Broke a CFL Bulb? Here’s How to Handle Cleanup

Dated: May 3 2021

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Broke a CFL Bulb? Here’s How to Handle Cleanup

Compact fluorescent lamps, or CFLs, are small fluorescent light bulbs that use up to 75 percent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs. If your household is like most you probably use CFLs instead of their incandescent cousins. CFL bulbs are screwed into regular light sockets, making the switch from traditional bulbs an easy and effective way to reduce your home energy use.

If you break a CFL bulb you should be aware that cleaning it up isn’t quite the same as with a traditional light bulb. A CFL bulb contains a small amount of mercury that’s sealed within its glass tubing, and when the bulb is broken the mercury releases as vapor. Below, we’ve summarized how to handle cleanup, as per the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Steps for Cleaning Hard Surfaces

First, open a window or door to allow the room to air out for five to 10 minutes. If you have a central forced air heating/air-conditioning system, turn it off.

Using cardboard or stiff paper, carefully scoop up the CFL glass fragments and powder and place the debris and paper or cardboard into a glass jar with a metal lid, or if you don’t have a glass jar use a sealable plastic bag. (Since a plastic bag won’t prevent mercury vapor from escaping, you should remove the bag from your home after you complete the cleanup).

Using a sticky tape, like duct tape, pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder. Put the used tape in the glass jar or plastic bag.

Clean the area, wiping it down with damp paper towels or wet wipes. Put the towels or wipes in the glass jar or plastic bag.

It’s not recommended that you vacuum hard surfaces during cleanup unless there are still fragments of broken glass after all of the other cleanup steps have been performed. (The EPA warns it’s possible that vacuuming could spread mercury vapor, or powder that contains mercury, although it says there is limited data on that issue). So if you find the need to vacuum the area to remove all of the broken glass, be mindful of these tips:

Keep a window or door to the outdoors open

If your vacuum has a hose use it to vacuum the area where the bulb was broken. 

Empty your vacuum canister, or remove the vacuum bag, and seal the bag or vacuum debris—and any materials you use to clean the vacuum—in a plastic bag.

Place all of the bulb debris and materials used to perform cleanup—including the vacuum cleaner bag— outdoors in a trash container or a protected area until it can be thrown away. Be sure not to leave any bulb fragments or cleanup materials inside your home.

Some jurisdictions require fluorescent bulbs (broken or not) be taken to a local recycling center, so check with your local government about disposal requirements in your area. If there are no particular requirements, you can throw away the materials with your household trash.

Be sure to wash your hands with soap and water after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing the bulb debris and materials used to clean up.

Give the room where the bulb was broken more time to air out, and leave your HVAC system shut off, if possible, for several hours.

Although the EPA’s instructions didn’t explicitly mention wearing gloves during this process, due to the nature of the cleanup, use them at your discretion.

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Chip Boyer

Chip is the IT Manager for Alex MacWilliam Real Estate. He handles the technology needs of the company as well as helping agents in their day to day problem solving.....

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