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How to clean up a broken fluorescent bulb

Fluorescent lights are long lasting and when recycled properly, most of the glass, metal and mercury in them can be reused. However, because fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, when a fluorescent bulb breaks, it should be handled as hazardous waste.

Broken fluorescent bulb
Broken florescent bulbs can be a health hazard if not cleaned up properly.

Which bulbs are hazardous & why are they a safety concern?
Fluorescent light bulbs are either linear fluorescent (long skinny tubes) or compact fluorescent (small and sometimes spiraled). Linear fluorescent lights are common in workplaces and compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) are more common in households. Regardless of the type of fluorescent bulb, it contains mercury and must be treated like hazardous waste if it breaks.

Safe clean up instructions
Be thorough when collecting broken glass and visible powder and keep the mess contained. Clean the area where a fluorescent breaks without vacuuming or sweeping to avoid spreading mercury containing powder and mercury vapor. Do not use cleaning products, as they may react with the mercury.

Whether at home or at work, cleaning up a broken fluorescent bulb is the same.

Materials for cleanupWhat you need

  1. Stiff paper or cardboard
  2. Sticky tape, such as duct tape
  3. Paper towels or baby wipes
  4. A glass jar with a metal lid or a sealable plastic bag
  5. Best practice: wear gloves and a dust mask

 

Before cleanup

  • Have people and pets leave the room – especially children and pregnant women.
  • Air out the room for 10-15 minutes by opening a door or window to the outdoor environment before starting to clean.
  • Shut off the HVAC system if you have one.
  • Remove jewelry before cleaning; mercury can attach to gold or silver.

During cleanup

  • Use stiff paper or cardboard to scoop up glass fragments and powder.
  • Use sticky tape to pick up remaining small glass fragments and powder

Using tape to pick up small fragments
Sticky tape captures small fragments and powder.

  • If cleaning a hard surface, wipe the area with a damp paper towel or disposable baby wipe.
  • Place all bulb fragments, powder, and cleanup materials (stiff paper or cardboard, sticky tape, paper towels or disposable baby wipes, gloves and dust mask) in the glass jar or plastic bag.

Bulb fragments in plastic bag  Bulb fragments in glass jar
Bulb fragments and cleanup materials should be placed in a sealed plastic bag or glass jar, and taken to a hazardous waste facility.

After cleanup

  • If powder got on your clothing, dispose of your clothing in the same way as other materials used to clean up the break. Laundering clothing that comes into contact with the powder can contaminate the washing machine and water flowing into the sewer system with mercury.
  • Continue to air out the room where the bulb broke for at least 12 hours and keep HVAC shut off.
  • If the bulb broke on carpet, periodically ventilate the room with open windows and doors because mercury vapors can be released from the carpet into the room.
  • Label the container and place it outdoors or in a protected area until it can be properly disposed of.
  • Take the sealed container to a hazardous waste facility or collection event that can properly deal with hazardous waste. Call 503-234-3000 for help locating the nearest facility or collection event.

Quick links and additional information

Guest post written by Mia Reback, Sustainability at Work intern.