Using Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs Safely

There’s no doubt that compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) are better for the environment—and our pocketbooks—than traditional incandescent bulbs. ENERGY STAR qualified bulbs use up to 75 percent less electricity than incandescent bulbs, last up to 10 times longer, cost little up front, and provide a quick return on investment.

However, concerns over the mercury in CFLs have raised questions about the proper disposal of them. CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury—an average of 4 milligrams—sealed within the glass tubing. By comparison, older thermometers contain about 500 milligrams. Mercury is an essential part of CFLs: it reacts with the coating on the inside of the glass tube to produce light using very little electricity.

In that mercury is toxic, follow these tips to safely handle, dispose of, and clean up a bulb should it break in your home:



  • Always take care when removing the bulb from its packaging, installing, or replacing it.
  • Hold the bulb by its base and not the glass part.
  • Never forcefully twist the CFL into a light socket. If it breaks, follow the tips below

Recycling or Disposal

  • The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that consumers recycle CFLs. Local recycling options are listed at or Home Depot also accepts intact light bulbs for recycling.
  • If the state or local agency allows consumers to put CFLs in the garbage, the bulbs should be sealed in two plastic bags and put into the outside trash or other protected outside option.
  • Never put a fluorescent light bulb or other mercury-containing product into an incinerator.
  • If the bulb burns out before it should, contact the manufacturer. ENERGY STAR qualified bulbs are required to offer at least a two-year warranty.

Cleaning Up If a Bulb Should Break

  • Open a window and have people (including you) and pets leave the room for at least 15 minutes.
  • Shut off central forced air heating/cooling system.
  • If the bulb is broken on a hard surface, carefully scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a glass jar (with metal lid) or sealed plastic bag.
  • Use sticky tape to pick up any remaining pieces and powder.
  • Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Place wipes in the glass jar or plastic bag.
  • Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces
  • Immediately place all clean up materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area for trash pickup.
  • Wash your hands after disposing of the materials.
  • Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements in your specific area. Some states require broken and unbroken mercury-containing bulbs be taken to a recycling center.

For additional tips on cleaning up broken bulbs from carpeting, bedding and clothing, visit:

Article by Chris Grammes


Sources: Environmental Protection Agency;

Chris Grammes writes on writes on safety issues for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.







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