Comparison reviews are useful in identifying the best compact fluorescent light bulbs for standard medium-base light fixtures. Reviews favor the soft white versions overall. Owners say the light is relaxing and pleasant, much like the warm light from incandescent bulbs. It seems counterintuitive, but reviewers often don't like so-called daylight or bright white bulbs. In The New York Times review of 21 light bulbs, testers preferred soft white versions. A review in the green living blog FivePercent.us also recommends choosing CFL bulbs that are labeled "warm" or around the 2,700 degrees Kelvin color temperature to achieve the most natural-looking light. This review says that the light produced by CFLs labeled as "daylight" or "natural light" comes off as being too harsh.
Among CFL bulbs, we found the most recommendations for the N:Vision brand sold at Home Depot stores. Those bulbs have now been rebranded as EcoSmart, but reports on the web say that they are the exact same bulb.
Among reviewers giving these bulbs a thumbs-up, Popular Mechanics grants the N:Vision -- now EcoSmart Soft White compact CFL bulb (*Est. $8 for four) -- top scores for reading use, perceived brightness and the natural way faces look in the light. Katharine Wroth at Grist.org likes the quality of the light for reading and how the light shines through a lampshade, definitely preferring the soft white version to the cooler bright white. The New York Times review panel describes the bulbs as "a warm pleasant light." In one long-term comparison test, EcoSmart CFLs beat nine other brands in an impartial rating of brightness and color temperature. It also carries a nine-year warranty with an outstanding fulfillment policy: Replacements for defective light bulbs are sent after a phone call to a toll-free number. EcoSmart CFLs are expected to last 10,000 hours.
GE Energy Smart CFLs (*Est. 7 for eight) are one of few brands earning positive consumer feedback on Amazon.com. Over half of the nearly 20 owner-written reviews rate the GE Energy Smart with a perfect 5-star rating; owners praise the soft white light quality and energy savings. However, there are a few complaints that these CFLs didn't live up to their life expectancy (10,000 hours) and they do take a few seconds to warm up to full brightness. An additional 10 owners on GreenOptions.com contribute to an overall rating of 4.5 stars out of 5. Feedback is similar to that found on Amazon.com, but a few owners there complain that the spiral is a bit too large for standard lampshades. A single review on GoodBadBulbs.com recommends the GE Energy Smart CFL that is encased in a glass globe (*Est. $9), giving it the appearance of a traditional incandescent bulb.
Mercury content and disposal have long been concerns with CFLs. However, ConsumerReports.org finds that most brands now contain well under the required 5 milligrams or less of mercury per bulb, so this is less of a concern. Some manufacturers use low mercury content and environmentally friendly packaging as selling points. Still, care should be taken if a CFL breaks in order to avoid unnecessary exposure to even minute amounts of mercury.
The Feit EcoBulb Plus (*Est. $5.75 each) performs well in long-term comparison testing, although it doesn't hold up as well to frequent cycling on and off as the EcoSmart CFLs. The Environmental Working Group also recommends the Feit EcoBulb as one of the top seven CFL brands based on low mercury content and expected life span. We found just a handful of owner-written reviews for the Feit EcoBulb Plus on the environmentally focused social site GreenOptions.com, but those reviews are positive. One owner reports a drastic reduction in her electric bill after replacing every light bulb in her apartment with Feit EcoBulbs. Several owners mention that it takes the Feit EcoBulbs a few seconds to reach full brightness.
Litetronics also makes low-mercury compact fluorescent light bulbs that limit mercury content to 1 milligram and use lead-free glass and solder. The Litetronics Neolite Ultra Low Mercury T2 light bulb (*Est. $4 each) is also on the small side. This is true even for a 23-watt, 1,660-lumen, 82 CRI compact fluorescent that can replace a 100-watt incandescent bulb. The Neolite T2 bulbs come in various wattages and in three color temperatures: warm white (2,700K), cool white (4,100K) and full spectrum (5,000K). Both Feit and Litetronics CFLs have an anticipated life span of 10,000 hours, but Feit boasts a nine-year warranty compared to Litetronics' seven-year warranty. Readers weighing in with comments on Grist.org recommend Litetronics bulbs for their all-cardboard recyclable packaging.
Prices for compact fluorescent light bulbs can vary a lot, depending on the retailer and on special deals or even giveaways. Store-brand CFL bulbs are also popping up, and these are usually inexpensive. Reviews suggest starting with soft white or warm white compact fluorescent light bulbs that carry Energy Star certification.