Broken lightbulb in socket; potato won't help

Q: How many of me does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: I don’t know, since I can’t screw 'em out.

This morning, while trying to replace a burnt out bulb, I pulled a little too hard while trying to unscrew the bulb from the socket. The result was that the glass part of the bulb detached from the metal part. The glass part was hanging from the socket by wires or something leading to the metal part until I fiddled some more with the bulb and broke it off.

Now what do I do? Having heard about the potato trick for removing broken lightbulbs, I tried sticking a potato in the socket and turning. Now there’s potato goo all over the socket, but it’s not going anywhere. I think this potato trick might work better if there was some jagged glass sticking from the socket, but there’s nothing.

I considered using some sort of tool (like pliers) to try to grip and turn the metal part of the lightbulb (still in the socket), but I had doubts about the cleverness of holding onto something metal and sticking into an electrical socket.

Any suggestions? Will pliers be okay as long as the lightswitch is off?

Yes, as long as you are ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN that all power to the fixture is off. Just having the switch in the “off” position does not guarantee this, as it’s possible the switch was miswired and disconnects the neutral rather than the hot wire. Purchase a non-contact voltage sensor from a hardware or home improvent store and check it before attemting anything.

I use pliers (rubber handled, if it make you feel better), after turning off the circuit breaker or removing the fuse for that outlet.

Be absolutely sure the power is off at the breaker panel!!!

Use long needle nose pliers and spread them out inside the base of the bulb and twist it out.

Inside circlip pliers are good for this.

If you are confident that the lights are correctly wired (i.e., you did it yourself and you know what you’re doing, etc), then just ensuring the switch is off is sufficient. The black wire is broken at the switch, so there’s no possible way to complete a circuit at the light fixture. If it were me, I’d just go ahead with the pliers anyways, though I’d probably hunt down a pair with coated handles. I’ve been hit by 110v before, and it’s not so bad. Course, some people might justifiably question my wisdom in this matter. :slight_smile:

You stuck a wet potato in the socket and are now leery of using pliers?

Seriously, just flip the breaker and have at it with your pliers. No more worries.

Yes, turn off at the breaker or fusebox and use rubber-handled pliers. And ensure there’s someone else around. Electricity is lethal. Do not take chances. Oh and make sure you know where your CO2 or dry powder fire extinguisher is. I used to do a lot of work for my local fire brigade, ok?

More of the same advice everyone else has been giving…

Also, I’d use a “snub-nosed” pair of pliers, and try to grab the lip of the metal rim, pushing the nose of the pliers inside the whole contraption as short a distance as possible - since one of the contacts is up at the very tip of the bulb, you’re giving yourself a little bit more of a safety margin by avoiding touching it

And, of course, make sure someone else is around, make sure the relevant circuit breaker (or better yet, the mains, if you can manage completely without any juice for a few minutes) is off, etc…

Disclaimer - I am not an electrician. This has however worked for me in a 220V environment, so if you’re in the US (110), I think you should probably be OK


And if you cannot find the correct breaker for the circuit, you can just kill the main breaker in the fuse box, then use the pliers.

Pros - Guaranteed to have no current running to the socket.
Cons - You’ll have to reset all the clocks in your home and other memory devices.

Good luck!

      • First make sure the light is turned off. Then stick a reasonably-sized flat screwdriver into the edge and pry out the edge enough to get some needle-nose pliers in there a half-inch or so, and then stick some needle-nose pliers in there with one side “inside” the socket, and twist it out. Even if it is badly stuck, the pliers will grab and twist the edge into a Z-bend (making its circumference smaller), loosening the old socket.

Let a bulb cool before you try to unscrew it. Seems like a warm/hot bulb is much more prone to breakage.

Jeez, people, I appreciate the vigilance and the safety concerns, but you’re gonna scare the poor guy. Yes, electricity is dangerous, but y’all are making it sound like he’s about to defuse a bomb. I rewire sockets and switches on live circuits. Granted, this is probably a bad habit learned from watching other electricians…

As long as you cut the right breaker, you’ll be fine. I’d bet that if you just cut the power at the lightswitch, you’ll be okay too, but that does depend on the wiring. Be careful, but don’t be afraid.

Heh. I just did that last week. I hated the light switch in my bedroom, so I got another and replaced it without taking out the fuse. (The house is too old to have circuit breakers – I should see how much it would cost to retrofit breakers.) I was just very careful not to let the wires touch anything or each other (or me).

And, as it happens, there was a broken bulb in the bathroom last week as well. I turned off the switch and grabbed an edge of the base with needle nosed pliers. It unscrewed easily.

If you don’t want to use plyers you can use a wine cork. Just cram it into the old lightbulb section and push on it as you unscrew.

Thanks everybody. The lightbulb has now been successfully replaced. I switched the breaker off and then got a pair of long-nosed pliers out. I tried gripping the edge of the metal bulb-bottom, to twist it out, but I wasn’t having much luck. So Mr. Blue Sky’s advice was very useful. I followed his instructions, and the bulb came out.

Some other miscellaneous comments: I didn’t trust the wiring as I live in an apartment, with a lot of maintenance done by the landlord. The potato goo in the bottom of the bulb seemed to have solidified, as if over-cooked, so perhaps there was some active voltage even with the light switch off. Oh, and the bulb was cool when I originally tried to remove it; it died sometime during the day on Friday, and I didn’t try to remove it until Saturday morning.

Whats with the killing the circuit breaker to work on a light ? Isn’t turning off the switch adequate for such a simple little operation?

Good deal. Btw, Seven was not suggesting that anyone drink a bottle of wine before attempting this feat.

grienspace, I think it was because the one thing indicating whether or not there was juice, the lightbulb, was burned out. If there’s two on/off switches going to the light or if he’s unsure which position the switch is in, the best way to be sure it’s in the off position is to play it safe and cut the circuit at the breaker.

Or, as someone else has already mentioned, if the switch was miswired you could still have a live contact in the socket.