Mercury Spills and Cleanup

For Compact Fluorescent Lamps

View Brochure: Facts on Compact Fluorescent Lamps & Proper Disposal

Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) contain a small amount of mercury. A release of mercury may occur if the glass portion of the CFL is broken. Following proper procedures when containing and cleaning up the mercury will minimize any exposure risk. If you are concerned about exposure to mercury contact the Illinois Department of Public Health Division of Environmental Health at (217) 782-5830.

  • Do not use a vacuum cleaner to clean up the breakage. This will spread the mercury vapor and dust throughout the area and could potentially contaminate the vacuum.
  • Keep people and pets away from the breakage area until the cleanup is complete.
  • Ventilate the area by opening windows, and leave the area for 15 minutes before returning to begin the cleanup. Mercury vapor levels will be lower by then.
  • For maximum protection and if you have them, wear rubber gloves to protect your hands from the sharp glass.
  • Carefully remove the larger pieces and place them in a secure closed container, preferably a glass container with a metal screw top lid and seal like a canning jar.40 A glass jar with a good seal works best to contain any mercury vapors inside. Other jars that can be made of glass and also work are pickle, peanut butter and applesauce jars. Not ideal but also a good choice for containing breakage is a heavy duty #2 plastic container with either a screw lid or push-on lid such as a joint compound bucket or certain kitty litter-type containers.
  • Next, begin collecting the smaller pieces and dust. You can use two stiff pieces of paper such as index cards or playing cards to scoop up pieces.
  • Pat the area with the sticky side of duct tape, packing tape or masking tape to pick up fine particles. Wipe the area with a wet wipe or damp paper towel to pick up even finer particles.
  • Put all waste and materials into the glass container, including all material used in the cleanup that may have been contaminated with mercury. Label the container as “broken lamp.”
  • Remove the container with the breakage and cleanup materials from your home. This is particularly important if you do not have a glass container.
  • Continue ventilating the room for several hours.
  • Wash your hands and face.
  • Take the glass container with to a facility that accepts household hazardous waste. If there is no permanent facility near your home, keep the glass container in a safe place until the next one day household hazardous waste collection occurs in your area. Do not take a broken CFL to a retail collection facility.
  • When a break happens on carpeting, homeowners may consider removing throw rugs or the area of carpet where the breakage occurred as a precaution, particularly if the rug is in an area frequented by infants, small children or pregnant women.
  • Finally, if the carpet is not removed, open the window to the room during the next several times you vacuum the carpet to provide good ventilation.

The next time you replace a lamp, consider putting a drop cloth on the floor so that any accidental breakage can be easily cleaned up. If consumers remain concerned regarding safety, they may consider not utilizing fluorescent lamps in situations where they could easily be broken. Consumers may also consider avoiding CFL usage in bedrooms or carpeted areas frequented by infants, small children, or pregnant women. Finally, consider not storing too many used/spent lamps before recycling as that may increase your chances of breakage. Don’t forget to properly recycle your used fluorescent bulbs so they don’t break and put mercury into our environment.

For large spills

For spills of more mercury than contained in the typical mercury fever thermometer, contact the Illinois Department of Public Health Division of Environmental Health at (217) 782-5830.

For small spills

The amount of mercury in a typical mercury fever thermometer or less:

First, secure the area, gather materials and prepare to recover the mercury.

  • Immediately after a spill keep all people and pets away from the spill area.
  • To minimize the mercury that vaporizes, turn off any heaters and turn up any air conditioners.
  • Ventilate the area by opening windows and, when possible, keep open for at least two days.
  • Never use a vacuum to clean up a mercury spill. Not only will the mercury contaminate your vacuum; the heat form the vacuum will evaporate the mercury, further distributing it througout the house. Similarly, never use a broom to clean up mercury. It will only distribute the mercury into smaller beads, and will contaminate the broom.
  • Assemble the necessary supplies before attempting a clean up. These include gloves, an eyedropper, and two stiff pieces of paper or cardboard, two plastic bags, a large tray or box, duct tape or packing tape, a flashlight and a wide mouth container. Remember any tools used for clean up should be considered contaminated and disposed of with the mercury.
  • Do not touch the mercury.
  • Remove all jewelry and watches from your hands, as mercury will bond with the metal.
  • Put on gloves, preferably rubber gloves to minimize contact with mercury.
  • Use the flashlight to locate the mercury. The light will reflect off the mercury beads and make them easier to find.

Second, clean up the spill. Different surfaces require different clean up procedure.

  • On a hard surface or tightly woven fabric, use stiff paper to push beads of mercury together. Use the eyedropper to suction the beads of mercury, or working over the tray to catch any spills, lift the beads of mercury with the stiff paper. Carefully place the mercury in a wide mouth container. Pick up any remaining beads of mercury with sticky tape and place contaminated tape in a plastic bag along with the eyedropper, stiff paper, and gloves. Label the bag as mercury waste. Place this bag and sealed container in the second bag. Label it as mercury waste.
  • On a carpet or rug, the mercury-contaminated section should be cut out. This cutout section along with all cleanup items, should be placed in a plastic bag. Label it as mercury waste.
  • In a sink of water, mercury will sink to the bottom. Remove as much water without disturbing the mercury and recover the mercury with an eyedropper. Place in a wide mouth container, close the lid and seal it with tape. Label it as mercury waste.
  • In a drain, mercury will get caught in your sink trap. Working over a tray, remove the trap and pour the contents into large mouth container. Close the container lid and seal with tape. Label it as mercury waste.

Third, properly dispose of the mercury waste.

  • If the spill occurs in a household, the mercury waste should be taken to a household hazardous waste collection. A schedule of household hazardous waste collections sponsored by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency can be found on our website. You can also contact your local Solid Waste Management Agency. Local governments often sponsor household hazardous waste collections.
  • If the spill occurs anywhere besides a household, the mercury waste must be handled as a hazardous waste. For more information, go to the Mercury Recycling/Disposal page.