    Daylight bulbs are best used in places where bright, cool-colored light is needed to illuminate a space for work or specific tasks, such as cooking or office work. Daylight bulbs produce bright white-to-blueish lighting that also pairs well with spaces that feature cool color palettes. 

  • What’s the difference between daylight and soft white light bulbs?

    The main difference is color temperature. Daylight bulbs measure between 5,000K and 6,000K, meaning they produce light that is perceived as bright white. Soft white bulbs measure between 2,700K and 3,000K, casting a warm, yellowish glow. Therefore, soft white bulbs are used for warming up a space and adding a cozy feeling while daylight bulbs are used for brightly illuminating a space for work. 

  • Is daylight or soft white better for a dining room?

    Typically, soft white bulbs are used in dining rooms to create a relaxing ambiance. The warmer light temperature from these bulbs helps to soften the space and add an inviting feeling to a space where you and your guests enjoy meals. Daylight bulbs are generally considered too bright and sterile for a dining room, but they’re great for task work in the kitchen.