Purchasing the right CFL bulbs

cfl-bulbI recently returned some compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) to my local hardware store because they were too dim and white. The traditional bulbs they replaced had been much warmer and brighter, and I prefer this kind of light.

Martha Stewart Living had an article in their September 2008 issue that highlighted the differences of all the CFL options. I highly recommend consulting this guide before you head out to purchase some new bulbs. I wish that I would have first consulted the guide. Here are some the recommendations they offer:

Table and floor lamps: Compact fluorescent in warm white.

Reading and Task Lamps: 23-watt CFL in warm light or daylight.

Recessed Fixtures: CFL in warm white or a halogen.

Some general tips on color size and shape:

Energy-saving bulbs have adopted the shapes, sizes, and appearance of traditional bulbs, making it easier to phase them in.

Warm White
When in doubt, opt for a warm-white CFL, 3,000 degrees Kelvin or lower. It has the color quality most associated with traditional bulbs.

Cool White
This color temperature is best avoided. It washes out skin tones and makes reds, oranges, and browns look muddy.

Daylight Bulb
In general, you should use a daylight bulb only in a reading or task light. The cool, bright tone makes text jump off the page.

The size and shape of CFLs has changed over the years and there are many more options for decorative lighting. There are globes for vanities and candle shaped bulbs for candelabras (with adapters).

To learn even more, read the full guide from Martha Stewart Living.

23 Comments for “Purchasing the right CFL bulbs”

  1. posted by L. on

    A good topic, to be sure. But an unclutterer topic?

  2. posted by chzplz on

    Has anyone found dimmable CFL’s with the small base for a chandelier?

  3. posted by timgray on

    Note: if you have home lighting control CFL bulbs will not work. you are stuck with old style incandescent type until you either upgrade your home automation and lighting control system to something that can handle CFL lamps or until they decide to make CFL lamps that are compatible.

    Also most CFL bulbs are not dimmable even when they say they are. they will flicker a lot and overall not look good at all.

  4. posted by Erin Doland on

    @L — CFLs last significantly longer than regular bulbs. As a result, you have to replace them less often. Additionally, they create less clutter for the planet since fewer need to be produced.

    They also reduce your energy bills … and, I don’t know about you, but bills feel like clutter to me 🙂

  5. posted by Meredith on

    I’ve encountered some unanticipated clutter with used CFL’s – I have a couple of them sitting in a box in my closet, awaiting proper disposal!
    I will continue our conversion to CFL’s even though it bugs me to have to deal with dead ones (and some do die before their advertised life span…) in a way that is environmentally safe.

  6. posted by Dave P. on

    Don’t CFL’s contain mercury?
    Isn’t LED lighting better for the environment, and cheaper?

  7. posted by Heather on

    @chzplz — no, you can’t use CFLs on a dimmer. And, I think you can’t use them on a photocell either.

    We’re converting to CFLs as the incandescents burn out.

  8. posted by Barbara Tako on

    I am not sure the energy savings of these bulbs outweigh the environmental hazards of these bulbs. For starters, check out: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23694819/ and consider the dangers if a bulb breaks in your home.

  9. posted by Susan on

    I have some old lamps that have “bowls” in them into which these new CFL bulb bases won’t fit. The metal screw-in part fits but the bulge above it is too large to allow the metal part to seat down in the bowl. Help? Anyone?

  10. posted by Divine Bird Jenny on

    You might also mention that the daylight bulbs are good for people who do crafts or artwork. I like them for matching colors no matter what the time of day–especially since my apartment is oriented so that I only get an hour or two of direct light every day. The rest of the time, I would have to take things outside or wait.

  11. posted by Dan on

    Susan, you should check out http://www.greenpoma.com/ and maybe the a-line will work

  12. posted by Jason on

    Thanks for this. Grabbed random CFL’s off the shelf a few months ago, hate the light, was going to hoard a bunch of incandescents… but maybe I’ll give the CFL’s second chance. Brought a cute girl home a couple weeks ago, and the first thing she said: “something’s wrong with your lighting.”

  13. posted by SavvyChristine on

    Dave P. – I was under the impression that CFLs are safe for the environment if you dispose of them properly, like not throwing them away in the trash. Home Depot usually takes CFLs for recycling.

    LEDs don’t contain mercury, but much more expensive. I’m not sure if they have the color options available for them.

  14. posted by Jen H. on

    @Meredith — check your local recycling center and see if they take CFLs. Here in Burbank, there’s a collection box at the recycling center for CFLs.

    @Barbara Tako — if the energy powering your home does not come from clean resources, CFLs should still reduce your environmental impact overall by reducing your energy use. For example, coal-fired power plants are the largest polluter of mercury:


  15. posted by timgray on

    Led puts out 1/10th the light that a CFL does at 100X the cost. a PAR-10 LED bulb that has 100 lumens is $38.99 each I can get a par-10 CFL bulb that is brighter at 350 lumens for $2.99

    to put that into perspective. 100 lumens would be a very dim light level and all in a tight spotlight. the CFL would be a nice floodlight and the same as a 40 watt lightbulb.

    you cant get usable LED lighting yet outside of $100.00 a bulb. and Led lights contain lead 🙂 My company does lighting control and LED lighting sales.

  16. posted by faith on

    I use daylight CFLs in my studio and I would not recommend them for the home. They can have a blue tone. I wouldn’t want one in my home (which is all soft white cfls).

  17. posted by Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome on

    They are working on affordable LED lighting, but it will take a few years to get to market still. http://www.supereco.com/news/2.....he-future/

    Also look for Energy Star ratings to ensure you’re buying a quality product: http://www.supereco.com/news/2.....y-checked/

    We just bought some CFLs for the bathroom hate the light. Impossible to shave by, even with a brighter bulb. Just the wrong colour and hides the contours too much to see well.

    Can’t wait for affordable LEDs to come around!

  18. posted by 2009-02-26 | Productivity Stream on

    […] Purchasing the right CFL bulbs […]

  19. posted by Sally on

    I have a problem with these bulbs as there are various reports that they are of a health concern. I have removed ALL of these CFB’s from my house after living with them for 2 1/2 years. I believe they were responsible for depressive moods.

  20. posted by Jeff on

    I for one use Daylight bulbs a lot. I think it makes colors look natural and I found it a weird at first, but once you get used to them they are really nice. Also, for the editors, Kelvin doesn’t have degrees it is a unitless measurement of temperature.

  21. posted by [email protected] on

    Believe it or not during the eighties I worked for a light bulb distributor, yes it did go out of business. A lot of the literature went through all different kinds of exposure to different lighting. Cool White is the cheapest, and scientifically it is very hard on your eyes, distorts colors and causes eye strain.

    Oh the things I learned during the last economic scare! You want to look for a full spectrum light if you can find it!

  22. posted by Michelle @HomeStagingPro on

    Regarding disposal of CFLs, check with your local IKEA. The one near my house has a recycling bin for CFL bulbs.

  23. posted by Jill on

    Very interesting article, thank you! 🙂

Comments are closed.