Can I Use a Regular Bulb in a 3-Way Lamp? | Do Watts Matter?


Recently, the bulb burned out in the 3-way lamp in our family room. We did not have any 3-way bulbs to replace it so I wondered if we could just use a regular bulb for a few days until we had time to run to the store. I did some research and had trouble finding a direct answer, so I decided to write an article to share my findings with you.

You can safely operate a 60, 75, or 100 watt regular bulb in a 3-way lamp, assuming it fits on the socket. It will not harm the lamp. Just keep in mind that you will be effectively turning your 3-way lamp into just a regular lamp. The 3-way function will only work with a 3-way bulb.

I use the LED equivalent in my 3-way lamps. They seem to last forever and look pretty much just like a regular bulb when under the lampshade. Here is a link to them on Amazon. You can get them in “warm” white or “soft” white. I prefer the latter.

Please read on as I cover a few more common questions that people have regarding this topic.

Are There Any Disadvantages in Using a Regular Bulb Instead of a 3-Way Bulb

The only disadvantage in substituting a 3-way bulb in a regular socket is that you can only use the medium setting of the bulb. To put this into perspective, typical 3-way bulbs come in a standard wattage of 50 W/100 W/150 W, and by using it this way, you can only enjoy the effects of the 100 W setting.

On the other hand, aside from not being able to change the intensity of the light, you also need to operate two switches to turn on or turn off the light, which can be pretty annoying.

Does the Wattage Matter?

At the very basic level, wattage means power, and the more power you use, the brighter the light output will be. So, not being able to use the dimmest setting on a 3-way bulb when the situation calls for it, comes with a literal price; a higher electrical bill. Even so, the additional cost is negligible in the grand scheme of things and not really a big concern.

Can I Use a 60, 75, or 100 Watt Bulb in a 3-Way Lamp?

Typical 3-way lamps can handle a wide range of lamp wattage up to 150 watts so it can easily handle a 60-watt, 75-watt, or 100-watt regular incandescent bulb or LED equivalent. However, this doesn’t apply to a halogen equivalent since they tend to burn hotter and could be a potential fire hazard.

How Do You Tell if a Lamp Is 3-Way?

The way to tell if a lamp is 3-way is that there is an extra contact in the form of a metal tab at the bottom that lines up with an extra contact area on a 3-way bulb. Regular lamps only have two contacts inside the socket, one at the bottom and the other the threaded shell wher you screw your bulb.

Look at the example below of an LED 3-way light bulb (on the left) with the extra “ring” for contact with a 3-way bulb. The regular bulb on the right does not have this extra contact. Note: An incandescent 3-way bulb often has a small metal bump on this ring instead of a full ring.

Is There a 3-Way Led Light Bulb?

As shown in the picture above, there are definitely a wide variety of 3-way LED options out there. They are much more energy efficient than their incandescent counterparts. They also offer a lot more levels of brightness options so that you can set whatever mood you want in a room.

As previously stated, here is the one that I recommend found on Amazon.

Final Thoughts

In summary, you can use pretty much any type of regular bulb with any wattage in your 3-way lamp. You just won’t be able to adjust the lighting beyond whatever the standard brightness is for the bulb.

I hope this article has been helpful. Thanks for reading!

Jim James

Hey, I'm Jim and the author of this website. I have always been interested in survival, fishing, camping, and anything in nature. In fact, while growing up I spent more time on the water than on land! I am also a best-selling author and have a degree in History, Anthropology, and Music. I hope you find value in the articles on this website. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or input!

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