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Are your LED light bulbs burning out too soon?

LED light bulb

LED light bulbs have a tendency to make grand claims about their lifespan – it’s common to see manufacturers promise bulbs will last 25,000 or even 50,000 hours. But we’ve found many failing well before this.

One of the attractions of LED light bulbs is that they’re supposed to last a long time. And so if you’re shelling out for these bulbs – typically more expensive than other types of light bulb – you’ll want to be sure that they’ll live up to those claims.

But our tests show that not only do many LED light bulbs stop working before the end of their promised lifespan, some don’t even reach the soon-to-be-implemented EU minimum lifespan of 6,000 hours. We discovered bulbs from both Ikea and TCP that failed to reach the 6,000 hour mark for the majority of samples we tested.

Ikea bulb among failures

In the tests – which were carried out by Which? and our European partner organisations – we took five samples each of 46 different bulbs. The bulbs were switched on for two hours and 45 minutes, then switched off for 15 minutes, in a continuous cycle until they burned out.

Five different bulbs stopped working before the 6,000 hour mark for the majority of samples we tested, though the TCP and Ikea bulbs were the only ones which were sold in the UK. Both have since been discontinued.

New EU regulations which will come in from 1 March 2014 say that 90% of any batch of LED light bulbs should last at least 6,000 hours.

Another five bulbs stopped working before the 10,000 hour mark for the majority of samples we tested, despite claiming lifespans of at least 25,000 hours. None of these bulbs were sold in the UK.

In total, 66 of the 230 samples we tested failed before the 10,000 hour mark, though they all claimed they would last at least 15,000 hours.

Has your bulb burned out early?

Ikea said the bulb had passed its own tests and those in a third-party lab. It’s looking into why the bulb failed our test and has removed it from sale in countries where it was still available.

TCP said it was already aware of the problem with this bulb and withdrew it from sale when they discovered the problem. TCP added that it no longer deals with the supplier of that particular bulb and now make their LED bulbs in-house.

We’re in the process of testing the life span of many more LED bulbs, and we’ll update you if we find others that burn out prematurely. But we also want to hear from you – have you bought bulbs that haven’t lasted as long as they should?

Comments

I am tired of LED bulbs which fail sometimes within minutes of first being used.
It is virtually impossible to untangle the claims made for brightness as it varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Some quote incandescent lamp wattage equivalent others the wattage of the LED, it might be given in lumens or lux. We are not all versed in the intricate science of light measurement. We urgently need an industry standard applied across the board.
Another issue is the size of the lamp envelope, I have purchased bulbs which will not fit in the shade or in the case of replacing strip halogen lights, the lamp holder. Others have up to half the envelope composed of housing for the electronics making them useless for light coverage in some instances.
It has become a free for all to the detriment of the consumer.

My suggestion would be to give priority to the lumen rating for LED lamps and consign the wattage to the back of the packaging. It’s still useful for those who are familiar with the light output of old fashioned light bulbs. I have not seen any mention of Lux on any lamp packaging, though I have seen it on some bars of soap. 🙂

Which? brand of LEDs failed within a few minutes, Keith? It’s quite common for products to fail when new, hence shops will usually replace them without question if you have the guarantee. Nevertheless, it should not happen often.

Producing LED replacements for bulbs has been difficult and in some cases impossible. For example we don’t have replacements for tiny halogen capsules or the replacement is considerably larger (e.g. G9 type).

Most people will not understand lumens, but will relate to filament lamp wattage equivalent. Re-education will take time, as with going metric. So wattage equivalent plus lumens for now is my proposal.

I use Metric Leather rather than Lux – the latter not being a measure of light output of course.

Actually I’ve bought tiny LED replcements (from Screwfix I think). Just a little bigger than the halogens, but fitted OK.

Frank says:
18 February 2021

I live in Holland and bought for an average of 10 Euros per piece Philips LED light bulbs from a reputable shop for the whole house. Almost all failed after one year of use, some after six months. Some were switched on for only a few hours per day. There is no warranty on light bulbs, even with the receipts and the fact that they should have not failed even if they would have been switched on 24 hours a day from the day of purchase. I feel cheated.

Frank – Your experience is most unfortunate and I would say out of character for genuine Philips products.

Nearly all the lights in our house are Philips LED’s and have proved to be very reliable. The odd replacement has been required but overall I am satisfied with their performance – and one of them is on continuously. I realise the 15 years predicted life-cycle still has a long way to go but compared with other makes I have tried I would rate Philips lamps as the most satisfactory. Like most other brands they are made in China but they seem to have superior design and quality control processes.

Like John, I have not had a problem with Philips lamps (or other brands) and most of those in my house were bought nearly five years ago.

I suggest that Frank contacts Philips about the failed lamps. There was one type of Philips LED that had an exceptional number of failures according to Amazon reviews but that was discontinued years ago and I have not read of other problems.

Matt w says:
13 April 2021

I too have had similar experiences here in the UK with Philips branded LED bulbs. I started to log the lifespan and one only managed ~600 hours. This is also the same for Tesco branded bulbs and after some persuasion Tesco agreed to give me a gift card to cover the cost of 2 new ones. But not much use if they just fail again.
The electrical installation in my house is very high quality and the supply is excellent, all done to a very high standard and the supply comes straight from a main pylon and into the house as 3 phase. It’s a very consistent quality of supply.

I hope you have just been unlucky, Matt. If you look at reviews, premature failure is a well known problem but most people like myself have had better experiences. I suggest you ask your retailer for a refund for the Philips lamps. Manufacturers have no legal responsibility but can offer goodwill.

I have looked at the reasons why household LED lamps designed to replace old fashioned bulbs can fail prematurely. The LEDs can fail themselves because the LEDs are driven hard to maximise light output, the circuitry in the cap tends to get very hot and the components in the cap are overheated. Capacitors in particular can fail prematurely. The build quality can be variable, so some examples may have poor cooling due to incorrect use of thermally conductive paste or some other reason. I had one lamp that obviously had a poor connection because it could be switched on or off with a light tap.

I hope you will be lucky with future purchases.

I’m sick of throwing money away on LED lamps that last days or weeks.
I’ve taken to writing the date installed on each one when fitted & claims of 15- 25 year life are NONSENSE.
I’ve had the following fail since late last year (with date installed)

Crimson 5w SES golfball 03/01/19
Luceco 5.5w SES candle 11/12/20
Luceco 5.5w SES candle 25/09/20
Luceco 5.5w SES candle 23/05/20
Luceco 5.5w SES candle 14/09/20
Luceco 5.5w SES candle 18/10/20
Crimson 5w SES golfball 06/04/20
Crimson 5w SES golfball 01/01/20
I must have had at least another dozen fail prior to those listed over little more than a couple of years.

My wiring & voltage have both been checked, I don’t use dimmers & the light units are rated for use with LED lamps.

Don’t buy the rubbish made by these companies.

I hope you have returned the failed lamps for replacement, Mike. I had not heard of the Crimson brand but some of the Amazon reviews warn of rapid failure.

Found on Facebook:
” Salem, Tamil Nadu, India 636501
Crimson led lights manufecturing by Sri Balaji Lighting Industry. we manufecturing and delivering most promising quality products.
our products are
indoor lights and outdoor lights.
for trade enquiry-9894096097
crimsonled2***@gmail.com

Oh dear! I am sorry you have made bad purchases, Mike.

I think you would be well advised to buy replacements from well-known brands in future. I have found Tesco and Philips LED’s satisfactory with no premature failures for ordinary bulb-type lamps [including golf-ball and candle designs].

I have had less success with pre-installed capsule lamps in multi-branch ceiling light fittings but replacing them all with a better brand as soon as the first one fails has been satisfactory.

I have also replaced a few halogen downlighter lamps with Philips LEDs and they are giving good service.

You might need to pay a bit more at the outset but the longer life will repay the expense.

@mikesterland Hi Mike – I hope that you can overcome your problems with LED lamps by switching to other brands. It might be worth checking with neighbours to see if they are having problems in case there is a problem with voltage spikes. It’s best not to have LEDs on the same circuit as fluorescent strip lights, which can cause these spikes.

Best of luck.

I’ve just replaced 2 Philips 15 year GU10s in my bathroom. Installed about 18 months ago, they failed within 2 weeks of each other.

I suggest you ask the retailer to replace them, Andy. If you don’t have the receipt a card statement may provide evidence of purchases. Alternatively you could contact Philips because they have claimed a long life. 15 years corresponds to about 13,000 hours of continuous use.

so sick of led bulbs failing. in certain fixtures they fail every 9 months or so like clockwork. Every manufacturer, it doesnt matter. One of my leds has a crack down the side of its ballast but hasnt failed yet.
So sick of it. I have switched back to halogen and incandescent in certain fixtures and they do not fail. If they do, then its pennies, rather than 5$ a bulb.

Places where i have had good luck are the bathroom vanity, (philips bulbs, going on 6 years now) and when you buy a lamp that is already build around a led strip or similar. those seem to last.
I think the rule is that if there is no airflow (like if they are under a glass cover) they always fail. Its heat i am sure of it, because some are burned when i go to remove them.

So what, do i just change all my fixtures in my housE? some places it makes sense, but others hell no!

You’re right it is usually heat, and the consistency of 9 months would suggest this is most likely in your case. It is the nearly always capacitors on the driver/power board rather than the LEDs themselves. Reputable brands bought from reputable companies have better grade capacitors and better thermal management.

Are the fixtures where it fails with the LEDs at the bottom or top of the (ie are they uplight or downlight arrangements?

One other comment – is there a dimmer in the circuit? If so, there could well be an incompatibility between dimmer and LED bulb . That is a minefield.

Direct replacements for old fashioned bulbs and halogen lamps are at risk of overheating, and Roger has highlighted the main reasons. Two ways of reducing the risk of damaging components by heat are to use lower power LEDs (if practical) or replacing fixtures where it is necessary to use a powerful LED lamp, choosing a fixture that promotes good air flow – one that is open at the top and bottom will act like a chimney and create an air flow. It’s important to avoid mixing halogen and LED lamps in the same fixture because the former will cook the electronics in the latter.

The LED lamps in Johnwell’s bathroom vanity unit are likely to have survived because they are well spaced and probably low power.

Stephen Doherty says:
15 September 2021

I started writing the dataI installed the bulb on the bulb so I could see its failure date. Ikea seem miore failure prone and I expect tbese more expensive bulbs to last 3-5yrs at least even against the most pessimistic ysave factor. At an inzane 12hrs use per day thats 5yrs at 25000hrs. Just had ikea led bulb fail in open lampshade runni g at max 5hrs i. Per day with say 10 switching events per day whuch shoukd mean approx 13yr life or7yr at worst scenario. So I’ll be asking ikea whats up?

Doug says:
7 December 2021

Maxim 10w GLS LED Bayonet, Tesco? c.£3.
Lasted 50h. Mfg intentionally reducIng MTBF, as we learned how to do on HND elctrical engineering at polytechinc in 1986 🙁

I would be interested to know about what your learned about reducing mean time before failure, Doug. You should be able to obtain a refund or replacement for the faulty bulb.

Doug says:
7 December 2021

Can’t remember much, but the average life of every component is measured and then with some maths the whole lot put together to get the product life. If as usual in 1950s, it lasted too long, then cheaper or weaker components used to ensure a continual income stream. Ever noticed how the day after the guarantee runs out on your washing machine, first the pump goes, then the heater, the motor, the pump, etc. Its a fine art.
PS maybe I got the Maxim bulb at poundland, sorry tesco! Shops here have no staff to ask, they’ve all been fired in favour of self service check outs – it’ll all end in tears…and social unrest.

Hi Doug – Having been interested in LED lamps for years the main problem seems to be that in bulb-replacement types the electronic driver is crammed in the cap where it gradually gets cooked by the heat produced and electrolytic capacitors are particularly vulnerable. With some types the LED chips are driven so hard that they can fail. Newer designs have better heat sinking and the ‘filament’ type of LED lamp helps dissipate heat from the LEDs. Light fixtures that promote cooling can help but LED lighting would be more reliable if the driver and LEDs were separated and the LEDs were not over-driven. Despite the problems my LEDs have survived and I have bought a range of brands, though not from pound shops or online.

During my days as a student I learned about manufacturers using cheaper components to save pennies and have seen plenty of examples of this with circuit boards when dabbling with electronics and repairs. As you say, manufacturers of consumer goods are keen to sell their products and have to rely on estimates such as MTBF but in practice the life of products can vary greatly in practice. Non-domestic products can be more sensibly designed and HiFi separates tend to be good.

I have heard of the Maxim brand but not seen them in Tesco stores.

Doug says:
7 December 2021

I agree a lot of it is design and my 10w Maxim bulb got very hot. Ten 2w Crompton dimmable filament B15 LED candle bulbs in an old candelabra have worked great as my main light for four years now.

That makes sense. Rather reluctantly I purchased two LED lamps rated at 1500 lumens (12.5 watt) and not surprisingly they get very hot. I realise that I am taking a risk of premature failure but wanted the extra light.

I was recently reminded about the ‘Dubai lamps’ which are much more efficient (thus producing less heat in the electronics) and run the LEDs at a lower temperature: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=klaJqofCsu4 Don’t look for them in the shops.

Disgruntled says:
23 December 2021

JCB led cool white 4000k 15w 100w replacement:
“Built to last”, “up to 10 years @ 2.7hrs a day”, “10000 hours life”, ” x10000 on / off”
372 days of use (I’ll say 8.1 hours each day which is massively over-estimating usage) and now malfunctioning. So the bulb did not last even a third of the suggested lifespan and cost £4.69

Unfortunately “up to 10 years” is meaningless but the terminology has been in use since long life lamps were introduced. The broadband industry was banned from using “up to” speeds and required to provide an indication of average speed.

The reason for failure may be the amount of heat generated in the cap of the lamp, which contains electronic components or overheating of the LEDs themselves. It might be better to use two lamps with a lower light output. The lumen rating is better than wattage when comparing light output.

JCB is a British manufacturer of excavators, many of which are still in use after decades. Why they allow their brand name to be used on LEDs I do not begin to understand.

Disgruntled says:
25 December 2021

So curiosity got the better of me and I dismantled the bulb to see what went bad. What I found was no different to the led backlit televisions i.e., one led burns out and then a couple of other follow suit and the thing stops working. There were 24 individual leds in this bulb, one had majorly burnt out, the one next to it a little less visibly burnt, and the next one just barely burnt. So like the led tv, the whole thing becomes useless for the sake of an led that cost a percentage of one penny, and because the units are constructed in a way that physically prevents repair.

It’s fascinating to take products apart and find out why they failed. LED lamps are a bit of a challenge. 🙂 There are some ‘teardown’ videos online where the faulty LED has been identified and bridged to confirm the fault.

It’s normal to run LED chips in series because each one has a low forward voltage, whereas the mains voltage is much higher. It is common to limit the current using a capacitive dropper – a series capacitor feeding a bridge rectifier to produce DC. As you say, failure of one LED will make the entire lamp useless. It’s difficult to know what practical alternative the manufacturer has, bearing in mind the limited space available in the cap of a lamp.

The real problem, as I see it, is not running the LED chips in series but the fact that they have to cope with so much power, which results in overheating. For a long time, it was rare to find LED lamps that will replace the old 100 watt bulb. From what I have read it is more common for the driver to fail due to heat rather than the LEDs themselves. If you look up the ‘Dubai lamp’ (see the link I posted above) it is possible to produce lamps where the LEDs are under less stress.

Wherever it’s practical to do so, not always so easy with older ceilings, like mine made from old laths and crumbly plaster, I would recommend using the 12 volt LED bulbs as then the driver electronics are housed in a separate unit mounted away from the bulb so it should stay cooler, provided of course you use a driver of adequate rating and don’t overload it… But there’s a problem with the 12 volt bulbs as the only ones I’ve seen are the ones which fit in a downlighter type fitting so if you haven’t already got such fittings fitted it can be expensive having them fitted because of all the work needed, as well as having to move furniture and carpets etc. so you can get the floorboards up and the have the necessary changes made to the wiring. So I think it would be good if the 12 volt bulbs were available in a wider variety of styles, with their own holders which could hang from a ceiling rose just like a mains one then you would only need one driver unit for each room and it could be stuffed under the floor, and sometimes it’s just possible to fit one without taking up the floor above if the cables are long enough to pull them out through the hole in the ceiling so you can fit a “wago” type joint box which are made narrow enough to shove through a small ceiling hole as are the driver units. And of course there is also the possibility of having a chandolier type fitting with several 12 volt bulbs which could have just one driver unit of adequate rating. I’d like to see someone make something like that, then there would be no need to stuff the driver components into the cramped space in the bulb cap where they’ll get fried.

Separating the LEDs from the drivers certainly makes sense to avoid overheating of the electronics but it might be worth having more than one driver per room. The disadvantage of using a single driver is that if it fails it is not as easy to replace as simply changing a lamp.

When I moved into my present house I promptly replaced the 12V MR16 halogen downlighters in the bathrooms with LEDs but kept the individual drivers rather than running all the LEDs in a room from a single driver. I’m glad I did because one of the drivers died. When it was convenient I connected two lamps to one driver but in meantime the rest of the LEDs carried on working.

While they are neat and considered stylish, I would caution against recessed downlighters from the point of view of the quality of the light they produce, especially in kitchens and bathrooms where they seem to be prolific. Such downlighters produce a downwards cone of light that creates sharp shadows — not good in a bathroom for shaving, applying make-up, and other close work to the face. They provide very little in the way of ambient light to illuminate an area.

In my opinion, a better option is a surface-mounted globe- or bowl-shaped integrated LED fitting with a high lumen specification. This provides both direct and indirect light for overall comfort and functionality. By being below the ceiling there is a substantial amount of diffused light reflected from the ceiling enhancing the overall ambience. They are available with the appropriate moisture ingress protection [IP No.] for all domestic applications and can last a very long time before replacement becomes necessary.

Another thing to watch out for with recessed downlighters, especially when used with halogens, is the risk of fire, especially when used upstairs where there’s loft insulation fitted as with halogen bulbs too much of their heat goes upwards and into the insulation and they can sometimes set it on fire unless it’s cleared from above each fitting, or else fire safe fittings should be used, this is especially important where older less fire resistant insulation is still in place. And another important fire prevention measure where they’re used with a fan above a shower is that the fan must work together with the light so that the light cannot come on on it’s own without the fan or else the rising heat can burn the flimsy plastic flexible air ducting which is often used in such an installation, as it is in a friend’s house where I’ve done quite a bit of work over the years. Personally I think a shower with a downlighter should only be used with the safer aluminium ducting in case the fan fails leaving a halogen light on without extraction.

That is a good point. My surveyor warned me that the halogen downlighters in the bathrooms were buried under a thick layer of insulation, which is why I replaced them as soon as possible. The fans are separate and more effective than ones combined with downlighters.

Woah! Fire safe / fire protection / fire rated downlighters have nothing to do with their propensity to overheat when smothered in insulation. Any breach in a material that provides fire resistance in a building – like “pink” plasterboard used to slow the spread of fire from an integral garage – must be made good with a material that provides the same or better fire resistance. So a doorway would typically have to be fitted with a self-closing 1 hour fire resistant door. Even basic doors and standard white plasterboard are good for at least 30 minutes.

The whole point is to slow the spread of a fire and toxic combustion products (i.e. smoke), to give the occupants time to escape, not to stop the building catching fire and burning down in the first place.

Downlighters are a particular problem, as they punch several holes through a ceiling and may allow fire and smoke to spread to rooms above or thought the void. In this situation, the downlighter must a) not fail sooner than the supporting material and b) holes need to self-sealing, usually though the use of an intumescent material that swells in the presence of heat.

Completely separate from the need for fire protection, downlighters need to be kept clear of insulation (whether flammable or not) to avoid the fitting and any attached wiring from overheating. A sure way of doing this is with a product like Halolite downlight insulation guards, available from Screwfix, but you need access to the void to fit them. If a retrofit, fire hoods are available that can be squeeze throught the cutout, but the decreasing size of LED light fittings can make these a problem to install too.

Don’t forget that vermin can dislodge insulation and other materials left in the loft (like plastic wrapping) and cause it to come into contact with a hot bulb. So any flammable materials (like sheep’s wool) are best avoided, although the chances of a fire arising from this cause are low in practice.

I have done a risk assessment and decided that the 40cm of fibreglass insulation would do enough to deter spread of fire. I can see little risk of wiring supplying 5.5 watt lamps overheating. If I have the bathrooms refurbished I will ensure that everything is done to modern standards but living alone I just have to look after myself. Perhaps fire-rated downlighters should have been a requirement from the start.

As you say wavechange, it is all about risk and we have lived with many systems and methods that are no longer considered acceptable. Ever since railways, steam ships like Titanic – and probably before – a lot of changes have come about through investigating the circumstances of a single incident and making everyone comply to avoid repetition of a one-in-a-million chance, whilst other risks continue to fly in the face of fate. I’m sure Grenfell will result in more to come.

Apart from fire alarms, one of the biggest domestic changes relates to the requirement to use toughened glass in windows that are 800 mm or less, and door glazing 1500 mm, or less from floor level. But it will be many decades before most homes are brought up to current standards.

As to wiring overheating, I was still thinking of 20W / 50W halogen bulbs, but I would challenge you to grab a 15W soldering iron, if low Wattage devices cannot reach high enough temperatures to damage insulation 🙂

As a child I quickly learned to catch my 15W Antex soldering iron by the handle as it headed towards the carpet. 🙁

London Fire Brigade and Which? have condemned fridges and freezers with flammable plastic backs but few are concerned about the widespread use of plastics elsewhere in the cases of white goods. There are numerous photos online of dryers and washing machines with fascias and other parts that have burned or melted, allowing fire to spread. Perhaps when more people are tempted to run appliances overnight someone in authority might waken up to the problem.

At least my windows and doors comply with current requirements.

Should we be concerned about the widespread use of plastics in aircraft?

I’m more concerned about the safety of products in my home, Malcolm. I know that I have appliances with flammable plastics in their cases.

The point is “plastics” is a generic term for a very wide range of materials with very differing properties, including their resistance to heat. International Standards specify the performance required of such materials when used in different applications, including domestic appliances and the UK requires these standards to by met by regulation.

Where appliances have failed in a fire then the first question to address is whether the materials used were non-compliant. If they were not then action should be taken against the supplier. If they did, in fact, pass all the relevant tests then the requirements of the international standard should be re-examined and, if appropriate, more stringent material properties demanded. BSI are our representative to consider and take such information to the international committee. Which? are hopefully still a member of the relevant BSI committee and should, if they are concerned, raise this with them.

The standards are the same throughout the whole of the EU as well as the UK and in many countries in the rest of the world. I imagine if there were sufficient concern they would all be raising this problem, directly or through their consumer groups. Perhaps Which? @gmartin (Happy New Year, George) could tell us more.

I have taken samples from the cases of my white goods and other household items and they all burned merrily producing smoke. I have also posted numerous photos of burned out dryers and washing machines on Conversation. Why don’t you try testing small samples of plastic from your own products and you can see for yourself?

I am a little wary of leaving a breadmaker on overnight but I am awake by the time the baking stage starts and I have loud interlinked smoke detectors.

Your samples were not tested according to recognised standards. As I replied when this was first discussed I can set steel on fire – the material the casings are made of – by inappropriate samples and tests.

However, the question I asked was wider. No need to repeat it. But you can raise your concerns with BSI direct or through Which?, the London Fire Brigade or any other committee member. It is a serious issue so please keep us posted.

Have you discussed your tests with Which?

As we are well off topic, if the discussion is to continue this might be an appropriate Convo https://conversation.which.co.uk/home-energy/faulty-kitchen-appliances-electricfires/

We have discussed all this before, Malcolm. The fires that start in white goods and have cost people their homes did not happen under standard conditions.

I suggest we get back on topic.

I suggest a Convo above. However, to answer your point, safety standards deal specifically with abnormal conditions as well as “normal” ones. If you have access to standards online this will explain:
Household and similar electrical appliances. Safety – General requirements
BS EN 60335-1:2012+A15:2021

I suggest we get back on topic and then you edit your post to say that we are off topic. 🙂

@gmartin, George, although I imagine this bit of discussion is now concluded, as there is a more relevant home for it you could, if you feel it appropriate, transfer comments from where it was started https://conversation.which.co.uk/home-energy/led-light-bulbs-ikea-tcp-life-span/#comment-1643320 onwards?

Here is one example of a simple investigation of why a LED lamp has failed, and the presenter carries out a repair to demonstrate that his diagnosis was correct: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=btBmE-PZ5ig

It’s more common for the heat produced in a lamp to cause failure of a capacitor. Sometimes the LED chips themselves can fail.