Can My Bulb Be Used With a Dimmer Switch?

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Dimmer switches are useful for setting a mood, creating low light, lowering energy costs, and just generally controlling the ambience and environment. However, the bulbs do not last forever, and the time will come for a replacement. Not all light bulbs are compatible with dimmer switches, which can be confusing for homeowners. Previously, before improvements in lighting technology, any dimmer switch would dim a light bulb. This is no longer true and now people need to know how to match light bulbs and dimmers to make them compatible.

Dimming switches work by affecting the voltage and not the wattage. With the incorrect dimming switch, certain light bulbs will get the wrong voltage and create problems. Consumers can find light bulbs and dimmer switches at brick and mortar stores like home improvement centers, specialty lighting stores, and at online locations like eBay. Before buying dimmer switches and light bulbs, people should be knowledgeable about the different types of light bulbs, dimmer switches, and how to choose compatible light bulbs and dimming switches.


Types of Light Bulbs

Light bulbs have a wattage and a voltage. The wattage is the strength of the current, while the voltage is the type of current. For example, a 40-watt bulb does not have as strong of a current as a 60-watt bulb, and thus does not emit as much light. The higher the wattage, the more light the bulb emits. Consumers have a choice of incandescent, halogen, fluorescent, and LED light bulbs. The incandescent and halogen bulbs are easy to control with a dimmer switch, while the fluorescent and LED bulbs save more energy, but they are more difficult to deploy with a dimmer switch and are more expensive. 

Incandescent Light Bulbs

Incandescent light bulbs work because an electric current runs through a wire filament, which heats the filament and makes it glow. The incandescent bulb and its close relative the halogen bulb are the most utilitarian light bulbs because they work with any dimmer switch. They burn out if the voltage is too much for them, but not if the voltage is underneath their capacity. Consumers wishing to conserve energy and increase the lifespan of the light bulb can lower the voltage to the bulb. These light bulbs can represent a real savings to the homeowner initially, as inexpensive light dimmers work just as well as expensive dimmers. Incandescent light bulbs also dim almost completely when just above the off position.

Fluorescent Light Bulbs

Fluorescent light bulbs run electricity through an argon containing tube with mercury vapor. The ultraviolet light generated excites the phosphor coating inside the tube to emit visible light. Some fluorescent light bulbs, also called CFLs, which stands for compact fluorescent light, are not designed for use with a dimmer. Instead of working with dimmer controls, if the user puts a lower voltage through it, the bulb will just shut off completely. To use a dimmer with a fluorescent light, the bulb must have a dimmable ballast, which will be written on the package or should be advertised if the buyer is shopping online. Some standard dimmers will then be compatible with a fluorescent bulb but not all are. Instead, consumers should get a dimmer that specifically says that is compatible with fluorescent lights. Even with a dimmable fluorescent bulb, at the lower light range, the bulb may just turn off. Another issue is that they may not turn on correctly when using one or more dimmers in different locations.

LED Light Bulbs

LED light bulbs work by a using a light emitting diode to induce electrons that interact with positively charged holes and release photons to produce luminescence. They dim lower than fluorescent bulbs but the dimming range is determined by the bulb's circuitry. Dimmable LEDs are also prone to turning off at the lower light range, and it too may perform incorrectly with one or more dimmers. While an incandescent bulb flickers with voltage fluctuations, an LED may shut off or flicker excessively.

Choosing the Right Bulb and Dimmer Switch

Depending on the manufacturer, bulb and dimmer performance will vary. When replacing the bulb on an appliance, it is always a good idea to find a replacement that is the same wattage. Choose manufacturers that rigorously test their bulbs and dimmers for performance and compatibility. When in doubt, consult the manufacturer's website and technical materials, or a consumer can contact the company directly with any questions. Also, stay updated on your bulb and dimmer and the manufacturer's technological improvements over time, as they may be able to improve the functionality of the bulb and dimmer or add extra features.

Choosing the Right Bulb

Consumers looking for replacement bulbs should compare bulb performance and expense when deciding which bulb to purchase. The proper bulb stays on as it is dimmed and performs as expected at each level of illumination. A fully functioning dimming bulb turns on even if there are one or more dimming switches and not flicker excessively during voltage fluctuations.

When buying a new bulb, a consumer should remember that incandescent dimmers can dim from zero to 100 percent, while fluorescent and LED bulbs can only lower to 10 to 20 percent of minimum value, so homeowners may not be able to achieve the level of ambience desired. The Philips A19 Household light and the E26 bulb are designed for use in kitchens, living rooms, bedrooms, and hallways, but they do not dim from zero to 100. In addition, fluorescent and LED bulbs require more expensive and complicated dimming switches. However, in the long run, LED and fluorescent bulbs provide significant energy savings.

Choosing a light bulb is also a matter of choosing a color that fits the homeowner's usage of the space and ambiance preferences. Bulbs are available that range from completely white to yellowish to a bluish light. Light color is measured in Kelvin (K). Lower numbers glow more yellow, while higher numbers glow more white or bluish.

  • Warm soft white ranges between 2700 K to 3000 K
  • A neutral, cool white is between 3500 K and 4100 K
  • A natural daylight illumination, which is good for reading, is between 5000 K and 6500 K

To get the best of both worlds, use an incandescent bulb, which is easy to deploy with a dimmer, and to save energy, consumers should consider getting ENERGY STAR qualified light bulbs. Following is a chart, adapted from, that outlines the savings in wattage.


Light Output

ENERGY STAR Qualified Bulbs

Regular Incandescent Bulbs

450 lumens

9 to 13 watts

40 watts

800 lumens

13 to 15 watts

60 watts

1,100 lumens

18 to 25 watts

75 watts

1,600 lumens

23 to 30 watts

100 watts

When comparing bulbs, consumers should focus on the lumens, which is a measure of the visible light emitted by the light bulb, in order to choose the right light bulb.

Choosing the Right Dimmer

Dimmers have varying features including different types of photocells, motion sensors, and timers. Some newer smart bulb dimming lights are in the same console as a ceiling fan, which creates a small temperature and light control board. When investing in dimmers, people should keep in mind that advanced dimming circuitry is available with high efficacy light bulbs. While inexpensive dimmers are adequate for incandescent and halogen bulbs, consumers may want to invest in dimmers that are capable of handling mixed load sources including LEDs and CFLs on the same circuit.

Keep in mind that a dimming switch is different from a three-way light switch. The dimmer is designed to allow the user many gradations of illumination, while the three-way switch lights at only three different levels. To use a three-way switch, buy a bulb specifically for three-way technology. Three-way bulbs are more expensive than regular CFL bulbs.


Buying Bulbs and Dimmer Switches on eBay

People looking for incandescent bulbs, halogen bulbs, fluorescent bulbs, and LED bulbs can use the search box on eBay's homepage. Using the search box is quick and efficient as you can find exactly the right bulb that you want. Incandescent bulbs and halogen bulbs will work with any dimmer, and while the dimmer can be of the less expensive variety, keep in mind others come with additional features. People who want to use fluorescent and LED bulbs should enter the terms "dimmable fluorescent light," "three-way fluorescent bulb," or "LED bulb."

Look for sellers with high feedback scores as this indicates that they have given good service and reliable products in the past. Authorized sellers often offer reasonable return and exchange policies in case the light bulb or dimmer does not suit. Sellers often offer free shipping, but when shipping light bulbs, be sure that the bulb is properly packaged to avoid breakage. Alternatively, find a local seller so that you can pick up the light bulb and be sure it is not damaged. When searching, you can use eBay's save a search function to go back at a later time and find a seller or product you want.



People looking for bulbs and dimmers should keep in mind that incandescent and halogen bulbs are easier to use because they are compatible with any dimmer switch. The initial costs for incandescent and halogen bulbs are lower, but over time, a consumer can save money and energy by using fluorescent and LED light bulbs. Consumers who choose to use fluorescent and LED light bulbs need to be very sure that the light bulb specifically states on the package or advertising that it is compatible with dimmers or three-way switches so that the bulb dims. Without taking the time to make this critical distinction, voltage problems may occur, as well as a voiding of the light bulb or dimmer warranty. Additionally, fluorescent and LED bulbs can cost as much as three times more, and the dimmer will cost more as well.

Finding light bulbs and dimmer switches that work together is not difficult. Compatible bulbs are sold as one-offs and can also be purchased in a pack of four or more. Dimming bulbs are sold at lighting stores and home improvement stores. Sites like eBay make it easy to find the right type of bulb as well as the right type of dimmer switch, as they have many sellers and a searchable inventory. To perform a search, simply do a keyword search for "dimmable light bulb" and filter the results according to your desired specifications.


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