What Color Light is Best for Kitchens & What Type of Bulb to Choose

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Lighting has the power to completely transform a room; the types of light bulbs you use, their placement, and the way you layer lighting can turn a dark kitchen into the perfect space for cooking sunny breakfasts or preparing a delicious evening roast. You don’t have to sacrifice ambiance for efficient task-lighting, either. This article will guide you with information pertaining to everything you need to know about what color light is best for your kitchen and which type of light bulb you should use. 

First, let’s familiarize ourselves with some lighting basics.  

Color Temperature

The color temperature of a lightbulb correlates to the degrees of Kelvin which it emits, a unit of measurement for thermodynamic temperatures. The higher the Kelvin rating of a bulb, the cooler white it will be; on the flip side, bulbs with lower Kelvin ratings will shine more yellow.

The Ideal Color Temperature for a Kitchen

The ideal lighting color temperature for a kitchen is bright white or daylight. Therefore, when searching for the right kitchen lighting, look for ones with light bulbs marked as “bright white” or “daylight”, rather than “soft white” or “warm white”. Daylight bulbs give off the brightest white light and are a good substitute for a lack of natural lighting.

For kitchens, a range of 4000K-6500K is prime, because it gives off bright white light (similar to noon sunlight) best suited for chopping veggies, measuring flour, etc. Having warmer-colored bulbs (those less than 4000 Kelvin) as the only light source in your kitchen can make knife work iffy and reading recipes difficult as the room may not be well lit. 

Lumens & Watts

While Kelvin measures the color temperature of the bulb, lumens measure the amount of light given off, and could also be considered as the “brightness” of the bulb. The wattage of your lightbulb is the amount of power it uses to operate.

Although, with the development of more energy-efficient lighting options, higher wattage suggestions for brighter lighting has become somewhat obsolete. If you have not yet utilized LED lights, we highly recommend you doing so as LED light bulbs are more energy-efficient, shine brighter, and last longer than traditional incandescent light bulbs.

Incandescent, Fluorescent or LED — What’s the Difference?

While the Kelvin range, lumens, and watts of a bulb are one thing to consider, another is the actual build of the lighting element itself. Here are three general models of lighting that can be found in every home department store, along with their pros and cons:

Incandescent and Halogen (not recommended)

Thomas Edison’s 1880 patent of the light bulb lit the way for the incandescent light bulbs we use today, which utilize a coil made of tungsten (a super-tough chemical element with a high melting point), which is then heated by electric currents. This creates a softer glow, perfect for intimate home spaces, like the dimmer switch in your bedroom (not the overhead in your kitchen).

Halogen lighting works essentially the same way as incandescence but is generally more compact and fairly cheaper (con: Halogen doesn’t have as wide a range of Kelvin temperatures and tends to dim over time as it heats up). 

Fluorescent

Fluorescent lighting can come in a range of color temperatures, but we usually see it being used as general overhead in spaces like garages or factories, where bright, daylight lighting is optimal for completing tasks.

This is how fluorescence works in a nutshell: a tube of mercury gas is ionized by introducing high voltage (meaning, electrons within the gas are separated), and as the current passes through the tube it “excites” the electrons, causing them to emit UV light, and then a coating of phosphor inside the tube transforms the UV light into white light.

Generally speaking, fluorescent lighting is more cost-effective than incandescent and tends to last much longer. Compact fluorescent lights (or CFLs, those curly bulbs touted for their energy-efficiency) function similarly to larger fluorescent tubes.

One thing to consider about fluorescent light bulbs is that their mercury vapor component might pose a slight health risk if broken; if you break a CFL bulb, air out the room for 10 minutes and sweep up broken glass to be disposed of in a closed container (depending on where you live, some ordinances require that both broken and unbroken fluorescent bulbs be taken to local recycling centers).

LED (recommended)

Our top pick: LED, or Light Emitting Diodes, which uses semiconductors (rather than mercury) to engineer current flow. Introducing voltage raises the energy level of the electrons, and when they drop again photon light is given off. Basically, LEDs are chemical chips that emit light within plastic capsules. LED lighting is the longest-lasting option currently available on the market and is also the most environmentally friendly, seeing as it lacks chemicals and doesn’t suck up as much energy as incandescent bulbs. As a bonus, this technology is becoming more and more affordable as different brands crop up. 

Smart Light Bulbs (highly recommended)

Smart bulbs are LED lighting fixtures that give you ultimate aesthetic control. Like incandescent light bulbs, they can be dimmed or brightened, but without the need for installing a dimmer switch. You can also control their color temperature right from your smart device, which is fantastic for changing the mood of your kitchen; while cooking in the evening, you might opt for a brighter blue light, or turn it down with red and orange hues for hosting dinner parties. Some smart bulbs can even synchronize with your music.

We have reviewed the best smart light bulbs for Amazon Alexa as well as the best smart light bulbs for Google Home. You can also check out CNET’s “5 reasons why your next light bulb should be a smart bulb”

Last, but Not Least: Light Placement

In her New York Times article,  “Lighting a Room, Simplified”, Michelle Higgins suggests using “layered illumination” to create an eclectic display of lighting that’s as beautiful as it is functional. In your kitchen, use a general overhead source that is bright white to illuminate the entirety of the space, and then create dimension by adding task-specific lighting above areas such as the stove or chopping block (a wonderful touch to preserving the ambience of your home even in a brightly lit kitchen is to run LED light strips on the bottom edges of your overhead cabinets). Complimentary warmer sources of light, such as standing lamps in the corner or hanging pendants over the kitchen island, can make for a cozier, more intimate feel.

Final Thoughts

In short, the best lighting options for your kitchen are bright white and daylight-emitting LED bulbs. Have fun experimenting with your home lighting by combining light sources or investing in Smart Bulbs to turn your kitchen into an exciting, textured, and practical space.

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