Fixing a light bulb stuck in a ceiling fan

Last Updated on August 30, 2017 by Dave Farquhar

I was working in a vacant house the other day and noticed the previous tenants never changed light bulbs. When I went to change them myself, I saw why. Everywhere I saw a dead bulb, it was in a ceiling fan. Stuck hard.

Here’s the cause, and here’s how I fixed it.

The ceiling fans had tiny shades on them, some of which were too small even to accommodate a standard A19 bulb. One of them, which had A15 bulbs in them, was so tight I couldn’t reach in to unscrew an A15. I don’t know who decided that ceiling fan shades needed to fit a light bulb like spandex, especially an A15 bulb, but it wasn’t a good idea.

There’s a short-term fix and a long-term fix for the problem.

The short term fix is to unscrew the bulb as much as you can from the end. Next, unscrew the shade and let the shade come down as far as it can onto the bulb. The weight of the shade helps the bulb grab onto the threads a bit better. By carefully turning the bulb with one hand and gently pulling down on the shade and turning with the other, I was able to coax the stubborn bulbs out more easily than I could with one hand alone. Resist the temptation to grab the base of the bulb once the bulb comes down far enough. The metal base of the bulb shouldn’t shock you, but I can’t guarantee it won’t.

I have two three recommendations if you don’t want to be doing this again soon. First, replace the shades with something wide enough to accommodate both a standard A19 bulb and your hand. Maybe it’s a little less stylish and maybe it isn’t. But I think the ceiling fan looks better lit up than with a bunch of burned-out bulbs in it. And when you replace the bulbs, turn the light on before you start screwing the new bulb in, and stop turning just as soon as the bulb lights up. Then it’s less likely to get stuck.

The other thing you can do is replace the bulbs with longer-lasting ones like LEDs. LED bulbs are getting less expensive all the time, and while their 17-year life expectancy assumes you’ll only use them four hours a day, you can still do the math and see it’ll be a few years before you need to replace them again. And since they run cooler, they’re less likely to seize in the socket.

Actually, there’s one more thing you can do if you really hate stuck bulbs. Get some copper anti-seize lubricant and put a small amount on the bulb, then twist it into the socket. It keeps the bulb from seizing up and fights corrosion, which can be a problem near bathrooms. The anti-seize compound may have the side effect of making the bulbs last longer.

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