Soft White vs. Daylight: Finding the Right Bulb for Every Room

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Are you shopping for light bulbs but unsure whether to buy soft white or daylight?

Too much bright light can make a room feel like a science lab. And not enough light can make a room feel small and gloomy.  

To set the proper mood, you need to use the right type of bulbs for each room.

In this comparison of soft white vs. daylight bulbs, you’ll learn:

  • The difference between soft white and daylight bulbs
  • Which type of bulbs to use for each room
  • Tips for choosing the right bulb

So, if you’re shopping for light bulbs but can’t decide which type to buy, keep reading.


Use the links below to navigate the article:


Understanding Light Bulb Labels

Whether you are standing in the aisle of a home improvement store or shopping online, you might feel like you need a guide to understand all the terminology. Hopefully, this breakdown of lighting terms will help.

On lightbulb labels, you’re likely to see references to lumens, watts, and color temperature or light appearance. I’ll explain each briefly.

Light bulb label
Light bulb label

Lumens 

Lumens is the measure of visible light emitted by the bulb. In other words, the bulb’s brightness. The higher the lumens, the brighter the light, no matter if the bulb is conventional, such as incandescent, or a light-emitting diode (LED).

Watts

Watts refers to how much energy a bulb uses. 

Two popular light bulb choices are incandescent and LED. 

Incandescent bulbs function by heating a filament that emits light. As a result, the bulbs are hot to the touch. 

LED bulbs emit light when current flows through microchips and activates a series of small light sources. They’re noticeably cooler than incandescent bulbs due to built-in heat management design.

Also, LED bulbs are more energy-efficient and longer-lasting than incandescent bulbs.

Color Temperature/Light Appearance

When you think of temperature, you might think of hot or cold, but when it comes to light, color temperature has to do with the appearance of the glow.

Also referred to as light appearance, the color temperature of a light bulb refers to where it falls on the Kelvin scale in terms of warmth or coolness.

As you read the labels on light bulb packages, you will see words like warm, cool, daylight, or soft. These descriptions refer to the Kelvin scale and the kind of light each bulb emits. 

In general, the higher the Kelvin rating, the whiter the light will appear. Bulbs often range from 1900K to 7500K. The lower end produces a more yellow/orange glow, while the highest end of the spectrum is white light with tones of blue.

In this comparison, we’ll focus on soft white vs. daylight.

What Are Soft White Bulbs?

A soft white bulb falls between 2700K to 3000K on the Kelvin scale. It’s considered a warmer color temperature because of the orange glow it casts and for the way the light interacts with warm colors in a room, such as reds, oranges, and browns.

Lamp with a soft white bulb
Lamp with a soft white bulb

Depending on where it falls on the Kelvin scale, the bulb emits a range of warmth and coolness. For example, a 2700K bulb may have a warmer glow than a 3000K bulb.

Soft White bulbs label
Soft White bulbs label

A soft white bulb is suitable for any place where you want ambient lighting, including areas where you gather, such as a kitchen nook or living room, or the places you rest. These lights provide a warm cozy glow that invokes calmness, but it’s not an ideal choice for completing a detailed task or reading small print.

What Are Daylight Bulbs?

On the Kelvin scale, a daylight bulb ranges from 5000K to 6500K. The glow it casts resembles daylight, which has a white hue with tints of blue. Pure sunlight is around 5000K to give you an idea of how the color temperature will react in your space.

Lamp with a daylight bulb
Lamp with a daylight bulb

Just like a soft white bulb, the color of a daylight bulb color varies. The higher the Kelvin rating, the more white the light will be.

Daylight bulbs label
Daylight bulbs label

A daylight bulb provides excellent contrast between colors, while a soft white bulb helps blend colors in a room.

Daylight bulbs are suitable for areas where you need to see intricate details such as a study area, kitchen island, vanity mirror, or bathroom. They wouldn’t work well in a hangout space.

In the next section, I’ll discuss recommendations on where and when to use soft white or daylight bulbs.

Soft White vs. Daylight: A Room-by-Room Guide

Each room of your home has different lighting needs and requires different types of bulbs. If you’re struggling to decide whether to use soft white or daylight bulbs, here are my recommendations for each room:

Bathrooms: A daylight bulb works great for any area of the bathroom where you need to see fine details. This could include in front of a mirror, overhead, or lighting the entire space. If you want a spa-like feel, you could also add a light fixture with a soft white bulb, but daylight bulbs are a solid choice for most bathrooms.

Kitchen: In areas where you are preparing food, a daylight bulb is best. In areas where you are eating, especially in the evening, you might prefer a warmer light. While it is a matter of preference, just know that daylight bulbs are the better choice if your main goal is to see crisp details.

Bedrooms: A soft white bulb is an excellent choice for overhead lighting in a bedroom. It gives a warm cozy glow in the area where you rest. If you have a desk in your room, you can add a daylight bulb in a nearby lamp to provide the appropriate light for reading and writing. 

Living room: Since this room is usually a gathering place for family and friends, a soft white bulb is recommended for overhead lighting and lamps. It offers a cozy feeling that you can’t get from daylight bulbs.

Dining room: Here, it could go either way. It all depends on the way you want your dining room to feel during a meal. If the decor or meal is the main attraction, choose daylight as it will highlight color contrasts. If the focus is more on fellowship, a soft white bulb is a better choice.

Home Office: Daylight bulbs are best for reading, writing, and performing tasks for work. In fact, some studies show that daylight improves mood and productivity, so having a light source that mimics natural light might offer similar results.

Front/side/back porch: When it comes to your porch, I recommend a daylight bulb. It can provide security, acting as a deterrent for would-be thieves. It can also help you see clearly as you use keys or enter codes to get into your home. Since bugs are attracted to bright lighting, choose a bug-repelling bulb or a motion-activated light fixture to reduce insects gathering near your front door.

Basement: If your basement is used for storage, laundry, or housing appliances such as a hot water tank and furnace, choose a daylight bulb. It’ll be helpful when you have to complete important DIY fix-it tasks and need to see clearly. If your basement doubles as an entertainment hub, you might want to consider a mix of bulbs: soft white bulb for watching TV and daylight for playing games.

Garage: This area is perfect for a daylight bulb because it’s frequently a place where you need bright light to work on home projects or fix things. It’s also helpful when loading or unloading your car.

Attic: If used as a storage space, a daylight bulb is essential. If the attic is used as a bedroom or guest space, you’ll want a mix of lighting: soft white for ambiance and daylight for tasks.

Hallways/Entryways: Soft white lighting is best in hallways and entryways since those areas are mainly used to pass through. It provides an ambient glow to promote feelings of relaxation.

Outside (patio, deck, pool area, etc.): Outside lighting may vary depending on the activities. For example, a daylight bulb in a pool area will provide a well-lit environment to promote safety. By contrast, soft white lighting on a deck or patio can set a mood for relaxation at the end of a long day.

As you can see, each room or area dictates what type of light is best. Thankfully, if you are looking for portable light sources, there are versatile task lamps on the market (view on Amazon) that switch between soft white and daylight.

How to Choose Between Soft White and Daylight Bulbs

Here are some tips to help make your decision as you ponder choosing soft white, daylight, or a mix of both:

Function of the room: Think about the types of tasks or activities you engage in for each room. You might lean toward choosing one color temperature, or it might be better to mix the color temperatures in different areas of a room. For example, your bathroom could have daylight bulbs around the vanity but soft white in the shower or as the main light.

Mood of the room: What feelings are you going for in a space? The desired mood of the room will dictate which bulbs are best. Warm and cozy whispers soft white, while bright and energetic screams daylight. Lighting can change the room’s mood instantly.

Size of the room: You can determine how much light you need if you know your room’s square footage and the foot-candle measurements. A foot-candle is the amount of light that saturates a one-foot square radius with one lumen. This article from Home Depot will help you determine how much light you will need based on room size.

Paint color: If you want to enhance warm tones, such as earth tones or neutrals, go for soft white lighting. If you have cooler paint colors like blues and greens, a daylight bulb will go hand in hand with making colors pop in a room.

Type of lights: Where will the bulbs go? Overhead lighting? Stationary or portable lamps? Wall sconces? Each light fixture lends itself to a certain type of bulb based on its function. Detailed tasks will benefit from a daylight bulb, but relaxing doesn’t require a high level of brightness. Think about what happens in the space, and it’ll be easy to make the right choice.

LED vs. Incandescent: Should you buy an incandescent bulb or an LED? Incandescent bulbs are a traditional choice for warm/soft light, but some great LED bulbs come pretty close to the ambiance that incandescent lighting provides. In fact, LEDs can produce soft white and daylight color temperatures (and are more efficient and long-lasting, too).

Final Thoughts

The key difference between soft white and daylight bulbs is the color temperature. A soft white bulb can produce a candle-like glow, while a daylight bulb is designed to mimic natural sunlight.

Soft white bulbs are best for creating a warm, cozy feeling in a space and can bring out the best in a room featuring earth tones. They are an excellent choice for areas where you rest or hang out, such as bedrooms, living rooms, or man caves.

Daylight bulbs are perfect in areas where you need to see details or want to invoke a sense of energy and productivity. They are well-suited for offices, kitchens, craft rooms, and bathrooms.

Choosing the right bulb depends on several factors, such as the room’s function, mood, color, or size. Additionally, the type of fixture and its placement lends itself to different color temperatures.

I recommend having a mix of soft white and daylight bulbs, and I’m an advocate for LED lighting because they use less energy and last longer than traditional bulbs. If you’re unsure which type of bulb to buy, get both and try them in your space.

You might be surprised by which one you like the most (it’s happened to me). Return the ones you don’t like — it’s as simple as that.

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