Environmental Health & Safety

What to Do if a Fluorescent Light Bulb Breaks


January 2010

EPA is continually reviewing its clean-up and disposal recommendations for CFLs to ensure that the Agency presents the most up-to-date information for consumers and businesses.

Fluorescent light bulbs contain a very small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing. EPA recommends the following clean-up and disposal guidelines:

  • If a window can't be opened, leave the room for 15 minutes or more.
  • Carefully scoop up the fragments of glass, mist or wet wipe up the powder to minimize making the debris airborne, and place the debris into a bag for disposal, which should be placed in the recycling area for disposal through our recycling service, not placed in the regular trash containers.
  • Carefully scoop up the fragments and powder with stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a sealed plastic bag.
    • Use disposable rubber gloves, if available (i.e., do not use bare hands). Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes and place them in the plastic bag.
    • Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces.

Place all cleanup materials in a second sealed plastic bag.

  • Place the first bag in a second sealed plastic bag and put it in the outdoor trash container or in another outdoor protected area for the next normal trash disposal.
  • Note: Some states prohibit such trash disposal and require that broken and unbroken lamps be taken to a local recycling center.
  • Wash your hands after disposing of the bag.

If a fluorescent bulb breaks on a rug or carpet:

  • First, remove all materials you can without using a vacuum cleaner, following the steps above. Sticky tape (such as duct tape) can be used to pick up small pieces and powder.
  • If vacuuming is needed after all visible materials are removed, HEPA vacuum the area where the bulb was broken, the bag can then be given to EH&S with any and all contaminants for proper disposal (asbestos, lead and mercury etc.)