8 Tips for Cleaning Up a Broken CFL Bulb

A broken compact fluorescent bulb isn’t cause for panic, but it is cause for concern. CFLs and other fluorescent bulbs typically contain a small amount of mercury, which can turn into dangerous mercury vapor if the bulb breaks.

Cleaning up and disposing of a broken CFL properly is important, especially if you have young children, you’re pregnant, or the bulb breaks on a carpet.

Don’t reach for the broom to sweep it up. That’ll disperse the mercury; your goal is to keep the mercury in one place and remove it.

Follow these 8 steps to clean up and dispose of any CFL bulbs that break:

Step 1: Contain the damage

  • Get people and pets out of the room.
  • Open the windows to let in fresh air.
  • Shut the door to the room and turn off your forced-air heat or AC to keep mercury vapors from traveling elsewhere in your home.
  • Avoid stepping on the broken glass or mercury powder as you leave the room.

Step 2: Gather up cleaning supplies

Stay out of the room for 5 to 15 minutes to give the mercury enough time to settle into little balls, but not long enough to disperse. Meanwhile, collect:

  • disposable rubber gloves
  • duct tape
  • a piece of stiff paper or thin cardboard
  • a few damp paper towels or baby wipes
  • a sealable container — a glass jar with a lid (best), a plastic jar with a lid (OK), or a zipper plastic bag (better than nothing)

Step 3: Cleaning up your broken CFL

  • Put on the gloves and pick up the big pieces of broken glass.
  • Use the stiff cardboard to scoop up the smaller pieces.
  • Use the sticky side of the duct tape to pick up the smallest shards.
  • Wipe the area with your paper towels or baby wipes.
  • Put the broken CFL pieces, the cardboard, and the wipes in your container and seal it.

Step 4: Double-check your work

Look closely at the area where the CFL broke for any remaining powder, pieces of glass, or mercury balls. If you see any, repeat Step 3.

You may vacuum the area, but use only the hose attachment and pay special attention to the disposal techniques in Step 5.

Did your CFL break onto a carpet? If you have small children who crawl or play on the carpet, you may want to replace the area of carpet where the CFL bulb broke. A Maine Deparment of Environmental Protection Agency study says residule mercury left behind after you clean the carpet can be released as vapor when children play or sit on the carpet.

You can avoid the problem entirely by using only LED or halogen bulbs in rooms where your kids play or sleep, and in your bedroom while you’re pregnant. Also, make sure you’re using CFLs appropriately to keep them from burning out too soon.

Step 5: Take out the trash

  • Take the zipper bag or glass jar right out to the trash.
  • Toss out anything else the CFL broke on, such as bedding, fabrics, and clothing.

If you vacuumed, take the whole vacuum outside before pulling the bag out of the machine. Seal the vacuum bag and put it in the trash. If you have a canister vacuum, empty the canister into your sealable container and wipe the inside of the canister clean. Put the cleaning rag into the container, too.

Step 6: Clean yourself

  • If bits of glass or mercury got onto your shoes, use a towel or wipe to clean your shoes, then dispose of the wipe.
  • If mercury got onto your clothes, toss them out.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water.

Step 7: Remove the debris from your property

Your sealed waste container and contaminated trash need to go to a universal waste facility that handles all types of trash, including environmentally sensitive materials.

Ask local government officials where to find one in your area.

Step 8: Continue to air out the room

Continue to air out the room and leave the HVAC system off several hours, or as long as that’s practical given the outdoor temperatures. If the CFL bulb broke on carpet, open the windows when you vacuum for the next few weeks in case vacuuming releases any mercury you didn’t already get out of the rug.

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These articles are not intended to give legal or tax advice, and you should consult your attorney or financial advisor for additional information.

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