How To...Clean Up a Broken CFL

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We're not sure you can mention the word CFL without the words good for the environment being in the same sentence, or at least the same paragraph. Even though they contain a small amount of mercury within the bulb, far less mercury is released into the air by the power plant because less power is needed to run the CFL compared with an incandescent bulb. [Note: CFLs contain 1/100th the mercury of "old-fashion" thermometers.]

We're repeatedly reminded to recycle our CFLs because of the mercury contained within, and there are many options for safe disposal--Ikea collects CFLs, incandescents (why not? they say), and batteries. Otherwise, check out Earth911 for a local suggestion. However, if you break a CFL before you're able to recycle it, there are some precautions you should take. This information comes from the EPA/Energy Star, and we've outlined what to do after the jump. 1. Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.

2. Carefully scoop up the fragments and powder with stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a sealed plastic bag.


  • Use disposable rubber gloves, if available (i.e., do not use bare hands). Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes and place them in the plastic bag.

  • Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces.

3. Place all cleanup materials in a second sealed plastic bag.


  • Place the first bag in a second sealed plastic bag and put it in the outdoor trash container or in another outdoor protected area for the next normal trash disposal. Note: some states prohibit such trash disposal and require that broken and unbroken lamps be taken to a local recycling center.

  • Wash your hands after disposing of the bag.

4. If a fluorescent bulb breaks on a rug or carpet:


  • First, remove all materials you can without using a vacuum cleaner, following the steps above. Sticky tape (such as duct tape) can be used to pick up small pieces 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 two sealed plastic bags in the outdoor trash or protected outdoor location for normal disposal.

And always remember to handle the bulb by the base when putting it in or taking it out of a light fixture so as to minimize the chance of glass breaking.

- Thanks to AZAdam for the great CFL pic.

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