Just how safe are CFL bulbs?

I was watching TV and it was not dark yet, but just dark enough to need a little extra light. We have a standing lamp in the living room and in the top I had a CFL 23W bulb. While watching TV, I noticed what I thought was a flash of lightning. It wasn’t storming outside. I got up to get something else to drink and the light flickered in the lamp.

Just as I looked in that direction, there was a muffled pop. Smoke and tiny sparks like that off a grinding wheel shot upwards about 3 inches. I ran over and switched off the lamp. This was my first ever experience with a CFL going out. This one was about a year old.

Research shows that although there is no danger of fire as long as they are used as directed (the plastic will not burn) they are dramatic at times when they burn out. They also say that they sometimes (while operating) can give off a smell like overheated wiring. That explains the many times I have gotten up while in my office working and searched for what I thought was over heated wires. They may not burn by themselves, but if the sparks that traveled about 3 inches from my  bulb had struck something flammable, that might be a different story. Maybe brand name bulbs don’t do sparks. These were from China, and I hear they love fireworks. It was also stamped UL approved.

I recommend buying brand name CFL’s if you can. The two we have had burn-out (we were not around when one of them when it burned out) were from China “Optolight” brand. I will be buying brand name bulbs now, and hoping for longer life and less dramatic endings.

I read many articles, but this ladies blog post came closest to my incident.  You will notice the smoke stains on hers indicates that her bulb must have been in a lamp aiming down allowing the smoke to come upwards and smudge the bulb.   https://singlemomandateenagedgirl.com/2013/01/cfl-flourescent-light-bulbs-a-fire-hazard/

Here is my bulb, the smoke rose upwards so did not dirty the base of the bulb like others do. These bulbs have electronics in them that go out instead of the bulb. Capacitors or the voltage regulator :burn” out resulting in smoke sparks and odor. Be careful where you use them. Do not use them in recessed lighting, or track lighting. Note the smoke and small flame and sparks came out around the Tube you see blackened.

Comments welcome,


Photo is my own




Photo is my own


20 thoughts on “Just how safe are CFL bulbs?

  1. I’ve experienced that sudden flash too! We have now switched all of our bulbs to LEDs and much prefer the light quality. LEDs used to be pretty expensive, but now are fairly cheap… and last forever.

  2. Thanks for reposting this. I, too, occasionally go through the house trying to find the source of an electrical smell. I’m moving to LEDs.

    1. Thanks for the comment. The smell is aggravating because it makes you think something is over heating and about to catch fire. Reminds you of the smell when a fan starts going out, and the motor gets hot and starts smelling.

  3. I now know it wasn’t something I did wrong with the bulb. We switched to LEDs when Home Depot was promoting them. They are less breakable too.

  4. It must be light bulb day. I posted about the LED in my refrigerator. We have been changing to LEDs slowly over time. The cost has come down considerably and from the sound of this, they’re safer.

  5. We have a few of these around the house, all from big-name companies. I must say that they have never blown like your one, and in fact, have lasted for years without failing. My main issue is that they take too long to get to ‘full light’. Even then, the light they give out is poor, compared to the former old-style bulbs.

    Over here, they have been ‘legislated in’ and the old type are very hard to find now.

    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. I notice on cold mornings, they are much dimmer when first turned on. They get brighter as they warm up, but on a really cold morning you think they are going bad.

  6. We have ones that look like the one that burned out that you have Ron.  We’ve never had them burn out.  Hmmm.  Carl buys the bulbs so I don’t know what kind he gets.  I hate them what ever the kind they are.  I miss those ‘real” bulbs.

    What does an led light bulb look like then?  I see them on cars but not in homes.

  7. Eeek! Scary! I – basically a non-techie (who came into the computer world early albeit kicking and screaming 😀 ) – am very scared by stuff I don’t understand, especially stuff that is close to, shall we say, FIRE.

    Maybe it would help if I educated myself, starting with what the heck all those initials (CFL, LED) stand for! I will be paying a visit to Wikipedia. When I calm down.  😀

    1. I’ve heard some people use them for a long time and never have a problem with them. Then I have spoken to a few that have had them go out. Probably prematurely, but they must have my luck. 🙂

      You probably have looked them up by now, so I won’t explain the initials, Our world seems inundated with initials.

  8. This is a good reminder, Ron! I will be meeting Ellie on wikipedia because I never pay attention to things like this.

  9. I’m still using incandescents, as long as I can get them, and after that I’ll use LEDs, but my Mary never liked the CFLs, so I wouldn’t use them.

    1. Sometimes the incandescent bulbs just seem to give a better light. I still use some of them. I like the bright clear better than the soft white.

  10. We have experienced that flash, pop, smoke stained and smell from CFL bulbs, so we have switched to LED’s. Even though, I don’t know what exactly it would take I just can’t see how in the right circumstance they wouldn’t start a fire. That’s just my opinion, no facts to back it up.

    1. I think your right. I could picture them in a standing lamp, with something flammable draped near or above the lamp, like crepe paper for a party. Thanks for the comment.

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