Hissing Light Bulbs

The hype sounded good.


• (You might pay more for each bulb, but) THEY WILL LAST YEARS LONGER!!!!

• (They produce 75% less heat, so they are) SAFER TO OPERATE!!!!


Yeah. Compact fluorescent bulbs (or “curly bulbs” as we–not so fondly–call them) sound good. Maybe for most people they live up to those claims. After a few years of using them, I am not convinced.

I have no way to measure whether or not they’ve lowered our power bills. We’re paying more than ever, but that could be because power costs have gone up generally. I’ll give them a pass on that for lack of personal evidence.

Last years longer? Uh, NO. We’ve had to replace them as often as we had to replace our incandescent bulbs. Since they cost so much more, they are definitely not saving us money that way.

Safer to operate because of less heat output? They’re still hot enough to burn fingers or anything else that touches them. Who researched this stuff?

Helping the environment? Whose environment? If they’re talking general earth environment, I’m not sure how they decided that. I cannot help but think that as these mercury-laden lamps go into landfills (you know not everybody will or can recycle them) or are broken by clumsy people like me, there are going to be increasing and long-term problems.

Now, at the risk of sounding self-centered, let’s talk about my personal environment.

1. They are not helping it in any way I can see.  So far I haven’t broken one, but I know it’s just a matter of time.

2. Besides having to replace them as often as we replaced the incandescents (no savings there!), we have had a real problem with the stench the cfls create. Did we just have defective bulbs? I don’t know. We have two cfls over our kitchen range that don’t create a smell. Also the two in our den lamps seem okay, but when we replaced the incandescent bulbs in our office, stench is the only word to describe what we got. We couldn’t use the room until we took them out. We bought a different brand and tried again. The smell is still obvious, but not nearly as bad. We can live with it, but we don’t like it. And I have to wonder whether the smell of singed plastic–or whatever–is totally harmless. I would guess not. For all the faults “environmentalists” ascribe to incandescents, at least those bulbs didn’t stink.

3. Then we have the two hissing bulbs in our bathroom, both fairly new. Sometimes they work fine, but often when we hit the switch one or the other of them hisses and stutters (hssssssssssss bright, dim, bright, dim, hsssssssssssssssssss, etc.) We’ve tried tightening the bulbs. Didn’t help. I have no idea why they do it, but it is irritating and unsettling when your light bulbs sound like an upset copperhead. Are those bulbs about to die, even thought they’re almost new? Are they about to burst into flame? Is it safe to use them?

Is it too much to ask for a consistent product? Can’t all the cfls work silently and scentlessly and do all the things their pushers have promised they will do? Oh, I almost forgot. This is the real world. It won’t happen.

Anybody have a solution to the smell and sound of cfls or the name of a brand that hasn’t given you problems?  If so, I would love to hear from you.



About dhparker

Christian Missouri Ozarks native author of family-rated fiction
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6 Responses to Hissing Light Bulbs

  1. Chris Jones says:

    I found your site researching the hissing one of my bulbs is giving out. I’ve used them for years without ever experiencing this. I’ve read it could be as simple as a bad bulb or as bad as a corroded fixture causing micro-arcs. Thankfully, I’ve never had a smell come off any of our bulbs. Could it be the sockets they are screwing into that is reacting strange to them? It sounds socket dependant since you’ve tried multiple bulbs in those sockets and always had a smell both don’t get it elsewhere. You are also right about them not lasting any longer than our old bulbs.

  2. dhparker says:

    Thanks for the suggestions, Chris. The sockets are in an older house. They are also pendant lights, so maybe the bulbs don’t like hanging upside down. The bulbs with the smell did so in every fixture we tried–old and new. Sorry it tool me so long to say thanks for the comment.

  3. Sarah Welsh says:

    Sigh. I was hoping you would have an answer to the hissing/crackling issue. I haven’t encountered the smell, but I currently have one of these in the kitchen that is making that noise and then all of the ceiling lights flash every once in a while. I hadn’t noticed it before (moved in two weeks ago), but we just got some snow, and I was wondering if there was a connection. But it sounds like you have the same situation sans snow.

    • dhparker says:

      I’m sorry, Sarah. The only cure I’ve found is to oust the CFL bulbs (which were a farce from the beginning, but that’s another article I need to write some day) and replace them with LED bulbs. We have several of those now, and they’ve never given us any trouble in any fixture.

  4. Ellen S says:

    I have a hissing bulb that was driving me nuts. Just read this and decided to get rid of the thing. Turned it two turns out, and it stopped hissing. So who knows, maybe it has to be aligned with true north or something.

    • dhparker says:

      Hummm. Never even tried that. I don’t take out bulbs without turning off the light, so wouldn’t have known. However, we’re happy with the LEDs, so I think we’ll stick with them. 🙂

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