Cleaning a Mercury Spill

The change to CFL bulbs means that you may need to know how to clean a mercury spill. We walk you through it.
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clean 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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