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,
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 them] 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. 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.
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