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Can You Put a Regular Bulb in a 3 Way Lamp

A three-way lamp fitted with a proper three-way light bulb is a wonderfully adjustable source of light for your home. The light levels can be easily changed without changing the color of your lighting, unlike some dimmers. However, regular light bulbs are inexpensive and easily accessible, so replacing your three-way bulb with a regular one would be ideal.

Technically, a regular bulb is compatible with a three-way lamp. However, the fact remains that a regular bulb does not have the same capabilities as a three-way bulb. Read on to explore where the regular bulb falls short and where it excels. 

Regular bulbs are compatible with 3-way lamps. 3-way sockets are typically standard bulb size, so regular bulbs will fit. There should be no contact point issues, but regular bulbs will only display one brightness setting. You need a 3-way switch or otherwise two separate switches to operate the regular bulb.

Will a Regular Bulb Fit Into a 3-Way Lamp Socket?

Since both a regular bulb and a three-way bulb use a common bulb base, a regular bulb will more than likely fit into a three-way lamp socket. Both of these bulbs are manufactured in the E26 size, which is a very standard Edison Base/Screw size. 

Since most bulbs are the same size, the socket size of most light fixtures, including three-way lamps, is the common E26 sized socket. This would mean that most regular and three-way bulbs would fit into most three-way lamps.

Note: the standard size of bulb/socket in Europe is typically E27. This size is practically interchangeable with the E26 bulb/socket.

What Light Output Will I Get With a Regular Bulb?

three contacts of light bulb: medium wattage hot contact, low wattage hot contact, and neutral contact

A regular light bulb is lit when electricity from the socket makes contact with the conductive metal in its single-contact bulb base. The single filament, the very thin wire inside of the light bulb’s glass, then produces light. 

Unlike a regular light bulb, a three-way light bulb has two contact points on its bulb base and two contact points on the three-way socket. Each contact point and the combination of both correspond to a different light setting.

A three-way light bulb has two filaments instead of one. For example, there could be a 50-watt filament and a 100-watt filament. When the lowest brightness is chosen, only one contact point is interacted with and this causes the 50-watt filament to emit light.

The same goes for the medium brightness with the 100-watt filament, but the highest brightness would cause both contact points to be interacted with and both the 50-watt and 100-watt filaments to emit light. 

A regular lightbulb, with its single-contact bulb base, would only be able to interact with one of the three-way socket’s contact points. This would mean that this bulb would only have one brightness setting, depending on the type of bulb (often the medium brightness setting). The same applies to a dimmable bulb, which also only has one contact point.

Does the Wattage of the Bulb Make a Difference?

The example above of the 100-watt and 50-watt filaments of a three-way bulb is fairly standard for a three-way lamp. Since the highest wattage for this lamp would be 150 watts, the standard three-way lamp should be able to handle a wattage as high as this.

This being said, common lightbulb wattages, such as 60, 75, and 100 watts, should not surpass the capabilities of the average three-way lamp. 

As far as how bright the light will be, this solely depends on the lumens of the particular bulb. Lumens measure brightness and the number of lumens can typically be found on the bulb’s box. 

Wattage does not technically measure brightness, it measures energy consumption. A general rule, though, is that higher wattage means higher lumens. LED bulbs, however, have far lesser wattage with comparable lumens to non-LED bulbs. 

What About Regular (One-Way) LED Bulbs?

Regular and LED bulbs do not vary much in their structure, but rather their energy usage and brightness. LED bulbs are known for their low wattage (energy usage) and high lumens (brightness). 

Because of the lack of extreme differences between LED and regular bulbs, LED bulbs can be used in regular three-way lamps without any danger. 

There do not seem to be many three-way LED lamps out there, most likely because there is a great variety of three-way LED bulbs that can be used in a regular three-way lamp.

All-in-all, LED or regular bulbs of various wattages, whether they’re three-way or not, can be used in a simple three-way lamp. 

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How Does It Affect Switch Operation?

When a proper three-way bulb is installed, the switch would normally have four settings. It would be operated either by a pull-chain or a rotary switch. The settings would be off, low light, medium light, and high light. 

The switch is able to operate two separate circuits. Wikipedia’s animation of how three-way lights work demonstrates the interaction between the two circuits and how each setting is attained.

When a regular bulb is used instead, there are only two settings available (on and off), but a pull-chain or rotary switch must still be used instead of a simple on and off switch. 

Even worse, if a pull-chain or rotary switch is not being used, two switches must then be used for just one light with just two settings and no variable brightness. 

Whether a rotary switch, pull-chain, or two switches are used to operate this regular bulb, each mechanism isn’t the most convenient when compared to a simple on and off switch that could be used if a three-way circuit wasn’t involved.

Regular Bulb in 3-Way Lamp: Pros and Cons


  • Bulbs will work without any problem.
  • Bulbs will fit without any problem (as long as they are standard bulb base size).
  • A three-way lamp can handle high wattages (range of options for wattage of bulbs).
  • LED bulbs can be used (high lumens, low wattage).


  • Regular bulbs will only have one brightness setting.
  • Switch operation will be complicated as the three-way circuit is more complex than a regular circuit.

Related article: Can You Put a Regular Bulb in a Dimmer Controlled Socket

Related article: Can You Put a Regular Light Bulb in a Bathroom Heat Lamp


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