Health / Innovation / Science

CFL Light Bulb Smarts: How to Clean UP a Broken CFL

You know the old joke … how many (fill in the blank) does it take to change a light bulb? All kidding aside, the real question is … how many people does it take to clean up a broken CFL.

Be extra diligent with the Compact Florescent Lamp (CFL) light bulbs. Yes, they use 75% less energy than the incandescent light bulb and come in all sizes and shapes now. But – be cautioned there is a unseen cost. The CFLs require special care in handling when inserting into the socket and then extreme careful removal when broken.

So – what to do if a CFL breaks? According to Energy Star, first and most important – do NOT brush it up and throw it in the trash. When a CFL breaks – it releases a small amount of mercury into the air – precautions and careful cleanup are essential for everyone’s health and well-being.

If a bulb should break, Energy Star advises the best immediate response is to:
1. Have everyone (including the pets) leave the area for at least 15 minutes.
2. Do not let anyone walk through the broken glass area.
3. Open a window to help dissipate the fumes.
4. Turn off the air conditioner, central heating unit or fan.
5. Then stay out of the space for at least 15 minutes.

Afterwards, it is then recommended to:
1. Use a stiff cardboard to scoop up any glass.
2. Use duct tape to lift any small pieces from the floor or carpet.
3. Clean the area with a wet towel or a disposable cleaning wipe.
4. Place everything in a glass jar with a metal lid or seal in a plastic bag.
5. Do not use a vacuum cleaner, broom or small brush to lift any pieces up!
6. If a vacuum cleaner is essential – afterwards remove and seal the vacuum bag into a plastic bag.
7. If broken CFL material comes in contact with clothing or bedding – remove and dispose of all items into a sealed plastic bag.
8. Once all CFL particles and contaminated material have been sealed into a plastic bag, bring the material to your local recycling center.
9. Afterwards, wash your hands with soap and hot water.

To find the closest recycling center, go to or ask your local hardware store.

CFLs offer excellent energy cost savings. But – know the rules before you start twisting the CFL light bulb into the socket and be safe.

By Keri Douglas, writer/photographer, Washington, DC

Read more at Ode Magazine Exchange.


5 thoughts on “CFL Light Bulb Smarts: How to Clean UP a Broken CFL

  1. The problem is, most people do not know about this or will not do it. Therefore, the eco impact of these bulbs in actually high in this specific way. The first time I heard about the mercury in these lights, I was shocked at how they were being marketed.

  2. These bulbs can be very hazordous to health and the environment. Mercury is a dangerous, toxic element and requires only micrograms of exposure to cause serious health impacts. Not to mention that colectively there are literly tons of mercury in light sockets around the world. I really have to wonder if we are just shifting in problem to another – CO2 emmisions to toxic metals!

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