When replacing a projector lamp, we've recommended for years that you don't touch the bulb with your fingers. This is because the oil from your skin can alter the light output or compromise the life of the bulb inside the cage.
But let's take a closer look at that recommendation. Should you really never touch a projector lamp?
It's important to differentiate the lamp module, usually made of plastic or metal, from the bare bulb.
Can I Touch the Module Housing?
The cage surrounding the bulb is generally safe to touch, as it simply houses the bulb and allows it to fit into place in the projector in the correct location and orientation. So if you think you can handle installing the entire module and touch only the cage, you may have a functioning lamp for the entire expected life of the bulb.
However, we still don't recommend this. There are too many chances to fumble the lamp module or accidentally brush a finger or hand against the bulb component. Wearing gloves or handling the entire module with a soft cloth during replacement of the lamp is what we typically recommend.
Can I Touch the Bulb?
Because projector lamp bulbs are not halogen, they can be handled more freely in places. With a glove or cloth, it is possible to replace a bare projector bulb, removing the burned out one from the housing and screwing the replacement into place.
There are, however, parts of the bulb that should not be touched.
Manufacturers recommend never touching the arc tube, especially not with bare fingers. Because the tube is made from quartz, the oil from your hand that creates fingerprints can cause the arc tube to burn hotter in places where it was touched. With the hotter operating temperature at these locations, the bulb is more likely to fail prematurely, even resulting in an explosive failure.
Projector lamp makers also advise against touching the inside reflector of the bulb. Fingerprints here can also lead to hotter burning areas. This can result in the lamp's performance being destabilized. Touching the outside of the reflector area will have less impact on the performance or overall life of the lamp, but it is still not recommended.
Be Safe, Wear Gloves or Use a Cloth
In general, handling a replacement projector lamp should be done with a soft cloth or while wearing gloves. While the housing can be touched with bare fingers, and touching the outside of the bulb will not dramatically shorten life, projector modules are often awkward, sometimes heavy, and usually have wires and connections hanging out of them.
A slight mistake in handling the module can result in accidental touching of the bulb, which can lead to premature failure or the bulb blowing out inside the LCD projector or rear projection TV. To prolong lamp life, play it safe and handle the entire module carefully, avoiding touching it with bare fingers.
What To Do If You Touched the Bulb
Touching the bare projector bulb is bad, but it will not make the lamp dangerous to use or a total loss. While leaving the oil from fingerprints on the bulb can shorten its life, the bulb can be cleaned off with no harmful consequences.
Here is what Osram recommends doing if the bulb is touched:
If the quartz parts are inadvertently touched, clean fingerprints off with denatured alcohol and wipe dry with a soft, clean, lint-free cloth. Do not use cleaning rags or material that can leave a residue.
With some care and attention, even touching a bare projector bulb is not a total disaster. However, this is one additional reason to consider buying the entire lamp assembly instead of trying to replace just the bulb inside of the cage.
featured image © Ben Grey / Flickr Commercial License
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