How to Clean Up Broken Cfls: Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs

Get tips on how to safely change, throw away or clean up a broken CFL.

Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) are a smart, energy efficient way to illuminate your home, but due to the small amount of mercury they contain, they require special handling to be disposed of properly.  To keep you and your family safe and green, the EPA recommends you follow these tips on how to handle, clean up and dispose of compact fluorescent light bulbs:

Screw and Unscrew by the Base.  CFLs are made of glass and can break if dropped or roughly handled. Be careful when removing the bulb from its packaging, installing it, or replacing it. Always screw and unscrew the light bulb by its base (not the glass), and never forcefully twist the CFL into a light socket.

Fluorescent Light Bulb disposing tipsDouble-Bag It.  If your state or local environmental regulatory agency permits you to put used or broken CFLs in the garbage, seal the bulb in two plastic bags and put it into the outside trash, or other protected outside location, for the next normal trash collection.

Energy Star Products: Get Your 2-Year Warranty.  If your Energy Star qualified CFL product burns out before it should, look at the CFL base to find the manufacturer’s name. Visit the manufacturer’s web site to find the customer service contact information to inquire about a refund or replacement. Manufacturers producing Energy Star qualified CFLs are required to offer at least a two-year limited warranty (covering manufacturer defects) for CFLs used at home. In the future, save your receipts to document the date of purchase.

Check Local Recycling Facilities.  The EPA recommends that consumers take advantage of available local recycling options for compact fluorescent light bulbs.  Consumers can contact their local municipal solid waste agency directly, or go to www.epa.gov/bulbrecycling or www.earth911.org to identify local recycling options.

Do Not Incinerate.  Never send a fluorescent light bulb or any other mercury-containing product to an incinerator.

Broken Bulb? Air Out the Room.  Before clean-up, have people and pets leave the room, and don't let anyone walk through the breakage area on their way out.  Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.  Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system, if you have one.

Hard Surface Clean-Up.  For safe clean-up of a compact fluorescent light bulb, carefully scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a glass jar with metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag.  Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass pieces and powder.  Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Place towels in the glass jar or plastic bag.  Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces.

Carpet Clean-Up.  If you break a compact fluorescent light bulb over carpet, carefully pick up glass fragments and place them in a glass jar with metal lid (such as a
canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag.  Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.  If vacuuming is needed after all visible materials are removed, vacuum the area where the bulb was broken.  Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister), and put the bag or vacuum debris in a sealed plastic bag.

Clothing, Bedding & Fabric Clean-Up.   If clothing or bedding materials come in direct contact with broken glass or mercury-containing powder from inside the bulb that may stick to the fabric, the clothing or bedding should be thrown away. DO NOT WASH such clothing or bedding because mercury fragments in the clothing may contaminate the machine and/or pollute sewage.  You can, however, wash clothing or other materials that have been exposed to the mercury vapor from a broken CFL, such as the clothing you are wearing when you cleaned up the broken CFL, as long as that clothing has not come into direct contact with the materials from the broken bulb.  If shoes come into direct contact with broken glass or mercury-containing powder from the bulb, wipe them off with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Place the towels or wipes in a glass jar or plastic bag for disposal.

Disposing of Clean-Up Materials.  Immediately place all clean-up materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area for the next normal trash pickup.  Wash your hands after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing clean-up materials from your broken compact fluorescent lightbulb.  Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements in your specific area. Some states do not allow such trash disposal. Instead, they require that broken and unbroken mercury-containing bulbs be taken to a local recycling center.

Future Vacuuming: Air Out the Room.  The next several times you vacuum, shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system and open a window before vacuuming.  Keep the central heating/air conditioning system shut off and the window open for at least 15 minutes after vacuuming is completed.

As long as you follow these tips on how to safely handle and dispose of compact fluorescent lightbulbs and how to safely clean up a broken compact fluorescent light bulb, you can confidently enjoy the energy efficiency of CFLs. 

For more information about compact fluorescent bulbs, visit http://www.energystar.gov/cfls

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
Type the characters you see in this picture. (verify using audio)
Type the characters you see in the picture above; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.