Cleaning Up a Broken CFL
Steps to Take When a CFL Breaks
On this page:
- Cleanup instructions
- Why is it important to clean up a broken CFL properly?
- What if I can't follow all the recommended steps? or I cleaned up a CFL but didn't do it properly?
- Have people and pets leave the room.
- Air out the room for 5-10 minutes by opening a window or door to the outdoor environment.
- Shut off the central forced air heating/air-conditioning system, if you have one.
- Collect materials needed to clean up broken bulb:
- stiff paper or cardboard;
- sticky tape;
- damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes (for hard surfaces); and
- a glass jar with a metal lid or a sealable plastic bag.
- DO NOT VACUUM. Vacuuming is not recommended unless broken glass remains after all other cleanup steps have been taken. Vacuuming could spread mercury-containing powder or mercury vapor.
- Be thorough in collecting broken glass and visible powder. Scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard. Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder. Place the used tape in the glass jar or plastic bag. See the detailed cleanup instructions for more information, and for differences in cleaning up hard surfaces versus carpeting or rugs.
- Place cleanup materials in a sealable container.
- Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials, including vacuum cleaner bags, outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of. Avoid leaving any bulb fragments or cleanup materials indoors.
- Next, check with your local government about disposal requirements in your area, because some localities require fluorescent bulbs (broken or unbroken) be taken to a local recycling center. If there is no such requirement in your area, you can dispose of the materials with your household trash.
- If practical, continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the heating/air conditioning system shut off for several hours.
If you have further questions, please call your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.
- Actions you can take to prevent broken compact fluorescent light bulbs
- You can switch off and allow a working CFL bulb to cool before handling.
- You can handle CFL bulbs carefully to avoid breakage.
- If possible, screw/unscrew the CFL by holding the plastic or ceramic base, not the glass tubing.
- Gently screw in the CFL until snug. Do not over-tighten.
- Never forcefully twist the glass tubing.
- You can choose not to install CFLs in table lamps and floor lamps that can be easily knocked over, in unprotected light fixtures, or in locations where they can easily be broken, such as play spaces.
- Other available options for these areas: LEDs (super-efficient, with very low energy costs; pricey, although prices are dropping rapidly), and halogens (inexpensive, more efficient than incandescents, but not as efficient as CFLs or LEDs).
- You can purchase CFL bulbs that have a glass or plastic cover over the spiral or folded glass tube, if available. These types of bulbs look more like incandescent bulbs and may be more durable if dropped.
- You can consider using a drop cloth (e.g., plastic sheet or beach towel) when changing a fluorescent light bulb in case a breakage should occur. The drop cloth will help prevent mercury contamination of nearby surfaces and can be bundled with the bulb debris for disposal.
- Information from other sources relating to the accidental breakage of CFLs
May 2010 opinion of the Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks (SCHER) of the European Commission Health and Consumer Protection Directorate on Mercury in Certain Energy-Saving Light Bulbs (PDF) | Summary
CFLs and other fluorescent light bulbs contain a small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing. When a fluorescent bulb breaks in your home, some of this mercury is released as mercury vapor. To minimize exposure to mercury vapor, EPA recommends that residents follow the cleanup and disposal steps described on this page.
Don't be alarmed; these steps are only precautions that reflect best practices for cleaning up a broken CFL. Keep in mind that CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury -- less than 1/100th of the amount in a mercury thermometer.
However, if you are concerned about your health after cleaning up a broken CFL, consult your local poison control center by calling 1-800-222-1222. You can call your center any time you have questions or in an emergency.