What is Halogen Lighting?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

Halogen lighting is a variant of incandescent lighting that uses a quartz or high-melting-point glass envelope filled with halogen gas rather than a glass bulb. Halogen lighting is more efficient and lasts longer than regular incandescent lighting, but the lamp burns at a much higher temperature, presenting a danger for some types of residential use. Halogen lighting is used in car headlights, watercraft lighting, outdoor floodlights, and home lighting, including computer lamps. Some halogen light bulbs are made to fit into standard home light sockets.

Halogen lighting is more efficient than incandescent lighting.
Halogen lighting is more efficient than incandescent lighting.

In a standard incandescent lamp, a tungsten filament is encased in a glass bulb filled with a low-pressure inert gas such as argon or nitrogen. Electricity runs through the filament, causing it to burn white and give off light. Over time, the tungsten evaporates and condenses on the inside of the bulb, turning it black. Eventually, the tungsten filament weakens to the point that it breaks, and the light bulb no longer works.

Halogen bulbs use quartz instead of glass because quartz can withstand higher temperatures.
Halogen bulbs use quartz instead of glass because quartz can withstand higher temperatures.

Halogen lighting replaces some of the inert glass inside an incandescent light bulb with halogen gas, which reacts with tungsten vapor, causing it to be redeposited back onto the filament and resulting in a longer lifespan for the lamp. This recycling process requires the lamp to burn hotter than a standard incandescent lamp, so the envelope must be made of a more heat-resistant material than regular glass, such as quartz. The envelope of a halogen lamp is also much closer to the tungsten filament, making for a more compact lamp, but one that is also extremely hot on the surface. Halogen lighting is more energy efficient than regular incandescent lighting, produces a whiter light, and can last considerably longer than regular lamps.

Halogen lamps should only be handled with a paper towel or a cloth.
Halogen lamps should only be handled with a paper towel or a cloth.

When using halogen lighting, is is important to handle it safely. Do not choose bulbs that will burn inappropriately hot for their desired use. A standing halogen lamp or one placed near curtains in the home can be a fire hazard. Untreated bulbs can cause sunburn and related skin damage, so make sure to choose UV protected bulbs if people will be exposed to the light. Finally, make sure never to touch a halogen bulb with bare hands, as the oil from your skin can damage the bulb, causing the quartz to weaken and break. Handle halogen lamps only with a paper towel or cloth, and if you do accidentally get fingerprints on the bulb, wash and dry it thoroughly before using.

Halogen bulbs without UV protection coating can cause sunburn and other skin damage.
Halogen bulbs without UV protection coating can cause sunburn and other skin damage.
Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Discussion Comments


Does a stand up halogen work light emit a sound that can cancel out an ultrasonic deer/dog deterrent? Someone told me it does but I need to know for certain.


I always wondered how halogen lights worked. I didn't realize they still had the tungsten in them. I thought it was more like a fluorescent light bulb, but that never explained the heat. I guess they are sort of like a hybrid light. I was also always told you couldn't touch cold bulbs because they were made of something that would blister your fingers. I guess you're doing harm to the bulb, not the other way around.

Has anyone here ever used a halogen light fixture in their house? We are looking at remodeling our kitchen next year, and the type of lighting is one of the things we have to consider.

It sounds like even with halogen lights made for interior uses, they are still hotter than regular incandescent lights. How much hotter do they really get. Would it make it uncomfortable to cook in a kitchen?


@NathanG - You're not kidding about needing to take a break after a while.

My wife and I were at a restaurant the other day, and they had small halogen lights hanging over the tables. They were hanging a few feet above, but it still was very warm sitting under it. I felt like I was under a heat lamp. We finally asked to be moved to another table with indirect lighting.


@JimmyT - I know I looked into this when I was buying a new lamp for my house a year or so ago. Obviously, the bulbs will be more expensive than a normal light bulb, but they will last longer. I did some quick math and decided that buying fluorescent bulbs would be the best route, since they have been steadily going down in price.

Like the article mentions, you can't handle halogen lights with your hands, either. It seems like a lot of trouble for a little bit of reward.

I do think halogen outdoor lighting is nice, though. The bulbs are very bright, and I haven't had to replace a bulb for the 8 years we've lived in our home.


When I was in college and lived in the dorms, one of the rules was that you couldn't have any halogen lamps. I guess the reason is that they are a fire hazard. I have never been around a halogen light that I know of to know how hot they really get. Could you put a piece of paper next to one of the lights and get it to burn? What is the actual temperature of the bulb?

Something I was wondering about is, how cost effective are halogen bulbs compared to regular incandescent or fluorescent bulbs? What about the energy efficiency, too?


@NathanG - You can get halogen lamps for any part of the house, not just for your woodshed. You can get halogen bathroom lighting for example. These are placed in a variety of fixtures that can mount to your wall, and they don’t burn as hot as the work lights, but they still last long.

One thing that I should point out, however, is that halogen lamps have a certain color temperature. Actually, all lamps do, but halogen lamps tend to have a higher color temperature and this would affect the quality of the light and its color cast.

I think that for work lights, you shouldn’t care too much about this. However, if you are using them in bathrooms or kitchens then you would want to consider color temperature when looking at overall color scheme in my opinion.


The article isn’t kidding when it says that these halogen lamps burn hot. I have a couple of halogen work light lamps that I use in the tool shed, and I don’t work for more than 30 minutes at a time before turning them off and taking breaks.

They get very hot and can cause a fire very easily. However, you can’t beat the amount of light they deliver. Both of the bulbs deliver 500 watts, so I have a combined 1,000 watts of light, which is plenty for all of my home improvement projects.

I’ll never again go back to regular incandescent bulbs, at least not for these kinds of tasks.


When were the G8 based halogen lamps introduced to the consumer lighting market?

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