Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Public Service Announcement: Sunbeam Fluoresent Bulbs

We had a bit of a scare this morning, involving this light bulb.

My husband turned on the fixture, and the light shone dimly orange. Thinking it might brighten, he left it on for 15-20 minutes. Upon which, the bulb started to make popping and hissing sounds (like a coffee machine percolating) and then started to smoke. I ran to turn off the switch, and hollered for the husband. After the switch was turned off, the smoke stopped. We opened all the windows to try and clear the air of the smoke and the awful burnt plastic smell. (Gross! It's still lingering 3 hours later.)

My husband used a bag to remove the bulb from the fixture, and set bulb and bag on the counter. While it's been sitting there, some kind of brownish liquid has come out of the bulb. I don't know what it is, but it's nearly the color of coffee.

The liquid is coming out of these "vents."

There isn't a lot of the liquid, just a bit.

This is the bulb: Sunbeam 120V 60Hz 20W Fluorescent.

(Please excuse the excessive flash, it's gloomy here, and wanted to make sure the liquid would show up)

Well, the reason I'm even blogging about this is because I called Sunbeam. The first lady I talked to (very nice) gave me a different number to call. Called different number, and talked to a gentleman about my bulb. After listening to me recount the smoking incident, he told me that it is not uncommon for these bulbs to smoke off the C02 that has accumulated--or something to that affect. That they have run countless tests and that they are not a fire hazard. The smoking doesn't happen every time, and it isn't cause for alarm. He had never heard of any liquid coming out of them. He checked with a supervisor. There isn't any liquid in them to come out of them. Okay. So, I'm not quite sure how to explain the liquid that's coming out of mine. The fixture isn't wet, it isn't below any thing wet or leaking or liquid. Curious.

I had a few options for retribution. I could return it to the store I purchased it from, with the receipt (a bank statement would also have worked--so convenient and hassle~free), the original packaging (because I, like I'm sure all of you, hang on to random packaging in the event that something should go up in smoke), for a replacement.


I can mail it to them for a refund. I asked if they would provide me with a prepaid mailer. He checked. Nope. They don't have those kinds of things. That would be at my own expense. So, I can mail them a fluorescent bulb, which contains hazardous materials, which would cost...$6, $7, $8? For them to send me a refund on a $6 light bulb. No thanks.

I thought they might be interested in the numbers on the bulb, or perhaps would like the bulb to determine the type of liquid coming from the bulb. What if this is different than the "typical" smoke that comes from them? What if this bulb (made in China, btw) is defective and would have burned my house down had we not cut the power to it?

I thought about calling them back. But decided to talk about it here, instead.

So, my thoughts on these bulbs? I'm scared to death. They're {sometimes} expected to smoke when they burn out? That's normal? My house might smell like burnt plastic each time one expires? If only you could have seen the smoke. It wasn't gentle, innocuous smoke. It was black, thick, stinky smoke. I thought something had caught fire. I mentally ran through child evacuation while calling out to my husband, ran for the extinguisher, panic...

It was yucky. Very yucky. I don't want to go through that again. I don't want you to go through that. It isn't normal.


Anonymous said...

Scarey for sure...must check to see what kind we have.
Disappointed about company's reaction!

Mrs. MK said...

What a scare!! But I'm glad everything is OK!!

Brambleberry said...

Thanks. I'm glad everything is okay, too. I have this yucky feeling still...like at any moment my house may combust. (Irrational, I know!)

I'm a little disappointed in their reaction, too. A little concern would have been nice. I wasn't looking for money...a "I'm really sorry that happened, we'll look into it," would have sufficed.

Dena said...

I found your blog today through DiddleDaddleDesigns and I am sure glad that I did. My husband is thrilled with these types of bulbs because they are more energy efficient. He's been swapping them on me at a steady pace. I'm definately not thrilled with the light they cast and now I have an even bigger concern! Thank you so much for sharing this with us.


Freebird said...

I live in AZ and there was an article on the news the other night about these bulbs. I missed it, but it was something negative about how they can be dangerous if...I never got to hear it! I have several and have not gotten around to doing the research to find out how they can be dangerous. I THINK it was something about the fumes...? At any rate, something you might want to investigate...

Anonymous said...

This exact thing happened to us this morning, in our baby's room. What a foul odor. Thank goodness I found this post - I'm no longer freaking about about my house burning down. Our bulb is the same Sunbeam you described. No liquid oozing, but there are visible burn/smoke marks on some of those vents. I'm switching back to standard bulbs - that smoke can't be good for kids.

Anonymous said...

We just had flames shoot out of our Sunbeam bulb. My husband turned the light off and it quit. I have removed all of those bulbs from the fixtures in the house and recommend that every one else does too. Any one know where to file a report to start a recall? I would hate for any one to loose there home or life! Larkwd

Anonymous said...

When our smoke detector went off in the basement my wife opened the door to the light in flames. When she turned off the main breaker and the flames stopped. I can still smell the smoke lingering in the house. I picked up the bulb when I got home and felt a liquid, brown, on my fingers. Had my wife not been home we could have lost our house. Fortunately, we had a working smoke detector right above it so she got an early warning. It didn't kill the circuit breaker so it would have just kept burning.

If Sunbeam has no regard for my safety I will give someone else my business.

Tom in New Richmond WI

Anonymous said...





These are a few sites I found doing a brief search.

For someone to contact about this try the Consumer Product Safety Commission:


Tom in New Richmond WI

Anonymous said...

Hi, Brambleberry -
I just had almost the exact experience that you described, except that my Sunbeam bulb (an SDF-24 model, but it looks just like yours) actually caught fire briefly.
I was 10 ft. away from my bathroom when I heard a prolonged hissing sound; it reminded me of hairspray being used. It went on for some time (maybe 10 seconds?) and when I went to investigate, I discovered that it was coming from the light fixture. (This was not an enclosed fixture.)
By this time there were copious amounts of smoke, and as I fumbled for the light switch, the bulb actually caught fire! Not for a prolonged amount of time, just two 2" high flames that licked up out of the base and then that was it, I presume because I cut the power off. When I unscrewed it later on, there was a small amount of brown liquid coming from the vents in the base.
DO NOT leave this type of bulb "on" when you leave the room. I'm just thankful I was nearby when it happened. My whole upper floor still smells like smoke, and it happened 2 days ago.
Tracy in Walnut Creek, CA

Anonymous said...

We had the same experiance.I was sitting in the living room watching T.V. and I smelled this awful smell like plastic burning.I went outside to tell my husband and he came into the house. He saw that the lamp he had left on was off.The light bulb was smoking and had a small flame of fire coming out the top of it.There is a burnt spot on the side of the light where it says caution.It is the Sunbeam 120V 60Hz 380mA SDF-24 24W light bulb.We had to open all the windows and air the house out for a few hours.My sister was just telling us about this happening to them also.

Unknown said...

I had the same type of experience with a 24 W Sunbeam flourescent bulb. It started to hiss and pop. I turned it off. It was the main ceiling light in my garage, so I forgot and turned it on again. In the dark, it was sending sparks out the top, but I couldn't tell if it was the bulb or the fixture. My husband replaced the bulb since then and apparently the fixture is fine. The bulb, however has a bubble like swelling on the very bottom of the curled bulb. It is cracked and colored brown in one place.

Anonymous said...

Just to let everyone know, I just had a smoking Sunbeam MT-25 24 watt bulb. The burning smell was intense and I had sent my wife and Child out of the house. Was about ready to call the fire department went I found the cause. The bulb was extremely hot at the base (had to remove bulb with a rag) and was putting out some smoke when I found it.

Anonymous said...

Same experience... dimming, hissing, smoke, then flames equal to a couple of candles in size. Any idea if this is just Sunbeam, or CF bulbs in general?

Anonymous said...

We just had the same experience with a Sunbeam 120v 60Hz 380mA SDF-24 24W bulb. It hissed, popped and began sending out smoke that smelled electrical and like plastic. We did not have the liquid maybe because we were in the room when it happened and shut off the power quickly. Scares me.

Anonymous said...

WE just had similar experience. I did not have noise, but the light went out, then followed an acrid, electrical odor with billowing pale thin smoke. Immediately shut light switch off. Waited for my husband to come home, he took down the bulb and he too was very concerned. Covered in char like marks and the base was definitely scorched looking. Afraid to think what might have happened if I were not home and right in the room. We will now need to go over the entire 15 room house examining every light fixture. I am angry. Has this happened with other brands?
Joy in Michigan

Anonymous said...

SAME STORY!!! Brown liquid, smoke and electrical burn smell...two bulbs in our house! Sunbean bulb!

finecraft said...

Same thing just happened here. Sparks, smoke, nasty smell.Same Sunbeam bulb like everyone else. We have never had this happen before with any other CFL bulb

shawn said...


I had the same thing happen ,same bulb. I been tell all my family and friends to not use these bulbs and now that I see that it is a big problem I'm really going to push the issue.

The Skeptic said...

Same experience with a Sunbeam compact fluorescent bulb (MT-24 24W). It glowed a dim orange. I shut it off and flipped the switch back on. Flames and smoke came out of the bulb, which stopped when I immediately switched it off. I just filed a report with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (www.cpsc.gov) and on the Sunbeam site. It sounds like I should expect Sunbeam to ignore my report.

The Skeptic said...

Update. I filled out a form on the Sunbeam site, and they replied with a number for a different division, which I called. They asked me what sort of recompense I wanted, and I said a new bulb or a refund would be OK. They said they can only send a refund. So why ask what I wanted? They offered me $1. I told them that compact fluorescents are more like $4-6. They said they could go as high as $2. I agreed. I and they are lucky they didn't burn my house down. No more Sunbeam products for me.

Anonymous said...

We just had our sdf-24; 24W sunbeam bulb catch fire through the vents/slits on the base. Stunk up the house. Luckily it happened when we turned it on other wise it would have caught fire on the lamp shade which was tilted over.

This seems like the sunbeam bulbs should be recalled; there seems to be a bad batch of them.

Amy said...

The same Sunbeam 24W just did the hiss and pop in a lamp 3 feet from where I was sitting. This happened from a ceiling fixture a number years ago at the end of a dinner party. The smell is noxious and pervasive. My concern is Mercury content in CFL bulbs. Is this part of what is burning? I have been using CFL's since the beginning, (early 1990's), but this manufacturer is the only one to fail. It is winter, and airing the house is difficult with sealed windows and 20F temps. Has anyone received any concrete info to the toxicity and if the particulants in the gas contaminate.