Is there a way to unscrew a light bulb that has broken?

40

6

The recessed light in my bathroom broke while trying to unscrew it, and only the metal collar remains. What is the best way to get that remaining part out?

Mike Phillison

Posted 2014-08-18T13:39:18.910

Reputation: 203

2I have never come across this problem in the UK, is there something different about USA bulbs? – Walker – 2014-08-18T16:06:13.523

9

@Walker In the USA, incandescent bulbs nigh-universally use Edison screw connectors—compare to UK bayonet mounts. The metal base of an Edison-screw bulb is completely inside the socket when installed, so you have to apply torque to the glass envelope to remove it again. If the glass breaks off, there is nothing to grab without tools. Also, the entire screw is the neutral contact, and is therefore potentially hot if the socket is miswired.

– zwol – 2014-08-18T16:54:49.910

4Or if enough broken glass is left, half a potato. Don't laugh, it works. I also use a little silicone spray on the threads of the new bulb I put in to prevent the issue down the road. – Fiasco Labs – 2014-08-18T21:18:39.503

6After confirming that the power is really off (a non-contact tester is helpful for that), I've always used a suitable diameter of carrot. You can usually find one that will fit into the bulb base. It is soft enough to cram in place, and woody enough to stay intact as you twist it. Don't eat the carrot after removing the base, unless eating light bulbs is something you enjoy doing... – RBerteig – 2014-08-18T23:45:25.527

After doing your best to ensure that the power is off good dry leather gloves and eye protection are in order. – user24125 – 2014-08-19T16:04:07.483

3I've always had good luck with insulated handle needle nose pliers. – user24125 – 2014-08-19T16:08:09.390

5Huh, taters and carrots? Be careful, maybe you should turn off the power unless you wanna be the steak. (please don't down-vote for that horrible horrible pun) – Sidney – 2014-08-19T19:02:20.620

@Walker I had a bayonet candle bulb come away in my hand leaving just the base a few days ago. It wasn't the first time. But with BC turning the circuit off and using insulated pliers is easy. – Chris H – 2014-08-19T19:18:16.113

Answers

50

With the power off at the breaker, and verified with a non-contact tester, I've always just used a pair of needle nose pliers to grip the rim of the bulb base and turn it to remove. If the bulb is really stuck you might try spraying some WD40 around it.

A similar alternative, as others have mentioned in the comments, is to expand a pair of pliers inside of the base in order to grip the inside and turn it.

Steven

Posted 2014-08-18T13:39:18.910

Reputation: 25 081

A pair of expanding pliers may help too. You can get inside the bulb base and press out to unscrew it. Don't use too much force. – Freiheit – 2014-08-18T14:21:04.573

15You should clarify to turn the power off at the breaker; lots of light circuits out there have their switches at the end of the run so the fixture will still have live even when off. – Niall C. – 2014-08-18T14:24:59.980

5@NiallC. That's technically against code and has been for at least 20 years, but good reminder that many houses are much older than that. – KeithS – 2014-08-18T14:38:46.190

A switch downstream of the light (or a switched neutral) is a subtle error. I suspect it's fairly common, especially with DIY work. Definitely turn off power at the breaker and/or check for voltage. – Henry Jackson – 2014-08-18T17:35:46.403

5@KeithS Considering the question is not specific as to the country, that alone should be enough to work with as few assumptions as possible. – G. Bach – 2014-08-18T19:13:41.900

2Duck Bill pliers work especially well for getting purchase on the inside of the base. Instead of squeezing, expand the handles so the square edges of the bill dig into the base down inside. You have a lot more leverage and you're working from inside the socket with a larger surface area to push against. – Fiasco Labs – 2014-08-18T21:22:20.210

Answer: Yes, carefully. – Nick Grealy – 2014-08-19T02:28:24.600

Side cutters suit very well too. – sharptooth – 2014-08-19T11:53:43.983

1I've done this several times with needle-nose pliers, as @Freiheit suggests, expanding outward: spreading the two handles away from one another so both tips push against the insides of the metal base. And then the other six guys turn your ladder. – BobStein-VisiBone – 2014-08-19T12:38:52.917

8@KeithS Yes, many houses are more than 20 years old. Also, many houses (actually, the overwhelming majority of them) are not in whatever country you're talking about whose building code changed 20 years ago. – David Richerby – 2014-08-19T13:13:30.780

7Wear safety glasses when you do this, especially if the light fixture is mounted in/on the ceiling, because little bits of broken glass will fall in your eyes. – Doug McClean – 2014-08-19T15:46:38.757

If those pliers are insulated, it is going to be a bit safer. – kasperd – 2014-08-19T16:37:54.893

1@KeithS what about double-switched circuits? (I know little of US wiring codes, being in the UK). – Chris H – 2014-08-19T19:19:29.057

5@David: Thank you. I hate that. My house is 400 years old and we don't have any "codes". This Americentricism needs to stop. – Lightness Races in Orbit – 2014-08-20T01:31:58.470

Yep, needle-nosed pliers (after assuring the socket is dead). Two ways to grip the base, either grab the edge or jab the jaws into the base and spread the handle. The latter is easier, but the former is sometimes necessary with a stuck base. Worst case, grab the edge, twist to bend the base slightly, then slide the jaws down as far as possible and twist more, "peeling" the soft aluminum base out of the socket. – Hot Licks – 2014-08-20T15:40:37.107

1Re US code, it's been the established code for at least 50 years that the switch must be in the "hot" side, so that the socket is completely de-energized when the switch is off. Of course, the code is poorly enforced (if at all) in some areas, and there's always a danger that the homeowner did some wiring without following code. Plus there certainly are older homes that do not follow the code at all. – Hot Licks – 2014-08-20T15:47:30.907

(One advantage of using needle-nose pliers is that you can use a pair with well-insulated handles to very carefully operate on a "hot" socket. In such a case, though, don't use the "jab and spread" technique as you risk shorting the socket and spraying sparks in your face.) – Hot Licks – 2014-08-20T15:47:47.023

@HotLicks there's no reason to work with the socket hot. All it takes is accidental contact with the metal part of the pliers and you get shocked. – Steven – 2014-08-20T20:26:57.903

1@Steven - Actually, there are all sorts of reasons, and one or two of them are fairly good ones. – Hot Licks – 2014-08-20T20:36:42.547

Leather gloves along with eye protection a non conductive ladder and a insulated tool whichever one you choose will go a long way toward keeping your injuries to a minimum just in case you are unsuccessful at making sure that the power is off. – user24125 – 2014-08-21T04:45:39.707

1Most people on this site are homeowners, not electricians. Most will not have the proper tools or know-how to work with live circuits safely. In a residential, DIY setting there is no reason to work with the power on, – Steven – 2014-08-21T13:17:30.333

29

In a pinch, if you lack a bulb remover, you can use a potato to remove a broken light bulb.

Essentually, you just cut it to a size that'll fit into the socket, but engage with whatever's left of the broken bulb, then twist.

This youtube video illustrates the technique.

snapshot of the potato technique

Joe

Posted 2014-08-18T13:39:18.910

Reputation: 299

@philipthegreat I came here to share that. He's a link that hasn't rotted yet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hx2150stVR4

– Engineer Toast – 2017-10-25T20:40:32.960

4You use the potato to hold the broken piece of glass. From the sound of it, the OP doesn't have any glass left to grip onto. – Niall C. – 2014-08-18T14:16:54.500

1itvoteIm grabs onto the base and where the filament connects. I just did this for the first time in my life and it worked like a charm. – JoeTaxpayer – 2014-08-18T21:23:11.050

1

This was my first thought when reading the question. Saw it on an episode of Home Improvement. http://youtu.be/tY5WxDqggbs?t=4m48s

– philipthegreat – 2014-08-19T21:11:09.807

12

I've never been all that comfortable with @Steven's solution, as it's hard to be sure the power to the light is off when the bulb is broken so you can check, unless you shut off the whole house (or the circuits are actually really well labeled.) Pull-chain switched lights and 3-way switched lights are particularly difficult in this regard.

So I bought a broken bulb remover - 2 sizes of rubber tip on an insulated plastic handle. Big one slips over the little one. Broom-handle/extension-pole threads on the far end. Don't use it often, but nice to have when needed.

Bulb extractor

Ecnerwal

Posted 2014-08-18T13:39:18.910

Reputation: 53 241

7You can check with a non-contact voltage detector. Better investment than a broken bulb remover, IMHO. – gregmac – 2014-08-18T15:57:28.630

16I see no need in buying a specialty tool to handle a once in a long while problem. I find it is better to use two general purpose tools; The needle nose pliers and a non contact voltage tester. – diceless – 2014-08-18T16:03:46.193

1This would be useful in a business with tall ceilings, and no ladders. Just recently I ended up using two folding pliers while on top of a ladder to remove a broken bulb. ( I carry both on me regularly ) – Brad Gilbert – 2014-08-19T14:00:19.660

That looks easy to make - a length of dowel or plastic tube wrapped in reasonably sturdy foam and duct tape. – Chris H – 2014-08-19T19:20:49.527

3

If only the metal collar remains (no glass), and if the pliers don't quite fit outside the collar, it's still quite easy:

  1. Crimp a portion of the metal collar inward with the pliers.
  2. Crimp the opposite side of the metal collar inward (opposite meaning 180-degrees away from the first position).
  3. Use the crimped portions to grip the metal collar from the outside. If the socket is tightly gripping the collar, hold the socket in-place as you rotate the collar out.

I myself did this just a few weeks ago. No potatoes required.

control_guy

Posted 2014-08-18T13:39:18.910

Reputation: 31

1

Four words: Use a large carrot.

ThePopMachine

Posted 2014-08-18T13:39:18.910

Reputation: 432

5To do what, exactly? – Niall C. – 2014-08-20T02:15:13.203

@NiallC. I assume that was a joke. :) In case it wasn't: Take big carrot, shove into the light bulb base. Rotate. – ThePopMachine – 2014-08-20T15:52:17.223

Four more words should proceed your statement; "Turn off the power..." – ChiefTwoPencils – 2015-01-15T02:50:29.333

1

With the breaker off, I use a pair of needle-nose pliers as 'fingers', opening them up inside the base. Keep the pressure on and twist.

Tony Ennis

Posted 2014-08-18T13:39:18.910

Reputation: 241

0

I have used a tennis ball for this very purpose. Just shove the tennis ball forcefully against the remaining bulb base, and continue pushing inward while turning counter-clockwise. Tennis ball

dotancohen

Posted 2014-08-18T13:39:18.910

Reputation: 143

0

Ive had it happen to me many times. My Solution, turn off the power (IMPORTANT) Using an insulated screwdriver with a large flat blade >8mm, stick it into the bulb base and turn anticlockwise. Works every time.

JimC

Posted 2014-08-18T13:39:18.910

Reputation: 1

0

With the breaker off I usually just use my Leathermans pliers. I put it inside closed, then open it and screw it out!

Josef

Posted 2014-08-18T13:39:18.910

Reputation: 101

-1

I've removed dozens of broken light bulbs. I use a partially used bar of soap. cut the bar in half, press the soap against the remains of the bulb, then unscrew it. Toss the whole mess in the garbage. I like Ivory(tm) soap for the tool box, it's cheap and lasts for decades.

When you replace the bulb rub a light coat of soap on the threads of the new bulb.

A piece of bar soap in the toolbox is very handy for lubing screws before using them, lubing drawers, door latches, cabinet latches and in dire emergencies one could concievably use it to wash one's hands.

Nah, that's just crazy talk.

Gerry N.

Posted 2014-08-18T13:39:18.910

Reputation: 9

2I don't think you should use soap on electrical connections. Wood screws, fine but not electrical. The proper product to use for lubricating electrical components is dielectric grease – Steven – 2014-08-21T15:15:03.527

@Steven I don't think he's using it to lube the light. He's using it to jam into the broken bulb to get a grip. – Chris Cudmore – 2014-08-21T16:19:15.770

3@ChrisCudmore, his answer says "When you replace the bulb rub a light coat of soap on the threads of the new bulb." – Steven – 2014-08-21T17:21:35.670

-1

A large cork is my best solution - preferably real cork as it grips better than the composite fake corks.

Brentworth

Posted 2014-08-18T13:39:18.910

Reputation: 1