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Is It Possible To Dim Non-Dimmable LED Lights?

LED bulbs can either be dimmable or non-dimmable.

While you might conjure up thoughts of LED strips that you have total control over or smart LED bulbs that you can dim from your phone, many standard LED light bulbs just aren’t capable of being dimmed.

This is why you need to be careful when buying your LEDs if you want them to work on an existing dimmer switch you have installed.

Buy the wrong ones, and they just won’t work correctly.

But can you make it work? For example, say you’ve accidentally bought non-dimmable LEDs. Is it possible to dim them anyway?

Simply, you can’t dim non-dimmable LED lights. If you use non-dimmable lights in a dimmer circuit, they will either flicker or just run at full brightness. They will likely burn out faster, too.

In this article I’m going to explain in more detail:

  • What makes an LED bulb dimmable
  • What happens when you try to dim a non-dimmable bulb
  • Why you can’t dim a non-dimmable bulb

What Makes An LED Bulb Dimmable?

philips bulb and the inner circuit

There are actually two different kinds of dimmable LED light. Still, they’re both controlled by the special driver inside the bulb, which helps to regulate the current.

All LED bulbs will have a driver, but only some drivers are suitable for dimming.

Firstly, those two types of dimming:

PWM dimming

PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) dimming doesn’t control the voltage to help dim the light, which usually happens with other lightbulbs on a dimmer circuit.

Instead, the dimmer driver uses an on/off cycle.

If you set the brightness to be 30%, then the dimmer driver will cause the light to flicker on and off so that it is on 30% of the time and off 70% of the time.

This flickering is completely invisible to the human eye – you won’t even know that it’s happening.

It takes mere milliseconds for the change to happen, and the result just changes how bright the light looks.

If it’s only on for 30% of the time, it just appears to be giving out less light. So instead, it’s giving out the same brightness but for less time.

PWM dimming helps to improve the lifespan of your LED. Switching it on and off so fast isn’t really an issue, and so instead, you just extend the bulb’s lifespan by having it switched off for longer.

Another benefit is that, because the current is consistent, so is the color of the light.

CCR dimming

The second type of dimming is constant current reduction (CCR), sometimes called analog dimming.

This is where the current is lowered to dim the lights, rather than turning it on and off.

While PWM driver lights can sometimes cause noise and occasionally flicker in a way that can be seen, CCR driver lights won’t.

But they may struggle to work correctly at low power levels, and the color of the light can alter too.

A dimmable LED bulb will work with at least one of these methods – the driver will be designed to handle the varying current, whether intermittent (PWM) or constant and decreased (CCR).

But some dimmable LEDs will only work with one of these methods, so it’s important you check the packaging or website when you buy.

What Happens If You Dim A Non-Dimmable LED Bulb?

flickering non-dimmable LED in the fixture

What happens with a non-dimmable LED when you try to dim it will likely depend on the type of dimmer driver being used.

In PWM dimming, the bulb will probably flicker on and off. Still, at a much slower rate than a bulb designed to be dimmed – so you’ll definitely see it (and probably develop a headache pretty quickly).

With CCR dimming, the bulb will usually not switch on at all, or it will switch on at full brightness, depending on what level the dimmer is set to.

Either way, the lifespan of the bulb is going to be reduced.

They’ll overheat due to not being designed to handle the varying current. So while they won’t get anywhere near as hot as other lightbulb types, this will cause the components to wear out faster.

It’s worth noting that overheating in this way can make using other types of non-dimmable light bulbs dangerous.

Non-dimmable incandescent bulbs would get very hot used in a dimmer switch circuit to the point of catching fire.

That’s at least a benefit of LEDs – they might not work properly if they aren’t designed to be dimmed, but they’ll at least be safe.

Can You Make A Non-Dimmable LED Dimmable?

broken LED bulb

It might occasionally work on certain power levels. Still, generally, it’s not going to be reliable, and it’ll burn out faster.

The driver inside the bulb is what makes the difference. So, in theory, you could cut open the bulb, remove the driver, and replace it with one designed for dimming.

But to do that, and to do it safely, would take an extreme level of expertise and the resources to buy a dimmable driver.

You may as well just buy a dimmable LED bulb considering the cost. Then, sell the non-dimmable one on eBay to make back some of your money if you need to, or just keep it as a backup.

There are no other ways to make a non-dimmable bulb work with a dimmer switch reliably, unfortunately.

You can, however, play around with the bulb’s color temperature and make it a bit warmer.

If you have the budget, the best thing you can do is swap your LEDs for smart bulbs.

These are always dimmable and controllable in various ways, including from your phone or via a smart speaker if you have one.

Then you can dim it to the perfect level whenever you want to, even from the couch. 

The best part? You don’t even need a dimmer switch.

Final Words

There’s no worth in trying to use a non-dimmable LED light in a dimmer circuit.

If you already have LED bulbs and you’re upgrading to a dimmer circuit, you’re going to have to bite the bullet and replace the bulbs to make sure they work correctly.

Say you’ve accidentally bought non-dimmable LEDs. See if you can return them.

If not, and they’re still packaged as new, it’s worth selling them on if you can, or using them elsewhere in your home that isn’t on a dimmer switch – maybe save them for that lamp you’ve been considering buying?

The golden rule when buying LEDs is to always check the packaging or the website’s specifications before you buy to make sure you know what you’re getting!

Have you had any issues with non-dimmable LEDs?

Looking for an LED bulb but not sure what type you need?

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