Toolbox Essentials: Q1 2022 Catalog
How to Remove a Broken Light Bulb Safely

How to Remove a Broken Light Bulb Safely

When a light bulb breaks inside the socket, it can feel like an injury waiting to happen. Whether it broke off in your hand or, even more terrifying, spontaneously exploded, a broken light bulb is actually an easy fix. There are lots of ways to do it, and you probably already have all the tools you need for at least a couple of the methods you can use. In this article, you’ll learn the three most effective ways to remove a broken light bulb using what you have on hand, and then get a few tips for preventing light bulbs from breaking in the future.

Top 3 Methods for Removing Broken Light Bulbs

The Potato Method

Hand holding a potato

If you thought the humble potato was already the most versatile vegetable on earth, just wait till you learn that it can now also act as a handy home repair tool! It’s a very effective broken bulb remover that you probably already have in the house. It works best for bulbs that have shattered completely. Here’s how to do it:

Step 1.

Make sure the light fixture is turned off before you start this method.

Step 2.

Cut a raw potato in half, short ways. Use a paper towel to dab away excess moisture.

Step 3.

Press the cut end of the potato into the base of the bulb so that the shards of glass and filament pierce the potato and hold it in place.

Step 4.

Turn it counterclockwise, as if you were unscrewing a light bulb and not a potato.

If the potato moves but doesn’t take the base with it, grab the other half of the potato. Whittle the end down so that it is narrow enough to fit inside the base. Then, see if you can get a more secure fit with that piece.

That should do the trick!

Pro-Tip: If the power goes out, you can also use a potato to power a light bulb. Always keep potatoes in the house!

The Plier Method

Pliers may not be as cool as potatoes, but we have to admit they are useful. Pliers work best if the bulb still has some sizable shards attached. Here’s what to do:

Step 1.

Make sure the light is turned off.

Step 2.

Use a pair of needle nose pliers to grip the base of the filament. Don’t squeeze too hard.

Step 3.

Rotate the pliers counterclockwise to unscrew the bulb.
If the bulb doesn’t come loose and instead the filament breaks under the pressure of the pliers, there is still hope. Reinsert the nose of the pliers into the base. Then, open them as wide as you can so that they’re touching opposite sides of the base. While keeping the pliers open, twist them counterclockwise again until the bulb unscrews.

The Epoxy Method

If potatoes and pliers have failed you, the base might be pretty firmly welded into the socket; but don’t give up yet. You should be able to remove more stubborn bulbs with quick setting epoxy. Here’s how:

Step 1.

Turn off the light.

Step 2.

Clean out any remaining glass from the base of the bulb. Use gloves and wear eye protection while you do this.

Step 3.

Mix up a small batch of epoxy and fill the base of the bulb. Make sure to pack it in well.

Step 4.

Press a flathead screwdriver into the center of the epoxy.

Step 5.

Remove the screwdriver and let the epoxy dry. If it’s quick dry, this should only take about five minutes.

Step 6.

Once dry, insert the screwdriver again and turn counterclockwise to unscrew the base.

Preventative Measures

Why Do My Light Bulbs Keep Breaking?

Assuming you didn’t just hulk out and crush the bulb in a death grip, you’re probably wondering why the light bulb broke at all. If it’s happened more than once, you might even be wondering if it’s some sort of family curse. In reality, it’s most likely just a mismatch of wattage, or a bad light fixture. Below, you can read about some common causes of bulbs exploding or breaking and what you can do to stop it:

Mismatched Wattage

You’ve probably noticed that bulbs come in assorted wattages. Your light fixtures are also rated to handle certain wattages. While newer fixtures and larger lamps are usually rated for high watt bulbs, smaller or older fixtures might not be able to handle the bulbs you’re using.

When the bulb is a higher wattage than the fixture is rated for, it can lead to overheating. If the difference is substantial, that’s when you’ll see exploding bulbs. If the bulb’s wattage is only slightly higher, that overheating will usually be just enough to melt the aluminum base and cause it to “weld” to the fixture. Then, when you go to remove it, the base won’t turn so easily, and the glass bulb will snap off.

How to Avoid It

Check the lamp for a maximum wattage rating. It’s usually stamped somewhere inside the fixture. Make sure any new bulbs you use are at or below this maximum rating.

Faulty Socket

If the wattage of your bulb is fine but you’re still experiencing the same exploding or breaking bulbs, it might be the wiring inside the light fixture. A loose connection or damaged contact can cause lights to run hotter than usual. That heat will create the same problems seen with mismatched wattage.

How to Avoid It

If you determine that the socket is to blame, you can replace it without having to toss the whole lamp. For floor and table lamps, it’s pretty easy to replace. For permanent light fixtures, you might want to call in a professional. This is, unfortunately, above your potato’s paygrade.

Power Surge

Power surges are damaging events in which the outlets in your home are hit with a surge of voltage above what they’re capable of handling. This can happen when you have too many things plugged into your walls or it can happen because of a problem in the power grid.
Either way, if you have multiple broken light bulbs in your home or you noticed problems with other appliances at about the time your bulb exploded, this is probably what happened.

How to Avoid It

Surge protection is the best defense here. A surge protector works by automatically diverting any extra voltage so that it doesn’t make it to your light bulbs or other appliances. If the exploding bulbs are limited to only one room, you might be able to get away with buying a power strip with surge protection and plugging things into that.
If the whole house is having problems, though, you should get a whole house surge protector. This is a device that mounts directly to your fuse box and blocks excess voltage at the source. These are also helpful at preventing power surges coming from the grid.

Vibrating Light Fixtures

If the temperamental light bulb is located on a ceiling fan or in a home that’s close to railroad tracks, the problem could be the vibration. In this case, there’s no overheating involved. It’s just that constant vibrations weaken the structure of the glass. Eventually, the bulb can’t hold itself together. Even if you remove it before it shatters on its own, the glass might have become so fragile that it shatters in your hand.

How to Avoid It

If it’s a wobbly ceiling fan, you might be able to reinforce the base to stop it from wobbling as much. If it’s a case of living next to a railroad track or other source of vibration, your options are more limited. In this scenario, switch to a rough service light bulb. These have a plastic or silicone coating around the glass so that, if the glass shatters, it stays contained inside the bulb.

Low Quality Light Bulbs

Cheap bulbs are made with low quality filaments and thin materials. They burn out quickly, are prone to overheating, and are more fragile in general. If none of the other explanations make sense in your case, it might just be a matter of using low quality bulbs.

How to Avoid It

The fix here is to invest in better light bulbs. You can usually tell the quality difference by looking at the bulb itself. Here are a few quality-recognition tips for frugal bulb shoppers:

  • Check the connection point. At the bottom where the bulb connects to the socket, there is a little metal point. This should be shaped like a half moon, not a tiny dot.
  • Feel the weight. A bulb with a more solid construction will have a little more heft to it than a flimsy bulb.
  • When in doubt, switch to LED. LED bulbs use a different design, which is less prone to shattering than traditional incandescent bulbs. The only thing that could really cause an LED bulb to break is a power surge (which would break any bulb).

Final Thoughts

Whatever the cause of your broken light bulb, removing it is not as difficult as it looks. Once you’ve got the safety hazard removed, make sure you take a look at what might have caused the breaking in the first place. Once you figure out why your bulbs are breaking, you can address the root cause and avoid having to replace broken light bulbs altogether.