How To Dispose of a Broken CFL Bulb

by heather

The broken CFL bulb

The broken CFL bulb

My name is Mrs. Butterfingers. Let me tell you why.

Last night I was changing one of the CFL bulbs in my basement because it had burned out. Suddenly, this happened: unscrew, unscrew, unscrew…slip, fumble, grab, gasp, bounce, bounce, crash.

I now had a broken CFL bulb all over my concrete basement floor.

All I could do for the first minute was stare in horror. What was I supposed to do? CFL bulbs contain mercury, and I suddenly realized that in spite of all the writing I’d done on the benefits of CFL bulbs, and how to recycle CFL bulbs, I’d never once looked into how to safely dispose of a broken CFL bulb

Yowza. And a blog post is born.

The Mercury In CFL Bulbs

According to EcoVillage Green, the amount of mercury that is in CFL bulbs is 5 milligrams, which is about the size of the period at the end of this sentence.

So, calling the HazMat team, or 911, over a broken cfl isn’t required. But, it does need safe disposal.

How To Safely Dispose of a Broken CFL Bulb

According to the EPA, here’s what you need to do if you suddenly find yourself looking at a broken cfl:

Step 1: Air Out the Room

  • Make sure everyone, including pets, leaves the room for 15 minutes. Open doors and windows to air everything out.
  • Make sure that no one walks through the area where the cfl bulb broke.
  • Shut off your heat/AC.

Step 2: Clean Up, For Hard Surfaces

  • Carefully scoop up glass using a piece of stiff cardboard. Put the pieces in a sealed glass jar (like a canning jar) or a sealed plastic bag.
  • Use a piece of duct tape to get the smaller glass fragments off the floor.
  • Wipe the area clean with wet paper towels or wet wipes. Place used towels in the glass jar or plastic bag.
  • Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean the area.

Step 2.1: Clean Up, For Carpeted Areas

  • Carefully pick up the broken cfl pieces and put them in a sealed jar or plastic bag.
  • Use duct tape to pick up the smaller fragments.
  • If vacuuming is needed, go for it.
  • Once you’re done vacuuming, remove the bag and place it in a sealed plastic bag for disposal.

Step 3: Disposing of the Broken CFL Bulb

  • Immediately place all cleanup materials outside in a trash bin.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly.
  • Check with your city on disposal. Some areas want the broken cfl (in its sealed container) thrown into the trash. Others will want you to take it to a recycling center or hazardous waste collection site for safe disposal.

Special Addendum: Clothing and Shoes

  • If clothing or bedding comes into contact with mercury, do not wash it. The mercury can contaminate the washing machine, and will get into the sewage system. The EPA recommends you throw everything away that you suspect came into contact with the broken CFL.
  • If shoes came into contact with the broken cfl bulb, wipe them down with a wet paper towel. Put the wet paper towels into the sealed plastic bag with your other cleanup items.

How I Did Everything Wrong Cleaning Up My Broken CFL Bulb

Genius that I am, I only researched how to safely clean up a broken cfl bulb until after I cleaned it up myself.

Because that’s what smart people do, right?

Here are the mistakes I made:

  • I did not air out the room for 15 minutes.
  • I used a broom to clean up the broken CFL bulb fragments.
  • I was not careful about wiping down my flip flops.
  • I did not use duct tape to pick up the glass fragments.
  • I did not put all the glass fragments into a sealed plastic bag.
  • I did not take the glass fragments outside.

margaritaShocking, right? Classic Heather more like it.

I can only chalk it up to the warm, luscious summer evening I’d been sitting out in, and the cold margarita that I’d just made which was waiting for me on the back patio.

Blame the margarita.

Last Word…

CFL bulbs don’t contain a huge amount of mercury. So, I really don’t think there’s any cause for panic when one breaks. But taking a few simple steps (and learning from my mistakes, hopefully) means that our homes will stay clean and safe for us to live in.

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Republishing Policy:

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{ 3 trackbacks }

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Carrick June 29, 2009 at 12:18 pm

lol, I remember the time when I accidentally broke a thermometer and had extraordinarily fascinated pushing the mercury around on the floor (it really does live up to its name). Haha. Guess those days are over. ๐Ÿ˜‰

In other news, I recently looked up how much tuna I could safely eat, and the recommendation was ZERO. No tuna at all. You know, I’m not a total bleeding-heart environmentalist–if a species of ant in the Amazon goes extinct, I’m sorry, I don’t really care–but to get to the point where there’s so much pollution that I can’t even eat freakin’ tuna????? Something’s very, very wrong here.

Um, yes, I’m aware that this comment had nothing to do with CFL bulbs. ๐Ÿ˜‰

heather June 29, 2009 at 12:41 pm


My dad said the same thing! When I told him I might have mercury on the floor, he just laughed and said he used to play with it all the time and that I shouldn’t worry so much.

No wonder he’s crazy…. ๐Ÿ™‚

I’ve heard the same thing about canned tuna. That, coupled with the fact that all tuna cans use a BPA liner prompted me to stop eating it a while back ago. And I agree: something IS very, very wrong here…

But, all of us our doing our little parts! ๐Ÿ™‚ It all adds up.

Karen June 30, 2009 at 7:53 am

Thank you for this post. I haven’t broken any cfl bulbs yet but wondered about this. I’m going to reprint this on my blog and link back to you.

Speaking of tuna…and any canned goods…I don’t know what to do about them. I have a few canned goods in my cupboards and since I posted about BPA, I didn’t even open that cupboard. Any ideas??? and we used to donate cases of them to local food pantry for holidays. Argh~

As my Mom always says…….why do they make and sell them if they are harmful to us? A simple question. Complicated answer.

heather June 30, 2009 at 8:21 am


Thanks for the linkback!

As far as the canned goods, I ended up donating mine, especially all my tuna, when I found out about BPA.

At first, I was a bit reluctant. After all, I’m donating food that has been lined with BPA, which is potentially harmful to people. And I thought briefly of just pitching it.

But then I realized that the people who are going to get this food are HUNGRY, probably in the deepest way. They don’t give one rip about BPA, and if I was hungry and had no resources to buy food I doubt I’d give a rip about BPA either.

So, it all went to my local food bank. I think donating it really is the best solution.

Lisa June 30, 2009 at 8:52 am

In high school we would hold mercury in our hands and play with it. So now maybe I have something to blame my memory loss on besides advancing age? ๐Ÿ˜Ž

Kristin June 30, 2009 at 10:09 am

Interesting – who could have thought something that’s supposed to be so eco-friendly can be so dangerous! I once broke a thermometer in my mouth when I was 10… I thought I was going to die! lol

Eric Bonnici - EnergyGeekCa June 30, 2009 at 2:01 pm

Excellent post!

I just finished a very long blog post on CFLs. In fact, it was so long that I’ve broken it up into parts and just published the first one. My upcoming posts will cover recycling too.

The thing is there’s a lot of people saying CFLs are making them very sick! And there’s proof in a video I posted.

The problem has to do with not mercury but the electromagnetic radiation and ultraviolet radiation emitted by these \energy savings light bulbs\.

And what gets me is the geniuses in our governments are mandating we use these bulbs before they have all the facts of the negative impacts. Might sound like a conspiracy theory but its not.

Thanks for the great post.


Deb July 1, 2009 at 10:11 pm

I broke a bulb last fall and all I could think of was the EPA clean up charge if they found out about a toxic chemical spill! lol

Aaron July 2, 2009 at 9:02 am

Good post. A lot of household are avoiding CFLs because of the breakage issue or other reasons, like lighting quality. However, businesses have long been using fluorescents to reap cost and energy benefits, and many businesses (and households) are looking for quality recycling programs. If you’re thinking about recycling your CFLs or other fluorescents check out for a neat mail-back program. Also take a look at my bulb recycling blog at

Shannon Lelle October 6, 2009 at 6:26 pm

They now have L.E.D light bulbs that have like a million little lights in them and they save a lot of energy and avoid problems with mercury. They are a lot more expensive than CFL’s

Karen Patrick February 16, 2014 at 9:20 pm

Very useful tips. Itโ€™s important to understand that the mercury emissions from coal arenโ€™t just about the environment, theyโ€™re about us. Where does that mercury end up? It ends up in our lakes and streams and in the fish we eat.

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