Are Incandescent Bulbs Safe?


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Light bulbs illuminate our houses and our workspaces; without them, we’d be back in the dark ages. With an abundance of lightbulb types flooding the market, incandescent bulbs lost popularity when their more energy-efficient counterparts gained exposure. After a bulb ban in the U.S. and abroad, consumers began to question if incandescent bulbs remained a safe purchase.

Incandescent bulbs are safe. Though they emit carbon dioxide, the main concern with their safety is their overall energy efficiency and the potential effect on the environment. They are still considered safe for home and commercial usage.

The rest of this article will explain why incandescent bulbs are safe, delve into why they were deemed unsafe, dispel common safety myths, and provide solid safety facts to help consumers purchase and use incandescent bulbs with confidence.

Why Incandescent Bulbs Are Safe

Market Domination

Until 2007, incandescent bulbs dominated the market. When consumers bought a light bulb, it was almost certainly an incandescent bulb. The Energy and Independence Security Act of 2007 led to changes in the light bulb industry.  

In 2012, incandescent bulbs began a phase-out process in favor of more earth-friendly bulb types. This wasn’t due to overall consumer safety, though. The “ban” was initiated as a means of promoting energy efficiency. As such, markets decided to stop producing incandescent bulbs while allowing consumers to continue purchasing them in stores until the supply dissolved. 

The U.S. wasn’t alone in this ban. Other countries also initiated bans on incandescent bulbs for similar environmental reasons and some of those bans remain today.

  • Japan
  • Taiwan
  • Cuba
  • Canada
  • India
  • Malaysia
  • South Korea
  • China
  • EU
  • Australia
  • Vietnam 

The proposed change was enough to make consumers worry and quell fears about light bulb safety and supply availability. 

According to the Seattle Times, fearing the incandescent bulb ban led consumers to hoard shelf stock. “I look better in 60 watts,” one consumer exclaimed. In 2019, the U.S. reversed the ban on incandescent light bulbs as the energy department declared it was not economically justified. Today, you can go into virtually any store and see incandescent bulbs as well as a multitude of other light bulbs.

Affordability

Incandescent bulbs are one of the most affordable, safe bulbs on the market today. With dimmable options, they remain a cost-effective rival for more expensive light bulb types.

Cost Comparison

  • Incandescent – $1 per bulb
  • CFL – $2 per bulb
  • LED – $8 or less per bulb

Previously the most commonly purchased and popular light bulb choice, they remain a practical and viable option for home usage, especially for furniture and fixtures such as table lamps, ceiling fans, night lights, wall sconces, and chandeliers. Enhancing their popularity, the light they produce is inviting for complexions and often creates less strain on eyes than fluorescent lighting.

To learn more about what an incandescent light bulb is and how it works, see below:

Why Were Incandescent Bulbs Deemed Unsafe?

Economic and Energy Efficiency

Incandescent bulbs burn for approximately 700-1000 hours. Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFSs), by comparison, burn for closer to 7,000 hours, and LED lights can last up to 20 years. Though more expensive than incandescent bulbs at the outset, the lifetime cost savings of purchasing alternative light bulbs are seen as an economic advantage. 

How the Bulbs Burn

With the emergence of the global warming crisis, how incandescent bulbs burn furthered more safety concerns than how long they burn. However, burn time factored into the decision to eliminate incandescent bulbs.

Incandescent bulbs use more power and use more carbon dioxide than their counterparts. They put a strain on air conditioning systems. Because most of their electricity converts directly to heat, keeping rooms with incandescent lights ventilated and cool poses a real challenge. The carbon dioxide used by incandescent bulbs is staggering compared to other light bulbs. Replacing one incandescent home bulb is like taking 800,000 cars off the road.

Incandescent Bulbs Are Hot!

90% of the electricity incandescent bulbs create is converted to heat. With an approximate 30% conversion for fluorescent lights, that’s a big difference. That’s why, if you touch an incandescent bulb, it’s going to be much hotter than touching a fluorescent bulb. 

To better understand the differences between light bulb types, check out this video:

Myths and Facts Related to Incandescent Bulb Safety

Incandescent Bulbs Contain Mercury

Incandescent Bulbs do not contain do not as it can be dangerous when emitted from broken light bulbs. This makes disposal particularly important for mercury-containing bulbs. Because incandescent bulbs do not contain mercury, a broken bulb is not as dangerous overall.

Incandescent Bulbs Can Cause Fire

This is true. It is recommended that you leave space around incandescent bulbs. If air circulation is poor, the temperature of the bulb can rise and create a fire hazard to flammable objects around it. Moving objects away from the light bulbs and only using incandescent bulbs in well-ventilated areas can help eliminate the risk of fire.

Incandescent Bulbs are Unhealthy 

It is true that incandescent bulbs are less efficient for the environment, but that is not necessarily true when it comes to their effect on our health, most notably, our eyesight. According to the EMF Academy, incandescent bulbs are the best bulb for overall health. They emit less blue light than many other types of light bulbs. Emitting less blue light means less risk of macular degeneration

Safety Guidelines for Incandescent Bulbs

Ventilation Matters

Because 90% of incandescent electricity is converted to heat, it’s important to keep incandescent bulbs in well-ventilated areas. If you cannot, be sure to keep the bulbs away from flammable materials that might catch fire as the heat of the bulb rises.

How to Dispose of Incandescent Bulbs Safely

Though bulbs can be placed in the trash, there is a danger to waste management workers if the bulb breaks. To lessen the risk of accidental injury, wrap broken light bulbs in paper or plastic before disposing of. 

Be Careful of Breakage

Incandescent bulbs don’t contain mercury, which means they aren’t necessarily dangerous when broken. However, the bulbs are made of very thin glass. If they break, they can often shatter quickly, causing cuts to the skin and eyes. Be careful when disposing of or dropping light bulbs, and quickly shield your face if a bulb shatters as thin shards can even be inhaled.

Checklist for Buying and Using Incandescent Light Bulbs Safely

Now that you know using incandescent light bulbs is safe and that they are no longer banned in the U.S, here’s a checklist for purchasing and using them safely in your home:

  • Choose incandescent bulbs for a cheap, affordable option to light home fixtures. Consider them for lamps and lighting sources that are in well-ventilated areas. Lower wattage lights will produce less heat.
  • Be careful when recycling. The bulbs are safer to dispose of than other bulbs and require less recycling care. Still, be careful when throwing old bulbs away and tightening new bulbs, so they don’t shatter accidentally.

Final Thoughts

Incandescent bulbs may not be the most popular choice on the market, given their more energy-efficient counterparts. That does not mean, however, that they are not safe to purchase or to use. From standard bulbs to dimmable vintage bulbs, incandescent bulbs are a viable choice when determining the best lighting to purchase for your home.

Nicole Sutton

Nicole is a writer from Missouri who enjoys horseback riding, writing in her journal, and watching reruns of Friends.

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