Cleaning Up a Broken CFL
What to Do if 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.
- 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, but pricey), 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
- August 2012 article "Exposure analysis of accidental release of mercury from compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs)" in the journal Science of the Total Environment
- July 2011 article "Human health risks from mercury exposure from broken compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs)" in the journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology
- Summary of 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
- February 2008 Maine Department of Environmental Protection Compact Fluorescent Lamp Breakage Study Report
- February 2008 Mercury Policy Project report: Shedding Light on Mercury Risks from CFL Breakage (PDF) (23 pp, 2.3 MB, about PDF)
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. You can reach your local poison control center anywhere in the U.S. by calling 1-800-222-1222. You can call your poison control center any time you have questions or in an emergency. You can also consult your physician about potential health effects from mercury exposures.