How to Remove a Stuck Outdoor Flood Light

Dear Home-Ec 101,
I cannot remove a burned out flood light. I guess I have to break it first unless you have another suggestion.
Donna, in the Dark

Heather says

The good news is we have a couple of ideas to try before resorting to Hulk smash to remove the floodlight. Even if you have to resort to breaking the bulb to start the removal process, the most important step is to turn off the power. Turning off the power means walking to the garage or wherever your breaker box is located and turning off the power by flipping the breaker or removing the fuse. 

Cross your heart and pinky swear you’ll turn the power off at the breaker.

Houses are frequently wired incorrectly, spouses and children walk by and absentmindedly flip switches. You’ll likely be on a ladder for this chore and that’s a bad place to get that kind of shock.

Make sure your ladder is tall enough that you can stand solidly on it and still comfortably reach your lightbulb with a little leverage. This means no tiptoes with your arms stretched nearly to the max.

Falls aren’t fun.

how to remove a stuck floodlight

There are two tools that may help you skip the whole bulb breaking and needle nose pliers route. This isn’t a promise though.

A strip of duct tape about 12 inches long. While it doesn’t have to be exact, you want it closer to 12 than not.


A suction cup like this one. You can find these at home supply stores like Lowes or Home Depot. Check the reviews of the suction cup before purchasing, but if you plan on using it to insert bulbs as well as help with stuck bulbs make sure it has a string to release the suction.

Duct Tape Method 

If you want to go the duct tape route, apply the middle of the strip of duct tape across the diameter of the flat surface of the bulb. You will have two trailing ends, take each end and fold it back on itself, sticky side to sticky side so that you now have two not-sticky tails hanging from either side of the lightbulb.

Plant your feet firmly on the ladder and grasp the handles you’ve created as far from the bulb as you can. *DO NOT PULL DOWNWARD* 

Begin twisting counter-clockwise, not pulling down. The handles you created allow you to apply more force without applying unequal points of pressure (from your fingers’ grip on the bulb). Simple machines ftw!

Remember, pulling downward will increase the friction of the threads in the socket making the stuck bulb even harder to turn.

This may give you enough torque to remove the bulb without breaking it. Clean the socket with fine steel wool and wiping it with a cloth to remove the metal bits, to prevent the next bulb from sticking.

Do not lubricate the socket.

The suction cup method is an alternative to the duct tape method, it is not step 2.

Suction Cup Method

As you know the concept of the suction cup is centuries old, but in this case, instead of sucking water, we’ll be . . . Sorry, got carried away. 

First clean the surface of the bulb, then moisten (eew) the suction cup. These steps will ensure the suction cup can get a good seal on the bulb’s surface.

Apply the suction cup to the bulb and press firmly to push the air out of the cup and create the suction. 

Do not pull downward when twisting this increases pressure on the threads and will make it harder to remove the bulb.

Twist slowly to release the bulb. 

Just like with the duct tape handles this method more evenly distributes the force you’re applying to the bulb and should let you loosen it without breaking it.

The suction cup tool is great to have on hand if you have recessed lights where the housing is too close to the bulb to grip it properly. It’s also an economic and morally sound alternative to child labor.

If neither of these methods work, get some eye protection, break the bulb (while it’s wrapped in a towel), and follow the instructions here for removing a broken bulb from the socket

Good luck!

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