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

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.  This 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, which I’ll cover in a future article.  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.

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.

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Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. BlindSheila says:

    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!

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

  5. 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 says:

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

      • 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.

  6. 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.

  7. B Myshelle says:

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

  8. Ditto!
    Thank you!

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

    • 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!

      • 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.

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

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

  11. Thanks for the help it worked, just great

  12. thank you so much!!!

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

  14. 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!

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

    • 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.

      • 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 says:

          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.

    • Tks this worked 4 me tks again!!

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

  18. Charlotte says:

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

  19. Charlotte says:

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

  20. Charlotte says:

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

  21. Duct tape rocks!!!

  22. Duct tape worked perfectly!

  23. 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.

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

  25. 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.

  26. 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??!!

  27. 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??!!

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

  28. Needle nose worked like a champ. Thank you Tim

  29. 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

  30. Toni Greenwood says:

    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!

  31. 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?

    • 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.

  32. Richard S says:

    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.

  33. Doc McGillicutty says:

    Just use a potato

  34. Wesley Thrasher says:

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