How to Remove a Broken Light Bulb

Broken light bulb, close-up

Achim Sass / Getty Images

Overview
  • Working Time: 5 - 10 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0 to $10

Most people have had to deal with a broken light bulb at some point. If you haven't run into this problem, you'll likely experience it in the future. When a light bulb breaks in a fixture, it usually leaves small shards of glass attached to the base, which is likely still firmly screwed into the socket. How to remove it safely and efficiently is always a challenge, but the following tricks can make removing the base easier.

Before You Begin

Make certain that the power to the fixture is off. If the problem is in a plug-connected lamp, unplug it. If it's a hard-wired fixture, turn the breaker off or remove the fuse for that circuit. It might seem like overkill to turn off the power to simply remove a broken light bulb, but it's essential if you are working with a broken incandescent bulb.

Once the glass globe of an incandescent light bulb has broken, the filament is exposed. The bulb emits light when current passes through that filament. If the circuit is closed, you are going to have current running through the part you need to work with to get the base out. That's a very dangerous situation, so make sure the flow of electricity is turned off. To be certain, use a circuit tester to confirm there's no current.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Eye protection
  • Gloves
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Broken bulb extractor
  • Circuit tester (if needed)

Materials

  • Strong trash bag
  • Potato (if needed)
  • New light bulb

Instructions

  1. Clean Up the Glass

    If there are some shards of glass still attached to the base, put on gloves and eye protection, then carefully snap off the bits of glass with your gloved fingertips. Drop the glass into a strong trash bag for disposal.

  2. Use a Broken Bulb Extractor

    This unique tool is available at most hardware and home improvement stores. A broken bulb extractor has a rubber tip to engage the base of the broken bulb. It has a plastic body with a threaded socket on the back end that allows the extractor to be screwed onto an extension pole—handy for hard-to-reach bulbs.

    Simply push the extractor firmly over the filament support and into the base, and use it to turn the base out of the socket.

  3. Try Using Needle-Nose Pliers

    If you don't want to invest in a bulb extractor, you can use pliers to turn the base out of the socket. Use a pair of needle-nose pliers to grip the metal edge of the base and start turning counter-clockwise. The base may split and start to curl up around your pliers like the top of a sardine can; that's okay. If the piece you are turning breaks off before the base turns, drop it in the trash and start on a new piece of the base.

    Eventually, the base will come out, either by turning or by being removed in pieces. Be patient and careful not to damage the socket in the process.

  4. Employ the Potato Technique

    If you don't have tools on hand, or you simply want to try something a little more fun to extract the broken light bulb, you could reach for a potato. A medium-sized uncooked potato can make an effective bulb extractor.

    Carve one end of the potato into a cylinder small enough to fit inside the base and engage it. This should be about 3/4-inch in diameter. Taper the tip of the cylinder and make a hole in the center of it to fit over the glass filament support.

    Hold the potato by the unpeeled end and, as with the broken bulb extractor, push it firmly over the filament support and into the base. Then use it to turn the base out of the socket.

  5. Inspect the Socket and Insert the New Bulb

    Inspect the socket to make sure there are no fragments of glass or metal from the old light bulb inside it. If you went the potato route, clean the inside of the socket with a clean paper towel and make sure it's dry.

    Install the new bulb. Avoid over-tightening it—you don't want to have to go through this same process the next time. Turn the power back on and enjoy your working light.