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Has My State Banned Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs?

White House is looking to phase out CFLs by 2025, but some states aren't waiting that long.

Dan Avery
Dan Avery Writer
Dan is a writer on CNET's How-To team. His byline has appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, NBC News, Architectural Digest and elsewhere. He is a crossword junkie and is interested in the intersection of tech and marginalized communities.
Expertise Personal Finance, Government and Policy, Consumer Affairs
4 min read
An image of a CFL bulb with a 'no smoking' bar on it

Vermont and California have already passed bans on CFLs, with nearly a dozen other states introducing legislation this year.

Getty Images

In December 2022, the Biden administration proposed regulations that would phase out compact fluorescent lightbulbs, or CFLs, as part of its larger climate change strategy.
CFLs last much longer than traditional incandescent bulbs but still require more electricity than light-emitting diode bulbs, or LEDs. There's also trace amounts of mercury in CFLs that can pose a hazard if it's not disposed of properly.

Earlier this year, Vermont became the first state to ban the sale of CFLs, while California's goes into effect next year. And lawmakers in nearly a dozen more states are considering similar restrictions.
Read on: Five Things to Consider When Buying LED Bulbs
Here's what you need to know about CFLs, including why they're being regulated, what risk they pose and what will take their place.

What are compact fluorescent lightbulbs?

Scientifically speaking, CFLs provide illumination via an electric current sent through a tube filled with argon and a small amount of mercury. That current generates an invisible ultraviolet light that stimulates a fluorescent coating inside the tube, producing visible light.

While CFLs are more expensive than incandescent bulbs, they use 75% less energy and last 10 to 15 times longer.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, If every US household swapped just one traditional lightbulb in their house for a CFL, the energy savings could light 3 million homes.

What is the downside to using CFLs?

While CFLs use far less energy than incandescent bulbs, they're not as efficient as LEDs.

They also contain about 4 milligrams of mercury. That's a lot less than the 500 milligrams in an old-school thermometer, but if your CFL bulb breaks, the EPA recommends airing out the room and carefully collecting the pieces. In many states, broken or burned-out CFLs can't be thrown in the trash -- they must be brought to a collection site or recycling center.

In addition, you can't dim most CFL bulbs, and they're not efficient in recessed lighting or in extreme temperatures.
Read on: Best Smart Lights for 2023 

Which states have banned CFLs?

Vermont is the only state that currently bans the sale of compact fluorescent lightbulbs. The state's Department of Environmental Conservation actually outlawed them in February 2022, but it gave retailers and distributors a year to sell off their inventories.

The agency said it is working with manufacturers to maintain funding for CFL disposal programs, "as this waste will continue to be produced for years to come."

Next year, Vermont will also start restricting the sale of tube-style linear fluorescent lamps, or LFLs, which also contain mercury.
California's ban on CFLs takes effect on Jan. 1, 2024, with a ban on LFLs starting in 2025.

Lawmakers in Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington state are also expected to introduce CFL bans in the current legislative session, according to the nonprofit Environment America.

The White House hopes to phase out CFLs nationwide by the end of President Joe Biden's first term, CNN reported

A Department of Energy spokesperson said the agency's proposal is out for comment until March 27, 2023, and any decision would come after that.    

What are LED bulbs?

LED bulbs work by passing a current through a microchip, which illuminates a tiny light source, or diode, to produce visible light.
A good-quality LED, especially an Energy Star-certified bulb, can last three to five times longer than a CFL and 30 times longer than a standard incandescent bulb. (Some models are rated at 50,000 hours, which -- if used 12 hours a day -- would last more than 11 years.)
They are typically smaller than either traditional bulbs or CFLs and are cool to the touch.

Are there downsides to LED bulbs?

Like CFLs, LEDs are pricier than old-fashioned bulbs: A four-pack of GE 60-watt-replacement LED bulbs is $16.49 at a Target in Tulsa, Oklahoma, compared to just $4.69 for a package of incandescents.  

Critics complain that LEDs have a tendency to flicker, but manufacturers insist that's more the result of poor quality lighting.

In addition, some LEDs can't be dimmed and aren't compatible with all lighting fixtures. 

There's also a question of adjusting to a different kind of illumination: According to retailer Destination Lighting, most white LED bulbs give off  "a cooler, blue-tinted light rather than the 'warmer' glow associated with incandescent bulbs."

Why are incandescent lightbulbs being eliminated?

While it remains one of the greatest inventions of the modern era, the incandescent bulb is still a relic of the 19th century. It provides illumination by warming a tungsten filament until it glows, which means almost all the energy produced is from heat, not light. 

It also has only a fraction of the lifespan of a CFL or LED bulb.
The new proposed guidelines more than double the current minimum lightbulb efficiency level, from 45 lumens per watt to over 120 for the most common bulbs. They don't ban incandescent bulbs outright, but they effectively sign their death notice.

In 2022, the Department of Energy said a move to LEDs would save the American public nearly $3 billion a year on energy bills and reduce carbon emissions by 222 million metric tons over the next three decades -- equal to the amount generated by 28 million homes in a year.

What about halogen bulbs?

Halogen lightbulbs emerged as a more efficient form of incandescent lighting, but they still pale in comparison to CFL and LEDs.
And because they burn much hotter, there is a fire and burn risk.

Halogen bulbs have been banned in Australia, the EU, the UK and other countries.
"For nearly every incandescent bulb still in use today, there's a CFL or LED light bulb that can replace it -- saving energy and curbing carbon emissions," the environmental nonprofit Green America said in a statement.