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Updated: 20 Jan 2022

How to buy the best spotlights

LED vs halogen, dimmers, beam angles and lumens – we explain everything you need to know before you buy a new spotlight bulb
Which? Team
Lightbulbs 5

Spotlights can help provide focused or accented lighting to your home, but you'll need a fair few to light up a space, which mean the costs can add up. 

There's a bit more to consider when buying spotlights, too, compared with conventional bulbs – for example, the beam angle you prefer and how to pick the right colour and intensity of light for your spaces. 

Plus, halogen spotlights (along with other halogen lightbulbs) were banned from sale in October 2021. If you currently use halogen spotlights, you'll need to switch to LEDs spotlights when you come to replace them.

We explain what to look for and how to choose below. Regardless of what you opt for, within a given space it's best stick to one type and band. This will help prevent compatibility issues, as light temperature and output can vary between brands and types. 

Choose well, buy better and save money using our expert tips: get our Weekly Scoop newsletter – it's free

What is a spotlight? 

Spotlights (pictured below right) are light fittings typically mounted onto a surface and fixed onto a wall or ceiling. They provide multiple beams of lights, and although the lights are fixed to one unit, each 'spot' can be adjusted to point in a different direction. It’s also possible to buy single spotlights.

What is the difference between a downlight and a spotlight?

Downlight vs spotlight

The terms 'downlight' and 'spotlight' are often used interchangeably, but they are actually two different types of lighting.

Downlights (pictured above left) are designed to be recessed into the ceiling rather than mounted onto a surface. They are usually one LED lightbulb inside a cylinder which is set flush to the ceiling and tend to be used to provide a broad spread of general lighting in a room.

Halogen vs LED spotlight bulbs

Sales of halogen bulbs were banned in October 2021 in an effort cut emissions and save consumers on their energy bills, leaving LEDs as the primary bulb for spotlights. 

While halogen bulbs were relatively cheap to buy, and the light was similar to an old-style incandescent in terms of colour and quality, they only last for around two years and are a lot more expensive to run than an LED.

A typical spotlight fitting that is on for two hours a day and contains six 50w halogen spots costs around £36 a year to run – more than some fridge freezers that are on all day, every day. 

LEDs are more expensive to buy upfront, but they are likely to save you money in the long run. By swapping those six halogens for 7.5w LED spotlight bulbs that produce the same amount of light, you'll save £30 a year in running costs. Manufacturers claim that LEDs can last up to 25 years.

See more information about the different types of bulbs in our guide to choosing the right light bulb

What is the best beam angle for your spotlights?

Spotlights illuminating a feature wall in a living area

You'll want a narrow beam angle if you're looking to pick out a particular surface or even a picture on the wall, and a wider beam angle if you want your spotlights to light a larger area.

Unlike conventional light bulbs, LED spotlight bulbs can shine a beam of light on a particular object or surface. They are a particularly popular choice in kitchens and hallways.

Have you got energy-saving light bulb concerns? Our guide looks at a few of the common worries and dispel the myths.

How bright should spotlights be?

The beam angle of an LED bulb

Spotlight brightness is measured in 'useful lumens', which is slightly different to how brightness is calculated for a conventional bulb. 

The number of useful lumens is defined as the light that falls within a 90-degree cone. 

As a rough guide, 300-400 lumens per square metre is recommended as a good ambient lighting level in a kitchen or hallway, rising to 700-800 per square metre if you have a worktop area that you want to be lit more brightly.

Halogens tend to spill more light outside the 90-degree cone than LEDs, as they have a filament rather than a single point from which the light is produced, as with an LED. This is difficult to see with the eye but is worth bearing in mind if you currently use halogens, as you may see the spread of light change when you move to LEDs.

Spotlight colour temperature

As well the brightness of the bulb, you’ll also need to choose the right colour temperature for the room it will be lighting. This refers to how warm or cool you want the lighting to be. 

  • Cool white is bright and clear, which makes it best suited to the kitchen or the bathroom. 
  • Warm white creates quite a soft glow which works well in areas such as the lounge or bedroom. 
  • Daylight white creates a more natural ambience, which works well in an office space. 

See our top tips for choosing the right light bulb.

Can you get dimmable spotlights?

Yes. But not all LED spotlight bulbs are dimmable as standard, so it is important to check before you buy. The bulb’s packaging should indicate whether the bulb can be dimmed or not.  

If you’re upgrading from traditional halogen bulbs to LED bulbs, your current dimmer switch might not work either. We’d recommend opting for a specialised LED-compatible dimmer switch to avoid any issues.  

How much do you need to spend on a spotlight?

LED spotlight bulbs tend to be more expensive than the older and cheaper halogen bulbs (which cost as little as £1), although the prices are dropping all the time, and you can now buy some LED spotlights for less than £5. 

If you buy in multipacks, you'll save money. 

Where to buy spotlights

Popular online retailers that stock LED spotlights include:

  • Screwfix stocks a wide range of LED bulbs in a choice of six different colours.
  • Homebase sells light bulbs that are categorised by shape and fitting. 
  • Argos offers a small selection of own-brand spotlight bulbs.  
  • John Lewis sells smart bulbs from various brands, including Phillips and Hive.
  • Amazon has a large selection of spotlight bulbs from different brands. Prices start at just £1.50 per bulb.

See our guide to the best and worst shops for household appliances.  

LED spotlight failures

LED spotlights cost more than halogens to buy, so any early failures can be extremely annoying and costly to replace. Our durability testing has found that most LEDs stand the test of time, as claimed. So if you're having issues with LED spotlight bulbs stopping working before they should, it could be due to issues with incompatible dimmer switches or your electrical setup. It’s worth investigating possible causes before giving up on LEDs, as there is a good chance that it is not the LED that is the problem.

The chances are that older dimmers won't work with LEDs and will even cause some LEDs that say they are dimmer-switch-compatible to break. So it's worth checking with an electrician or contacting the bulb manufacturer to ensure you have the right dimmer switch for your spotlights.

Many LED manufacturers offer warranties on their bulbs of between two and four years, so if an LED bulb conks out within this timeframe and it's not an issue with your dimmers or electrical set up, you may be able to get your money back. 

Find out how to fix common LED problems