Using LED light bulbs in your home can save you a lot of money, but also bring you a lot of headache if you are not careful.
They’re more efficient and longer-lasting than older bulbs, which means that you’ll achieve the same brightness without anywhere near as much electricity required, and you won’t need to replace the bulb for a much longer time.
At least, that’s true when it comes to good-quality LED lights. But not every bulb you can buy is manufactured to the same standard.
And with the internet, you can easily log onto foreign retailers and marketplaces to buy cheaper LED bulbs that just aren’t up to scratch.
LED bulbs from China are a significant issue because China is home to some top-rated marketplace websites that sell technology at prices that are a fraction of those in the US and Europe.
Sometimes you can get bulbs for as little as 1 cent if you buy in bulk. But are they safe to use?
LED lights from China are not always safe. Many manufacturers use cheaper materials or components, such as capacitors, which can then overheat and cause the bulb to burn out. The bulbs can be unsafe to handle at these temperatures and can even explode.
In this article I’m going to explain:
- The main problems with LED lights from China
- Why overloaded capacitors are dangerous
- The most important things to look for when buying LEDs from China
What Makes LED Lights From China Poor?
There are many potential reasons that an LED bulb from China may not be safe.
One of the biggest is the quality of the capacitor.
The capacitor’s job in an LED light bulb is to manage the flow of electricity, throttling it if there are any fluctuations to ensure that the bulb is protected.
Capacitors have a voltage limit, and if a bulb has a capacitor that’s not rated for the voltage needed, it can become overloaded.
The problem is that the capacitor is one of the most expensive components in a bulb. And so, when manufacturers are looking for ways to cut costs, it’s one of the first things to be manufactured poorly.
Cheap capacitors that are susceptible to overloading can be dangerous – I’ll explain why below.
Before that, there are some other potential factors in why LEDs from China are of poor quality.
Firstly, the quality of the LED array circuit – there’s no guarantee that the diodes will be consistent and of the sufficient quality needed to give you a uniform light at the color rating and lumen output advertised.
There are also the materials used in the base of the bulb.
Instead of aluminum, which is widely used in good quality, branded bulbs, they can use cheaper materials.
Nickel-plating is common, and while nickel is often used within a bulb, it’s not the best material for the base.
Nickel is less than half as conductive as aluminum for heat (measured in Watts per metre Kelvin).
If they’re less than 50% as efficient at dissipating heat, this will have a significant effect on shortening the bulb’s lifespan.
Finally, it’s simple, but the quality of the soldering on the chip inside the bulb is not usually of the same high standards when buying a cheap bulb from China.
This means a weaker connection since the electricity can’t flow through the circuit correctly.
You might have a dimmer bulb, or one that flickers.
Why Are Overloaded Capacitors Dangerous?
Suppose you overload a capacitor with a current that it isn’t designed for. In that case, it will start to heat up and potentially spread heat to the rest of the circuit, damaging it.
There are two types of capacitor used in LED bulbs.
Electrolytic capacitors are cheaper but much more susceptible to heat damage. This is because the electrolyte gel inside them begins to evaporate as heat rises, which will burn it out.
Ceramic capacitors are a little more expensive and less likely to be found in Chinese bulbs. Still, they can typically (although not always) withstand a little extra heat.
When a capacitor is damaged by heat, it will cause surrounding components to heat up more, and could explode, caused by the breakdown of the dielectric materials inside that create arcing between capacitor plates.
This would result in the entire bulb short circuiting and potentially exploding itself.
Main Watchouts When Buying LED Lights From China
Here are some of the most important things you need to look out for when buying LED bulbs from China if you insist on it.
Lack Of Bulb Specification
One of the biggest problems with LED bulbs from China is the lack of precise specifications for you to compare.
The Philips page has a clearly laid-out specification tab, which tells you everything you need to know about the bulb.
It has the exact color temperature, the precise lumens (806 – no estimates or vague numbers here), and the Wattage and Wattage equivalent.
Compare that to the bulb page on Aliexpress, where the ‘Wattage’ is listed as 220 Volts (which is the wrong information), but instead, you can cycle between the different Wattage options using the imagery as a guide.
However, the spec only gives you ranges – so between the 3W to 20W bulb options, you’ll get a lumen output of somewhere between 1,000 and 1,999 lumens – that’s way too vague to be trustworthy.
The page also contradicts itself on the vague color temperatures – if you buy a cool white, you’ll either get something between 6000-6500K or between 5500 and 7000K.
In summary, you aren’t being given the complete and honest story – and when buying electricals, it’s essential you know you can buy a bulb from a manufacturer you can trust.
Lumen per Watt Efficiency
Where you do have the information to compare an LED bulb from China with one from a major brand, it’s worth comparing the lumen per Watt (lm/W) efficiency.
This tells you just how efficient a bulb is, based on how many lumens it outputs for every Watt of power used.
It’s a simple measurement to work out – you simply divide the number of Watts by the number of lumens.
Take that Philips example above – with a 6.5W power draw and 806 lumens, it has 806/6.5 = 124 lm/W.
Many Chinese bulb manufacturers will be vague on the lumen output of their bulbs but if you see a listing that has the information, check the lumens per Watt rating.
A standard for LED bulbs is around 76 lm/W so less than that is a bad sign.
CRI (color rendering index) is an important measure of the color accuracy displayed by a bulb.
The higher the CRI rating, the more accurate colors are, while shades are duller for bulbs with a lower CRI rating.
The scale ranges from 1 to 100, but in reality, anything below an 80 would be a poor score.
Bulbs are often rated 80 or 85, although some exceptional ones do break the 90+ score.
If you’re shopping for bulbs on a China marketplace, and they have a lower CRI score, then you should probably avoid them.
Although it’s worth noting that these marketplaces are often unregulated, so if you see one rated 95+, then it might be just as unwise a purchase – it’s doubtful that it is accurate!
One last thing you should check for is the materials used to manufacture the bulb.
High-quality LED bulbs are made from ceramic and aluminum, with glass or, more commonly, an epoxy resin for the top of the bulb.
If you see the word “plastic” anywhere on a bulb listing, then you should hit the back button straight away.
It’s also better to avoid bulbs with a nickel base. These aren’t as good at dissipating heat, leading to bulbs blowing out too quickly or being hotter than they should be and potentially dangerous.
Buying bulbs from China might seem like a good idea when you see the prices, but you must be extremely careful.
The marketplaces that sell these items internationally online don’t regulate the quality of the products sold, so you’re taking a risk.
At best, you might end up wasting a few dollars on bulbs that don’t perform well or last long.
At worst, you’re putting your home in jeopardy from potentially dangerous, poorly-made electrical items that could explode.
I wouldn’t recommend it.
Have you bought LED lights from China or imported them from anywhere else? Any horror stories to tell?
Leave a comment with your story.