15 Types of Light Switches Explained

Can you imagine a world without light switches? Without this electrical device, how can you switch on and off lighting fixtures in your home?

William J. Newton is credited for inventing light switches when he introduced a toggle light switch in 1917. More than 100 years since then, his toggle light has evolved into different light switches that we use today. Continue reading to learn more about the different types of light switches available in the market today.

Toggle Light Switch

Toggle Light Switch

As you’ve read earlier, this is the electrical device invented by Newton more than 100 years ago. And not surprisingly, it is the type of light switch that is most commonly found in homes across the world. You likely have one in your room right now.

The toggle light switch is a simple electrical device that’s still used more than a century after it was invented. It is also easy to use: you simply flip the toggle switch up to switch on the light bulbs and flip it back down to switch off. This is a light switch that would work well for any general lighting purpose.

You’d be surprised to learn that there have been enhancements to this simple light switch. Some models can be interfaced with your smartphone. You can set up a timer to switch on the light at a particular time, which spares you from having to get up from your seat to activate it. Some models are also integrated with Alexa.

Of course, the good old toggle light switch can be purchased at just about every hardware store. If you’re the type of person who likes DIY, you can also install it by yourself.

Push Button Light Switch

Push Button Light Switch

This is arguably the second banana to toggle light switch in terms of popularity. It’s commonly used in many homes, too. It is a fixture in bathrooms and kitchens. Aside from light fixtures, it is typically wired to exhaust fans.

The push-button light switch has two buttons. One closes the contacts while the other opens them. When you push the raised button, it opens or closes the contacts and causes the previously depressed button to pop out, allowing the process to be reversed.

The buttons are commonly colored black in the U.S., with the ‘on’ button colored white to indicate its function. Many push-button light switches are still available these days for vintage styling.

Proximity Light Switch

This is the type of light switch you’d want to install in your home if you’re trying to cut down on your energy bills. This type of light switch turns on a light when someone is in your room. When it detects that no one’s in the room, then it will automatically switch off the light. In short, it makes things easier for you as you don’t have to search for the light switch when you want to turn off the light in a room.

This type of light switch is not as cheap as the toggle light switch and the push button light switch. It’s more commonly used in hotels and offices, but it’s slowly getting more widespread in homes, too.

Selector Light Switch

Selector Light Switch

This type of light switch can be essential when you’re trying to set up lighting with two different modes. It would let you effectively switch between two different settings. The selector light switch is commonly used in electric fans, allowing users to conveniently adjust fan speeds and fan modes.

Switches are commonly used for fans. They allow you to switch fan speeds, as well as different fan modes. When used in lights, selector light switches can let you select from various lighting modes. It’s commonly used in lighting setups with different colored lights.

Selector light switches come in different types, too. The most common is the rotary switch which works as a dial, allowing users to switch between different modes.

Dimmer Light Switch

Dimmer Light Switch

There are times when you want the light to be dim to set the mood for a particular occasion, like having a romantic dinner with your spouse at home. Some may even prefer dim lights when they hit the sack.

To dim your lights, you’d need to have a dimmer light switch. The good news is that this type of light switch is readily available in stores and can be simple and straightforward to set up.

Dimmer light switches are available in different varieties. Some types have a dial that would let the user adjust the intensity of the light fixture. Others come with a touch switch that would allow you to adjust lighting intensity with a mere swipe of your finger. Others even come with a handy remote control.

Photoelectric Light Switch

Photoelectric Light Switch

The photoelectric light switch is a type of light switch that turns on/off in the presence of received light. Compared to the other types of light switches in this list, the photoelectric light switch isn’t commonly used in homes. Still, this is quite useful in certain applications.

With a photoelectric light switch, you can set up a light fixture that will automatically turn on when it starts to get dark. It comes with a sensor capable of detecting that the light level in the environment it is in is getting low.

Once it detects that it is getting dark, the photoelectric light switch will turn on the light. This would help you ensure that the areas in your house which need sufficient lighting at night, like your back or front yards, will have lighting when dusk sets in.

This is the type of light switch used in street lights and street lamps. But you can also use this in other parts of your home like your garden, porch, or other areas where you want to be illuminated at night.

Motion-Activated Light Switches

Motion Activated Light Switches

You may not have one in your home right now, but you likely have an idea of what a motion-activated light switch is. You may have seen one depicted in the movies. Or you may have experienced walking up to someone else’s property and the porch light automatically switching on. The porch light was switched on by a motion-activated switch light.

A motion-activated light switch has various applications, but its primary purpose is security. As you may imagine, it can help discourage potential burglars from barging into a property. A light fixture can automatically be switched on with a motion-activated switch light, scaring would-be burglars away.

Most motion-sensitive lights usually come with a switch, although you can also buy a stand-alone motion-activated light switch. Setting up one should be quick and easy, especially if you’re an experienced DIYer.

Sound Activated Light Switches

While motion-activated light sensors can let you turn on lights without having to get up to flick a switch, these are often used outdoors. On the other hand, a sound-activated light switch is more commonly used indoors.

As you may already guess by now, a sound-activated light switch can automatically turn on a light fixture upon detection of sound. You can clap or snap your fingers to create a sound that’s loud enough for the sound-activated light switch to automatically turn on a light fixture.

A sound-activated light switch can present certain advantages over a traditional light switch. For one, you won’t have to fumble through a dark room looking for a light switch. This can also be beneficial to users who are visually impaired, as they only need to make a sound to turn on a lamp or light fixture in their rooms.

Three-Way Switches

When you want to control a light fixture or receptacle from two different locations, you turn to a three-way switch. Always used in pairs, three-way switches lack on/off markings since the on and off positions will differ as the switches are used.

This type of light switch has three terminal screws. The darkest screw terminal is marked “Com,” which means common. It is connected to the hot wire from the power source.

It is also the location where the load leaving the pair of three-way stitches connects. In short, the hot comes in on one of the common terminals. It then leaves on the other common terminal. The two travelers, meanwhile, tie the two switches together.

The other two terminals are interchangeable. These are also referred to as travelers. For safety purposes, it is critical to take note that the travelers are always hot wire.

Three-way switches are commonly used at both ends of a staircase. It is also commonly found in garages or basements with two entries. You can also use this type of light switch in hallways and other areas where two separate switches control one light fixture.

Illuminated Switches

Illuminated Switches

Illuminated switches have been around for decades, having been introduced in the 1950s. It has been a fixture in many households. Illuminated switches allow people to find switchboards even when it is dark.

An illuminated switch has a surface that features a small LED or neon lamp. In case you are wondering where the illumination comes from, then do know that it is through the current passing through the circuits that the switch controls.

You’ll likely find an illuminated light switch in certain parts of the house, like the bathroom and kitchen. An illuminated light switch, after all, can provide enough illumination to serve as a night light. With this light switch, you can safely navigate your way through a room without the need to switch on a light.

Australian Rocker Switches

Australian rocker switches are the standard household switches in the Land Down Under as well as in the nearby country of New Zealand. It is a smaller variant of the rocker switch.

This is a compact type of light switch that can be affixed in cramped spaces. For example, up to six Australian rocker switches can be installed in a spot where one or two regular-sized toggle switches can be affixed.

Vandal Resistant Switches

You may be wondering why this type of light switch is called vandal-resistant or vandal-proof. It’s because it is specially designed for use in apparatuses utilized by the general public. We’re talking here of pedestrian light crossing signals and even vending machines. These are also used in other electrical devices like security alarm systems and power tools.

Vandal-proof light switches are designed to endure heavy use. These are highly resistant to dirt, moisture, and elements. These are usually protected by stainless steel or heavy-duty, thick plastic casing.

Mercury Switches

Unlike vandal-resistant switches, mercury switches are utilized for home use. This type of light switch is also called a quiet switch. It won’t snap loudly when connecting circuits, unlike spring-loaded toggle switches.

There are many advantages of using mercury. One is that it is visible because of its silvery shining color. In a way, it can help you find the switch even when it is dark. Mercury is also highly durable and won’t evaporate after years of use. It also functions as a good electrical conductor.

Touch Plate Switches

Touch Plate Switches

This is an electronic light switch that can be operated by a mere touch of the switch plate. Unlike the other types of light switches, such as the toggle switch, it does not have any moving parts. It is considered a quiet type of light switch because users don’t have to snap parts in controlling the lights.

Pull Chain switch

Pull Chain switch

Finally, the pull chain switch is one of the simplest yet commonly used types of light switches around. It is operated by pulling a cord or chain, which is attached to a toggle switch. This is usually used in operating light fixtures in basements and garages. It can also be used in operating ceiling fans.


As you’ve just learned, there are numerous types of light switches that you can choose from. Select a light switch that suits your home and purpose, or simply get one that looks stylish for your place.