Wednesday, December 30, 2009

How to Clean Up After a CFL Bulb Break

A guest blog post by Marcy Tate

CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs are becoming more popular as more homeowners realize their great energy and money-saving benefits. Many homeowners do not know that CFL bulbs contain small amounts of mercury. The mercury is sealed within the glass tubing within the bulb. The mercury only poses a threat to humans if a break occurs. If a bulb breaks, it is potentially hazardous if not cleaned up and disposed of properly. Improper cleaning and disposal leads to the release of mercury vapors in the air. Excessive mercury exposure could injure your kidneys or, in extreme cases, produce severe brain damage and cause serious respiratory system disorders. Read below to learn how to properly clean up after a CFL break.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):

If a CFL bulb breaks, the following steps should be taken:

1. Have everyone leave the room. Take caution to avoid stepping in the glass and powder.

2. Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes.

3. Turn off your forced air furnace or a/c system.

For Hard Surfaces:

*Do not use a broom or vacuum cleaner*

1. Scoop up the glass and powder with a piece of cardboard. Place the glass and powder in a tightly sealed glass jar or sealed plastic bag. Place the cardboard is a sealed plastic bag.

2. Use a strong piece of tape (such as duct tape) to pick up any remaining glass or powder.

3. Wipe the area with a damp paper towel or rag that you don’t mind throwing away. Place in a sealed glass jar or sealed plastic bag.

For Carpets or Rugs:

1. Cautiously pick up the glass and place it in a sealed glass jar or sealed plastic bag.

2. Use a strong piece of tape (such as duct tape) to pick up any remaining glass or powder.

3. Vacuum if necessary. Remove the vacuum bag, or wipe the canister of a bagless vacuum (with damp paper towels or rags). Place the bag or paper towels in a sealed plastic bag.

Clothing and Shoes:

1. If clothing or bedding comes in direct contact with the broken bulb, the clothing or bedding should be thrown away. Do not wash such clothing or bedding because mercury fragments on the clothing or bedding could contaminate your washing machine and pollute sewage.

2. You may wash other clothing (such as the clothing you wore when cleaning up the break), as long as that clothing has not come into direct contact with the glass or powder.

3. Shoes should be wiped off with damp paper towels. Place the paper towels in a glass jar or plastic bag.


*Some states require broken and unbroken mercury-containing bulbs to be taken to a local recycling center and not be placed in a regular trash bin. Make sure to verify the requirements in your area.*

1. Immediately place all the clean-up materials in the trash. Take the trash outdoors.

2. After disposal is completed, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly.

About the Author:
Marcy Tate is a home improvement blogger at

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