Cleaning Up Mercury Spills

Mercury exposure is a health risk, and precaution must be taken in the event of a spill. Please visit the fluorescent bulb or thermometer spills pages for specific steps. No matter the source of the spill, it is imperative to proceed with caution to minimize risk of exposure.

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 will 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. Clothing that has come into direct contact with mercury should be discarded. "Direct contact" means that mercury was (or has been) spilled directly on the clothing, for example, if you break a mercury thermometer and some of elemental mercury beads came in contact with your clothing. Never walk around if your shoes might be contaminated with mercury. Contaminated clothing can also spread mercury around.

Handling a Broken Fluorescent Bulb

Learn step-by-step procedures for handling a broken fluorescent bulb.

Handling a Broken Thermometer

Learn step-by-step procedures for handling a broken thermometer.

Actions to Take to Prevent Broken Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs

Fluorescent bulbs are made of glass and can break if dropped or roughly handled. To avoid breaking a bulb, follow these general practices:

  • Always switch off and allow a working CFL bulb to cool before handling.
  • Always handle CFL bulbs carefully to avoid breakage.
    • If possible, screw/unscrew the CFL by holding the plastic or ceramic base, not the glass tubing.
    • Gently screw in the CFL until snug. Do not over-tighten.
    • Never forcefully twist the glass tubing.
  • Consider not using CFLs in lamps that can be easily knocked over, in unprotected light fixtures, or in lamps that are incompatible with the spiral or folded shape of many CFLs.
  • Do not use CFL bulbs in locations where they can easily be broken, such as play spaces.
  • Use CFL bulbs that have a glass or plastic cover over the spiral or folded glass tube, if available. These types of bulbs look more like incandescent bulbs and may be more durable if dropped.
  • Consider using a drop cloth (e.g., plastic sheet or beach towel) when changing a fluorescent light bulb in case a breakage should occur. The drop cloth will help prevent mercury contamination of nearby surfaces and can be bundled with the bulb debris for disposal.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the source for the information on this page.