The Quickie Lighting Trick to Make Your Home Feel 100x Cleaner

Bonus: It will smell infinitely better, too.

September  9, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten

“What on earth are you doing?” asked my husband.

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.

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Top Comment:
“I clean the living room, office and bedroom bulbs every other week, which is when I also vacuum and clean all of the lamp shades. I do my kitchen and bathroom bulbs every week as part of my regular cleaning. If I stay on top of the cleaning, it only adds an extra minute or two to my regular routine. ”
— Jodi

So, yeah, I deep clean our light bulbs. Every. Single. Month.

Exhibits A and B awaiting comparison.

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.

Or, you could follow my routine:

  1. Turn off the electricity to the all the lights before messing with the bulbs. Leave the bulbs to cool for at least 30 minutes.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.)
  5. While you’re at it, wash any globes and shades clean with soapy water (but keep water away from the bulbs). Dry completely.
  6. Ensure the bulb is completely dry, before screwing it back on carefully.
  7. 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 Menon

Written by: Arati Menon

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.


j7n May 3, 2021
The glass part can be washed with almost anything, as long as it doesn't get ultra hot as in small halogen capsules. Glass is the best material. In the kitchen, where lamps actually do get covered with grease and dust, one can use drain cleaner. One wipe with a soaked cloth and it gets clean. Or an organic solvent that will also remove most painted symbols.
mdelgatty March 21, 2020
Good heavens, what a lot of work! As long as the bulbs have been turned off for a while you can just wipe them with a damp cloth, although I will try the lavender oil idea. If you insist on spending so much time screwing and unscrewing light bulbs, that will be easier if you wipe the base with a paper towel dampened with WD40...
Anne J. January 18, 2020
I salute you! The most rational and effective tip I have read in so many years, even given with caveats.
Before reading this, I thought I was hot stuff because I washed chandeliers and the ghastly fixtures know in my house as wedding cakes upside down about every 6 months, and drumroll please, removed dead insects as necessary. I am humbled by the author and inspired. 30% more light you say, for free, I’m on it. I thank you from the bottom of my apparently grubby heart
Susan B. November 1, 2019
It sounded like you said “ clean my lightbulbs “ hahahahaha
Jodi September 27, 2019
I clean my bulbs too! I clean the living room, office and bedroom bulbs every other week, which is when I also vacuum and clean all of the lamp shades. I do my kitchen and bathroom bulbs every week as part of my regular cleaning. If I stay on top of the cleaning, it only adds an extra minute or two to my regular routine.
Arati M. September 27, 2019
Oh, Jodi, that is MUSIC to my ears. I feel so misunderstood haha. In all seriousness though, what a difference it makes!
Martha D. October 31, 2019
I clean mine weekly but I use a softener sheet and smells nice lasts until next cleaning
TXExpatInBKK September 27, 2019
Never, lol! I have a full time job and I'm a single mom of 2 small boys who resemble little tornados most of the time. I'm doing good just to make sure they don't burn the house down :-)
Arati M. September 27, 2019
Oh, I hear ya :) You've definitely got the right priorities!