Broken CFL: Cleaning Up and Dealing With a Haz-Mat release in your house

A broken CFL is a nightmare situation for many concerned homeowners. We all know that mercury is bad for us, so how do we deal with a hazardous material release in our own homes? And just how dangerous is the mercury in a broken CFL?

The bad news is that the rumors are true. CFLs do contain a very small amount of mercury, and elemental mercury is a hazardous material.

The good news is that CFLs contain far less mercury than they once did. An accidentally broken compact florescent does not automatically make your home a superfund site, but you will want to very carefully clean up bulb debris.


Breaking a compact fluorescent and the resulting cleanup problem does require responsible action, but this is not the end of the world.

There are horror stories on the internet about homeowners who have faced an exorbitant hazardous materials cleaning bill after simply dropping a single lightbulb.

Most of these reports are probably the result of lack of information or of overactive imaginations.

In fact, the EPA website itself cites reports stating that the amount of mercury exposure likely after breaking a CFL and cleaning up the mess is less than you would get from eating a tuna sandwich. Even so, mercury should always be handled appropriately.

Download a PDF the highly informative article from LD-A, the magazine of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America, on mercury exposure from cleaning up a damaged CFL mess, Dangerous Mercury In CFLs? One Big Fish Story.

See the EPA web page regarding CFL Cleanup

Broken CFL: Cleaning Up A Tiny Haz-Mat Situation

When you drop a CFL bulb, the resulting mess is a slightly bigger deal than the annoyance associated with little glass on the floor.

Though the amount of mercury in a CFL is small, it still needs to be properly dealt with.

Here is the US Environmental Protection Agency advice on cleaning up a broken CFL

Air it out.
The EPA recommends that homeowners immediately leave the area of a broken bulb and allow the room to air out for five or ten minutes by opening doors and windows.

Contain it.
Turn off air conditioning, fans, or forced air heat in the area.

Clean it up.
Place glass and debris in a sealable container. Thoroughly clean up all visible powder, glass, and debris, being careful not to spread any powder or blow it around.

Properly dispose of the debris.
Promptly place all bulb parts and cleanup materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of properly. Avoid leaving any bulb fragments or cleanup materials indoors.

Continue to air it out.
If practical, continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the heating or air conditioning system shut off for several hours following cleanup.

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