How to Update Recessed Light Fixtures

A recessed light with a hand adjusting the bulb.
  • 2-4 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 50-300
What You'll Need
Stepladder or ladder
Needle-nose pliers
Recessed lighting trim
What You'll Need
Stepladder or ladder
Needle-nose pliers
Recessed lighting trim

Recessed kitchen light fixtures are a sleek, modern way to bring light into the room and brighten up your space. But once the trim around those lights starts to get yellowed and old, those lights may not look so sleek and fresh anymore. But you don’t have to replace your entire light fixture to get an updated look. In just a few minutes of DIY, you can replace the trim around those lights and totally update recessed kitchen lighting fixtures with very little money and trouble.

Before you begin your project, check the numbers on your recessed lights to make sure you get trim in the right size. Pick out your trim and have the new stuff ready to go so you don’t have to stop your project in the middle. Once you have new trim for each fixture, you’re literally only a few minutes away from totally updated recessed kitchen lights.

Step 1 - Let the Light Fixtures Cool

Turn the lights off for at least 20 minutes. You want the bulbs and the surrounding fixture to be cool to the touch before you start your project. A hot light bulb or light bulb housing can burn the skin.

Step 2 - Turn Off the Circuit Breaker

Flip the circuit breaker that supplies electricity to your kitchen lights. You'll find circuit breakers in your electrical box, and you may need to test more than one switch before you find the correct one. Double-check that the lights will not come on after you flip the switch. This DIY project is relatively safe, but it never hurts to be careful when it comes to electricity. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so be sure to turn off the circuit breaker.

Step 3 - Position Your Ladder

Place your stepladder under the fixture. Make sure the ladder is stable before you step onto it to begin working. If you have very high ceilings that a stepladder won’t reach, you will need a partner (and a taller ladder). Never use a full-sized ladder by yourself, for safety’s sake. Have someone stand below and hold the ladder steady for you if you’re working with tall ceilings.

Step 4 - Remove the Light Bulb

Remove the light bulb from the fixture and place it somewhere safe. Do not hold it in your hand or your mouth while you work; it’s worth it to take the extra time to climb down and place the bulb somewhere it won’t break, so you don’t have to juggle it while you’re working above your own head. (Always practice safety, even when your DIY project is relatively short and simple.)

Step 5 - Remove and Toss the Old Trim

Look for the pull tabs and/or springs around the lighting housing that holds the trim in place. If needed, use pliers to compress the springs to release the trim. Once you push the springs back, the trim should pop free so you can remove it easily. If it won’t come free, check for additional springs and pull-tabs that may need to be engaged. Throw the old trim away. Unless you plan to save it for a future DIY project, you won’t need the old stuff anymore.

Step 6 - Adjust the New Trim

Manually fit the new trim in place and hold it flush against the ceiling with your hand. Check to be sure the trim is lined up with the fixture exactly how you want it, so you won’t have to make any additional adjustments later.

Step 7 - Slide the Trim Into Place

Use the pliers to compress one of the springs again and slide the trim into place. Repeat on the other side, until the trim is securely fit into the fixture. Remove your hand and check that the trim is staying in place on its own. It should be flush with the ceiling and secure inside the light fixture housing.

replacing a light bulb

Step 8 - Insert the Bulb

Screw your bulb back into the fixture.

Step 9 - Turn the Circuit Breaker On

Flip your circuit breaker on again. Don't forget this step!

Step 10 - Turn on the Light

Test your light and admire your handiwork.

Step 11 - Repeat for Each Fixture

Repeat the process for each of the recessed kitchen light fixtures you want to update. After the first trim is replaced, it should only take your a few minutes to update each fixture in the room.

Completing Your Project

If any of your lights don’t come back on, replace the bulbs with brand new ones and try again. If the problem persists, follow the instructions to remove the trim again and check for any signs of visible electrical wiring damage. If you work slowly and carefully, all your lights should come right back on when you flip the switch. If there is any damage, you will need to consult with a professional electrician.

Once you’ve replaced your trim, those recessed lights will look fresh and new again with very little time, money, or effort. All you need are your DIY skills and a few tools.