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Buying Guide

LED vs Fluorescent

Fluorescent Lights
A few CFL spiral bulbs on a table.

Filled with mercury vapor that produces light by converting UV rays with fluorescent coating into visible light, fluorescent lights are available in two designs: tube lights and CFL. 

Here are the features and benefits of fluorescent lighting: 

  • Fluorescent tube lights vary in length and will not work without a ballast. The ballast stabilizes the light, may require more time to heat up and will also flicker or shake if not balanced. Tube lights are generally used in commercial buildings, warehouses and schools. 
  • CFL, or compact fluorescent light, is smaller, efficient and can last about 10,0000 hours. Their lifespan reduces when frequently switched on and off. CFL light bulbs last up to 10 times longer and use up to 75 percent less energy than traditional incandescent light bulbs
LED Lights
A man installing fluorescent tube lights.

LED light bulbs are made using a light-emitting diode (LED). This is a solid-state semiconductor that emits light when a current passes through it. 

Here are some features and benefits of LED lights:

  • Great for hard-to-reach areas since they don't have to be changed as often. They are also preferred in many homes because they emit very little heat. 
  • LED tube lights are a great alternative in office spaces and other larger spaces as they don’t require a ballast and feature all of the energy efficiency of typical LED lighting. 
  • LED lighting is directional, rather than a wider area of light, making them a great choice for headlights, flashlights and other electronic items. 
A GU24 two-pin socket light bulb.

When comparing LED vs CFL, there are a few differences that will make the design easier in terms of budget, energy use and style. 

  • The shapes and base sizes available in each type of lighting are two of the biggest differences. Typically, a CFL bulb will still be in the shape of a tube, but range in size. Common CFL shapes include spiral or twister bulbs and triple tubes. Common base sizes include candelabra, intermediate, medium, GU24 and G23. 
  • LEDs, however, are available in a variety of shapes and sizes which can be identified by a series of letters and numbers. 
  • CFL bulbs are commonly characterized by their popular, spiral-shaped design and emit a softer glow. They contain small amounts of mercury and can take a while to warm up to full brightness. As a result, they use minimal amounts of electricity.
  • LED emits a light that is closer to natural daylight and does not need a warm-up time. They are also available in a variety of on-trend styles and designs. 
  • Because of their efficiency, LED light bulbs will cost a bit more than fluorescent but will save more energy. 
  • In terms of LED vs CFL in energy efficiency, both CFL and LED bulbs are good for conserving energy, with LED conserving a bit more.
  • Fluorescent bulbs are generally less expensive than LED options, but they have a shorter lifespan and must be carefully recycled due to their mercury content.
  • When it comes to color, bulbs come in a range of color temperatures rated in Kelvins. Those on the low end of the Kelvin scale emit a warmer, yellowish light. Bulbs with a higher Kelvin numbers emit a bluer light, like conventional fluorescent lights.
  • To maintain consistent light quality, use bulbs with the same color temperature in a room. To learn more, check out our Light Bulb Brightness guide.
Light Output and Power Consumption
Edison-style LED bulbs hang on string lights.

Tip: Savings estimates are for lifetime of bulb, based on 3 hours of usage per day, at .12 cents per kilowatt hour

When selecting a bulb, consider its wattage and lumens.

  • Watts: Bulb manufacturers have traditionally used watts to represent light output, but wattage is actually a measure of power consumption, not brightness. LEDs will have a lower wattage than CFLs.  
  • Lumens: The standard unit of light output for bulbs is the lumen. A higher lumen number indicates a brighter bulb. A CFL and LED with the same lumen rating will produce the same amount of brightness; however, the CFL will use more wattage.
  • Equivalent wattage: To make it easier to compare, manufacturers generally provide an equivalent wattage rating for CFLs along with the lumens rating. 
  • Lumens per watt: The standard measure of efficiency is the ratio of light output to power usage, represented as lumens per watt, or LPW. A higher LPW rating indicates greater energy efficiency and increased savings.
  • Bulb life: Bulb manufacturers usually provide an estimated bulb life for CFLs, listed in total hours. Quality CFLs have a bulb life rating of 10,000 hours or more. The exact bulb life for a CFL will vary depending on usage. Quality LEDs have a life span of 25,000 hours. 

Disposing of Bulbs
A person disposing of a CFL light bulb.

Properly disposing of LED vs fluorescent bulbs comes down to keeping the mercury contained. CFLs typically contain 4 mg of mercury. 

  • As long as the bulb is intact, the mercury is safely contained. Avoid contact with a broken bulb.
  • If you break a CFL, air out the room for 15 minutes. Approach the cleanup carefully, following the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended procedure.
  • The EPA recommends that you bring old CFLs to qualified recyclers, rather than disposing of them in trash cans or curbside recycling bins.
    You can bring old CFLs to The Home Depot for free recycling. Visit the Eco Options website to learn more.
  • If you’re concerned about the mercury content in CFLs, consider LED bulbs. One of many LED advantages is that they don’t contain mercury and do not have the same cleanup constraints. They are just as energy-efficient.