How to Remove a Recessed Light

Removing a recessed light fixture is a straightforward home improvement project that most DIYers can tackle. With some basic tools and safety precautions, you can remove an old or outdated recessed light to replace it with a new fixture or eliminate the lighting entirely. Here is a step-by-step guide to removing a recessed light safely and properly.

Gather the Necessary Supplies

Before starting any electrical project, it’s important to have the right tools and materials on hand. Here’s what you’ll need to remove a recessed light fixture:

  • Step ladder or small ladder
  • Screwdrivers (flathead and Phillips head)
  • Wire strippers
  • Wire cutters
  • Voltage tester
  • Electrical tape
  • Drywall saw
  • Pry bar
  • Masking tape and drop cloth (to protect surfaces below)

Make sure to turn off power at the circuit breaker and to verify power is off using a voltage tester before touching any wires or the light fixture. Safety first!

Remove the Trim and Lens

Start by removing the trim and lens that cover the recessed light fixture housing. There are usually clips, springs, or screws that hold these pieces in place. Use a flathead screwdriver or pry bar to gently remove them, being careful not to crack or damage the trim.

Set aside the trim, lens, and any screws or parts for safekeeping in case you or a future homeowner decide to put a new recessed light in the same spot later on.

Disconnect the Electrical Wiring

With the trim and lens removed, you’ll have access to the wiring connecting the recessed light to your electrical system. Carefully disconnect the wiring so that the light fixture is no longer getting any power.

There will typically be three wires:

  • Black (hot wire)
  • White (neutral wire)
  • Green or bare copper (ground wire)

Use wire strippers to remove about 1/2 inch of insulation from the wires if they do not already have exposed copper.

Next, twist off the wire connector caps and separate each wire from the others. You may need to use a screwdriver to loosen the connectors.

Finally, use wire cutters to snip the wires, leaving at least 6 inches connected to the light fixture so they can be reused if needed. Cap off the ends with electrical tape for safety.

Remove the Recessed Canister

Now you’re ready to fully remove the recessed light housing, also called a canister or can. There will likely be mounting brackets or screws holding it in place against the interior wall or ceiling.

Use a screwdriver to remove any screws or mounting brackets. Be sure to save these small parts for reuse later.

Next, push up gently on the recessed can to detach it from the ceiling or wall interior. In most cases, it will pop out easily. If needed, use a flat pry bar for extra leverage.

Watch out for any sharp edges on the can as you remove it!

Patch and Repair the Ceiling or Wall

With the trim, lens, wiring, and recessed can removed, you’ll likely have a circular gaping hole left behind in the ceiling or wall. There are a few options for patching this up:

  • Install a recessed light cover – These are circular plates that fit over the hole so it can be reused for wiring later.
  • Use drywall to patch – Cut a drywall circle the same diameter as the hole and screw in place after applying drywall mud to the edges. Finish by mudding and sanding until smooth.
  • Hire a professional – For the best seamless patch, consider hiring a drywall pro or handyman to repair the hole after light removal.

Make sure to use the same materials (drywall thickness, texture, etc) as the existing ceiling or wall when patching for the best results. Take your time with finishing for a seamless fix.

Clean Up and Restore Power

Once the recessed light has been removed and the ceiling/wall patched up, thoroughly clean the area of any dust or debris. Make sure small parts from the light fixture are not left behind where they could pose safety risks.

Carefully bring the ladder and other tools out of the workspace. Check that overhead wiring looks intact and safe with the light removed.

Finally, head to the circuit breaker and switch the power back on. Make sure all other lights and outlets have power as expected. Use a voltage tester to confirm everything is good to go.

And that’s it! With those simple steps, you can safely remove an outdated or unneeded recessed light fixture from your home. Just be sure to take precautions, disconnect all wiring properly, and seal the hole for a clean finish.

Frequently Asked Questions About Removing Recessed Lights

Here are answers to some common questions about eliminating recessed lighting from your home:

Do I need to hire an electrician to remove recessed lights?

In most cases, no. As long as you feel comfortable working with electrical wiring and turning off power at the breaker, this is a DIY project. Only hire an electrician if you don’t want to handle any electrical work yourself.

What do I do with the empty recessed can after removing light fixture?

You can leave the can in place between ceiling joists if you might want to add a new recessed light later on. Otherwise, the can should be removed so the ceiling or wall can be properly patched.

Is it safe to just disconnect wires and leave them in the ceiling?

It’s best to fully remove any unused wiring if possible. Capping wires with electrical tape is OK for safety, but detached wires can be a hazard if power is accidentally restored later.

How do I texture drywall patch to match existing ceiling?

Take pictures of the ceiling texture before you patch. Bring samples to the hardware store to match texture spray cans or mix up similar joint compound. Knockdown, popcorn, and orange peel textures are common.

What is the large square panel around some recessed lights?

That is a light box that gets installed before drywall. It makes installing the recessed can and wiring easier. Remove this box completely when eliminating the light.

Can I convert recessed lighting to a surface-mount light?

Yes, this is one option instead of fully removing the light fixture. Install a conversion kit with a new pendant or surface light mounted over the recessed can location after removing just the trim and bulb.


Eliminating an unneeded recessed light involves disconnecting wires, removing the canister housing, patching drywall, and tidying up. With proper prep and safety steps, this is a straightforward DIY project that can upgrade your rooms and improve energy efficiency when done right. Just be mindful of electrical safety and take care to seal up the ceiling or wall opening so no damage is left behind. Soon you’ll have a freshly patched ceiling ready for new lighting arrangements.