How To Remove A Broken Light Bulb – On the House

How To Remove A Broken Light Bulb

By on July 30, 2015

Things that are frustrating: A hangnail, a pen that doesn’t write, sealing the check in the envelope and then remembering you forgot to sign it, you’re a mile from home on a three mile trip and just remembered you left your wallet on the counter, and last but not least, the bulb is broken off in the socket of your favorite night light and you can find your glasses.

Well, we can’t help with most of the problems just mentioned, but we can help with the light bulb. Getting one out that’s broken off at the base doesn’t have to be a big production if you know what to do – a trick or two that is.

Most folks have a natural instinct to use force. Unfortunately, force usually does more harm than good with light bulb sockets. That’s because the base of the bulb and the socket are both made of the same material – brass. And brass is soft. Granted, the brass socket is slightly thicker – and therefore slightly stronger – than the bulb base – but not by much. By the way, before attempting to remove the bulb base UNPLUG the lamp.

The old potato trick is the one we like the best. Cut a potato in half and press it down over the socket. A slight amount of pressure is needed to cause the potato to inch its way into the inside of the socket and the bulb base. While holding downward pressure on the potato, turn it counterclockwise to unscrew the bulb base. An apple works just as well and so does a green pear. We think you get the picture. No, you can’t use a peach or a banana – they’re too soft. Although you may want to eat a peach or a banana when you’re finished getting the base out.

On rare occasions you may find that our famous potato trick won’t do the job. When that happens you may have to resort to your tool box. You’ll need one or all of 3 tools:

  • A regular pair of pliers
  • A pair of needle nose pliers
  • A screwdriver

You can use the regular pair of pliers to create friction on the inside to the bulb base. Simply insert the jaws of the pliers into the socket and open the jaws by spreading the handles apart. At the same time turn the pliers counterclockwise to loosen the base.

Needle nose pliers come in handy when the base still has entrails. The narrow jaws can easily be fitted into the base and around the glass nodule that sits in the middle. Often, a slight counterclockwise nudge is all that it takes to loosen the base.

If all else fails then you may need the assistance of a screwdriver. This is where you may cause damage to your lamp if you aren’t careful and gentle. Use a medium sized screwdriver blade to slightly pry the base away from the socket. Do this slowly. You don’t want to excessively bend the socket. All you want is enough room to get one of the jaws of the needle nose pliers between the socket and base. An eighth to a quarter-inch bite is all that you should need. Hold the pliers tightly and turn counterclockwise.

Once the bulb is out you may want to make sure that changing bulbs next time doesn’t become the major production that we’ve just described. And all you have to do is use a little steel wool to make sure that everything works smoothly.

Using a ball of 0000 steel wool, rub the inside of the lamp socket to eliminate dirt, oxidation, corrosion and any small burrs. The prepared socket should be clean, shiny and free of burrs, bumps or tears. Do the same thing to the bulb base. Be sure that it is clean and free of dirt and debris. Oh, and don’t forget that skin oil is transferred to objects by simply touching them. So, clean the base of the bulb and screw it into the lamp socket without touching either once they’ve been cleaned.

Tip: We always wipe down the bulbs we install with a soft, clean cloth. This insures that oil from our skin is not left on the bulb’s glass envelope. Believe it or not skin oil on an incandescent bulb can cause it to prematurely fail. On projects where we are changing many bulbs at once we find it wise to wear cotton gloves. We can work faster with less worry about leaving traces of oil.

Keep in mind that when you install a light bulb it should be done gently. Light bulbs are fragile to begin with and a soft touch is all that is needed to properly seat the bulb into its base. We suppose the key word that covers removal or replacement is gentle. Think gentle potato. And, that’s all there is to it. For more home improvement tips and information visit our web site at And, good luck!

For more home improvement tips and information search our website or call our listener line any time at 1-800-737-2474! All you need to do is leave your name, telephone number and your question.


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