Compact Fluorescent Bulb Problems


Compact fluorescent lamps, also known as CFLs, are a type of energy-efficient bulb that can be used in a number of lighting applications. The bulbs are essentially miniature versions of tube-style fluorescent bulbs but are designed to fit into fixtures such as table lamps. Although these bulbs have advantages such as long lifespans and reduced energy consumption, they do have some problems from time to time.

Fixture Compatibility

  • It is extremely important to check the packaging of a CFL bulb to determine if it is compatible with the intended fixture. CFL bulbs use far less wattage than traditional incandescent bulbs but will usually say on the package what their maximum wattage can be. For example, a CFL that says it is equivalent to a 60-watt light bulb should not go in a fixture that has a maximum of 40 watts.

    Another fixture problem comes when the base of the fixture is not designed to handle the CFL bulb screw-in base. If the fixture has a warning saying it can only take standard incandescent bulbs, a CFL bulb may not function in the fixture.

    Finally, some CFL bulbs are specially designed to function with dimmer switches and adjustable brightness controls, but some are not. Check the CFL packaging, because regular CFL bulbs may burn out quicker when used in improper outlets.

Wear and Tear

  • Although CFL bulbs can withstand some normal usage, wear and tear can shorten life or damage the bulb. If the bulb is switched off and on multiple times within a short time frame, this can burn the bulb out more quickly. "Popular Mechanics" found that vibrations near the bulb can cause damage to the bulb, such as door being slammed nearby.


  • Some CFL bulbs may come defective. The "Popular Mechanics" website reports that at least one reader found one CFL bulb smoking in its fixture and another CFL bulb that simply would not turn on. Although the majority of CFL bulbs function properly, the bulb should be tested out before long-term use.

Mercury Poisoning

  • CFL bulbs contain small amounts of mercury, which can be toxic to humans. If the bulb is broken, the mercury can leak out. Proper handling and proper disposal is important to avoid mercury poisoning. Disposing of CFL bulbs in the regular trash can harm the environment and the water supply if they eventually break or crack.
    Contact your local waste management government office to ask about recycling programs for CFL bulbs, or check the bulb's packaging for information about recycling or drop-off sites.

Aesthetics and Shape

  • Although the design of CFL bulbs has improved over the years, some of the shapes available can look awkward in some light fixtures. Long U-shaped CFLs can protrude from the tops of lampshades or stick out of downward-facing shades. Logistical problems such as replacing a covered light fixture's bulb with a CFL bulb can lead to being unable to put the light fixture cover back into place.

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