10 Types of Light Switches and How to Choose (2024)

Home Improvement


Learn the different types of light switches to update your home's lighting


Bob Formisano

Bob Formisano

Bob Formisano is a licensed architect and builder with nearly 40 years of experience building new homes and restoring older homes. One of his specialties is repairing old systems dating back to the 1920s, including galvanized water pipes, knob-and-tube wiring, and more. His home repair articles for The Spruce span more than 10 years.

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Timothy Dale

Timothy Dale

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Updated on 12/08/23

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Larry Campbell

10 Types of Light Switches and How to Choose (1)

Reviewed byLarry Campbell

Larry Campbell is an electrical contractor with 36 years of experience in residential and light commercial electrical wiring. He worked as an electronic technician and later as an engineer for the IBM Corp. He is also a member of The Spruce Home Improvement Review Board.

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Jillian Dara

10 Types of Light Switches and How to Choose (2)

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Jillian is a freelance journalist with 10 years of editorial experience in the lifestyle genre. She is a writer and fact checker for TripSavvy, as well as a fact-checker for The Spruce.

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There are several types of light switches that are used to control light fixtures, appliances, and other devices. Most of the common types of switches come in different styles, such as toggle, rocker, slider, or push-button. The style usually does not affect the switch function andelectrical wiring, though it can make the selection process confusing.

Boiling down the choices to the most basic types of switches makes it easier to choose the right option for your home. Use this guide to learn more about the different types of light switches.

10 Types of Light Switches and How to Choose (3)

Common Light Switch Styles

There are a range of light switch types, but there are also several light switch styles to consider before selecting a switch for the home. This includes toggle, rocker, slider, and push-button switches. Toggle and rocker switches are the most common options for standard residential lighting, while slider and push-button switches are typically used for dimmer switch or specialty switch operation.

  • Toggle Switch: This type of switch has a simple lever that can be flipped up or down to control the associated light, appliance, or other device.
  • Rocker Switch: This type of switch works in the same way as a toggle switch, but it has a wider and flatter design. Turn on or turn off the connected light or appliance by pressing the top or bottom of the switch.
  • Slider Switch: This type of switch features a small slider that can be moved up or down along the slider path to increase or decrease the brightness of a dimmable light. Depending on the design, the slider may also completely turn off the connected light or appliance by moving the slider to the bottom of the switch.
  • Push-Button: This type of switch has a button, that when pushed will turn off or turn on the connected light. Some push-button switches may also have a rotary-style dial that can be turned to increase or decrease the brightness of the lights.
  • 01 of 10

    Single-Pole Switch

    10 Types of Light Switches and How to Choose (4)

    • Best for: Controlling a light fixture, appliance, or outlet from a single wall location

    Standard light switches are known as single-pole switches, which work by receiving incoming power from the electrical panel, then routing that power through the outgoing terminal to a single light fixture or appliance. You'll know if your switch is single-pole because it will usually have ON/OFF symbols embossed on the face of switch.

    Single-pole switches will have two brass-colored screw terminals attached to the body of the switch, plus a green screw that is connected to the metal strap. This type of switch is the most common option for residential buildings. It's used throughout the home to control bedroom lights, bathroom lights, kitchen lights, and wall outlets.


    Neutral (usually white) wires are not connected to switches, but if you see a white wire attached to the switch, then this is when it is functioning as a hot wire. In this case, the white wire should have black or red tape wrapped near the switch terminal to indicate that the wire operates as a hot wire, not a neutral wire. Black or red tape are the normal go-to colors for indicating hot wires.

  • 02 of 10

    Double-Pole Switch

    10 Types of Light Switches and How to Choose (5)

    • Best for: Controlling a 240-volt appliance or fixture from a single wall location

    The double-pole switch is commonly used in industrial applications but it can be found in some home wiring systems to control electric water heaters or air conditioners. Compared to single-pole switches, double-pole switches are much less common in the home—it's possible you will have none at all if you don't have appliances that require one.

    240-volt circuits operate with two individual "hot" wires and have four brass-colored screw terminals to connect the incoming and outgoing wires. Double-pole switches also have a green grounding screw for connecting the circuit's grounding wire. If the goal is to control a large appliance with the flip of a switch, then a double-pole switch is the right options for this upgrade.

  • 03 of 10

    Three-Way Switch

    10 Types of Light Switches and How to Choose (6)

    • Best for: Controlling a light fixture from two different wall locations in the room

    Three-wayswitches are used in pairs and usually found at both ends of a staircase, in garages or basem*nts that have two entries, in hallways, and in other places where two separate light switches control one light fixture or appliance.

    The three-way switch has three terminal screws so that it can connect to the electrical panel, a second three-way switch, and the target light fixture or appliance. A three-way switch also has a green grounding screw, to which the bare copper circuit grounding wire is attached. Use this type of light switch for improved convenience when you want to control a single light or appliance from two locations.

  • 04 of 10

    Four-Way Switch

    10 Types of Light Switches and How to Choose (7)

    • Best for: Controlling a light fixture, outlet, or appliance from three or more different wall locations

    While not common, four-way switchesare used in long hallways or rooms with multiple entrances to provide control for an outlet or light fixture from multiple locations. Three-way switches make it possible to control a single light fixture or appliance from two locations, but four-way switches are necessary if you want to have control from three or more locations.

    The four-way switch has four terminals plus a ground terminal. The four-way switch functions as a switching device for the traveler wires between the three-way switches so that when any one of the switches is used it will turn off or turn on the associated light fixture or appliance.


    Use extreme care in replacing a four-way switch. There are two unique layouts for the terminals depending on the manufacturers. One is IN on top and OUT on the bottom, and the other is IN on the left and OUT on the right.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below

  • 05 of 10

    Smart Switch

    10 Types of Light Switches and How to Choose (8)

    • Best for: Controlling a light fixture or appliance automatically or remotely

    A smart switch allows light fixtures or appliances to be controlled through a voice assistant (such as Alexa) or by an app. As long as you have an internet connection, you can use the app to monitor, control, and program the associated lights to automatically turn on or off when you choose.

    While smart switches are usually simply swapped into the same location where a standard light switch is located, most require a neutral wire connection because a small amount of current flow is necessary for their operation. It's possible that you will require a circuit upgrade to use these switches. Other smart switches do not require a neutral connection and instead connect to the internet wirelessly through a hub.


    Be sure to buy a smart switch that's compatible with your hub or voice-automation system and the lights you need to control.

  • 06 of 10

    Dimmer Switch

    10 Types of Light Switches and How to Choose (9)

    • Best for: Adjusting light intensity

    A dimmer switch typically features a rotary knob or slider to adjust the brightness level of the bulbs. This allows the user to reduce the light in the room at night or when watching a movie. Then when company comes over or if you are working on a detailed project, slide or rotate the dimmer to increase the light in the room.

    • A rotary dimmer switch has a simple knob that you rotate to increase or decrease the brightness. The light on a rotary dimmer switch can usually be turned off completely by pressing the knob.
    • A sliding dimmer switch typically uses a toggle switch to turn on or turn off the light, as well as a sliding control that adjusts the brightness. Some dimmers have very discreet sliders that practically blend in with the rest of the switch.
  • 07 of 10

    Occupancy / Motion Sensor Switch

    10 Types of Light Switches and How to Choose (10)

    • Best for: Conveniently turning on lights or appliances with a motion sensor

    An occupancy switch or motion sensor switch has a built-in motion sensor to detect when someone enters a room and turn on the light. The light will stay on for a preset amount of time, then turn off to conserve energy. These lights are common in public bathrooms and changing rooms.

    The motion sensor switch typically features a toggle to control the light and sensor function. Some sensors also have daylight detection, so they won't turn on when you don't need the extra light. Additionally, they can be used with bathroom exhaust fans so you don't have to worry about remembering to turn on and off the fan.

  • 08 of 10

    Specialty Switch

    10 Types of Light Switches and How to Choose (11)

    • Best for: Unique switch design for custom control of lighting, appliances, and other devices

    There are several types of specialty switches that go beyond simply turning on and off a light or appliance. For instance, some switches have timers that will turn on and off the light or appliance at the same time every day. This is a good option for outside lights, allowing you to turn them on after dark even if you’re not home and turn them off right after sunrise to avoid wasting energy.

    Similarly, there are time-delay switches that will leave a light or appliance on for a preset amount of time after it’s turned on and then shut it off automatically. Other specialty switches also include an outlet with an additional place to plug in electronics, touch switches, and switches that can control the speed and lighting of fans.


    Some specialty switches are meant specifically for LED and CFL bulbs and often must be used if your fixture has dimmable energy-saving bulbs.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below

  • 09 of 10

    Combination Switch

    10 Types of Light Switches and How to Choose (12)

    • Best for: Providing two control functions from one wall box

    A combination switch is a dual design that combines the functions of two electrical devices in a single wall box, such as a light switch and an outlet, or two light switches. This type of switch is great for organizing the electrical connection in a smaller area and reducing the number of wall boxes needed for the room.

    When correctly installed, the two separate functions operate independently. For instance, a simple single-pole light switch can be paired with a USB charging port in one convenient combination switch. As more people seek to install in-wall USB charging ports, this type of light switch may grow in popularity.

  • 10 of 10

    Pull Chain Switch

    10 Types of Light Switches and How to Choose (13)

    • Best for: Operating ceiling fans and overhead lighting

    Pull chain switches are a well-known style of light switch that works by pulling on the chain to turn on or turn off the connected light or appliance. This type of switch is often used to control the speed and function of ceiling fans. In some cases, a ceiling fan will have a built-in light that is controlled with a second pull chain switch.

    These switches are also commonly seen in garages, sheds, and workshops, where it's easier to install a single overhead light with a built-in pull chain switch, than it is to wire a separate light switch to control the light fixture.

Choosing a Light Switch

Choosing a light switch for the home doesn't need to be complicated. Consider what features the light switch needs to fulfill its purpose in the home, then narrow down the selection to find the right light switch. For instance, if you want to be able to control a single light from two or three different locations, then you will need a three-way or four-way switch. Alternatively, if the goal is to reduce the lighting bill, then a motion sensor light switch or a programmable smart light switch would be best. Specialty light switches can be used for very specific tasks, like controlling the blade speed and light fixture of a fan.

How to Set Standard Outlet and Light Switch Heights

10 Types of Light Switches and How to Choose (2024)


How do I know what type of light switch I need? ›

If you need to operate the same light from two places, for example at the top or bottom of a staircase or in a corridor, 3-way switches will be required. If the light needs to be operated from 3 or more places, a combination of 3-way and 4-way switches will be necessary.

What kind of light switches are best? ›

Toggle and rocker switches are the most common options for standard residential lighting, while slider and push-button switches are typically used for dimmer switch or specialty switch operation.

What are the 4 types of lighting switches? ›

The most important light switch types in a nutshell
  • One-way switch: one lamp & one switch.
  • Two-way switch: at least two lamps & one switch (with a two-part rocker)
  • Toggle switch: one lamp & two switches (at two different spots)
  • Crossover switch: one lamp & three or more switches.
Oct 30, 2023

Does it matter what light switch I buy? ›

When choosing a light switch, it's important to consider exactly what you need it to do. Some light switches are designed to control a single light (or a set of lights on a single circuit), while others are designed to control multiple lighting circuits.

How do I know if I need a 3 way or 4 way switch? ›

A three-way switch has three terminals; a four-way has four. These control a light from two or three switch locations, such as at the top and bottom of a stairwell, at either end of a hallway, or in a large room with multiple entrances.

What switches to choose? ›

What to Know. Linear switches are usually fast and quiet, and they're good for gaming. Tactile switches give you a physical bump when pushing down, and they're good for both gaming and typing. Clicky switches give an audible click you can also feel in your finger, so they're better for typing than gaming.

What is the most popular switch type? ›

If you have no idea what switch is in your mechanical keyboard, it's probably linear, as it's the most popular switch type.

What is the most popular light switch style? ›

Single Pole: A single pole light switch is the most common type of switch. It controls one fixture from a single location.

What are the 3 common types of switches? ›

  • A switch is an electrical device, usually electromechanical, used to control continuity between two points.
  • Hand switches are actuated by human touch.
  • Limit switches are actuated by machine motion.
  • Process switches are actuated by changes in some physical process (temperature, level, flow, etc.).

What are the 2 most common types of switches? ›

Generally, there are two types of switches that are used in an electrical circuit:
  • Electrical switches: These work under the influence of semiconductors.
  • Mechanical switches: These require manual contact with the switch for operation and are classified into various types depending upon the poles (no.

What light switch do I need for bedroom? ›

Single-Pole Switches

A single-pole switch is the most common type of light switch, and is best suited for bedrooms, bathrooms and closet spaces.

Which type of switch is commonly used in residential houses? ›

The regular switch, also known as a single-pole switch, is the most common type of switch for Indian homes. It consists of a simple mechanism that allows users to turn the lights or appliances on and off with a simple flip.

What kind of light switch for bathroom? ›

A toggle light switch is the most common type of light switch and is used for most lighting applications in bathrooms. Toggle switches are actuated by a lever angled in two positions, enabling the circuit to switch on and off. Toggle switches can be either single-pole, double-pole, or three-way.

Which wire goes where on a light switch? ›

Each goes to one side of the internal light switch. The switching must be done on the “hot” side of the circuit, hence the brass color. This is the side of the circuit wiring that is black. White wiring is on the “neutral” side.

Do I need a 10a or 20a light switch? ›

If your lighting circuit controlled by the switch is less than 1.5kw then you will be fine with either option. To make 1.5kw would require 15 old 100w halogen bulbs, or 40 typical LED bulbs so i doubt you will have an issue.

Do I need a single pole or 3 way switch? ›

Choosing the right switch for your needs

Do you want to simply turn on/off a light in a single location? If so, a single pole switch is the best option to get the job done. Do you want to control the light at two locations? Then a pair of 3-way switches is a better option.

What are the 3 types of switches used in residential electrical? ›

Switches can be purchased in a variety of styles – toggle, rocker, slider, or push-button – but the style you choose doesn't affect the switch's actual function and wiring.

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