LED light bulbs, when properly cared for, can last for many years. But just like any other electrical device, they aren’t completely invulnerable.
Typically, LED bulbs will start to degrade slowly over time. They don’t just fail suddenly. But can LED bulbs explode if the conditions are right?
It is extremely rare for LED bulbs to explode, but it can happen. Thermal and electrical stress caused by voltage surges, faulty capacitors, and poor heat management could all make your light bulbs explode.
Of course, exploding light bulbs are hardly fun, so let’s look into it more:
- Reasons why an LED bulb explodes
- What to do with exploded bulbs
- Whether smoking LED lights are a fire hazard
Why Did My LED Light Bulb Explode In The Socket?
LED light bulbs will typically explode for one of two reasons – electrical and thermal stress.
Electrical Stress Explosion
A stress explosion due to electricity is when the light bulb receives too high a voltage, becoming overwhelmed extremely quickly and exploding.
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.
Potential causes of these types of surges include:
- A voltage surge from the circuit board
- An LED driver failing to control the voltage
- A loose connection causes an electrical surge as it arcs
- Ignoring the recommended light bulb wattage for your circuit and overloading it
Thermal Stress Explosion
Another thing that can cause an LED bulb to explode is too much heat.
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 the components of the bulb.
This will result in the circuit shorting and the bulb exploding.
Is Exploded LED Light Bulb Dangerous?
LED bulbs that have exploded aren’t generally dangerous. Once they’ve exploded, any danger is over, as the circuit will be broken, and the case usually won’t shatter into harmful pieces.
Unlike older lights, such as halogen bulbs, they don’t contain anything harmful that you need to be wary of. They do need to be replaced though – once exploded, they’re done for!
LED Light Bulb Exploded When It Was Off
An LED bulb exploding when it is switched off is a sign of a potentially serious electrical issue. It means that the current is still reaching the bulb, causing either electrical or thermal stress.
LED bulbs will explode as soon as they reach a critical point, and turning off the current will reverse this. They won’t stay hot or overloaded for more than a second once you’ve turned them off.
So check your home circuit board, as it may be a much more serious issue that needs professional help.
What To Do When LED Light Bulb Exploded?
While an exploded LED bulb isn’t an immediate threat, it can no longer be used. You should dispose of LED bulb (recycle it if possible) and replace it with a new bulb – once you’ve identified that the cause isn’t your electrical circuit or wiring.
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 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.
This means you shouldn’t need to worry about cleaning up any mess. Just remove the bulb and switch it for a new one.
LED Light Bulb Popped And Smoked: Is It Fire Hazard?
If your LED bulb burned out and smoked, but it didn’t show signs of an explosion, it likely isn’t a fire hazard but you will need to replace it.
Smoke should always be a concern, but it’s highly unlikely that part of the bulb is actually on fire. It is probably residual smoke from the ‘popping’ of the capacitor.
Once it has burned out in this way, it won’t allow current to pass through and so there’s no risk of it continuing to overheat and trigger a fire.
To be clear, this isn’t the same advice for an older incandescent bulb or halogen bulb – these get extremely hot and you should cut the power and remove the bulbs from your light fixtures once safe, if they smoke.
Still, it’s best to be careful with LEDs too, especially cheaper ones.
Cheaper LED lights aren’t made to the same quality standards, and it’s possible that a manufacturing defect could cause a bulb to pop and still be a fire risk.
Can LED Strip Lights Explode?
It’s unlikely that an LED strip could explode. The components that will explode are typically capacitors and they will be contained in the power supply for the strip instead.
Strip lights can overheat if the supply fails, but if any part was going to explode it’d probably be the plug.
It’s possible, but rare, for an LED bulb to explode – light bulbs explode when they’re overwhelmed by heat or electrical stress.
They’re generally safe though. And if one does pop, just be careful. Shattered glass is unlikely but wear gloves if there’s a crack, and check it’s not an issue with your light fixtures before adding a replacement bulb.
I’ve got a whole guide on whether broken LEDs are safe, if you want to know more.