Three Easy Steps to Clean Up A Broken CFL Bulb

With the eco revolution that’s been going on in recent years, it’s probably pretty safe to assume that everyone has heard that switching their incandescent bulbs to CFL’s is the way to go.  Yes, they cost more upfront, but over the course of the bulb’s life, CFL’s save.  They use about 75% less energy to provide the same amount of light and last about six times longer.  CFL bulbs also generate 70% less heat so not only are they safer to operate, but they also reduce the cost of cooling homes and offices.  Sounds like a no brainer to me.

cfl green background

Here’s the thing, though.  CFL’s contain a very small amount of mercury sealed within the glass.  Under normal operation, this is perfectly fine and is no cause for alarm.  If a CFL bulb breaks, the mercury is released into the air as a vapor and it is very important to clean it up and dispose of it properly.

Cleaning Up A Broken CFL

  • Air out the room for 5-10 minutes.  Keep all people and furpeople out of the area while it’s airing out.
  • Use a piece of stiff cardboard to scoop up the large pieces of glass.  Super sticky tape like packing tape will help pick up any small pieces and shards.  Put all broken pieces in a sealable container like a glass jar with a lid or a ziplock style plastic bag.  Do NOT vacuum; it could actually spread the mercury vapor.
  • Contact your local government about disposal.  Some municipalities require CFL bulbs (whether they are broken or not) to be recycled.  Others don’t have this requirement and will allow you to throw them away with your trash.  If you can, continue to air out the room for a few hours and store the broken CFL outside until you can dispose of it.

Personally, I don’t feel right just throwing a broken CFL away with my regular garbage, only to have that glass and mercury sit in a landfill.  Most hardware stores in my area recycle CFLs including Ace, Lowe’s, How Depot, and True Value.  If you are unsure of where your local recycling center is, you can look it at Earth 911.

By the way, don’t freak out if you break a CFL.  It is only a small amount of mercury (less than 1/100th of what’s in a mercury thermometer), but it is still important to take proper clean up steps for the safety of your family and the environment.

For more information, check out the EPA’s page about cleaning up broken CFL’s.

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