Carina has been typing on the internets before there was a www in front of everything. This is why she’s cranky and wants to know when you’ll get off her lawn. She resides in a hopelessly outdated home in the Mountain West with a mathematician and three children hell-bent on destruction. Her laundry is not done, but her Twitter is totally up to date. Carina does not have a Tumblr, because get serious.

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Cleaning a Mercury Spill

I’ve switched to CFL bulbs in my house–compact fluorescent lights. While it’s saving me a bundle on my energy costs, I’m nervous about one feature of CFLs: toxic mercury inside the bulbs. Even though I carefully handle CFLs, including keeping a designated bin in the garage where used bulbs go until I recycle them, I’m preparing myself for the day when one breaks inside my home. Another concern is if you have an old-fashioned mercury thermometer that happens to shatter on a surface. I’d like to blame the kids for hypothetically smashing glass and mercury, but I’m the butterfingers most likely to cause an environmental incident in my own home.

The amount of mercury in a CFL is small, about the same amount as the tip of a ballpoint pen, but you want to be careful handling it anyway–THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO HAVE THE KIDS HELP YOU.

Before You Clean:

  • Get everyone else out of the room, including pets and kids
  • Air out the room for 5-10 minutes by opening windows
  • Turning off any air conditioning, fans, or central heating
  • Get your cleaning kit ready: cardstock, duct tape, baby wipes, Ziploc bag

Cleaning Up

  • DO NOT VACUUM (it may contaminate your machine and spread the mercury to the rest of your house)
  • Use paper or cardboard to scrape up the glass pieces and debris and put into the Ziploc baggie
  • Go over the area with duct tape to get any dust or other particulates, put into the Ziploc
  • Use the baby wipes to do a final pass over the area, put them into the Ziploc
  • Take the sealed Ziploc out of the house (so that the vapors don’t stay inside) until you can arrange for it to be properly recycled
  • Wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly
  • Continue to air out the room and leave your central air off for 2-3 hours
If you have to use a vacuum to get mercury out of your carpet
  • Make sure you’ve followed the steps above using the cardstock, duct tape, wipes, airing out the room
  • Remove the vacuum bag
  • Empty or wipe the canister
  • Seal the bag or debris and dispose of properly

 Thanks to the EPA for helping me walk through these steps


And that’s how you go about cleaning a mercury spill (may you never need to know this!)

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Comments (12)

  1. Shawna 02/27/2014 at 11:45 am

    Another thing, if the bulb breaks near fabrics (I broke one in the laundry room), you have to throw out the fabrics because you don’t want to spread the mercury powder in the washing machine effectively contaminating all your laundry.These bulbs are a sore subject with me because folks aren’t being adequately informed on proper cleanup. Instructions should be listed on the box!

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  3. Amanda 02/18/2012 at 3:18 pm

    good to know!

  4. Kristin 02/16/2012 at 9:50 pm

    I’ve broken a few CFL’s, cleaned them up as you described above (after doing a quick and panicked google search), and haven’t seen any ill effects over the years (knock on wood). My favorite was when my 3 year old saw the burned-out CFL in the box, waiting to be taken to the haz mat dump, and decided to recycle it for me, complete with stomping on it to break down the box. ARGH!

  5. Anastasia @ eco-babyz 02/13/2012 at 1:46 pm

    I really want to switch to LEDs, especially now that I have a boy growing up (as I understand they break things more!). I have a girl and we never had an issue with broken bulbs so far 🙂

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  7. Sarah @ Confessions of a Slacker Mom 02/09/2012 at 1:43 pm

    We are slowly making the change to LED bulbs. After breaking an entire box of CFLs and the pain it was to clean up, the cost of LEDs is worth it. We buy one every few months or so. LED still has a lot of catching up to do to be a big contender in the home market, but the dangers of CFL are *sooo* not worth it to me!!

  8. Allison Y. 02/09/2012 at 12:38 am

    Uhh, I read this too late too. Dropped one in my bathroom sink. Just put the big pieces of glass in the trashcan and washed out the sink like normal. I had no idea…

  9. kelly 02/08/2012 at 9:17 pm

    Oh no! I’m reading this two weeks two late. My son broke one of these bulbs, and I just cleaned it up like I would any old broken glass mess. Ugh!

  10. sara 02/08/2012 at 9:01 pm

    …which is why I’d rather stick with traditional bulbs.

  11. Rachael 02/08/2012 at 8:50 pm

    Totally stresses me out. We’ve never broken one, but I feel like I’ll need to be all HAZMAT if it happens!