Light Bulb Socket Lubricant?

Dear Home-Ec 101,

Why does Tim say “Do not attempt to lubricate either the socket or the bulb with any household products like WD-40, petroleum jelly, or mineral oil?” in the post How to Remove a Broken Light Bulb?

I have done that before with no problems.

Thanks,
I like my sockets slick

Heather says:

There are several reasons to not use most household products to lubricate the light bulb socket or the threads of a light bulb.

1. If the lubricant chosen is a conductor and gets on the contact you could cause a short.

2. Petroleum jelly is dielectric and acts as an insulator. If you get any of the petroleum jelly on the contact it can cause the bulb not to function.

3. Lubricants can trap dirt in the threads causing another stuck light bulb.

4. Some lubricants will dry over time and either corrode or create a “glue” making the bulb difficult to remove. The heat from the socket can  also increase the viscosity of the lube to the point of tackiness and I’m not talking about mixing plaids and stripes.

There are specific lubricants available, but these are not run of the mill household products. The lubricants for electrical applications are generally for instances such as outdoor signage where light bulbs would be exposed to the elements and vibration, situations that make corrosion and sticking more likely.

Simply wiping the light bulb and socket before insertion, in general, is enough to prevent a light bulb from sticking in the socket.

Since most standard lightbulb bases are aluminum, and being such are covered in aluminum oxide which is stable and unlikely to corrode.* That being said, it’s still possible to have a bit of corrosion in present in a socket, usually in outdoor situations, leading to problems inserting or removing a bulb.  Turn off the power to the light fixture, preferably at the breaker. Use a wire (bronze) brush to clean up  the socket or you could also use a Scotchbright pad.

Let me emphasize this point: Do NOT clean a light socket without first turning off the power.

*Now if you want to get picky and technical and I know some of you do. Yes, aluminum oxide IS corrosion, however it forms almost instantly and creates a non-reactive, protective barrier insulating the rest of the aluminum from further contact with oxygen which would cause more corrosion. Carry on.

For the TL/DR crowd:  There are very few reasons to lubricate your light sockets and plenty of reasons not to.

Now all of you should be quite proud of me, I made it through four hundred words without any off-color jokes about sockets and lube.

Or not.

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

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Comments

    • HeatherSolos says

      @TheAmyTucker yep. It was a legitimate reader question, the name was changed to protect the innocent.

  1. ribblefizz says

     @TheAmyTucker Having just spent an hour and 45 minutes in 100+ degree heat with a bad back trying to get the base of a bulb out of a socket, I very seriously considered doing it, to prevent this from happening again.  It is not necessarily an idle or stupid question.
     
    I live in the desert southwest.  My outside lightbulbs are only turned on very rarely, and thus one of the bulbs over the front door lasted more than five years before it burned out. Unfortunately, the extremely arid conditions around here mean that whatever holds the glass to the aluminum had long ago crumbled into dust without my knowing, and when I turned the lightbulb to unscrew it, the glass bulb plopped out into my hand. I used a specially-marketed tool (which spun around beautifully in the socket but didn’t even come close to budging it loose), needle-nose and regular pliers (the former to try to give the latter something to grab hold of), various other likely-looking tools, half a potato, a balled-up washcloth, and my bare fingers.  Finally a neighbor came to see what the matter was and helped me disconnect the entire socket from the wiring. Once we had the socket in hand it was easier to work with, but even so he – an impressively burly fellow – needed fifteen minutes to work it loose.  There was not a scrap of rust anywhere; it was just that well wedged in there.
     
    To add insult to injury, when I turned the power back on after re-connecting the socket, a lightbulb in my office burned out with a pop, and when I went to unscrew it, the same ?*&$%! thing happened with that one!!! Fortunately it was only a few minutes’ work to undo that one’s base. I am now googling for ways to prevent this from happening again, while I wait for the pain pills to kick in so I can stand up again.
     
    In short, the combination of extremely dry conditions, and probably cheap (or maybe defective?) bulbs, made this a legitimate issue for me, however silly it may seem to others. I don’t know if the original question was from one who just prefers minimal effort in light-bulb changing or someone who had a similar experience to mine, but I’m off to see if Amazon has any of the special lubricants Heather mentioned…

    • Dale says

      I just found a new product advertised in my Handyman magazine. You might want to research this before using; it’s called, “AURU Bulb & Socke LUBE, STOP the STICKING!” The short “Tip” article recommended to look for it at your home center or hardware store.

  2. maurice says

    I have fans with lights at about 20 ft in the air I use a 11ft bulb remover to replace them . If a bulb gets stuck as it has in the past I need to hire someone with a scaffold to remove it. Since I discovered “bulb grease” I have had no problem with sticking bulbs. I think it is put out by versachem