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How to Remove a Broken Light Bulb

Light bulbSo... welcome to the club!! You broke a bulb in the socket, and you feel like a klutz!

Your shouldn't feel too bad! After all, Murphy's Law says that the most likely bulb to break is the most difficult to replace, i.e. cathedral ceiling recessed floodlights!  Well, let's see what we can do to get it out.

I suppose you have heard of the old potato trick. Cut a potato in half, push it into the bulb base, and twist it out. Does it really work? I guess it could, though I must admit (sigh) that I never tried it.  Why, you ask?  I guess it's because I don't carry a potato in my toolkit!

HOW MANY POTATOES DOES IT TAKE TO ELECTROCUTE A HANDYMAN?

Only one... if the power is on!  Sometimes, it's hard to tell whether the power is on, especially in a 3-way circuit where the switches don't have an obvious on/off position.  And when the bulb is broken, it may be impossible to determine the circuit breaker to turn off.  Which means you'll need to turn off the main.

FIRST THE REMEDY... THEN PREVENTION!!

  1.  First and foremost, make sure the electric power is off.  If you can't determine which circuit the fixture is on, turn off ALL circuits.
  2.  Put down a tarp to catch any remaining broken glass from the old bulb.
  3. Leather gloves are preferred if you have to touch the broken bulb base.
  4. Wear eye protection, especially if you are working on an overhead fixture.  A hat might also help keep glass off your head!

There are two ways to take out the bulb's base...

Way 1

  • Using both hands, insert the pliers as far into the broken base as you can.
  • Spread the handles apart, exerting force against the sides of the bulb base with the tips of the pliers, and rotate counter-clockwise (the pliers, I mean).
  • Continue turning until the base is out. If you meet resistance, turn base back in slightly and then back out. The idea is to remove the broken bulb base, not break the fixture.

If the first method doesn't work, try this:

Way 2

  • CAREFULLY insert a small screwdriver or awl between the bulb base and the socket. Bend the bulb base SLIGHTLY INWARD, just enough to allow the needlenose pliers to get a grip.
  • Hold the pliers firmly and begin to turn the base out, counterclockwise. You will probably meet some resistance. When you do, turn the base back in slightly, then out again. The trick is to work the base out, not break the fixture.

Prevention... DON'T OVERTIGHTEN YOUR BULBS!!

If you follow this simple, commonsense guideline, you will probably never have to remove another broken bulb (unless you do it for other people)!

When you replace a bulb, turn the bulb in just until you feel slight resistance. Turn the switch on. If the bulb lights without flickering, you are DONE.  Do not turn the bulb any further!

If bulb has not lit, turn switch back off, turn bulb a quarter turn, and try again.

Do this until the bulb lights. Never screw in a bulb so tightly that it bottoms out.

NOTE:  You should always have the switch (or power) off when replacing a bulb because (1) the resulting spark can damage the contacts in the fixture and (2) bulbs do occasionally burst upon lighting!

Let there be light!!

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Jerry Alonzy, the founder of Naturalhandyman.com

Written by Jerry Alonzy

Jerry Alonzy, a.k.a. the Natural Handyman, has been an active handyman for over 30 years with experience in most areas of home repair and renovation.

As a do-it-yourself author and web developer since 1995, he has been featured in USA Today, the Today Show and on radio shows, magazines, newspapers and websites. His material appears widely on the web, but primarily on his website... The Natural Handyman. You can also find him on Google+.