Cleaning Up a Broken CFL

Steps to Take When a CFL Breaks

En español: hoja informativa sobre qué hacer si una bombilla compacta fluorescente se rompe en su hogar

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Broken CFL

Download and print instructions

Recommended steps:

Before Cleanup

  1. Have people and pets leave the room, and avoid the breakage area on the way out.

  2. Open a window or door to the outdoors and leave the room for 5-10 minutes.

  3. Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning (H&AC) system, if you have one.

  4. Collect materials you will need to clean up the broken bulb:
    • Stiff paper or cardboard
    • Sticky tape (e.g., duct tape)
    • Damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes (for hard surfaces)
    • Glass jar with a metal lid (such as a canning jar) or a sealable plastic bag(s)

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Cleanup Steps for Hard Surfaces

  1. Carefully scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place debris and paper/cardboard in a glass jar with a metal lid. If a glass jar is not available, use a sealable plastic bag. (NOTE: Since a plastic bag will not prevent the mercury vapor from escaping, remove the plastic bag(s) from the home after cleanup.)

  2. 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.

  3. Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Place the towels in the glass jar or plastic bag.

  4. Vacuuming of hard surfaces during cleanup is not recommended unless broken glass remains after all other cleanup steps have been taken. [NOTE: It is possible that vacuuming could spread mercury-containing powder or mercury vapor, although available information on this problem is limited.] If vacuuming is needed to ensure removal of all broken glass, keep the following tips in mind:
    • Keep a window or door to the outdoors open;  
    • Vacuum the area where the bulb was broken using the vacuum hose, if available; and 
    • Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister) and seal the bag/vacuum debris, and any materials used to clean the vacuum, in a plastic bag.
  5. 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. 

  6. 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.

  7. Wash your hands with soap and water after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing bulb debris and cleanup materials.

  8. Continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the H&AC system shut off, as practical, for several hours.

If you have further questions, please call your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

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Cleanup Steps for Carpeting or Rugs

  1. Carefully scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place debris and paper/cardboard in a glass jar with a metal lid. If a glass jar is not available, use a sealable plastic bag. (NOTE: Since a plastic bag will not prevent the mercury vapor from escaping, remove the plastic bag(s) from the home after cleanup.)

  2. 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.

  3. Vacuuming of carpeting or rugs during cleanup is not recommended unless broken glass remains after all other cleanup steps have been taken. [NOTE: It is possible that vacuuming could spread mercury-containing powder or mercury vapor, although available information on this problem is limited.] If vacuuming is needed to ensure removal of all broken glass, keep the following tips in mind:
    • Keep a window or door to the outdoors open;
    • Vacuum the area where the bulb was broken using the vacuum hose, if available, and 
    • Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister) and seal the bag/vacuum debris, and any materials used to clean the vacuum, in a plastic bag.
  4. 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. 

  5. 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.

  6. Wash your hands with soap and water after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing bulb debris and cleanup materials.

  7. Continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the H&AC system shut off, as practical, for several hours.

If you have further questions, please call your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

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Future Cleaning of Carpeting or Rugs: Air Out the Room During and After Vacuuming

  1. The next several times you vacuum the rug or carpet, shut off the H&AC system if you have one, close the doors to other rooms, and open a window or door to the outside before vacuuming. Change the vacuum bag after each use in this area.

  2. After vacuuming is completed, keep the H&AC system shut off and the window or door to the outside open, as practical, for several hours.

If you have further questions, please call your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222. 

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Why is it important to clean up a broken CFL properly?

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.

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What if I can't follow all the recommended steps? or I cleaned up a CFL but didn't do it properly?

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 the risk to your health from a potential exposure to mercury, consult your physician, or your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

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