How to Fix Recessed Lights' Spring Clips

Recessed lights' spring clips being fixed with yellow staple gun

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

Overview
  • Working Time: 15 - 30 mins
  • Total Time: 15 - 30 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner

When they work right, recessed lights tuck neatly out of the way and remain flush with the ceiling. They are especially good in low-ceiling areas such as basements. But the mechanics of getting recessed lights to stay up, flush, and out of the way, can be tricky.

If you own recessed lights, no doubt you have at least a couple that are in crooked positions, likely due to spring clips that refuse to stay in place. If you are truly unlucky, that one light has multiple spring clips that have failed, leaving the entire light hanging by wires.

Before you Begin

It helps to first understand how a recessed light spring clip works. If you could see inside of a closed ceiling plenum, you would see engaged clips that look much like the legs of a spider. When you press the clips into place, the clip will move first upward and then downward to form a leg. Four of these springy legs combine to hold the light in place against the ceiling drywall.

When properly engaged, the clip will lock in place and you can feel it as it clicks. When the clip does not engage, the clip will be loose. It might even look like it is flat against the inside of the light, but when you touch it, the clip rattles, which means it is not doing its job,

2 Simple Repairs That May Fix the Spring Clips

Before taking the more decisive repair detailed below, you may want to first try these two repairs often recommended for failing recessed light spring clips.

Bend the Spring Clip

With the light disengaged and accessible, bend the spring clips outward. This may help the clips better engage when the light is pushed back into place.

Strike the Spring Clip

Another method recommended by some do-it-yourselfers and even a few electricians is to sharply rap the spring clip once—and just once—into place with a small, heavy object such as a pair of side-cutting lineman's pliers. If one rap does not do it, subsequent raps rarely will help.

Tip

Constructed of thin sheet metal, a few electrical wires, and a lamp base, there isn't much to your average can (recessed) light. And the more you wiggle and fuss with the light, the more you weaken their structure, so don't overdo either of the methods mentioned above.

Permanently Jam the Spring Clip in Place

Often the methods of re-bending the clip and striking it simply will not work. Wedging an item such as a staple in place becomes one of the better options for getting the spring clip to stay in place.

To permanently jam a spring clip in place, you need just one tool: a heavy-duty staple gun. You cannot use an office stapler or even a lightweight shop stapler. 

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Heavy-duty staple gun
  • Ladder
  • Voltage tester
  • Flat-head screwdriver

Materials

  • Staples

Instructions

Photo composite of materials and tools to fix recessed lights' spring clips

The Spruce / Hilary Allison

  1. Turn Off the Power

    At the electric service panel, turn off the circuit breaker servicing the recessed light that you intend to fix. 

    Circuit breaker switched off in electric service panel

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  2. Access the Light

    Place the ladder under the light. Remove the bulb, then remove the entire light from the ceiling by pulling downward. With a voltage tester, make sure that no power is flowing through the electric cables.

    Check to make sure that all electrical wires are properly fastened to joists and safely clear of the lower portion of the light. Replace the light with the bulb still removed and push the spring clips into place.

    Recessed light removed from the ceiling and cables tested with voltage tester

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  3. Staple Between the Clip and the Housing

    If you manage to aim just right, you can fire a staple so that one leg of the staple jams between the clip and the housing. The other staple leg bends over to form an arm that holds the clip in place. 

    Yellow staple gun placing a staple between the clip and housing in the recessed lighting hole

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  4. Puncture Recessed Light Housing

    If you don't manage to fire on target, an alternate method is to actually puncture the recessed light housing with one leg of the staple. The other leg will form the arm that holds the clip in place.

    The reason this works is that the housing is made of thinner, cheaper material than the sturdier clip. 

    Staple gun puncturing the recessed light housing with one leg of the staple

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

Going Forward

As noted before, recessed lights are best left alone. The more you work at them, the weaker they get. Your light likely has a lifespan of one or two more re-staplings before you simply need to replace the entire light housing.