You are here

Shopping for Light Bulbs

Share this page

For years, people chose light bulbs by the watt, learning over time how bright a typical 40-watt or 60-watt bulb looks. But wattage tells you only how much energy a bulb uses — not how bright it is. That takes lumens.

What are lumens?

Today’s light bulbs are designed to use less energy. Wattage is no longer a reliable way to gauge a light bulb’s brightness. Lumens measure brightness.

  • lumens = brightness
  • watts = energy

For example, a 60-watt incandescent bulb produces about 800 lumens of light. By comparison, an LED (light-emitting diode) bulb produces that same 800 lumens but uses only about 9 watts.

Lumens let you compare the brightness of any bulb, whether it’s a halogen incandescent, CFL (compact fluorescent), or LED. Using lumens helps you compare apples to apples when you shop for light bulbs.

How bright is the light?

This graphic shows the number of lumens produced by common incandescent bulbs. If you’re looking to buy a bulb that will give you the amount of light you used to get from a 60-watt bulb, for example, you’ll now look for 800 lumens.

Once you know how bright a bulb you want, you can compare other factors, like the yearly energy cost, which you can find on the Lighting Facts label.

What is the Lighting Facts label?

The Lighting Facts label is on the package. It gives you information to compare different bulbs, including:

  • Brightness (in lumens)
  • Yearly estimated energy cost
  • Expected bulb life (in years)
  • Light appearance (how warm or cool the light will look)
  • Wattage (the energy used)
  • If the bulb contains mercury

For many shoppers, the light appearance, or color temperature, of the bulb matters a lot. The Lighting Facts label will tell you where that bulb falls on the warm (more yellow) to cool (more blue) range.

The label may include the Energy Star logo if the bulb meets the energy efficiency and performance standards of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy’s ENERGY STAR program. For more on ENERGY STAR standards, visit energystar.gov.

What’s on the bulb?

The number of lumens is printed on the bulb. If the bulb is a CFL, it may be on the bulb’s base. CFLs also include a web address, epa.gov/cfl, for information on safe recycling and disposal. CFLs contain mercury, so you need to be careful if a CFL breaks and you need to clean it up and dispose of it.

Where can I get more information?

Learn more about shopping for light bulbs at energysavers.gov/lighting.