Is it safe to leave a light bulb socket empty?

Svetlana February 02 2022

When your bulb has burnt out and you need to replace it, many people will often take the bulb out of the socket if they don't have a spare. This is because there are fears that leaving a light bulb empty socket could cause a fire.

So, is it safe?

Leaving an empty bulb socket could potentially cause a fire, but this is very unlikely. If you touch a bulb when it's switched on it will be very hot and the filament inside could break or crack, causing an electrical short circuit which can be dangerous if it occurs in your home.

However, leaving the lamp empty won't damage anything - provided you switch off the power supply to that socket at the circuit breaker panel first. But this doesn't mean you shouldn't replace the bulb - simply place it back into its socket after installing your new one, or turn off all of the other lights in that room to keep things safe while you do up-front work.

As mentioned above though, replacing an old lightbulb with a new energy-saving CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) bulb could be devastating to your safety. Fluorescent bulbs contain mercury and need a shunt regulator (ballast) attached in order for them to light up. If the ballast is broken, you run the risk of electric shock and/or electrocution.

And if that's not enough reason to make you put on those new gloves before replacing your CFLs, new research by scientists at Stony Brook University revealed that CFL bulbs release significantly more toxic chemicals than regular incandescent bulbs when they're shattered (even during the manufacturing stage). Researchers discovered that standard CFLs emit 20 times as much hydrogen chloride - a highly poisonous gas - as regular 60-watt incandescent lights.

Is it better to leave or remove the burnt-out bulb in the socket?

For safety precautions, it is best to remove the burnt-out bulb and install a new CFL lightbulb.

If you do not want to leave an empty socket in your home or office then simply place the old bulb back into its socket after installing the new one. Remember that when replacing an old bulb with a new energy-saving CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) you must make sure the ballast (shunt regulator) is attached in order for it to work.

If the ballast or shunt regulator is broken, there could be a risk of electric shock and/or electrocution. If you want to use LED or any other type of bulb you can remove the old one first and then install the new LED bulb. These bulbs do not pose any shock or electrocution threats to humans even without a ballast attached.

If you want to replace your CFL lightbulbs with LEDs, you should consider other factors than just energy savings. Not all LEDs are equally efficient, so if they're switched on for long periods of time it's possible that some types might end up costing more to run than incandescent or halogen lights.

As with regular CFLs, there is also a small chance that broken fragments from an LED bulb could cause electric shocks - but this risk is lessened due to most modern designs being encased in plastic rather than glass casings.

What happens if you switch on the light without a bulb in the socket?

Well, if you switch on an empty bulb socket it won't start a fire because there's no electrical current. But if the power for this socket is controlled by a wall switch, that could potentially cause a shock or electrocution hazard. If the light socket does not have its own individual wall switch then chances are the light has an illuminated switch (one which glows when switched off).

So even though there will be no fire danger, turning on the globe with the light switch still in the 'on' position could leave you standing in darkness as soon as your hand makes contact with what you think is just an ordinary lamp shade.

If you want to avoid any unpleasant surprises you should always turn off all of the lights before leaving home or going to bed.

If the light switch is a dimmer type, there's a high chance that it will trip or cut off power if it detects faulty wiring in the light socket. If you have any doubts about whether a bulb has been left out of its socket, you should always turn off all lights before leaving home or going to bed.

How to remove a broken\burnt-out bulb out of the socket safely?

There are two basic methods for removing a broken light bulb:

  1. The safest way to remove a broken CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) is by using the old worn-out broom handle trick that requires you to take it apart by hand, gently removing the pieces of glass and then disposing of them in such a way that they can't cause harm or injury.
  2. If this method does not work for you because the damage is too severe you should use gloves and protective eyewear before attempting to unscrew or turn on/off any type of switch or socket that had been exposed to damaged CFL bulb fragments. If you don't have these safety gears available at home, try assembling them from various objects around your house - but be sure to do it safely.

If you want to be on the safe side we recommend using method #1. But if you don't feel comfortable doing this yourself and would rather hire a professional, make sure they know what can happen when CFL bulbs break and that they will dispose of the fragments in accordance with the local safety regulations and guidelines for dealing with hazardous materials (broken CFLs contain harmful mercury).

Please note: even though there is no chance of starting a fire when turning on an empty bulb socket, it's still best to check that no burnt or broken parts remain inside before inserting a new CFL lightbulb. This applies especially when attempting to replace old incandescent globes with energy-saving fluorescent lamps because we've all been guilty of switching on a bulb without checking if it's been installed properly.

How to replace the bulb properly?

Some fluorescent lamps have an anti-shock mechanism, but if this is not the case your best bet is to switch off the power supply before removing or inserting a new bulb.

If you can't find the "on" button where you expect it to be, it means that the light socket has an illuminated switch - so check if it's on before putting your hand inside. If there are two switches on the fixture (one for turning on\off and one for switching between different light levels), try them both in turn until you identify which is responsible for powering up or shutting down that particular socket.

Once again, make sure that all of the lights are turned off before doing anything with broken CFLs. It might also be worth testing the switch with a multimeter just to make sure you're not about to damage it.

If the light has been turned on and off recently, your best bet is to turn of the breaker or unscrew the fuse of that particular circuit. You should also check if there's another CFL-compatible socket on the same circuit before turning off the power at the main panel - this will help reduce tripping hazards and prolong bulb life so you won't have to change it as often.

Once all of that is done, repair or replacement will be easy and straightforward: first, remove any screws that hold the fixture (ask an assistant to keep an eye out for cables while you're working on this). If necessary, use pliers to remove any parts that stick out of the socket, and then just unscrew the broken CFL and place a new one in its place.

If you've removed any exposed parts such as wires or screws, please remember to put them back securely before turning on the power again. Check if everything is working fine and turn on all lights before leaving home or going to bed.

You should always check that no burnt or broken parts remain inside before inserting a new CFL lightbulb. This applies especially when attempting to replace old incandescent globes with energy-saving fluorescent lamps because we've all been guilty of switching on a bulb without checking if it's been installed properly.

What else should you know about the empty bulb sockets?

The first thing you should know is that leaving an empty bulb socket turn on may result in the lights being turned off, either by the breaker or your assistant.

Some lights are equipped with a sensor that detects if there's no lamp inside and turns it off after some time. It might happen to you when using this type of light "intelligently" - for example, if one of the fluorescent lamps has burned out, but you still want one working light in that room (for example to avoid accidents caused by tripping over something).

You can definitely use an old incandescent bulb as a replacement because these sensors do not detect whether the lights are switched on or not - they just read their own. However, decorative bulbs will not work in this case.

Sometimes the bulb socket is equipped with a switch, but you can always unscrew it and fix it to another nearby socket if necessary. It's generally better to use CFL lamps as replacements for old incandescent ones because these contain mercury and other toxic chemicals which could leak out of broken bulbs (even those made from glass).

Some large appliances such as ovens also require special care when dealing with broken fluorescent tubes: never touch these tiny shards or let them get into contact with your skin!

The LED bulb contains a powerful Lithium battery which can be very dangerous if it leaks or breaks. The empty LED bulb sockets should be given the same attention as CFL ones, because not only do they contain corrosive chemicals but also electric circuits which can cause problems after getting wet.

The exterior of an empty bulb socket should definitely get some special care: there might be parts sticking out from the fixture and these could hurt or even injure someone. If you've been using an old incandescent lightbulb inside your lamp without a plastic cover, you'd better make sure everything is in place before turning on the power again.

As a rule of thumb, always check that no broken parts are stuck inside the empty light socket before a new fluorescent tube!

Conclusion

It is safe to leave a light bulb socket empty. The replacement will be easy and straightforward: first, remove any screws that hold the fixture (ask an assistant to keep an eye out for cables while you're working on this). If necessary, use pliers to remove any parts that stick out of the socket, and then just unscrew the broken CFL and place a new one in its place.

Remember that if you've removed any exposed parts such as wires or screws, please remember to put them back securely before turning on the power again. Check if everything is working fine and turn on all lights before leaving home or going to bed.