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Regular and Appliance Bulbs: What’s the Difference?


For certain appliances, such as refrigerators, range hoods, and bathroom exhaust fans, it’s possible to use regular bulbs if their socket and wattage match the appliance. However, this practice is not recommended. Appliances including microwaves, ovens, and dryer drums require specific light bulbs. 

Light bulbs are necessary for many home appliances. If an appliance light bulb burns out suddenly, you may be wondering if you can replace it with a similarly sized regular bulb you already have in the house instead of waiting until you can get to the store to buy another.

However, physical size is not the only difference you have to consider. Appliance bulbs are specialized to suit the requirements of that appliance, which in turn affects the interchangeability between regular bulbs and appliance-specific bulbs. Here, you’ll find the attributes for each appliance bulb compared to regular bulbs (both incandescents (amazon link) and LEDs (amazon link) (light-emitting diodes).

Refrigerator/Freezer Bulbs vs. Regular Bulbs

AttributeFridge/Freezer BulbIncandescent BulbLED bulb
Physical size1.77 x 1.77 x 3.15″2.36″ diameter
3.9-4.3″ length
2.36″ diameter
3.9-4.3″ length
Required shapeA15A19, A21A19, A21
Wattage, voltage, and amps25- to 40-watt
120 volts
0.042 amps
100 watts
120 volts
0.90 amps
100-watt equivalent (15 watts)
120 volts
0.125 amps
Longevity17,000-43,000 hoursaround 1,000 hours20,000-30,000 hours 
Connections/sockets26 mm or 17 mm26 mm diameter (E26 standard base)26 mm diameter (E26 standard base)
Cost per bulb$3-$6~$2~$4 

LED Refrigerator Light Bulb 4W 40Watt Equivalent, Acaxin Waterproof Frigidaire Freezer LED Light Bulb IP54, 120V E26 Daylight White 5000K 400 Lumen, Energy Saving A15 Appliance Fridge Bulbs, 2 Pack

In order to not work against the cooling efficiency of fridges and freezers, Refrigerator light bulbs (amazon link) are often LEDs. This is because, unlike incandescent bulbs, LEDs don’t radiate infrared (IR) heat. 

Appliance bulbs are often A15 bulbs, which are smaller than regular (A19) bulbs and usually output 10-40 watts. Freezer bulbs can also have shorter lifespans than standard LEDs because of the extreme cold, but in the fridge, bulbs may last longer because the less severe cold increases efficiency.

Specialization

Fridge bulbs are often specialized to work best in their environment; therefore, many are cold-resistance, shatterproof, and waterproof. 

The main concerns are that the light can maintain efficiency in low temperatures and isn’t as breakable (especially in a place with food storage and hand traffic). Usually, thicker glass is used to address this in appliance bulbs.

Interchangeability

Can you use regular light bulbs in place of a fridge/freezer bulb? It’s possible if you have one with a matching socket and low enough wattage, but the cold temperatures will decrease the bulb’s lifespan and the thinner glass could be worrisome for possible breaks.

Additionally, depending on your fridge or freezer, a standard bulb may be too big, causing a greater shatter hazard or not fitting.

Microwave Bulbs vs. Regular Bulbs

AttributeMicrowave BulbIncandescent BulbLED bulb
Physical size0.9″ diameter
2.2″ length
2.36″ diameter
3.9-4.3″ length
2.36″ diameter
3.9-4.3″ length
Required shapeA15A19, A21A19, A21
Wattage, voltage, and amps40 watts
130 volts
0.31 amps
100 watts
120 volts
0.90 amps
100-watt equivalent (15 watts)
120 volts
0.125 amps
Longevity1,000-2,000 hoursaround 1,000 hours20,000-30,000 hours 
Connections/sockets26 mm diameter (E26 standard base)26 mm diameter (E26 standard base)26 mm diameter (E26 standard base)
Cost per bulb$4-$5~$2~$4 

Microwave bulbs (amazon link) are again normally A15 appliance bulbs. The light is not in the main compartment of the microwave (where the food goes) and is often protected by a metal mesh. The radiation, therefore, doesn’t reach the bulb, and both incandescent and LED appliance bulbs can work.

Light Bulb for GE Microwave Oven - Halogen Light Bulb Fits for GE Samsung Kenmore Elite Maytag Over the Stove Range Microwave, Night Light/Stove Light Bulb for GE microwave, Replaces WB25X10019, 2Pack

Specialization

Even though they’re not in the main compartment, microwave bulbs still experience higher temperatures by being close to the microwave, so heat resistance is an important specialization.

Opening and closing a microwave door will cause vibrations, making vibration resistance another requirement for microwave bulbs. Incandescent bulbs can break from repeated vibrations and force (such as those from the force of closing a microwave door—we all know it’s one of the loudest noises on earth, particularly late at night when your family is sleeping).

As a bonus, microwave bulbs can be shatterproof as well, though it’s not normally as necessary due to the mesh protection. 

Interchangeability

Regular incandescent light bulbs can’t substitute microwave bulbs. Besides sizing (sometimes only smaller bulbs will fit), the fragile metallic filament in incandescent bulbs will likely break.

Appliance bulbs made for microwaves are the best option; however, LEDs are technically suitable for microwave use. They do not have the same vibrational sensitivity as incandescents. LEDs also don’t overheat the way incandescents can (due to their own radiation).

Oven Bulbs vs. Regular Bulbs

Oven lights are actually important for saving on energy by conserving heat in the oven, which would be lost to opening the oven door to check on food.

Oven Light Bulbs – 40 Watt Appliance Replacement Bulbs for Oven, Stove, Refrigerator, Microwave. Incandescent - High Temp G45 E26/E27 Socket. Standard Lead-Free Base - 400 Lumens - Clear.2 Pack

AttributeOven BulbIncandescent BulbLED bulb
Physical size‎1.77 x 1.06 x 2.83″2.36″ diameter
3.9-4.3″ length
2.36″ diameter
3.9-4.3″ length
Required shapeA15A19, A21A19, A21
Wattage, voltage, and amps‎40 watts
110 volts
0.36 amps
100 watts
120 volts
0.90 amps
100-watt equivalent (15 watts)
120 volts
0.125 amps
Longevity2,000 hoursaround 1,000 hours20,000-30,000 hours 
Connections/sockets26 mm diameter E26/E2726 mm diameter (E26 standard base)26 mm diameter (E26 standard base)
Cost per bulb~$3~$2~$4 

Of the appliances on this list, ovens have the capacity to reach the highest temperatures. Oven light bulbs (amazon link), therefore, need to be specially adapted to these conditions. 

Though most attributes (i.e., sizing and wattage) match typical appliance bulbs, the materials are what sets oven bulbs apart. They have thicker glass to protect against high temperatures and shattering, and the base is made with high heat-resistant materials.

Specialization

The most important specialization for oven bulbs is to be heat resistant. Vibration resistance is also beneficial since opening and closing oven doors and rearranging oven racks can vibrate an oven. They can also be shatterproof but often as a by-product of heat resistance.

The base material being heat resistant also prevents corrosion into the socket and is made to survive self-cleaning oven temps (up to 932 °F) so as not to be removed, though you shouldn’t have the light on when self-cleaning.

Interchangeability

Never use a regular bulb in an oven. LEDs will melt or shatter at high temperatures. Even appliance LED bulbs shouldn’t be used in ovens. Furthermore, the heat will reduce an LED’s longevity. 

Only specialized halogen or incandescent bulbs designed for ovens should be used.

Range Hood Bulbs vs. Regular Bulbs

AttributeRange Hood BulbIncandescent BulbLED bulb
Physical size3.48 x 1.97 x 1.97″2.36″ diameter
3.9-4.3″ length
2.36″ diameter
3.9-4.3″ length
Required shapeA15A19, A21A19, A21
Wattage, voltage, and amps7 watts
120 volts
0.06 amps
100 watts
120 volts
0.90 amps
100-watt equivalent (15 watts)
120 volts
0.125 amps
LongevityAround 2,000 hoursaround 1,000 hours20,000-30,000 hours 
Connections/sockets26 mm diameter (E26 standard base)
GU24 (twist and lock base)
26 mm diameter (E26 standard base)26 mm diameter (E26 standard base)
Cost per bulb~$5~$2~$4 

The main purpose of a range hood is to remove cooking fumes from your stove, but its secondary purpose is to improve the lighting while you’re cooking. Range hood bulbs (amazon link) can be halogen, LED, or incandescent. 

Specialization

Par20 Bulbs, 2 Pack 120V 50W Par20 Flood Light Bulbs, E26 Medium Base Long Lasting Life High Output Reflector Flood Lights -Warm Light

Range hood bulbs need a lot of specialization because there’s stovetop steam and heat and exhaust fan vibration. Therefore, range hood bulbs must be water-resistant, heat-resistant, and vibration-resistant. 

Range hood bulbs sometimes also have a twist and lock base, which helps the bulb stay in place when the range hood vibrates.

Interchangeability

Though it may not be ideal, regular bulbs can be used in range hoods. Both incandescent and LED bulbs are suitable for range hood use. Keep in mind that due to the kitchen conditions, the use of regular bulbs will decrease the bulb longevity and may increase the chances of shattering

As with other appliances that can work with regular bulbs, the appliance bulb is normally the safer option, the better investment, and the one that won’t void your appliance warranty.

Dryer Drum Bulbs vs. Regular Bulbs

AttributeDryer Drum BulbIncandescent BulbLED bulb
Physical size⅞” diameter
1½” length
2.36″ diameter
3.9-4.3″ length
2.36″ diameter
3.9-4.3″ length
Required shapeC7A19, A21A19, A21
Wattage, voltage, and amps10 watts
120 volts
0.083 amps
100 watts
120 volts
0.90 amps
100-watt equivalent (15 watts)
120 volts
0.125 amps
Longevity2,500 hoursaround 1,000 hours20,000-30,000 hours 
Connections/sockets12 mm diameter (E12, Candelabra Base)26 mm diameter (E26 standard base)26 mm diameter (E26 standard base)
Cost per bulb$3-$5~$2~$4 

Dryer light bulbs (amazon link) are commonly 10 watt C7 light bulbs, which are smaller bulbs sometimes used for night lights. Not all dryers have drum lights, as room lighting typically does the trick, but they serve to help visibility nonetheless. 

AMI PARTS WE05X20431 Dryer Drum Light 10w 120v Bulb Replacement Part Compatible with Hotpoint GE Dryers(2pcs)

If you don’t wish to replace a dryer light bulb, you don’t have to. The machine will function without it. However, never run your dryer with no light bulb in place, as it’s not safe to operate the dryer with an empty socket.

Specialization

Driers can reach high temperatures, have a decent amount of moisture, and definitely vibrate a lot. The most important specialization of dryer bulbs is vibration resistance to protect them from shattering due to dryer movement. 

Heat- and water-resistance are preferred but generally less important, especially because the bulb is not directly in contact with the main compartment (there is a casing that separates the bulb from the clothes).

Interchangeability

Regular bulbs can’t be used in dryers. Because of the high vibration of the drying machine, a thicker bulb is required. A regular bulb will likely shatter

Worse, using a regular bulb could start a fire. Heated LED bulbs can melt (especially if they contain plastic).

Again, appliance bulbs are also a better investment since they last much longer than regular bulbs (so any extra cost will pay off in the end).

Bathroom Fan Bulbs vs. Regular Bulbs

AttributeBathroom Fan BulbIncandescent BulbLED bulb
Physical size‎5.7 x 6.4 x 1.4″2.36″ diameter
3.9-4.3″ length
2.36″ diameter
3.9-4.3″ length
Required shapeA15, T4, A19A19, A21A19, A21
Wattage, voltage, and amps18 watts
120 volts
0.15 amps
100 watts
120 volts
0.90 amps
100-watt equivalent (15 watts)
120 volts
0.125 amps
Longevity10,000 hoursaround 1,000 hours20,000-30,000 hours 
Connections/sockets4-pin plug-in base (T4), 26 mm diameter (E26 standard base)26 mm diameter (E26 standard base)26 mm diameter (E26 standard base)
Cost per bulb$3-$5~$2~$4 

Similar to range hoods, bathroom exhaust fans deal with heat, moisture, and vibration. Bathroom exhaust fan bulbs (amazon link) are also made to survive this and can come in a variety of shapes and connections depending on the appliance requirements.

Broan-Nutone 657 Ceiling Exhaust Fan and Light for Bathroom and Home, 100-Watts, 4.0 Sones, 70 CFM , White

Specialization

Water, heat, and vibration resistance are must-haves for bulbs in exhaust fans that have lights. As with range hoods, the base of the bulb is often twist lock, making it more stable when the fan is running.

Interchangeability

You can use a normal bulb in place of a bathroom fan bulb since there is some protection in the form of the lens that covers the bulb enclosure. 

LED bulbs aren’t sensitive to vibration like incandescents are, but their elements are more heat sensitive. Keep these attributes in mind when choosing what bulb to install; if you’re more worried about the bulb overheating, choose incandescent.

Although, in a bathroom setting it would be better to get a vibration-resistant, heat-resistant, and waterproof bulb. 

Check Compatibility for Appliance Bulbs

Before using a regular light bulb in an appliance or buying a standard appliance bulb, always check if the appliance indicates what is actually required. 

Aside from specifications like temperature and moisture tolerances, the wattage, voltage, and size requirements of the bulb can influence your purchasing decision. You have to match the wattage. Putting a high-watt bulb into a low-watt circuit is a fire hazard.

Usually, appliance bulbs are A15 shape supplying 25 to 40 watts. Keep in mind that LEDs have wattage “equivalents” to incandescent bulbs that signify their light output rather than power (the wattage is actually lower due to LED energy efficiency).

Sources

https://observertree.org/difference-between-appliance-bulb-and-regular/

https://www.thelightbulb.co.uk/resources/all-you-need-to-know-about-appliance-light-bulbs

https://www.lightbulbwholesaler.com/c-572-standard.aspx

https://www.viribright.com/lumen-output-comparing-led-vs-cfl-vs-incandescent-wattage/

https://www.superbrightleds.com/blog/home-lighting-101-guide-understanding-light-bulb-shapes-sizes-codes/2315/

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