a broken cfl with yellow and black caution tape around the picture

When a compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulb breaks, it can release a small amount of mercury into the air. Mercury is poisonous and can cause health problems if inhaled in large amounts. So how do you protect yourself against a broken CFL?

You can protect yourself against a broken CFL by opening the windows in the room and stepping out for 15 minutes to allow the mercury to dissipate. Also, turn off the air conditioner to prevent the mercury vapor from circulating inside the house.

The rest of this article will explain how to carefully clean up a broken CFL to prevent any risks to your health and how to dispose of these bulbs properly.

How To Clean Up a Broken CFL

Broken CFL against a black backdrop
Cleaning a broken CFL requires leaving the room for at least 15 minutes so any mercury in the air can dissipate.

Follow these steps when cleaning up a broken CFL indoors to minimize any chances of getting health problems:

Before Cleaning Up

  1. Ask everyone in the room to leave, taking along all your pets.
  2. Open the windows in the room and any doors leading outside to allow the mercury to exit the room.
  3. Switch off the air conditioner or heater in the room to prevent it from circulating harmful vapor throughout the house.
  4. Leave the room and stay out for at least 15 minutes to allow the mercury to dissipate.
  5. Gather all the necessary materials for cleaning up the shattered bulb. These include:

● Duct tape

● Cardboard or stiff paper

● Disposable wet wipes or damp paper towels

● A canning jar or sealable plastic bag

  1. Before returning to the room, wear a mask to avoid inhaling any remaining mercury.
  2. Put on protective gloves to prevent any risk of the glass cutting you and keep the harmful metallic element from getting on your hands.

During Cleanup

How you clean up the different flooring in a room, such as the hard surfaces and carpets, is similar, and here’s how to go about it.

  1. Use the cardboard or stiff paper to thoroughly scoop up the CFL fragments and place the board and the pieces in a canning jar or any other glass jar with a metal lid. Not only will this container stop the mercury from escaping, but it will also prevent the particles from mixing with other garbage, which can cause you and your waste hauler injuries. If you don’t have jars, place the broken glasses in a Ziploc plastic bag.
  2. Place duct tape on the area where the CFL fragments landed to remove any remaining particles on the floor that can injure you as you continue to clean. Put the used tape in the jar or the bag.
  3. Use wet wipes or a damp paper towel to mop the area before placing the disposable pieces in a sealable container.
  4. If you put the broken CFL fragments in a sealable plastic bag, you should take them outside immediately after the cleanup. The sealable bag cannot completely stop the mercury from escaping into the room.
  5. Resort to vacuuming the hard surface or carpet only if the above cleanup steps fail to remove all the broken glasses. Otherwise, hoovering the place is ill-advised because the task can spread the mercury vapor all over the room. Use a vacuum hose to clean the area. After removing the vacuum bag, seal it in a plastic bag with all the materials you used to clean the device.

After Cleaning Up

  1. Take out all the cleanup materials used together with the jar containing the CFL fragments and leave them in a protected area while you determine how to dispose of them.
  2. Find out if taking these broken bulbs to a local recycling center is required by your local government. If that’s the case, you should follow that rule. However, if they lack specific regulations, put the CFL debris in your trash can for pick up.
  3. Thoroughly wash your hands with liquid or bar soap and running water for 20 seconds after disposing of the CFL debris to remove contamination.
  4. Leave the windows open and the HVAC system off for several hours to let the mercury dissipate further from the room.

How To Dispose of Different Types of Bulbs

There are distinct ways of getting rid of various bulbs, and they are as follows.

Incandescent Light Bulbs

You can throw these bulbs in your household trash because they do not contain toxic chemicals that can harm you and the environment.

However, you should place them in a disposable container to prevent them from cutting people since they can easily break.

Alternatively, you can repurpose them as tiny vases with the help of this video from TheOliveMonsterOfArt and as Christmas ornaments using ideas found on Pinterest.


Although LED bulbs contain hazardous lead, no national recycling regulations exist. So, you can throw them in your trash or find a recycling center in your area that accepts them.

Fluorescent Tubes

These long lights contain mercury; therefore, you need to dispose of them at any local recycling center to prevent the metallic element from harming the environment. You can also drop them off at the retailer depots with bulb disposal containers in your area.

Halogen Bulbs

As these contain halogen gas and wire filaments, which make them hard to recycle, collection sites do not accept them.

Therefore, you can toss them in your waste garbage after placing them in a sealable box, even if they are much stronger than incandescent bulbs and less likely to break.

Can You Throw Away Energy-Saving Light Bulbs?

Colorful recycling cans in a row on a sunny sidewalk
If you don’t or can’t recycle energy-saving bulbs, you can always toss them in the trash.

You can throw energy-saving light bulbs into the trash if no local regulations require you to drop them off at a recycling center. Discard them after placing them in a protective container to prevent them from cutting the waste hauler.

However, if you prefer to recycle them, check with your local recycling center to ascertain whether they accept energy-efficient light bulbs.

If they do not, you should visit Earth 911 to find places in your area that collect them.

Besides that, you can also drop them off at home improvement stores, such as Lowes, Home Depot, and Menards, as they have bulb recycling collection stations.


Protect yourself against a broken CFL by carefully cleaning up the accident area and ensuring you dispose of the bulb as required. Also, you must ensure that the room where the bulb broke stays ventilated for several hours to allow the mercury to clear out before returning inside.


Poison Control: Safe Cleanup Tips for Broken CFLs | United States Environmental Protection Agency: Cleaning Up a Broken CFL | Maine Department of Environmental Protection: How do I clean up a broken compact fluorescent bulb (CFL)? |NH Energy News: Proper Way to Dispose of Light Bulbs

Bob vila: How To: Dispose of Light Bulbs | ACS Publications: Potential Environmental Impacts from the Metals in Incandescent, Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL), and Light-Emitting Diode (LED) Bulbs | Earth911: Recycling Center Search

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