5 Types of Indoor Grow Lights Explained [Guide] with Reviews

All plants need soil, light, and water to photosynthesize and grow.

Some plants need direct sunlight while others thrive on the windowsill, but how are you supposed to grow plants in a windowless room, a cloudy climate, or in the middle of winter?

Luckily, you don’t need the sun to grow plants – they can grow just as well with a little artificial light produced by indoor grow lights.

What are Indoor Grow Lights?

Indoor grow lights are any type of light – incandescent, fluorescent, or LED – used to grow plants in place of natural light from the sun.

Visible light is on a spectrum based on wavelength. Blue light has a very short wavelength compared to red light, which affects how plants absorb them.

Both types of light are good for plants in their own way – blue light promotes healthy leaf and stem growth, while red light promotes flower growth.

Types of Grow Lights

So can you just turn on your nearest desk lamp and start growing? Not exactly.

Different types of bulbs produce different types of light at different intensities, and some plants prefer one type of light over another.

Before you start growing plants indoors, you’ll need to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of grow lights below.

Incandescent Grow Lights

An incandescent light is probably what you picture when someone says the word “lightbulb”.

Incandescent Grow Lights

Round at the top with a thin filament on the inside, it’s the most common household light source.

Unfortunately, they also produce the least effective type of plant growing light.

PROS

  • Cheap: Incandescent grow lights have the cheapest initial cost. If you’re only growing a few plants for a short amount of time, they’re a cost effective choice.
  • Good for Flowering Plants: Because they produce slightly more red light than blue light, incandescent grow lights are good for flowering plants.

CONS

  • Too Hot: If you’ve ever touched a lightbulb that’s been on for a while, you know how hot they can get. Putting these hot bulbs too close to your plants will dry them out.
  • Inefficient: Compared to fluorescent and LED lights, incandescent light does not produce light efficiently. Because they burn out so quickly, they’ll need to be replaced frequently. They also don’t produce enough blue light, inhibiting healthy leaf growth.

Best Incandescent Bulbs

Because normal incandescent bulbs don’t give off enough blue light, look for ones with a blue tint like Bulbrite’s 60W Plant Grow Bulbs.

While this solves the problem of the incandescent bulb’s lack of blue light, it doesn’t solve the incandescent bulb’s energy efficiency problem.

Bulbrite’s 60W Plant Grow Bulb

Bulbrite 60A19PG 60W Plant Grow A Shape Bulb

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PROS

  • Inexpensive: You can purchase 2 bulbs for under $10.
  • Easy to Use: Fits into any regular socket so that you can easily turn a lamp you already own into a grow light.

CONS

  • Short Lifespan: Like most incandescent lights, Bulbrite bulbs will need to be replaced every 750 – 1000 hours.

Fluorescent Grow Lights

Common in classrooms and office buildings, bright fluorescent lights are great in the early stages of plant growth.

Fluorescent Grow Lights

This is because they produce a lot of blue light, keep relatively cool, and have a long lifespan of up to 20,000 hours on average.

PROS

  • Low Heat: Because fluorescent lights don’t get very hot, you can set them up mere inches away from your plants without worrying about the heat. This also makes fluorescents a great choice for tight spaces.
  • Affordable: Not as cheap as incandescent bulbs, but still affordable for small, casual growers.
  • High Blue Light Output: Fluorescents mainly give off blue light, which is great for seedlings and younger plants.

CONS

  • Low Red Light Output: The lack of red light means fluorescent lights aren’t as effective in the later flowering stages of a plant’s life.

Best Fluorescent Lights

A great and affordable option for anyone looking to try out fluorescent grow lights is the T5 HO Indoor Grow Light. The T5 is two feet long, comes with three fluorescent tubes, and costs only $35.

T5 HO Indoor Grow Light

T5 HO Indoor Grow Light

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PROS

  • Affordable: Most hanging fluorescent light panels cost around $100 or more.
  • Stays Cool: The bulbs won’t heat up and scorch your plants, so you can put them as close as you want.
  • Safe: The T5 is water resistant and able to function safely in damp environments.

CONS

  • Installation: Because the T5 panel will need to hang from something, such as a ceiling or the top of a cabinet, setup can be complicated.

Compact Fluorescent Grow Lights

If you don’t want to invest in large fluorescent grow light panels, you can opt for something more practical and compact.

Compact Fluorescent Grow Lights

Compact fluorescent lights, or CFLs, are the curly lightbulbs you might find in an energy-conscious household. That’s because CFLs use 90% less energy than a similarly sized incandescent bulb.

PROS

  • Compact: As the name suggests, CFLs are great for growing in small spaces such as a cabinet.
  • Energy Efficient: CFLs use up considerably less energy than conventional lightbulbs.
  • Availability: You can find compact fluorescent lights at almost any hardware or grocery store for a fairly low price.

CONS

  • Low Light Output: Because CFL lights are only able to cover a small area, so they’re best suited for small growers.

Best CFL Lights

A great compact fluorescent light for growers is the Hydroponic Full Spectrum CFL Grow Light Bulb. At just $11, the 60W bulb is massive in size and produces a very bright light.

Hydroponic Full Spectrum CFL Grow Light Bulb

Hydroponic Full Spectrum CFL Grow Light Bulb

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PROS

  • High Light Output: For just one bulb, this grow light stays incredibly bright, even after months of daily use.
  • No Heat: Despite its intensity, the Hydroponic Full Spectrum CFL stays cool all day so you can keep it as close to your plants as you’d like.

CONS

  • Size: Because the bulb is abnormally large, some users have had trouble finding a lamp to accommodate its size.

LED Grow Lights and Full Spectrum LED Grow Lights

As they’ve gone down in price and gone up in light intensity, LED lights have become an increasingly popular indoor growing tool.

LED Grow Lights and Full Spectrum LED Grow Lights

Extremely energy efficient, these little lights can last 50,000 hours – that’s more than a decade of daily use.

PROS

  • Small Size: LED lights in a various small sizes.
  • Energy Efficiency: The most energy efficient of all grow lights, LED grow lights can save you money on energy bills and replacement bulbs in the long run.
  • Versatility: Different sizes and wattage.

CONS

  • Cost: Unfortunately, greater energy efficiency means greater upfront cost.

Best LED Grow Lights Review

Our reviews of the best LED grow lights led us to the small TaoTronics LED Grow Lightbulb (for small quantities growers). Using a combination of red and blue light, this small bulb is a great way to try growing with LED.

TaoTronics LED Grow Lightbulb

TaoTronics LED Grow Lightbulb

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PROS

  • Low Heat: The LED bulb doesn’t get hot, even after being on all day.
  • Low Energy Consumption: Because they don’t require as much energy as other bulbs, using TaoTronics bulbs can reduce your energy costs.
  • High Blue Light Output: Fluorescents mainly give off blue light, which is great for seedlings and younger plants.

CONS

  • High Upfront Cost: LED bulbs in general cost more than incandescent and fluorescent bulbs, but the bulb’s higher efficiency makes them more affordable in the long run.

 

High Intensity Discharge Grow Lights (Metal Halide and High Pressure Sodium)

The last and most expensive type of grow lights are high-intensity discharge (HID) lights. While they’re more commonly used in car headlights, they’ve also proven to be great for indoor growing.

HID High Intensity Discharge Grow Lights

HID lights use a ballast to increase bulb voltage while consuming less energy than a standard lightbulb.

Two main types of HID lights exist – metal halide (MH) and high pressure sodium (HPS).

MH lights emit blue light, while HPS lights produces red light. HID lights are widely considered the most effective grow lights available.

PROS

  • Greater Control: Because a High Intensity Discharge light allows you to easily switch between blue and red light, you have greater control over your plants’ growth.
  • Higher Plant Yield: Compared to other types of grow lights, HID lights are said to have better plant yield per watt when used correctly.
  • High Blue Light Output: Fluorescents mainly give off blue light, which is great for seedlings and younger plants.

CONS

  • Expensive: Because they’re of such high quality, HID systems tend to be more expensive than other types of grow lights. Because they can get very hot very quickly, you’ll also end up spending money on a heat venting system.
  • High Energy Consumption: Higher plant yield comes at the cost of higher energy consumption.

Best HID Grow Lights

One of the best HID grow lights is the Sun System HPS 150 Watt Grow Light Fixture.

At an affordable $65, this compact HID system is as close as you’ll get to having natural daylight indoors.

Sun System HPS 150 Watt Grow Light Fixture

Sun System HPS 150 Watt Grow Light Fixture

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PROS

  • Easy to Assemble: Unlike most HID systems that are a pain to set up, the Sun System comes self-contained with a built in ballast.
  • Versatile: Switch between HPS and MH lights or switch between 250W and 400W with ease.
  • Quiet: The Sun System HPS is almost silent, unlike some other systems that hum or buzz loudly while in use.

CONS

  • Overheating: To prevent a serious fire hazard, you shouldn’t use the Sun System in a small space such as a grow tent or grow box for drying and curing cannabis without proper ventilation.

How to Choose the Best Grow Light

Now that you know about the different types of grow lights, how do you choose the best one?

For the most part, it depends on your budget and the number of plants that you’re growing, and the quality of plant you’re after.

If you won’t accept anything less than the best, LED and HID lights are worth the investment.

But for casual growers who aren’t looking to spend much, fluorescent or incandescent lights are much more practical.

Photos from: OpenRangeStock/depositphotos.com, everythingposs / depositphotos.com, newlight / depositphotos.com, 3dconceptsman / depositphotos.com, nikkytok / depositphotos.com.

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