HOW TO: Switch Your Light Bulbs And Get Ready for the Big Light Bulb Phase-Out

by , 05/18/12

change lightbulb, Energy Independence and Security Act, incandescent bulb phase out, phasing out incandescent bulbs, incandescent bulbs, philips, green lighting, green design, eco design, sustainable design, eco lighting, sustainable lighting, energy saving lights, leds, light emitting diode, led lights, led, cfl, compact fluorescent light, green light bulb, best bulb, led light bulb, cfl light bulb, how to switch to green lighting, how to green lightingWoman Changing a Light Bulb pic from Shutterstock


How many people does it take to screw in a light bulb? Usually just one, but if you’re using a ladder, you might want to have a friend steady it for you. Once you have your more energy-efficient replacements for your incandescents, simply unscrew your old bulbs, and screw in your new LEDs or CFLs. You might want to save the packaging from your new bulbs to wrap around your old bulbs when you discard them.

Light Bulb Vending Machine, ikea light bulb recycling, light bulb recyclingPhoto via ReverseVending


Unfortunately, at the moment, most cities do not recycle incandescent light bulbs so the best way to dispose of your old bulb is to package them up in the box your new bulb came in (this will help keep it from shattering) and simply discard it in your regular garbage. No matter how tempting it is, don’t throw your light bulbs in the recycle bin.

If you really want to try and recycle your incandescent bulbs, some IKEA stores have bulb recycling bins. A lot of the time these are for CFLs, but some stores have separate bins for incandescents.


As you learned in our charts on the previous pages of this article, CFLs are different from incandescents and LEDs in that they contain mercury, a material that can be harmful to humans if the liquid is touched, or vapors are inhaled. While CFLs only contain a minuscule amount of mercury, it’s important to dispose of them properly so as not to allow the vapor to escape into your house, or the substance to enter our waste streams and water supply. The best way to recycle your CFL bulbs is to take them to a local in-store recycling program (see a list of participating retailers here) or send them in via an easy mail-back service like the ones listed here.

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Since we’ve mention that CFL bulbs contain mercury, you might be worried about what to do if one of them breaks in your home. The good news is that CFLs contain only a tiny amount of mercury and they are not likely to present a significant risk to you or your family, but to be on the safe side, it’s important to still take the proper steps to clean them up and dispose of them quickly and carefully.

When a bulb breaks, it’s probably your immediate instinct to start picking up the pieces of glass, but in the case of a CFL, the first thing you should do is get everyone (including pets) out of the room and ventilate it as well as you can. Open all of the windows and shut off your central forced-air heating/air conditioning system, if you have one.

After 15 minutes or so of ventilation, you can start the cleanup. If you have gloves and a mask, it’s a good idea to put them on. DO NOT use a vacuum cleaner, broom or anything else that might flick the shards around the room. Instead, use a piece of hard paper or cardboard to slowly scoop up the glass fragments and powder and place them into glass jar with a metal lid. Then, use sticky tape to pick the remaining small glass fragments and powder. Lastly, use a damp paper towel to wipe the area clean and dispose of it in the glass jar. If you still see tiny particles around, you can use your vacuum cleaner only on the area where the bulb broke and then immediately clean out the contents and place them in the glass jar or a sealed plastic bag. Then wipe and clean the inside of the vacuum bag or canister. When you feel you’ve removed all of the pieces of bulb, immediately place the glass jar or bags containing the waste in an outdoor trash container, and don’t forget to wash your hands thoroughly! For a more detailed list of these instructions, visit

Potus Pot, recycled incandescent bulb vase, bulb vase, lightbulb vase, recycled bulb vase

Since there isn’t much you can do in terms of recycling incandescent bulbs, why not get crafty and creative and upcycle them into cute vases (like this one shown above) or terrariums (like this one below). Bam – instant unique birthday or holiday present that says you are awesome, and you really care!

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Last but not least, you can always hold on to your old incandescent bulb if it isn’t completely dead, since incandescents will be like rare antiques in a few years (okay, maybe that’s a bit of an overstatement). You might even be able to sell it on eBay some day!


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  1. Sandra Razieli February 18, 2015 at 12:36 am

    I am very sensitive to the cool/ blue light. I get migraines and lose my ability to focus. I need to be in a Kelvin rate of 2700 or below to feel okay. Unfortunately that’s just on the edge of what’s available with LEDs and I have yet to find one that works for me. I wonder how many other people have this issue. Also, if anyone wants to get rid of their incandescents, I’d be happy to take them.

  2. Steven Sherman February 15, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    If you want to upgrade your lighting system to efficient LEDs without the up-front costs, consider joining the Dollar LED Club. For just a $1/bulb/month you can lease high quality LEDs. After two years the bulbs are yours and you continue to save.

  3. Dawn Redman January 2, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    I will not buy CFL’s. 1) They all contain mercury and most people don’t read the warning on the label that says you must bring blown out CFL’s to a hazardous waste facility. that means most of the CFL’s go right into our landfills. Not good 2) the vast majority of CFL’s are made in China. I prefer to buy products made in the U S. 3) My observation is that if you leave a CFL on all the time it will last a very long time, but if you turn it on/off whenever you enter/leave a room (I do) it won’t last much longer than a traditional incandescent bulb. 4) I use dimmers for most of my lights so that I can reduce the light and energy I use as needed. LED’s are a much better option, in my opinion, but the light they produce is cold and less bright.

  4. Dr. K. December 24, 2013 at 4:32 pm

    Many people – I’m one – use dimmer switches so that we can reduce both the desired brightness at any given time and energy consumed. My 40 watt bulbs last a long time and are energy efficient thanks to the dimmer switches. The catch re LED: can’t use dimmers with them, so we who have been helping reduce energy consumption all along, as well as enjoying a continuum of light, from very low to full strength, will be out of luck.

  5. jchastn December 24, 2013 at 2:28 am

    Are Halogen bulbs considered “traditional incandescent”bulbs? They do produce more light with less energy. Are they going to be phased out?

  6. cagefreeg November 14, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    To your comments re: High Tech Options for LED Light that mimic certain features that are preferable from incandescent bulbs, I found the following at

    I’ll paraphrase;

    >>Four 60-watt-equivalent CFLs, four 100-watt-equivalent CFLs, 12 incandescent candle bulbs for dimmable ceiling fixtures, and six 100-watt reflective PAR38 halogen bulbs in the recesses of our kitchen. Yes, those last ones are rather bright. I mention that because I think it realistically represents how people really live, often choosing comfort or preference in small ways over a cost benefit or a sense of environmental obligation.

    That’s roughly $55 in bulbs with no real LED equivilent for the halogens. But even if we were to just replace the rest with 12/60-watt LEDs, 17/75-watt LEDs, and 2.5/15-watt LED candle bulbs it still comes to $371.40!!!<<

    When I see the recommendations that you've made here and then see the associated costs I immediately think of my retired mother on a fixed income collecting social security and a small pension. I think of my daughter who collects a small state assistance stipened and child support to make ends meet. I think of my son with with two small boys who he provides for… and then I return to the disingenuous 'spin' that you've put on these high-tech alternatives and the convenient omissions regarding their cost… and I have to wonder what your real motivations are…

  7. ep4169 December 6, 2012 at 11:17 am

    What’s the difference between a phase-out and a ban? Effectively, nothing. In a couple of years I will no longer be able to buy traditional incandescents. That’s a ban.

    Why shouldn’t I be free to choose incandescents if I prefer them? The additional money I supposedly spend on them will help fund our supposedly strained energy grid.

    It’s time for the regulation busybodies in this country to get off our backs and let us live our lives the way we choose.

  8. freethinker July 30, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    Another issue for renters: Don’t forget to take any CFL or LED bulbs that you installed in permanent light fixtures with you when you move! Otherwise you’ll never see the full potential cost savings.

    I had replaced several hallway, closet, and outdoor bulbs in my former rented home with CFL’s, but I kept the original incandescent bulbs I found in those fixtures. When it came time to move, I placed the old bulbs back in those fixtures. Hey, I spent over $240 on those bulbs! No way I was just going to leave them behind.

  9. freethinker July 30, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    Again, I am in favor of saving energy and using CFL’s whenever possible, but let’s be fair and compare the best CFL and LED technology with the best incandescent technology. My high quality 57, 60, or 71-watt incandescent bulbs cost around $1.50-$2.00ea and last about 18-24 months depending upon the application, not less than a year like the super-cheap store brand bulb shown in the infographic. So that’s about 10-13 bulbs over 20 years, not 21 bulbs.

  10. blockhead May 29, 2012 at 9:44 pm

    Curious…if a CFL bulb lasts approximately 6.6 yrs, why do I have to replace so many that are less than 1.5 years old?

  11. VitiolicMass May 28, 2012 at 8:58 am

    One chart says a 60W bulb puts out 860 Lumens, then your article continues and says that a 6OW LED replacement bulb puts out the same 800 Lumens that a 60W incandescent bulb does…..60 Lumens is a pretty big difference.

    Also all of this is irrelevant because you only mentioned energy savings. I would suspect a lot more people live paycheck to paycheck these days and they would take a $0.25 bulb over a $30 bulb every single time.

    I replaced all of my bulbs with 100W CFL replacements 6500K. $14/ea and they started burning out in less than a year. I should have just gotten cheaper bulbs that last the same amount of time.

  12. Jill Fehrenbacher May 18, 2012 at 11:07 am

    Hi Tcutri-

    Did you read the above article? Depending on how many lightbulbs you have, you’ll save $200-$1000 a year in energy costs every year with LED bulbs + you only need to buy LED bulbs once, since they last 22 years, meaning you easily make the initial upfront cost back in a matter of months.

    LED bulb prices will gradually drop as demand increases and economies of scale kick in, but it is going to be like computers and cell phones – it will take time.

  13. tcutri May 17, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    I would have to take out a 2nd mortgage to replace all the bulbs in my house. No doubt there is an energy savings but from a life cycle cost standpoint it still doesn’t make sense. What is the prognosis on the future drop in LED prices?

  14. Lawrence Grown May 12, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    I prefer the Lighting Science Definity A19 bulb, but Philips’ Ambient is excellent for most A-lamp replacements.

  15. RustyDogma May 5, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    I ordered a bunch of LED bulbs, and when I got them the box was was labeled ‘do not use in enclosed fixtures. Almost every fixture in my house is enclosed, so I’m not sure what to get.

  16. GreatEmerald May 4, 2012 at 11:11 am

    kjacquin: You are forgetting the energy savings… It’s a 24-pack of 60Ws versus one 12W LED. That means five times less energy consumption, so after 20 years it will have more than paid back.

  17. tony myers May 3, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    I started replacing my CFL’s with LED’s 5 years ago. My utility bill went down 40%. Energy consumption went down 30%. At that time LED’s were about $50 each and were not dimmable. Now you can buy some for $20 each that are dimmable.

  18. Hazel Saunderson May 3, 2012 at 10:31 am

    This is great! I think with the soaring energy cost, making little changes like this should be on everyones mind. However, your phase-out timeline and handy facts should give them even more reason to make the big switch.

  19. BrilliantLD May 3, 2012 at 10:23 am

    Perhaps some will be interested to read about these recent lamp / bulb comparisons…

  20. kjacquin May 3, 2012 at 9:12 am

    I am all about saving where I can. The issue is that the energy bulbs are still expensive. The images show 21 normal bulbs for 20 years and 1 LED for 20 years. Out of pocket cost is still way different. I can get a 24 pack of 60W incandescent bulbs under $15 when 1 LED is around $25+/-. Once I see the price lower I will be happy to switch.

  21. Nicole Abene May 2, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    I love that you point out that energy-efficient bulbs can give off warm lighting – no more excuses to stop buying incandescent!

  22. JasminMC May 2, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    Great tips, thanks!

  23. jkgreen May 2, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    This is a great guide – I’ll have to start swapping my bulbs.

  24. MargaretD May 2, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    thanks for this! i’m definitely going to make the switch, it saves money & energy!

  25. Andrew Michler May 2, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    Just bought a 10 watt Phillips L_prize bulb with the local utility taking $20 off.

  26. Mark Boyer May 2, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    Very useful info. I’m anxious to try the Philips AmbientLED.

  27. catmcpants May 2, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    Great tips. Planning on decking out my lighting fixtures with LEDs.

  28. nathanielross May 2, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    Great post! Important for everyone to learn about… spreading the word!

  29. Rebecca Paul May 2, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Wow super informative and helpful I’ve been trying to make the switch myself, and this makes things a lot easier.

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