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The recessed light in my bathroom broke while trying to unscrew it, and only the metal collar remains. What is the best way to get that remaining part out?

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@Walker In the USA, incandescent bulbs nigh-universally use Edison screw connectors—compare to UK bayonet mounts. The metal base of an Edison-screw bulb is completely inside the socket when installed, so you have to apply torque to the glass envelope to remove it again. If the glass breaks off, there is nothing to grab without tools. Also, the entire screw is the neutral contact, and is therefore potentially hot if the socket is miswired. –  Zack Aug 18 at 16:54
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Or if enough broken glass is left, half a potato. Don't laugh, it works. I also use a little silicone spray on the threads of the new bulb I put in to prevent the issue down the road. –  Fiasco Labs Aug 18 at 21:18
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After confirming that the power is really off (a non-contact tester is helpful for that), I've always used a suitable diameter of carrot. You can usually find one that will fit into the bulb base. It is soft enough to cram in place, and woody enough to stay intact as you twist it. Don't eat the carrot after removing the base, unless eating light bulbs is something you enjoy doing... –  RBerteig Aug 18 at 23:45
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I've always had good luck with insulated handle needle nose pliers. –  user24125 Aug 19 at 16:08
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Huh, taters and carrots? Be careful, maybe you should turn off the power unless you wanna be the steak. (please don't down-vote for that horrible horrible pun) –  Sidney Aug 19 at 19:02

11 Answers 11

up vote 44 down vote accepted

With the power off at the breaker, and verified with a non-contact tester, I've always just used a pair of needle nose pliers to grip the rim of the bulb base and turn it to remove. If the bulb is really stuck you might try spraying some WD40 around it.

A similar alternative, as others have mentioned in the comments, is to expand a pair of pliers inside of the base in order to grip the inside and turn it.

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You should clarify to turn the power off at the breaker; lots of light circuits out there have their switches at the end of the run so the fixture will still have live even when off. –  Niall C. Aug 18 at 14:24
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@NiallC. That's technically against code and has been for at least 20 years, but good reminder that many houses are much older than that. –  KeithS Aug 18 at 14:38
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@KeithS Considering the question is not specific as to the country, that alone should be enough to work with as few assumptions as possible. –  G. Bach Aug 18 at 19:13
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@KeithS Yes, many houses are more than 20 years old. Also, many houses (actually, the overwhelming majority of them) are not in whatever country you're talking about whose building code changed 20 years ago. –  David Richerby Aug 19 at 13:13
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Wear safety glasses when you do this, especially if the light fixture is mounted in/on the ceiling, because little bits of broken glass will fall in your eyes. –  Doug McClean Aug 19 at 15:46

In a pinch, if you lack a bulb remover, you can use a potato to remove a broken light bulb.

Essentually, you just cut it to a size that'll fit into the socket, but engage with whatever's left of the broken bulb, then twist.

This youtube video illustrates the technique.

snapshot of the potato technique

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You use the potato to hold the broken piece of glass. From the sound of it, the OP doesn't have any glass left to grip onto. –  Niall C. Aug 18 at 14:16
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itvoteIm grabs onto the base and where the filament connects. I just did this for the first time in my life and it worked like a charm. –  JoeTaxpayer Aug 18 at 21:23
    
This was my first thought when reading the question. Saw it on an episode of Home Improvement. youtu.be/tY5WxDqggbs?t=4m48s –  philipthegreat Aug 19 at 21:11

I've never been all that comfortable with @Steven's solution, as it's hard to be sure the power to the light is off when the bulb is broken so you can check, unless you shut off the whole house (or the circuits are actually really well labeled.) Pull-chain switched lights and 3-way switched lights are particularly difficult in this regard.

So I bought a broken bulb remover - 2 sizes of rubber tip on an insulated plastic handle. Big one slips over the little one. Broom-handle/extension-pole threads on the far end. Don't use it often, but nice to have when needed.

Bulb extractor

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You can check with a non-contact voltage detector. Better investment than a broken bulb remover, IMHO. –  gregmac Aug 18 at 15:57
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I see no need in buying a specialty tool to handle a once in a long while problem. I find it is better to use two general purpose tools; The needle nose pliers and a non contact voltage tester. –  diceless Aug 18 at 16:03
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This would be useful in a business with tall ceilings, and no ladders. Just recently I ended up using two folding pliers while on top of a ladder to remove a broken bulb. ( I carry both on me regularly ) –  Brad Gilbert Aug 19 at 14:00
    
That looks easy to make - a length of dowel or plastic tube wrapped in reasonably sturdy foam and duct tape. –  Chris H Aug 19 at 19:20

If only the metal collar remains (no glass), and if the pliers don't quite fit outside the collar, it's still quite easy:

  1. Crimp a portion of the metal collar inward with the pliers.
  2. Crimp the opposite side of the metal collar inward (opposite meaning 180-degrees away from the first position).
  3. Use the crimped portions to grip the metal collar from the outside. If the socket is tightly gripping the collar, hold the socket in-place as you rotate the collar out.

I myself did this just a few weeks ago. No potatoes required.

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Four words: Use a large carrot.

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To do what, exactly? –  Niall C. Aug 20 at 2:15
    
@NiallC. I assume that was a joke. :) In case it wasn't: Take big carrot, shove into the light bulb base. Rotate. –  ThePopMachine Aug 20 at 15:52

With the breaker off, I use a pair of needle-nose pliers as 'fingers', opening them up inside the base. Keep the pressure on and twist.

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I have used a tennis ball for this very purpose. Just shove the tennis ball forcefully against the remaining bulb base, and continue pushing inward while turning counter-clockwise. Tennis ball

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Ive had it happen to me many times. My Solution, turn off the power (IMPORTANT) Using an insulated screwdriver with a large flat blade >8mm, stick it into the bulb base and turn anticlockwise. Works every time.

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With the breaker off I usually just use my Leathermans pliers. I put it inside closed, then open it and screw it out!

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I've removed dozens of broken light bulbs. I use a partially used bar of soap. cut the bar in half, press the soap against the remains of the bulb, then unscrew it. Toss the whole mess in the garbage. I like Ivory(tm) soap for the tool box, it's cheap and lasts for decades.

When you replace the bulb rub a light coat of soap on the threads of the new bulb.

A piece of bar soap in the toolbox is very handy for lubing screws before using them, lubing drawers, door latches, cabinet latches and in dire emergencies one could concievably use it to wash one's hands.

Nah, that's just crazy talk.

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I don't think you should use soap on electrical connections. Wood screws, fine but not electrical. The proper product to use for lubricating electrical components is dielectric grease –  Steven Aug 21 at 15:15
    
@Steven I don't think he's using it to lube the light. He's using it to jam into the broken bulb to get a grip. –  Chris Cudmore Aug 21 at 16:19
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@ChrisCudmore, his answer says "When you replace the bulb rub a light coat of soap on the threads of the new bulb." –  Steven Aug 21 at 17:21

A large cork is my best solution - preferably real cork as it grips better than the composite fake corks.

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