CFL vs. LED light bulbs

Hawaiian Electric
3 min readJan 24, 2023

by Michael Choe | Jan. 24, 2023

You may have come across the acronyms CFL (compact fluorescent light) and LED (light-emitting diode) in the light bulb aisle, but what are they and how do they compare?

For starters, switching from an incandescent, or traditional, light bulb to a CFL saves at least 60% energy usage, which can add up to about $24 per year. They also produce less heat, come in different shapes and sizes, and last much longer before needing a replacement.

LEDs offer the same kinds of benefits but are twice as efficient as a CFL and can last six times longer. Like a CFL, they’re available in various forms, but they also come in all kinds of colors.

I checked out two identical light bulbs with the only difference being one was an LED and the other a CFL. Both were 60w equivalent, but the CFL uses 13 watts while the LED uses 8.8 watts. The CFL lasts up to nine years while the LED can go for 22. The CFL’s estimated energy cost is $1.57 per year while the LED’s is $1.06. The CFL is non-dimmable while the LED is dimmable. Overall, the LED is the better energy saver, but the CFL is still an efficient light bulb.

Another key difference between the two is the presence of mercury. CFLs contain mercury, LEDs don’t. If mercury is released into the environment, it can be hazardous. Mercury can’t exit a CFL simply from use. However, accidents can happen and bulbs can break. And simply throwing an expired bulb in the trash will likely result in it shattering on its way to the dump. That’s why, proper disposal of CFL bulbs is critical. Some Home Depot locations contain recycling bins specifically for used CFLs. You also can check the schedule for household hazardous waste collection events in your area.

Although LEDs do not contain mercury, it might still be a good idea to check local retailers to see if they recycle LEDs. Otherwise, they’re safe to toss in the trash if they’re wrapped in newspaper or a similar material so that if they do break, they won’t be a hazard.

Both types of light bulbs are valid options when seeking ways to save energy and money. In short, if you’re using CFLs, great! If you’re using LEDs, even better!

Michael Choe is a digital communications and social media specialist.



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