What’s the Difference Between LED Lights and LED Grow Lights?


LED lights last for thousands of hours and have better energy efficiency compared to incandescent bulbs. That makes them a great choice for household and commercial use. With all the benefits of LEDs, you may have considered using LED grow lights for your indoor plants. Is there any difference between these and traditional LEDs? We did lots of research to bring you the answer.

What’s the difference between LED lights and LED grow lights? Standard LED lights only provide illumination while LED grow lights have a wider spectrum of both blue and red light that promote vegetative growth and flowering, respectively.

In this article, we’ll elaborate more on both LED lights and LED grow lights, expanding on the differences between them. We’ll also explain whether you should use LED grow lights for your indoor plant or another type of grow light entirely.

What Is an LED Light and an LED Grow Light? What’s the Difference?

To discuss the differences between LED lights and LED grow lights, we first have to explain both light sources in depth. Then we can compare them.

LED Lights

Short for light-emitting diode, an LED light has its own microchip inside. Electrical currents travel to that microchip, providing light to the LED. These bulbs also have a heat sink, where heat goes when the LED gets warm. That’s part of what keeps LED lights generally cool to the touch.

LEDs outperform incandescent lights in many ways, especially when it comes to energy efficiency. Your LEDs can save energy at a rate of 90 percent more than incandescent bulbs according to Energy Star. The way LED lighting works is, when you turn your light source on, it’s directional. That means the LED light aims in a certain direction to provide illumination. Compare that to a compact fluorescent lamp or CFL as well as incandescent bulbs, where the light goes in every direction. That cuts down on energy efficiency since some light gets needlessly wasted.

Not only do LEDs make a smarter choice for the environment then, but for our wallets as well. Most LED lights will last about 50,000 hours. Bulbs.comOpens in a new tab. mentions that, if you were to keep an LED light source on for 12 hours each day and it had a lifespan of 50,000 hours, you’d get over a decade of use out of it. That’s pretty good!

Bulbs.com also says that LEDs last longer than CFLs (eight to 10x more), halogen bulbs (20 to 25x more), and incandescent lights (50x more).

We won’t say that LED lights are the most inexpensive lighting option the market, because that’s not true. However, since you don’t need to replace them nearly as often as other light sources, you quickly recoup that money back.

LED Grow Lights

Next, we’ve got grow lights. These don’t solely have to be LED lights. You may also choose to grow your plants with high-intensity discharge lights or HIDs, fluorescents, and incandescent grow lights.

No matter which you choose, grow lights generate the right amount of light so a plant can photosynthesize. As we covered on this blog, this means of conversion gives the plant energy.

Most grow lights are electric, and all are artificial. Plant owners will use grow lights if a plant needs an extra light source besides the sun or if the plant cannot get access to the sun for any reason. For instance, maybe you grow a plant at work and you’re in a cubicle.

Grow lights, although artificial, try to mimic the sun as naturally as possible. In doing this, you typically have a varied light spectrum available for your grow lights. Besides the color spectrum, it’s also possible to have control over the color temperature and the luminous efficacy with grow lights.

What is all that? Good question. Color temperature is a means of defining different light colors and feels. It’s always represented in Kelvin or K. The lowest light temperature is 1,000K and the highest 10,000K. A warm white color has between 2,000K and 3,000K, a cool white is 3,100K to 4,500K, and a blueish daylight tint is 4,600K to 6,500K.

As for luminous efficacy, this refers to the quality of visible light you get from a particular light source. Often, you’ll see luminous efficacy expressed in lumens per watt. Our eyes have a spectral sensitivity that does not necessarily let us see every light wavelength, hence why it’s important to measure luminous efficacy.

The Differences

Now that we’ve gone into detailed explanations of both LED lights and LED grow lights, what’s the differences between them?

  • Illumination purposes: LED lights are solely used for providing illumination in a residential or commercial sphere. LED grow lights encourage plant growth.
  • Light variety: As we mentioned, you can select from a variety of grow lights that suit your budget and needs. These include HIDs, fluorescents, incandescents, and, of course, LEDs.
  • Colors available: Here’s what we covered in the intro. Normal LEDs do have a color spectrum, but it may not be as comprehensive as that of grow lights. For instance, LED grow lights need both blue and red light spectrums. The blue allows your plant to experience vegetative growth while the red can promote flowering.

While regular LEDs are great to have at home since they last practically forever and can save you money, don’t get it confused. LED lights are not the same as LED grow lights. If you’re providing a light source for your plant, a grow light will ensure they reach their full potential. That’s not to say you can’t use an LED or another non-grow light source, but grow lights work better.

Which Grow Light Should You Choose for Your Plants?

That brings us to the question of which grow light works best. We’ve already mentioned your grow light options. Is one better than the other? To answer that, let’s look at those other grow light sources and compare them to LED grow lights.

HIDs

HID lights include both metal halide and high-pressure sodium lights. While many plant owners prefer HID grow lights over other types, LED grow lights outshine them in terms of efficiency. Not only that, but HIDs don’t last as long, only about 10,000 hours. Don’t get us wrong; that’s still impressive, but it’s not as long a life as LEDs.

Also, while LED lights have their own heat control system, HIDs do not. To prevent them from getting too warm, you’ll probably need a cooling system in place. This is quite a costly investment.

Fluorescents

If we’re talking about T5 bulbs, then fluorescents make for a viable grow light type. Cheaper than LEDs, T5 fluorescent bulbs don’t give off as much heat as HIDs, but LEDs still manage heat better. You’re better off choosing a T5 over a HID light, though.

Incandescents

Last but certainly not least, we’ve got incandescent bulbs. Unlike fluorescents, these haven’t changed much in recent decades. The cheapest bulbs around, incandescent lights give off tons of heat, provide light in all directions, and burn out fast. They also suck up a lot of energy. You’re better off using any other type of grow light over incandescents.

Related Questions

Can any LED light be used as a grow light?

As we said before, if your plant needs some illumination in a jiffy, an LED light will provide it. For the long-term health of your plant, it’s better to stick to grow lights specifically.

Even still, you need to shop for your grow lights carefully. Try to get full-spectrum LEDs with a wealth of colors or else you’ll have to change your lights as your plant grows. That’s a hindrance, and an annoying one at that.

How do you know a plant has had too much light?

While the symptoms of excessive light do vary, most of the time, some plant leaves will brown. These are typically the ones in proximity to your light source. Other signs to watch out for include leaf curling and leaf edge outlines, a subtle first indicator of damage.

You want to move your plant further from the lights if you notice any of the above.

Which is best for the plant? White, red, or blue lights?

Your plant will need both blue and red lights for sure, never one over the other. As you might recall from earlier in this article, the blue lights will encourage your plant’s vegetation to develop. Red lights get your plant flowering.

What about white light? You can use it as a supplemental source to keep plants growing, but not on its own. Let us explain why.

The light wavebands that plants require for growth are also visible to the human eye. This range, represented in nanometers, starts at 380 nanometers all the way to about 720 nanometers. Red light comes in at 690 nanometers and blue light about 450 nanometers. If you’re using LED grow lights for these colors, then, as we mentioned, some white light is good.

Using white light on its own? Not so good. This light only produces between 450 and 550 nanometers. According to this graphicOpens in a new tab., photochemical efficiency is best at somewhere after 650 nanometers. Thus, by using white light alone, your plants won’t really grow.

Fred Zimmer

I'm a lover of plants, animals, photography, & people, not necessarily in that order. Currently, I'm focused on photographing indoor plants & chachkies. I write & rewrite articles about creating an environment where indoor plants can thrive. I'm good at listening to music but bad at shopping to muzak.

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