One Common Thing You Have to Clean Now (That Your Parents Probably Didn’t)

updated Feb 19, 2021
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Pretty living room with standing lamp

In the age of robot vacuums, it’s easy to admit that modern housekeeping requires far less effort than it did for previous generations. That’s why this one exception — of something new that we have to clean more than our parents did — stands out.

There’s something quite common in your home that you might not be in the habit of cleaning: your lightbulbs.

If you’ve changed your lightbulbs from incandescent bulbs to CFLs or LEDs, you also need to adjust your lightbulb maintenance habits. Mostly because modern CFLs and LEDs are designed to last a lot longer — long enough to start collecting dust.

While incandescent bulbs last about 1,000 hours, today’s LED bulbs can keep going for 25,000 hours, or about 25 years. That’s a lot of time for dust to accumulate on one surface!

If your parents didn’t dust their lightbulbs, it wasn’t a huge deal; the bulb would eventually be replaced with a clean one. But today, if you don’t dust your LED lightbulbs, they’ll collect enough dust to gradually dim the light over time. Dirty lightbulbs can be 50 percent dimmer than clean ones, all while drawing the same amount of power, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

How to Clean a Dusty Lightbulb

If the very thought of dirty lightbulbs darkening your house has you reaching for your duster, we’re right there with you. Because we’re recommending dry cleaning (without any moisture), you can clean your lightbulbs in place while they’re still in the light fixture, or remove them if that’s easier (as it would be for ceiling-mounted fixtures).

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Turn off your lamps or light switches before you clean any lightbulbs.
  2. Wait for the bulb to cool before handling it. Even though LED bulbs are much cooler than their incandescent counterparts, waiting for bulbs to cool is still the best practice.
  3. Take a clean, dry cloth or handheld duster and wipe all around the surface of the bulb. You’ll want something that can grip and lift away dust, so a microfiber cloth or a dusting glove work really well here.
  4. If any stubborn dust or grease remains, (say, for lightbulbs in a kitchen), remove the lightbulb from the fixture. Then you can use a slightly damp rag to wipe only the light-emitting portion of the bulb, and allow it to dry thoroughly before attempting to put it back in the fixture.

While you might run a duster over your bulbs while you’re cleaning surfaces and lamps, make it a point to deliberately clean all your lightbulbs, including the ones that are hard to reach, about twice a year.