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I've replaced the 3-way socket in a table lamp about 4 times in the past 6 years. Each time it works for 6 months or so, but eventually the secondary contact that touches the "ring" on the base of the 3-way bulb (the low-intensity filament) starts arcing and the lamp flickers. This progresses to the point where the lamp flickers most of the time, at which point I replace the socket. Up until this last time the only sockets I could find locally were Leviton brand. Last weekend I found a Westinghouse brand socket at the local DIY box store.

Why does this happen? Anybody else have this problem? Will the Westinghouse 3-way socket have the same problem, and does anybody make a socket that will last longer?

EDIT: Adding some answers to good questions raised in posts below:

  • Does the arcing problem happen with new bulbs?

Once it starts arcing it happens with any bulb. The contact for the low-wattage filament (the off-center contact) looks pitted and corroded.

  • Is the lampshade (if any) attached to the bulb, and could be stressing the socket?

The lampshade is attached to a harp, there's no mechanical stress on the bulb.

  • When it starts arcing, are the bulbs loose? If so, can they be tightened? Or are they screwed down all the way, but they wiggle laterally?

When a socket first starts flickering, tightening the bulb more tightly will quiet it for awhile, but that stops working eventually.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Along the same lines as Brian, I've never had this problem. Some questions about other causes:

  • Does the arcing problem happen with new bulbs?
  • Is the lampshade (if any) attached to the bulb, and could be stressing the socket?
  • When it starts arcing, are the bulbs loose? If so, can they be tightened? Or are they screwed down all the way, but they wiggle laterally?
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Good questions. I've answered them in my original post. I think for now I'll see what happens with the new (non-Leviton brand) socket. The Levitons always looked kind of flimsy and the new one has a much more robust feel to it. –  Jim Garrison Aug 31 '10 at 1:30
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Please reserve using Answers for actual answers. If you have questions for the OP, you should add a comment to the question. –  tnorthcutt Aug 31 '10 at 13:20
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Maybe you've got something else going on? I've never seen this problem before and I have a number of 3-way lamps!

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I agree - I've never had this problem with a three way lamp - even the cheapo Walmart ones. –  Doresoom Aug 26 '10 at 13:08
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Lamp blowouts can be a sign of an improperly grounded outlet, you want to make sure that isn't the case because that's a fire hazard.

Other issues could be:

  • Overvoltage - many houses have more than 120 V coming in... I believe there is a 10% variance. Cheap bulbs will die quickly when there is more than 120 V. Try a 130 V rated bulb.
  • Heat - Some 3-way bulbs go up to 150 watts, which is too high for many lamps.
  • Heat - Some lampshades, especially if they are customized for appearance, do not dissipate heat quickly enough. Heat = low bulb life
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