Nebraska Recycling Council

How to Safely Clean up Broken CFLs

(and other fluorescent lamps)

broken cfl

Compact fluorescent light bulbs contain small amounts of mercury. For your health, take these precautions when cleaning up a broken bulb.

Before Clean-up: Air Out the Room

  • Have people and pets leave the room, being careful to not walk through the breakage area.
  • Open a window and leave the room for at least 15 minutes.
  • Shut off forced air heating/cooling system and fans.
  • Assemble a clean-up kit of disposable gloves, a disposable container or sealable plastic bag, duct tape, and paper towels or wet wipes.

cfl clean up tools

Clean-Up Steps for Hard Surfaces

  • Wearing gloves, carefully scoop up glass pieces and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and a paper towel; place in the disposable container.
  • Use duct tape to pick up any remaining small, glass fragments and powder.
  • Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes; put towels in the disposable container.
  • Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces.

cfl clean up steps

Clean-up Steps for Carpeting or Rug

  • Wearing gloves, carefully pick up glass fragments and place in the disposable container or bag.
  • Use duct tape to pick up any remaining small, glass fragments and powder.
  • If vacuuming is needed after all visible materials are removed, vacuum the area where the bulb was broken.
  • Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister), and put the bag or vacuum debris in a sealed plastic bag.

Clean-up Steps for Clothing, Bedding, and Other Soft Materials

  • If clothing or bedding materials come in direct contact with broken glass or mercury-containing powder from inside the bulb that may stick to the fabric, the clothing or bedding should be thrown away. Do not wash such clothing or bedding because mercury fragments in the clothing may contaminate the machine and/or pollute sewage.
  • You can, however, wash clothing or other materials that have been exposed to the mercury vapor from a broken CFL, such as the clothing you are wearing when you cleaned up the broken CFL, as long as that clothing has not come into direct contact with the materials from the broken bulb.
  • If shoes come into direct contact with broken glass or mercury-containing powder from the bulb, wipe them off with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Place the towels or wipes in a container or plastic bag for disposal.

Disposal of Clean-up Materials

  • Immediately place all clean-up materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area for the next normal trash pickup.
  • Wash your hands.

Future Cleaning of Carpeting or Rug

  • The next several times you vacuum, shut off the forced air heating/cooling system and open a window before vacuuming.
  • Keep the heating/cooling system shut off and the window open for at least 15 minutes after vacuuming is completed.

What Never to do with a Mercury Spill

  • Never use a vacuum cleaner to clean up mercury. The vacuum will put mercury into the air and increase exposure.
  • Never use a broom to clean up mercury. It can break the mercury into smaller droplets and spread them.
  • Never pour mercury down a drain. It may lodge in the plumbing and cause future problems during plumbing repairs. If discharged, it can cause pollution of the septic tank or sewage treatment plant.
  • Never wash clothing or other items that have come in direct contact with mercury in a washing machine because mercury may contaminate the machine and/or pollute sewage. Discard clothing that has come into direct contact with mercury, e.g. mercury was spilled or came in contact with your clothing, or if broken glass or other material from the bulb, including mercury-containing powder, came into contact with your clothing.
  • Never walk around if your shoes might be contaminated with mercury. Contaminated clothing can also spread mercury.

Sign up for our E-newsletter