I’m sure you’ve heard rumors about LED bulbs that can last for over ten years. While this may be true, LEDs are electrical devices, and no electricals are invincible.
Although most LED bulbs will gradually degrade over time, catastrophic failure can and does happen. So let’s have a look at what this means. Are LEDs prone to exploding?
It is highly unlikely that LED bulbs will explode. However, in rare cases, thermal and electrical stress can be caused by voltage surges, faulty capacitors, and poor heat management, which leads to LEDs exploding.
Explosions are scary in any context, but especially when you’re living with children or pets. I understand if you’re keen to prevent your LED bulbs from exploding, I am too!
Whether you’ve recently experienced an exploding LED bulb, or you’re intrigued about why it happens, this blog post is for you.
Keep reading to find out what causes LED explosions, whether LEDs are a fire risk, and why you need to be extra cautious when putting LEDs in enclosed fixtures.
How Likely It Is For LED To Explode?
As I’ve said, the chances of an LED bulb exploding are extremely rare. But how rare is rare?
Traditionally speaking, incandescent, fluorescent, and halogen bulbs explode when they get too hot. These bulbs emit light via a filament held inside a glass vacuum.
Excess heat causes the sealant to melt around the base of the bulb, allowing the gas to leak out. As a result, the pressure inside the bulb changes, causing it to explode.
But this isn’t the case with LEDs, as they emit light through a semiconductor. Instead, LEDs explode due to electrical and thermal stress.
On average, LEDs require around 2 to 4 volts of electricity to operate. This is problematic, as the average voltage supply from a household wall outlet is 120V.
To counteract this, LEDs require a capacitor that drops the mains voltage to a lower, usable level. This is a huge task, so capacitors are highly stressed.
In any high-pressure environment, mistakes are bound to happen.
Sometimes, electrical surges occur, and the capacitor accidentally lets the full current through to the LED. In this scenario, regardless of whether exposure lasts for 1 second or 0.01 nanoseconds, the LED will explode.
This is called Electrical Overstress (EOS) and is particularly prevalent in cheap LEDs as their low-quality materials are less tolerant of voltage fluctuations.
Alternatively, LEDs may explode due to thermal stress. By now I’m sure you know that heat is the enemy of LEDs, which is why most fixtures have a heat sink or other heat dissipation device.
When an LED is overdriven with too much electrical current, more thermal energy is created. Thermal energy causes parts of the LED fixture to expand and pressure to build up inside the bulb.
If the heat is not dispersed, it will start to degrade and break components of the bulb.
This will result in the circuit shorting and the bulb exploding.
If the heat is not dispersed, material components of the bulb will start to degrade and break. Eventually, the circuit will short, and the bulb will explode.
Can “Popping” Sound Be Considered As Explosion?
When you think of the word ‘explosion,’ you probably picture a colossal bomb with smoke and fire. But this isn’t what happens with LEDs.
When an LED explodes, whether, from electrical or thermal stress, there’s likely to be a loud ‘popping’ sound and broken parts flying around the room.
Essentially, pressure builds up and up until the LED cannot take any more. The bulb has to release it in the form of sound energy (the popping) and kinetic energy (the broken parts flying around).
Thankfully, unlike conventional bulbs, LEDs are made from shatterproof glass or epoxy resin. When an LED explodes, the bulb may crack, but it’s unlikely to shatter into millions of tiny, sharp shards like it would with glass.
This is good for two reasons:
- Exploded LEDs are easier to clean up (yay!)
- They’re a lot safer.
But can this popping sound accurately be defined as an explosion? I’d argue yes.
Dictionary.com defines the word explosion as ‘an act or instance of exploding; a violent expansion or bursting with noise’, and that’s exactly what happens when pressure builds up inside an LED. Case closed!
Can LED Light Cause Fire?
Did you know that 15% of house fires in the US are started by ‘lamps, light fixtures, and lights’?
With shocking statistics like this, you’re right to be curious about whether LEDs can cause fires.
To put it simply, LEDs are highly unlikely to set on fire.
While LEDs do generate heat and can be hot to touch, in reality, they produce nowhere near enough heat to start a fire.
Nevertheless, it’s important to be careful with cheap LEDs.
A 2014 study by the BBC found that 76% of the products tested were not compliant with European Safety Standards and were therefore classified as unsafe.
If you’re intrigued by this and want to know more, check out my other article ‘Can LED Lights Cause Fire?‘
Can LEDs Explode In Enclosed Fixtures?
Another area where it’s better to proceed with caution is that of enclosed fixtures.
An enclosed fixture is the opposite of an open-air fixture. In essence, the light source is sealed in a glass or plastic container that has no airflow. Common examples include outdoor wall lights and bathroom ceiling lights.
In these scenarios, it’s beneficial to keep a tight seal around the diode to prevent it from getting water damaged.
However, the lack of airflow allows heat to build up more quickly. Without proper heat dissipation, LEDs are more likely to fail, gradually (through lumen degradation), and catastrophically (through a thermal stress explosion).
For this reason, most LEDs are not compatible with enclosed fixtures.
However, in recent years’ manufacturers have spotted this shortcoming and have sought to fill the market gap. Nowadays, it’s possible to buy LEDs that explicitly say ‘Enclosed Fixture Rated.’
If you’re unsure about whether your LED will be safe in an enclosed fixture, it’s better not to take the risk.
You can pick a pack of enclosed fixture rated LEDs on Amazon.
To summarise, LEDs may explode and make a ‘pop’ sound when they experience too much thermal or electrical stress.
That being said, if you buy good quality LEDs and manage heat dissipation efficiently, this is unlikely to happen.
Have you ever experienced exploding LED bulbs? What do you think caused it? Write a comment, let me know!