Light bulbs break. It's a simple fact of life that isn't always possible to avoid. Fortunately, most newer bulbs come with a more substantial base that allows users to more easily remove the bulb from a socket, even when the glass breaks.
However, if you haven't upgraded from the old incandescent- or halogen-style bulbs, removing the broken bulb from the socket can be tricky. The upshot is that it's easier than you think it is and, chances are, you already have exactly what you need on hand.
Here are several ways to remove a broken bulb from a socket, quickly and safely.
Before you start
Prior to removing a broken bulb from a light socket, it's wise to first cut power to the light source to avoid electrical shock. Simply turning off the switch doesn't always do the trick. If a light is controlled by multiple switches, it can be difficult to tell if the light is actually off. To be entirely sure the power to the light is off, switch off the power to the light at the breaker.
You will also be working with broken glass, which shatters and splinters very easily, so it's recommended that you use eye protection and gloves when handling broken light bulbs.
The tried and true method of removing a broken bulb from a socket is with a pair of pliers.
For this method, the more intact the bulb, the better. Begin by cutting power to the light source. If the filament is still intact, use a pair of needle nose pliers to grip the glass base of the filament and gently twist counter-clockwise. There is a chance the base will break free from the threads of the socket and can be fully removed.
There is also a chance of the filament breaking. If this happens, insert the needle nose pliers into the base of the bulb and open them as wide as you can. The tips of the needle nose pliers should be touching opposite sides of the base of the bulb. Hold the pliers open and turn them counter-clockwise and the base of the bulb should begin to unscrew.
For added grip, you can wrap the tips of the pliers with electrical tape.
One of the oldest tricks in the book is to simply use a raw potato.
First, make sure the light switch is turned off. Use gloves, eye protection and a pair of pliers to break away any remaining glass. Cut the potato in half, firmly press it against the socket and begin twisting counter-clockwise. The potato should grip the base of the bulb and turn it while the socket remains still.
Once the base is out, dispose of the bulb and potato.
Melted soda bottle
A soda bottle can also be used to extract a broken bulb from a light socket.
Instructables user prabbit22m suggests removing the cap and seal band from the neck of a soda bottle, leaving just the exposed threads. Use a heat source, such a stove or lighter, to melt the tip of the bottle and shape it into a cone.
Once the bottle has cooled, make sure power to the light is off and any remaining glass has been removed from the base of the bulb. Firmly press the bottle into the empty base of the light bulb and twist counter-clockwise while holding the pressure against the socket.
Once removed, dispose of the light bulb base and, optionally, you can keep the bottle for future occurrences.
Quick setting epoxy
Sometimes, broken bulbs are in hard-to-reach places. When this is the case, you can also use some quick setting epoxy to remove the light bulb base from the socket.
First, be sure to cut power to the light source and clean any remaining glass from the base. Next, Instructables user SpinningCone suggests mixing up a piece of epoxy putty and packing it into the bulb base. Once packed, press a flat head screwdriver into the epoxy, then remove the screw driver.
After about five minutes have passed, the epoxy will have hardened and you can use the screwdriver to unscrew the base from the socket.
Broken bulb extractor
If you want to go the official route, you can find a broken bulb extractor at your local hardware store for around $10.
The premise is effectively the same as all the above methods, as is the way it's used. First, cut power to the light and safely break away any additional glass. Next, insert the broken bulb extractor into the base of the bulb, grip the handle to expand the tip of the extractor, and turn counter-clockwise.