How to Remove a Broken Light Bulb

Dear Home-Ec101,
I was changing out a light bulb in my bathroom, and as I was turning it, the base broke off the bulb and STAYED IN THE SOCKET. Can you please help me? How do I get the rest of the light bulb out without death and/or pain? Also? An unlit bathroom is not a safe place.
At a loss for lumens,
Shari DeWatts

how to remove a broken light bulb

cc Flickr photo by Jay Jansheski

Tim says:

Two hazards make this job harder than it should be:  the broken glass and the potential presence of electricity.  One is easy to see, the other not so much.  First and foremost, make sure the power is off to the socket and verify it with a non-contact voltage detector. [Here’s some home electrical basics: tools and how to use themThis can be done either by ensuring the light switch is in the off position or by turning off the corresponding breaker in the distribution panel.  Don’t just assume that since the switch is off, the power isn’t potentially still there.  

I’ve had the misfortune of having to work on equipment that was initially installed by an electrician with questionable scruples who wired the light switch to control the neutral leg of the circuit vs. the hot leg.  This means that even though the switch is off, power is still present at the base of the light.  Thankfully this is more of an exception rather than the rule.

Now for the actual removal process.

First off, if anyone ever suggests to you to use a potato or any other produce to remove a broken light bulb, run away from them as fast as you can while forking the sign of the evil eye for protection.  It is a bad, bad idea on many levels.  For one, potatoes don’t make the best electrical insulator.   Two, mashing a tuber into the broken socket will get potato juice all over the threads, leading to more corrosion and more broken bulbs in the future.  I’ve also heard of using a dry bar of soap, but have not tried it and see no reason to.

So, what to do?

Well, depending on where the socket is located you may need a ladder and a flashlight since it will most likely be dark.  There are a few different methods depending on how “stuck” the bulb base is in the socket. The best and easiest method is to use heavy leather gloves to protect your hands from sharp edges and use your fingers to remove the bulb base.  If that doesn’t work, it’s time to use needle-nose pliers to grab part of the exposed base in the socket and twist.  Don’t worry if the metal base starts to tear open like a sardine can because eventually you will peel enough metal out of the socket and it will get easier to turn.

If the above method doesn’t work the only option left is to replace the light socket.  This is very rare, so don’t worry.  I’ve had to replace hundreds of broken bulbs, mostly in a harsh industrial environment, and none of them have ever required a socket swap.

Once the bulb base is completely removed from the socket, now is the time to take a rag or fine steel wool and clean up the inside threads.  I know it may be unsettling to stick your fingers in a light socket, but that’s why we checked and double checked the power is off, right?  If you need to use steel wool, then as a last step use a clean, dry cloth to remove any debris and ensure no steel strands remain in the socket.

Now that the offending broken bulb base is out, what can we do to prevent this from happening again?

 

Unfortunately options are limited to making sure the socket is clean and dry and that the replacement bulb’s threads are also clean and free of corrosion. Do not attempt to lubricate either the socket or the bulb with any household products like WD-40, petroleum jelly, or mineral oil.

how to clean appliances

Click the picture for more tips!

The only product I know of that works is called DeOxit DN5 (can be found at RadioShack).  Only use it on the threads of the new bulb. It works by removing any oxidation present on the metal and by helping to prevent the formation of future corrosion.

Good luck and let us know how it worked.

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

 



57 Comments

  1. Michelle on July 28, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    Thank you! Duct tape trick worked!

  2. Sam on May 14, 2016 at 4:36 pm

    Our light bulb in our basement broke off and the only thing left is the silver base. I made sure it was turned off (got shocked last week) and use the needle nose pliers but it started to break pieces off. For some reason it will not turn. (Yes I’m turning it the correct way). The base just bends then falls off. I barely have enough to get a grip on now. I’m not sure what to do

  3. lisa on January 3, 2016 at 2:16 pm

    I cannot thank you ENOUGH. I was considering hiring someone (I know absolutely nothing about home repairs lol) until I read your post, especially the part when you said your’ve performed this numerous times before & never had to replace socket!
    Thanks again. You saved me some $ as I was so frustrated was going to hire a handy man!

  4. Kathleen Modlin on September 10, 2015 at 11:38 am

    Fortunately the element was still in tact and I was able to carefully unscrew it. My light bulb was behind a cover so didn’t know until I took the cover off that the bulb had broke. Replaced the bulb and have light again!!! Thank you for your help.

  5. Joanne Zavadosky on June 12, 2015 at 9:39 pm

    I used duct tape and it worked. It only took me about 5 minutes. New bulb was put in and I’m so proud of myself! Thanks everyone!

  6. Wesley Thrasher on March 31, 2014 at 11:49 am

    Just take a monkey rinch and reach in side and get it.

  7. Doc McGillicutty on March 29, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    Just use a potato

  8. Richard S on February 8, 2014 at 6:20 pm

    NEVER, EVER assume that just because the light switch is off that there’s no power in a socket. The electrician who installed it could have been distracted and put the switch on the neutral leg of the circuit. The homeowner who replaced it could have been ignorant of which wire gets attached to which screw. So if you don’t know for a fact that there’s no power going to the socket, turn off the power at the fuse box before you monkey around putting pliers into the socket.

  9. Amara on January 5, 2014 at 11:56 am

    I bumped my head into my basement ceiling lightbulb and it broke all the glass around it. So I can’t get any grip and I’m afraid that there is still electricity running through the socket even though the switch is off. Any ideas?

    • Ian on January 5, 2014 at 1:48 pm

      Go to your main switchboard/consumer unit and turn off the circuit that powers that bulb (you can even remove the fuse/tripswitch, if you want to be anally safe!) – you could even turn the main switch off (remembering to turn it back on after the repair/replacement!). I’d also advise wearing leather gloves and eye protection, as others have already said! Follow the procedures that many luminescent people have listed before me, to remove the bulb and clean the holder. Use a torch and appropriate ladder to do repair. Get someone suitably qualified/competant to do this for you, or help you, should you not be competant or confidant in doing this task.

  10. Toni Greenwood on December 15, 2013 at 6:29 pm

    Tried priers, needle nose and short nose….also tried duct tape and gloves. Didn’t try a another light bulb because I didn’t have one small enough. This was the light under and towards the back of my built in microwave. It was cramped quarters to work in, a small base and on top of everything I was working backwards and had to remind myself constantly which way I needed to turn it to remove…oh and did I mention I’m working blind leaning over a built in stove unable to see the thing I can’t remove??? Had a streak of inspiration when rummaging through my junk drawer when I saw a cork from a wine bottle that was a little bit larger in width and length than the stuck base (knew that because my index finger fit in the hole 😉 Anyway, shaved down the sides of the end making it slightly larger than the base I was going to stick it in. Then I sliced off about a quarter of the other end making it easier to work with in such tight quarters. Held my breath, stuck it in the broken base (reminding myself once again which way to turn it) and VIOLA! It came right out. I knew there was a good reason I kept all those old wine corks!

  11. Mary on November 21, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    I just used the reverse screwing of a new bulb and that socket came right out. Have to admit I used a carrot, needle nose pliers, and think gloves unsuccessfully. It took me about a minute–the socket was out of sight in a china cabinet so had to do it by feel. What a great idea!! Just canceled the call to the elctrician!
    Mary in SF

  12. CJR on October 25, 2013 at 6:55 pm

    Needle nose worked like a champ. Thank you Tim

  13. Lisa on June 7, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    Barbara – try using duct tape to cover the open socket until you get the new fan installed. It’s not optimum but it works quite well. (P.S. turn off the circuit and switch b4 you do this – ya never know.) I have a very solidly stuck socket at the moment. I actually tried the potato method (before I found this sight – PLEASE don’t laugh at me….) which I can now report does not work (yes, both the circuit and switch were off). Then I tried the pliers – it just made a mess with no real results. So I covered it with duct tape until I could calm down and try not to believe that yanking the whole dang thing out of the ceiling was a good idea. I will now try the duct tape ball suggestion next but to tell the truth I would like to have a different fixture anyway so this seems like it could be the perfect time! OK, now where’s my duct tape??!!

    • D on June 9, 2013 at 9:08 pm

      Thank you!
      Rolled up the duct tape, turned on the flash light and WOW got it done

  14. Lisa on June 7, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    Barbara – try using duct tape to cover the open socket until you get the new fan installed. It’s not optimum but it works quite well. (P.S. turn off the circuit and switch b4 you do this – ya never know.) I have a very solidly stuck socket at the moment. I actually tried the potato method (before I found this sight – PLEASE don’t laugh at me….) which I can now report does not work (yes, both the circuit and switch were off). Then I tried the pliers – it just made a mess with no real results. So I covered it with duct tape until I could calm down and try not to believe that yanking the whole dang thing out of the ceiling was a good idea. I will now try the duct tape ball suggestion next but to tell the truth I would have a different fixture anyway so this seems like it could be the perfect time! OK, now where’s my duct tape??!!

  15. Doris on May 29, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    Be sure to wear safety glasses when dealing with a ceiling fixture. Good thing we did because broken glass showered down during removal. Thanks for the advice. 1 minute & it was fixed.

  16. Cass on May 4, 2013 at 12:36 am

    So helpful!! Used needle nose pliers with the gloves didn’t work and the pliers worked! Yay! I’m so happy

  17. Barbara on April 28, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    Well, I tried needle nose pliers, but it was so rusted in that I ended up taking out most of the socket. Now I need to buy a new fan and light and call the electrician. It is really old and rusted anyway, but I don’t like an open socket; seems like a safety hazard.

  18. Kara on March 27, 2013 at 9:51 pm

    Duct tape worked perfectly!

  19. Kara on March 27, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    Duct tape rocks!!!

  20. Charlotte on March 18, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    Thank you very much, I also was about to do the potato…

  21. Charlotte on March 18, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    Thank you very much, I also was about to do the potato…

  22. Charlotte on March 18, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    Thank you very much, I also was about to do the potato…

  23. Teresa on February 20, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    You are so funny. I was totally going to try the potato

  24. Jagdish on January 2, 2013 at 7:29 pm

    My friend had this problem the other day and wanted my help removing it . I cleaned up the inside of the screw cap to remove any residue and was going to go the pliers way. Then this idea struck me. Every bulb has threading on the inside of the stuck bulb screw cap as on the outside. So I used another good bulb and tried screwing it in the stuck screw cap in a anti clockwise direction and voila. The stuck screw cap came out without difficulty. Try it.

    • Sharon on January 7, 2013 at 9:44 pm

      Jagdish you rock big time! I just removed a screw cap by placing another bulb inside as you described above, using leather gloves and glasses for safety. I told the other 5 people here watching the National championship game your method.

      • Jagdish on January 10, 2013 at 5:49 pm

        Sharon, I am glad my method worked for you. Sometimes the easiest of solutions are always the last to come by. A kid would have come to my solution faster. As adults we always complicate things.

        • Jagdish on April 9, 2013 at 6:59 pm

          I think my method would be better served with a small change keeping safety in mind. Screw in a cheap socket adapter instead of another bulb. These adapters can be bought for around a dollar at hardware stores.

    • althea on April 20, 2014 at 7:28 pm

      Tks this worked 4 me tks again!!

  25. Rhob on December 28, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    thanks for this help, but rather than “grab(ing) part of the exposed base in the socket and twist(ing)” which I tried for a long time. I inserted the needle nose into the socket and extended them pushing the pliers tight against inside of the socket and then twisted, this successfully removed the socket two broken bulbs in a row in about 30 seconds.

  26. Shevawn on December 16, 2012 at 8:47 am

    Thanks for the help. I had a small bulb from a ceiling fan that came apart. The potato thing just scared me for all the reasons you mention and sent me to google. Clearly you are the voice of reason out here. The needle nose bent the heck out of that tiny thing, so I used another shorter nosed pair of pliers and it did the trick to get it to turn. I’m so relieved! THANKS!

  27. Debra on November 14, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    I tried both the leather glove and the needle-nosed pliers without success, but duct tape did the trick!

  28. shelly on November 3, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    thank you so much!!!

  29. Barbara on November 3, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    Thanks for the help it worked, just great

  30. Wayne Wilkinson on October 6, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Duct tape did the trick! Awesome idea — especially for removing a small light bulb base. Thank you KellyB!

    • darlene on October 12, 2013 at 9:16 am

      awesome advise duct tape did the job !!!! 5 min i fixed 2 lights !!! thanks!!!

  31. KellyB on September 11, 2012 at 11:04 pm

    I used duct tape. Folded it up with the sticky side out, pushed it up in the light socket and twisted……it came out!!

    • Erin on May 14, 2013 at 9:11 am

      Kelly, thank you SO MUCH for that! I just used your idea around a tiny stuck socket in a hard to reach place… I put duct tape around a broken pencil and jammed it into the socket then twisted out the offending base. Thanks a TON for your suggestion!

      • bob on September 22, 2013 at 9:39 pm

        These solutions will not work well for high/cathedral ceiling lights accessed with the long tools – Take off the attachments and use the stub (which is smaller than the socket) and wrap a few rubber bands around it so it will fit snugly when forced in. Turn counterclockwise.

      • Janet on December 21, 2013 at 8:24 am

        Thanks KellyB. And for the truly mechanically challenged, like myself, remember leftie loosy, rightie tightie! The duct tape worked perfectly!

    • toastist on May 20, 2015 at 9:58 pm

      i did this and the base got stuck in the socket lol

    • Skye on October 23, 2015 at 11:57 am

      You’re a genius, KellyB! The duct tape trick remedy worked perfectly, and saved a call to the electrician. Thank you!

  32. Mrs B on August 9, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    Ditto!
    Thank you!

  33. B Myshelle on August 6, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK  Y O U for letting a 30 second problem be a 30 second problem!!!

  34. Jack on July 8, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    Thanks for the heads up on avoiding the potato guy’s advice. I think the best method of prevention is just not screwing the bulb in so tight. Once you feel resistance, stop. It’s a lightbulb, not a lug nut.

  35. jipino on June 14, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    Okay Tim, I’m going to wait until 2morrow to do as u’v suggested…but, thx n advance 4 ur advice!! I bliv it’ll wk, bcause of ur comments i read (thx 2 all u who commented!! really helps me, more 2 use the advice). I hav 2 broken bulbs, luckily ther the outside lights, that’s why i’m waiting until 2morrow. LOL>ther w/b light out!! I hav needle nose, so i’m ready. I WILL ck out the fuse box, because the light switch is n the OFF position already, but I don’t want any chances. 

    • English Professor on October 13, 2012 at 11:28 am

      Can you please use ENGLISH when writing a comment? What the heck? Using “words” like “bliv” and “wk.” Really? Get an education!

      • Vonclaire on November 15, 2013 at 6:14 pm

        Yes, we now reside in the age of text messaging, thus people are inclined to use unofficial abbreviations on a regular basis. On a phone it is expeditious but when using a computer just plain lazy.

      • Regina on October 4, 2015 at 9:02 pm

        I agree. Reading that comment was like someone crunching ice directly in my ear! It is sad what that this is the future of our world.

      • Keewee on January 16, 2016 at 3:02 pm

        Really…..you honestly can’t read that. You should study internet lingo. It’s really easy if you’re up for a challenge.

  36. BlindSheila on February 11, 2011 at 4:01 am

    How to Remove a Broken Light Bulb…
    PLEASE REMEMBER to wear some sort of protective eye wear!!! Although it seems unlikely that you'll get glass in your eye, it can happen quicker than you think! Be safe!

    • Stickguy on January 16, 2014 at 1:19 pm

      Listen to this person. Even the rust can fall in your eyes while you are doing this (experienced it last night!).

  37. @StacieinAtlanta on February 9, 2011 at 11:12 pm

    Thanks. I had no idea how to do this and actually threw away a lamp a few years ago.
    My recent post Wordless Wednesday – Bubble Boy with LINKY ww wordlesswednesday

  38. Alice Dick on February 8, 2011 at 11:41 pm

    Thanks, Tim! Believe it or not, I did once read an article that suggested using a carrot or potato to remove a broken bulb from the socket. If I could remember where I read it, I would chastise the writer.

  39. Paula @ Home Decor on February 8, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    I just hate it when a light bulb breaks from the base, but I always use needle nose pliers to get the base out. Then I clean the threads, and put in the new light bulb. I've never had a problem doing this and it only takes a few minutes to do.

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