Difference Between Fluorescent (CFL) and Incandescent Bulbs

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: September 05, 2023


Difference Between Fluorescent (CFL) and Incandescent Bulbs

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Everybody hates paying off the bills that pile up like clockwork every month. Energy/electricity bills are not an exception; they, too, are hated. Therefore, it is natural to want to know how to reduce those bills and what bulb types help conserve energy while doing their job efficiently. Some people like to weigh the benefits of cost reduction with the negative impact on the environment due to such cost reduction. While most people will say it is better to purchase a fluorescent bulb, some still stick to incandescent bulbs due to their lower cost per unit.

Einstein is credited with the invention of the commercially viable incandescent light bulb. And people have been depending on these light bulbs for many years. With the invention of compact fluorescent light bulbs, incandescent bulbs were on their way to being forgotten. The US tried to pass the EISA law in 2012 with the intent to outlaw incandescent bulbs; however, this act was scrapped in 2019, as the more energy-efficient bulbs were costlier. Moreover, some people have been using incandescent bulbs for a long time and found it hard to switch to other bulb types (wow, bad habits are really hard to let go, huh?).

Fluorescent (CFL) vs. Incandescent Bulbs

A fluorescent bulb has a better luminous efficacy (refers to how well a source produces light) than an incandescent bulb. The former produces 50 – 100 lumens per watt, whereas the latter produces 16 lumens per watt (pretty underwhelming for a light bulb that has been around for decades, right?).

Difference Between Fluorescent (CFL) And Incandescent Bulbs In Tabular Form

Parameters of ComparisonFluorescent BulbsIncandescent Bulbs
LifetimeThese bulbs typically last for 10,000 hours.People will spend less purchasing fluorescent bulbs in the long run, as they do not have to be replaced often. (In short, don’t fret about spending more today; the savings will be more tomorrow.)
Cost in the long runPeople will spend less purchasing fluorescent bulbs in the long run, as they do not have to be replaced often. (In short, don’t fret about spending more today, the savings will be more tomorrow.)Though incandescent bulbs are cheap, they need to be replaced frequently due to their short life. Therefore, people end up spending more on incandescent bulbs than fluorescent ones in the long run.
Heat Emission80% of the energy these bulbs generate is lost as heat.More than 90% of the energy these bulbs produce is lost as heat.
Presence of MercuryFluorescent bulbs contain mercury; therefore, they are classified as hazardous waste.Incandescent bulbs do not contain mercury.
Energy efficiencyThese bulbs only require 13 – 18 watts to produce 650 – 800 lumens (the higher the lumens, the brighter the light).These bulbs require 60 watts to produce 650 – 800 lumens, which makes them the least energy-efficient light bulb type.

What Are Fluorescent (CFL) Bulbs?

Compact Fluorescent bulbs have been commercially available since 1938. Initially, they cost significantly higher than incandescent bulbs. However, after several upgrades, the cheapest fluorescent bulbs only differ by a dollar in cost from the incandescent ones. These bulbs’ energy efficiency and brightness are second only to that of LED bulbs.

People were hesitant to use these bulbs because of their mercury content, but this did not prevent the bulbs from becoming popular, as they emit minimal mercury. Still, the US Environmental Protection Agency recommends keeping discarded fluorescent bulbs separate from general waste to ensure their safe disposal.

Overdriving a fluorescent bulb results in more brightness, but the bulb’s life expectancy diminishes. This overdriving technique/method is used when more bulbs cannot be put in a room. Some aquatic gardeners use this method as it aids in adding more brightness to their aquariums in a cost-efficient way.

Fluorescent bulbs with magnetic ballasts flicker, which is normally unnoticeable. However, it is a nuisance for people sensitive to light and may be problematic to those with autism, epilepsy, vertigo, lupus, etc. Except for a few models, dimming ballasts are required to dim the brightness of fluorescent bulbs.

Types Of Fluorescent Bulbs

Apart from the regular fluorescent bulbs used in households, there are several other types, which are as follows:

Black Light

Black lights are built similarly to conventional fluorescent bulbs; however, the inner phosphor coating in black lights converts the short-wave UV into long-wave UV and not into visible light like the conventional bulbs.

Black lights are necessary to view paintings painted with blacklight paint in their full splendor (the luminous paint reacts to the black light, and the painting seems to glow). Moreover, they are used in bug zappers (devices that attract and kill insects fascinated by light).

Tanning Bulbs

These bulbs contain 3 – 5 more phosphors than conventional fluorescent bulbs. They are used in tanning beds and emit UVA and UVB, causing tanning on exposed skin. Earlier, thallium was used as the activator; however, manufacturers began using lead instead when they found thallium emission during manufacture to be toxic.

Grow Bulbs

Grow bulbs aid in encouraging photosynthesis and growth in light-dependent organisms due to their unique mix of phosphors. Typically, grow bulbs emit red or blue light, which a plant’s chlorophyll absorbs and uses for photosynthesis.

Aperture Bulbs

Aperture bulbs have an internal opaque reflector that emits light in a single direction instead of spilling in all directions. Typically, only 30% of the bulbs inside have phosphor coating to maximize the brightness of the light they emit. In the 1960s and 70s, aperture bulbs were used in photocopiers.

Bilirubin Bulbs

Bilirubin bulbs’ phosphors are activated by europium. They emit a deep blue light that penetrates the skin and breaks up excess bilirubin (an essential compound for the catabolism process that clears the body’s waste caused by the destruction of abnormal red blood cells). As high bilirubin levels lead to jaundice, bilirubin bulbs are used in light therapies to treat jaundice.

Electrodeless Bulbs

These bulbs lack the electrodes present in conventional fluorescent bulbs and have been around since 1990. Electrodeless bulbs last longer than traditional ones because electrodes do not limit their lifespan, which is often the case in conventional bulbs.

Germicidal Bulbs

Germicidal bulbs do not contain phosphor, and the UVC light they emit kills germs. UVC can cause skin and eye damage (give this type of fluorescent bulb a wide berth, folks). Geologists use these lamps to identify some mineral species.

UVB Medical Bulbs

These bulbs emit only UVB ultraviolet light, which are of two types. Broadband UVB may cause erythema in the skin; however, narrowband UVB does not because of its longer wavelength. The broadband is helpful for increasing Vitamin D3 levels in people’s bodies, and the narrowband in treating several skin diseases like psoriasis, vitiligo, and lupus.

What Are Incandescent Bulbs?

An incandescent light bulb or incandescent light globe that glows, providing light when its filament is heated. They come in a variety of sizes and work well on alternating (current changes direction and varies in magnitude) as well as direct current (one-directional current flow). Therefore, they are popular choices for portable lighting, such as flashlights, headlamps, and table lamps. Traditional/conventional incandescent bulbs are the least efficient type of electric lighting. However, halogen incandescent bulbs are slightly more efficient than conventional ones.

Incandescent bulbs emit five times the heat emitted by fluorescent ones. However, frequent switching, which shortens the latter’s lifespan, does not reduce the former’s lifespan. Most modern incandescent bulbs are filled with inert gas. Some of the other commonly used fills are argon, vacuum, nitrogen, krypton (with or without xenon), hydrogen, and halogen. Incandescent arc lamps use an electric arc instead of wire filament. They run on low voltages and are easier to operate than arc lamps. However, xenon arc lamps replaced these lamps.

Halogen Incandescent Bulbs

Halogen bulbs are a type of incandescent bulb filled with a mixture of inert gas and some iodine or bromine. They are less energy efficient than fluorescent and LEDs but are more efficient than conventional incandescent bulbs. Halogen bulbs are made of quartz (most popular) or aluminosilicate glass. The reason for their slightly better efficiency is the presence of halogen gases that allow the bulbs to operate at a higher temperature and quartz, which reduces the rate of tungsten evaporation.

In conventional bulbs, the evaporated tungsten sticks to the bulbs’ inside, causing them to blacken. The tungsten filament, too, becomes weaker and finally breaks. However, in halogen bulbs, the halogen cycle prevents the blackening and ensures constant light output throughout the bulbs’ lives. The first halogen bulb was commercially launched in 1959; it was made of quartz and contained iodine.

Many theatrical and studio fixtures, such as Source Four and PAN Cans use halogen bulbs. These bulbs’ compact size makes them suitable for use in portable projectors. Halogen floodlights are a popular choice for outdoor lighting (everybody loves affordable and bright lighting systems, right?). However, many countries have started to phase out halogen bulbs. The EU banned directional halogen bulbs in 2016 and non-directional ones in 2018. Australia followed in its footsteps and banned these bulbs in 2021.

Attempts are being made to make incandescent bulbs more efficient. GE announced a High Efficiency Incandescent (HEI) project in 2007. The project’s vision was to make incandescent bulbs four times more efficient than they are now, and the mission was to make them at least two times more efficient.

However, the project was scrapped in 2008. Philips was a little more successful in its endeavors and introduced hybrid incandescent bulbs like Halogena Energy Saver, which can produce 23 lumens per watt. Moreover, some lab experiments have shown proof that incandescent bulbs can produce 45 lumens per watt, which is pretty close to a fluorescent bulb’s luminous efficacy (whoa, so incandescent bulbs may prove resilient and phase out fluorescent ones in the future?). However, the commercially available incandescent bulbs at present are still not energy efficient.

Main Difference Between Fluorescent (CFL) And Incandescent Bulbs (In Points)

  • Incandescent bulbs are more detrimental to the environment than fluorescent bulbs, as they burn more electricity resulting in the release of greenhouse gases.
  • Fluorescent bulbs cost per unit is more ($2) than incandescent bulbs ($1).
  • The argon and mercury vapor-containing tube in a fluorescent bulb is charged, resulting in short-wave ultraviolet light production. This ultraviolet light reacts with the bulb’s phosphor inner coating, making the bulb glow. On the other hand, incandescent bulbs produce light when the tungsten filament in them is heated.
  • Incandescent bulbs can be switched on instantly, whereas traditional (not instant or rapid) fluorescent bulbs take more time to produce light, as the gas used in them requires ionization for the arc to strike.
  • Fluorescent bulbs have argon and tungsten, similar to incandescent bulbs. However, they also contain barium, strontium, and calcium oxides.
  • Edison invented the incandescent bulbs. However, though he started experimenting with fluorescent lights, it was Arthur Compton who successfully invented a commercially viable one.
  • Exposure for eight hours to small ultraviolet emission by fluorescent bulbs is equal to one minute of sun exposure. On the other hand, incandescent bulbs do not emit ultraviolet light.


Ultimately, neither incandescent nor fluorescent bulbs can match the energy efficiency and luminous efficacy of LEDs. In the long run, people will be better off with an LED bulb. Obviously, the second best choice is a fluorescent bulb. They may contain mercury but still have a less negative impact on the environment than incandescent bulbs. After all, incandescent bulbs burn up so much electricity – the amount of coal that must be burned to power incandescent bulbs contribute to global warming and other climatic change.

However, if people merely want a bulb to light up a room just enough for them to walk into it without tripping, incandescent bulbs may be a better option. Who would want to put a fluorescent bulb in a supply closet or a storage room they barely open? Besides, would Grandma’s attic be creepy without people’s beloved incandescent bulbs lighting it up? In the end, the choice between an incandescent and a fluorescent bulb depends on the purpose for which they are required.


  • https://www.lampsplus.com/ideas-and-advice/cfl-vs-led-vs-incandescent-light-bulbs/
  • https://viribright.com/blogs/insights/comparing-led-vs-cfl-vs-incandescent-light-bulbs
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fluorescent_lamp
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incandescent_light_bulb
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halogen_lamp


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"Difference Between Fluorescent (CFL) and Incandescent Bulbs." Diffzy.com, 2024. Fri. 19 Apr. 2024. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-fluorescent-cfl-and-incandescent-bulbs>.

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