He had just walked into our home, which was dark. I was sitting cross-legged on the floor, a kitchen cloth in hand, and surrounded by 12 light bulbs. Our living room smelled like a lavender field had exploded within it.
He was staring at me with an expression that seemed to suggest that I had lost the plot.
I’m still not entirely sure what I was more upset about at that moment: a) that what I was doing was incomprehensible to him despite the striking visual evidence, or b) that after three years of living together, he knew nothing of how our light bulbs stay sparkling clean.
So, yeah, I deep clean our light bulbs. Every. Single. Month.
In a poll of my friends that followed that incident, six out of seven said they never clean their light bulbs. The seventh said she cleans it when she remembers to—aka, when her mom visits. Some of the other responses may have officially been in the form of eye rolls. But there’s no cleaning ritual I will defend more fiercely. The reason is pretty obvious to me: Dirty bulbs shed 30 percent less light than clean ones. Add a grimy shade to that, and you’ve got the automatic dimmer you never bought.
Turn off the electricity to the all the lights before messing with the bulbs. Leave the bulbs to cool for at least 30 minutes.
Carefully unscrew each light bulb. I usually cup the bulb with my free hand while I’m doing this—a lesson learned after smashing many as they came undone.
Whatever you do, do not douse the bulb with a surface cleaner (or water). Full disclosure: At some point in my adult life, I used to wash my bulbs under a tap. For someone with reasonable intelligence, this was a very stupid thing to do. Instead, wipe the bulb with a dry, soft kitchen cloth or a (very, very well-wrung) damp one.
Go the extra mile and wipe the bulb with an essential oil—put a few drops on the cloth you’re wiping it with. When the bulb burns, it will emit the sweetest room scent. I’m partial to lavender, or lemongrass because it also acts as a bug repellant. (Don’t bother doing this with LED bulbs though, because they don’t emit much heat.)
While you’re at it, wash any globes and shades clean with soapy water (but keep water away from the bulbs). Dry completely.
Ensure the bulb is completely dry, before screwing it back on carefully.
For fixtures and chandeliers that are hard to reach, I use a step stool, and a feather duster with an extendable pole to dust. It may not be quite as soul-satisfying as a deep clean, but it’s enough to scratch the itch.
Have a better way to clean light bulbs? I’m all ears.
How often do you clean your light bulbs? Tell us in the comments below (we won't judge)!
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Arati grew up hanging off the petticoat-tails of three generations of Indian matriarchs who used food to speak their language of love—and she finds herself instinctually following suit. Life has taken her all across the world, but she carries with her a menagerie of inherited home and kitchen objects that serve as her anchor. Formerly at GQ and Architectural Digest, she's now based in Brooklyn.