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How to Clean Up a Broken CFL Bulb

Here's a step-by-step guide to help you properly dispose of a broken CFL bulb.

There are many energy-efficient reasons to switch from an incandescent bulb to a fluorescent bulb. One of the many benefits is that an Energy Star qualified CFL bulb lasts up to 10 times longer and uses up to 75 percent less energy than an incandescent.

Fluorescent bulbs are filled with gases and have a special coating on the inside of the glass. When the light is turned on, a chemical reaction takes place that results in particles bumping into the coating, creating visible light. 

When a fluorescent light breaks, some of the mercury is released from the bulb as mercury vapor. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it’s not cause for alarm as CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury — about 1/100th of the amount found in a mercury thermometer.

Here are some careful steps the EPA recommends you should take to safely clean up a broken CFL bulb. 

Before you clean up a broken CFL bulb:

  • Make sure your loved ones and pets leave the room where the broken CFL bulb is located.
  • Allow the room to air out for about 10 minutes by opening a window or a door.
  • Turn off any air conditioning or air heating system you may have running at the time.

Items Needed for Clean Up

  • A glass jar with a metal lid or a sealable plastic bag, such as a Ziploc bag
  • Strong, stiff paper or a piece of cardboard
  • Duct tape
  • Damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes
  • Safety glasses and gloves 

Tips worth noting:

  • Don’t vacuum the broken CFL bulb because it can spread mercury powder or vapor.
  • Use the items listed above to help you be as thorough as possible with your cleaning.
  • Dispose of all used items and stick them inside the jar or the sealable plastic bag once you’re done.

Clean Up Instructions

  • Start by using the cardboard or sturdy piece of paper to carefully scoop up the broken pieces of the bulb.
  • The duct tape comes in handy to lift any small glass fragments or powder on the floor. 
  • Use the disposable wipes or damp paper towels to clean the area. 
  • Vacuuming is not recommended as it could spread the mercury vapor or mercury-containing powder. If you must resort to using a vacuum, do so by using the vacuum hose. After you’re done, throw away the vacuum bag (or empty out and wipe the canister after you’re done) and be sure to seal everything in a plastic bag.
  • It’s worth noting that the plastic bag will not prevent the mercury vapor from escaping, so it’s best to place it outside once you’re done cleaning.

After the Clean Up:

  • All items that you used to clean up the bulb should be placed inside the glass jar or in a sealable plastic bag.
  • Place the jar or bag outdoors in a trash container or in a protected area until the materials can be disposed of.
  • You should check with your local city about disposal requirements in your area because some areas require fluorescent bulbs (broken or unbroken) to be taken to a local recycling center. If there aren’t requirements in your area, you can throw it away outside with the rest of your household trash.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after disposing of the glass jars or plastic bags containing bulb debris and clean up materials.
  • If practical, continue to air out the room by leaving your windows open and leave your heating and air conditioning system shut off for a couple of hours.

For more safety tips, visit sce.com/staysafe. 

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