Removing a stuck recessed light bulb can be uniquely frustrating. Since the light bulb is sunk into the ceiling, it's difficult, if not impossible, to grip the sides of the bulb. But there are a few simple techniques and free or inexpensive tools you can use to safely remove a stuck recessed light bulb.
Wait until the bulb is cool before removing it. Though removing a stuck recessed light bulb may seem like a safe process, there is a distinct possibility that the bulb may break, sending shards of glass and filament into your eyes. So it's important to always wear safety glasses.
Do not use lubricants or any type of fluids to remove the recessed light bulb.
Equipment / Tools
- Step ladder
- Safety glasses
- Butter knife
- Putty knife or old credit card
- Duct tape or packing tape
- Small suction cup
Turn the Power Off
Turn off the circuit breaker for the light at the electric service panel.
Check for a Twist-and-Lock Base
Some recessed light bulbs do not have a screw base. Halogen light bulbs with the prefix "GU," such as the common GU-10 bulbs, have a twist-and-lock base. To remove a halogen bulb from a GU base:
- Feel the face of the bulb for three raised dots that identify this type of bulb/base combination.
- Gently press upward (toward the ceiling) on the bulb to disengage the hidden lugs.
- Rotate one-quarter turn counter-clockwise. The bulb, socket, and attached wire should drop down.
- Holding the socket with one hand, use your other hand to turn the bulb counter-clockwise. The bulb should come free of the socket.
Remove the Light Trim
Light trim is the decorative detachable plastic or metal cover on the recessed light. Trim is also an obstacle to gripping the sides of the light bulb. Trim is either screw-on or spring-loaded. First, check that you'll be able to remove the trim without first removing the bulb.
- Screw-on trim: Press your fingers against the inside of the trim and rotate the trim counter-clockwise until it comes off.
- Spring-loaded trim: Slide a putty knife or thin plastic like an old credit card between the trim and the ceiling. Pry the trim loose. Then, grasp the sides of the trim and pull straight downward.
With the trim removed, hold the bulb by its sides and turn counter-clockwise.
Use the Suction Cup
If you are unable to remove the trim, try a small suction cup for increased grip on conventional screw base recessed lights.
Look for a suction cup around the home: hook hangers on the fridge or mirrors, shaving mirrors, shower wall hooks, window glass hooks, and children's toys.
Clean the bulb with a dry cloth, then stick the suction cup to the face of the bulb and turn counter-clockwise to remove the stuck bulb.
Use the Tape on the Bulb Face
Improvising a handle from duct or packing tape can give you more grip on the face of the recessed light bulb.
- Rip off a strip of tape 3 inches long.
- Hold the left and right sides of the tape with each hand. The adhesive should be facing up.
- Move the two sides toward each other, letting the center drop by about 1-inch. The center will stick together.
- Stick the left and right sides on the face of the bulb.
- Use the center part of the tape as a handle to rotate the stuck bulb.
Use the Tape on the Sides of the Bulb
If you are unable to remove the bulb by sticking tape to the face, try extending the tape to the sides of the bulb for improved leverage.
- Cut off a piece of duct or packing tape about 8 inches long.
- Using a butter knife, stick one side of the tape against the side of the bulb. Press firmly.
- Repeat the previous step on the other side of the bulb. The tape should now dangle under the bulb as a C-shaped loop.
- Insert the butter knife into the loop.
- Turn the butter knife counter-clockwise until the tape twists and bunches up on the knife.
- Using the knife as a handle, rotate to remove the stuck recessed light bulb.
When to Call a Professional
If you've exhausted the methods in this guide, it's time to call an electrician to remove the stuck recessed light bulb. It may be time to remove the recessed light from the ceiling for optimal access to the bulb.