How to Test a Light Bulb With a Multimeter

Testing light bulbs is essential to maintaining electrical safety and efficiency in our homes and workplaces. A multimeter, a versatile tool in the electrician’s toolkit, can be used effectively.

This article guides you through testing a light bulb with a multimeter, ensuring that your lighting systems are in top condition.

What is a Light Bulb Test?

A light bulb test using a multimeter involves checking for continuity and resistance in the bulb. This test helps determine whether the bulb is in working condition or needs replacement. Regular testing is crucial for ensuring optimal lighting and preventing electrical hazards.

How to Test a Light Bulb With a Multimeter

To test a light bulb with a multimeter, ensure safety by turning off and removing the bulb, and then set the multimeter to continuity or resistance mode. Test the bulb for continuity and resistance by touching the probes to its contacts and then analyze the results.

Tools Needed

Step 1: Safety Precautions

Safety is paramount when dealing with electrical devices. Before the test, ensure the light bulb is turned off and removed from its socket. Always handle the multimeter and bulb with dry hands and work in a well-lit area.

person holding a light bulb

Step 2: Setting Up the Multimeter

Setting up your multimeter correctly is crucial before testing the light bulb. This step is vital for obtaining accurate readings and ensuring your safety during the test.

Here’s how to do it:

Choosing the Right Setting

  • Identify the Correct Mode: For testing a light bulb, you’ll primarily use the continuity test mode or the resistance (Ohm) setting on your multimeter. The continuity mode is symbolized by a diode symbol or the word ‘CONT,’ while the resistance setting is indicated by the Ohm symbol (Ω).
  • Selecting Continuity Test Mode: If you’re using the continuity test, the multimeter will emit a beep if there’s a complete circuit. This mode is ideal for quickly checking if the filament in the bulb is intact.
  • Selecting Resistance Measurement: If you’re measuring resistance, turn the dial to the Ohm (Ω) setting. This mode measures the electrical resistance of the bulb’s filament. A functional filament will show some resistance, while a broken one will show a high or infinite resistance.

Preparing the Multimeter

  • Inserting the Probes: Plug the black probe into the COM (common) port and the red probe into the VΩmA port. Ensure they are securely connected.
  • Checking the Multimeter’s Functionality: Before testing the bulb, it’s a good idea to check if the multimeter works correctly. You can do this by touching the two probes together. In continuity mode, this should trigger a beep. It should show a low resistance value (close to zero) in resistance mode.
  • Adjusting the Range: If your multimeter isn’t auto-ranging, you may need to select the range manually. Setting the multimeter to the lowest resistance range (e.g., 200 Ohms) is appropriate for most household light bulbs.

Step 3: Testing for Continuity

Testing for continuity is a crucial step in assessing the functionality of a light bulb. Continuity testing checks if there is a complete path for electric current to flow through the bulb.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Prepare the Multimeter: Set your multimeter to the continuity setting, often indicated by a diode symbol or the word ‘CONT.’ If your multimeter has an audible continuity setting, it will beep if there is continuity.
  • Access the Bulb’s Contacts: The two contacts for a standard screw-in light bulb are the base (the threaded metal part) and the tip (the small metal dot at the bottom of the base). For bayonet-type bulbs, the contacts are the two small pins on the side of the base.
  • Connect the Multimeter Probes: Touch one probe to the bulb’s base’s metal side and the other probe to the tip at the bottom. Ensure that the probes make good contact with the metal parts.

Read the Multimeter:

  • Continuity Present: If the bulb is functional, the multimeter will show a low resistance reading, often close to zero. If your multimeter has an audible feature, it will beep. This indicates that the filament inside the bulb is intact and there is a continuous electrical path.
  • No Continuity: If the multimeter shows no change or displays ‘OL’ (Open Loop), it indicates no continuity. This usually means the filament inside the bulb is broken, and the bulb needs to be replaced.

Step 4: Testing for Resistance

Testing a light bulb for resistance is crucial in determining its health and functionality. Here’s how to expand on this process:

  • Switch to Resistance Mode: Set your multimeter to measure resistance, often denoted by the Ohm symbol (Ω). This setting allows the multimeter to measure the electrical resistance of the light bulb’s filament.
  • Understanding Resistance: Resistance in a light bulb filament measures how much it opposes the flow of electric current. A healthy incandescent bulb typically shows some resistance, as the filament is designed to resist electric current, causing it to heat up and emit light.
  • Prepare the Bulb: Ensure the bulb is removed from any power source. Clean the metal contacts of the bulb if necessary, as dirt or corrosion can affect the accuracy of your readings.
  • Connect the Probes: Touch one multimeter probe to the metal side of the bulb’s base (the threaded part), and touch the other probe to the bottom of the bulb’s base (the contact point).

Reading the Resistance:

  • Functional Bulb: For a good incandescent bulb, the multimeter should show a low to moderate resistance value. This indicates that the filament is intact and the bulb should work.
  • Broken Filament: If the multimeter shows a very high or infinite resistance, it suggests that the filament inside the bulb is broken. In this case, the bulb won’t light up and needs replacement.
  • LED Bulbs: The resistance test can be more complex for LED bulbs due to their internal circuitry. A multimeter might show varying resistance readings depending on the make and model of the LED bulb.
different light bulbs

Step 5: Analyzing the Results

Analyzing the results of a light bulb test with a multimeter is a critical step in determining the condition of the bulb. Here’s a more detailed breakdown of how to interpret the readings:

Understanding Continuity Test Results

  • Positive Continuity (Beep or Low Resistance Reading): This indicates that the filament inside the bulb is intact. Electricity can flow through it, meaning the bulb should technically light up. This is a good sign and suggests that the bulb is in working condition.
  • No Continuity (No Beep or Infinite Resistance): This result implies a break in the filament. The electrical circuit inside the bulb is incomplete, preventing it from lighting up. In this case, the bulb is no longer functional and needs to be replaced.

Interpreting Resistance Test Results

  • Low to Moderate Resistance Value: A functional incandescent bulb will typically show some resistance due to its filament. The exact value can vary based on the bulb’s specifications but is generally a few to several hundred ohms. This is normal and indicates a healthy bulb.
  • Very High or Infinite Resistance: This suggests that the filament is broken. The electrical path is interrupted, and the bulb won’t light up. Such a bulb is considered dead and should be replaced.
  • Zero or Near-Zero Resistance: This is an unusual reading for a light bulb and might indicate a short circuit within the bulb. It’s rare in incandescent bulbs but can occur due to manufacturing defects or damage.

Special Considerations for Different Bulb Types

  • Incandescent Bulbs: These are straightforward to test and usually show clear results regarding continuity and resistance.
  • LED Bulbs: Testing LED bulbs can be more complex. They have electronic components and may not show continuity in the same way as incandescent bulbs. Resistance readings can also vary widely.
  • CFL Bulbs: Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) are also more complex due to their internal circuitry. Continuity tests may need more conclusive, and resistance readings can be misleading.


Testing a light bulb with a multimeter is a simple yet effective way to ensure the functionality of your lighting. Regular testing can prevent potential electrical issues and maintain efficient lighting in your space.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I test LED bulbs with a multimeter?

Yes, LED bulbs can also be tested for continuity and resistance using a multimeter.

What does a zero reading mean when testing for resistance?

A zero or very low resistance reading typically indicates a short circuit within the bulb.

How often should I test my light bulbs?

It’s good practice to test bulbs before installation and periodically if you suspect any issues with your lighting fixtures.

Alex Klein Author


Alex Klein is an electrical engineer with more than 15 years of expertise. He is the host of the Electro University YouTube channel, which has thousands of subscribers.