January 7th, 2013

How to Clean Up a Broken Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb (CFL)

100 Flares Twitter 26 Facebook 46 Pin It Share 14 Google+ 14 StumbleUpon 0 Email -- Filament.io 100 Flares ×

Groovy Green Livin CFL

The traditional (incandescent) light bulbs in our home have slowly been swapped out for a more efficient type of light bulb- Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs (CFLs). We also have a few Light Emitting Diode bulbs (LEDs). As the old light bulbs need to be replaced new CFL or LED bulbs make their way into every lamp, light and fixture in our home. I have to admit that I’m not in love with the lighting that a CFL emits and I’ve been known to get frustrated by the amount of time these bulbs can take to light a space. There are a few lamps that I’m holding out making the switch to a CFL.

Last week I learned the hard way that I made a big mistake with my placement of a certain CFL.

What is a CFL?

CFLs need a little more energy when they are first turned on, but once the electricity starts moving they use about 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs. This entire process typically takes 30 seconds to 3 minutes to complete, which is why CFLs take longer than other lights to become fully lit.

CFL’s and mercury

CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury which is needed for fluorescent lighting -the type of lighting emitted by a CFL. No mercury is released when the bulbs are intact or in use.

You know where this is headed, right?

How the bulb broke

Last week a CFL broke. Can you guess how?

Nerf Gun war. Need I say more? Clearly my son hasn’t yet perfected his shot. Rather than hitting the desired target-a stuffed snake-the soft Nerf “bullet” hit a reading lamp in his room, knocking it to the floor. The  bulb broke and small pieces of the bulb were brought to me in another room.

Groovy Green Livin CFL

I knew that CFLs contained mercury so I inwardly freaked and outwardly remained calm. Here’s what I learned…..

How to clean up a broken CFL 

I turned to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for help.

  • Get everyone out of the room pronto. I had to close the door so kids and dogs would stay out.
  • Open the windows. There was snow on the ground and our heat was cranked, but those windows were wide open.
  • Air the room out for 5-15 minutes.
  • Put on gloves or some sort of protective gear. We have a few boxes of latex gloves so I grabbed a few for the clean-up.  In hindsight I probably should have put on some sort of mask, but I didn’t.
  • Find a Mason jar with a screw on lid. Place broken pieces of the bulb in the Mason jar.
  • Use duct tape to pick up smaller pieces on the floor or other surfaces. Place the used tape in the Mason jar.
  • Don’t vacuum the area-this could spread the mercury.
  • Place the clothing you were wearing to clean up in the washer.  I threw my son’s bedding in the washing machine since it was right next to the broken bulb.
  • Wash your face and hands.
  • Keep the room well ventilated.


  • Don’t throw the Mason jar in the garbage.
  • Use the EPA’s website to find the nearest location for disposal of household hazardous waste. www.epa.gov/bulbrecycling
  • If no facilities exist it may be legal to send well-packaged waste to your local landfill.

What I learned

Think about where you are placing a CFL. It’s probably not a good idea to put a CFL in a reading lamp that could potentially fall over or get shot by a Nerf Gun.

Have you ever broken a CFL? How did you handle it?

photo credit: Dano via photopin cc

16 Responses to “How to Clean Up a Broken Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb (CFL)”

  1. We used an LED bulb in our toddlers room for that very reason. Of course, I was the one who seemed to knock it off the table the most. http://www.greenlifestylechanges.com/replacing-our-last-two-incandescent-lights-with-leds/
    Jonathan Hunt recently posted..Update Your Bookmarks – Green Lifestyle Consulting Has Moved!My Profile

  2. I broke one while in Texas and got little E out of the way, and followed all your steps. There is a company in Fort Worth that took back CFL’s. so I brought it there. I just couldn’t bring myself to put it in the trash.
    Good Girl Gone Green recently posted..Almond bliss smoothieMy Profile

  3. OMG if I had known way back when what I knew now. One of the first packs of CFL bulbs I bought was in those impossible to open plastic containers. I was struggling with it when it finally popped open and not one but TWO went flying through the air onto the floor. They shattered every where. I didn’t know they had mercury back then so I swept it up, vacuumed up the rest, and threw it all away. No harm ever came to me or my husband (this was before my kids)but now I cringe when I remember it. ACK!

  4. Same thing happened to me once with a lamp in our living room. I ended up taking CFLs out of any tippy light fixtures.
    Have you tried any of the newer LED bulbs? I need to re-educate myself on what’s out there right now!
    Micaela @MindfulMomma recently posted..Inspiration for a Happy, Healthy, Creative New YearMy Profile

  5. […] FREAKED out. I had just read a post from Lori at Groovy Green Livin’ about cleaning up a CLF lightbulb. And thank goodness that I did otherwise I would have vacuumed it […]

  6. Lori, I can’t thank you enough for posting this. I read your post from my Twitter feed, and just tonight I broke a CFL bulb. Your post was literally a life-saver. I would have cleaned it up completely wrong if I hadn’t read your post. And to top it off, I was going to put my baby sleep in the room the bulb broke. So thank goodness. Thanks again and please keep up the great content. I just posted about my CFL experience too.
    Tracey @ Dont Mess with Mama recently posted..CFL Lightbulbs: Green But Are They Safe?My Profile

  7. What has happened to us as a country when not only has government regulated us into using something that is potentially lethal (to replace something 100% non-lethal), a common household product in use by the billions, but that product, when broken, necessitates out of prudence and safety a call to *another* government agency, the EPA? (Or poison control)

    Despite the energy savings these CFC’s are a horrible idea. They run the gamut from inferior quality of lighting all the way to lethality for us or our children. Taken to an extreme example, would we agree to put *just a little* arsenic into our children’s breakfast cereal if the government said we should (out of deference to *any* green policy)?

    It just boggles the mind that so many moms who are hyper aware when it comes to the safety of their children would unquestioningly accept these bulbs in their home. I do my part to live as green-conscious a life as I can but I will never use CFC’s.

  8. Luckily we have never broke any of our CFLs, but these are good tips in case it ever happens. I just hate that you had to learn the hard way.
    Cathy recently posted..The REAL Awards: Vote Now to Honor a Health Worker – Ends TonightMy Profile

  9. Oh, wow – I had no idea to take all of those precautions in the case of a breakate. Guess I was living in la-la land thinking all green things are healthier! Thanks for the info!
    Kim @ The Soulicious Life recently posted..Slow Cooker Savvy: Moroccan Lentil SoupMy Profile

  10. I had no idea either Kim-until I had to clean up a broken CFL!

  11. Hi Cathy, I’m trading out a few of our CFLs for LEDs or regular bulbs. No more CFLs in the boy’s bedrooms!

  12. Thanks for sharing. Does make you have second thoughts about putting one in a child’s room.
    Anne recently posted..Exploring Cool Facts and Fuzzy ScienceMy Profile

  13. CFL’s and other energy-efficient technologies are great, but there is an inherent hazard when something as common as a light bulb requires extra effort by the consumer to dispose of properly. I believe that even with the poor rate of “proper” disposal, CFL’s still provide a net benefit the environment–they take mercury out of the environment by requiring less energy from power plants. However, we need to address the facts that consumers are lazy and unaware of the added risks.

  14. Do you know if places like the Home Depot accept broken CFL bulbs? – they take in whole ones.
    CelloMom recently posted..The Average Speed of the Average CarMy Profile

  15. I just checked and the CFLs have to be unbroken for Home Depot to accept them.

  16. Wow, I didn’t realize how dangerous it is when they break! My husband always told me to be careful with it, but Im going to really watch out now!

CommentLuv badge


About Lori

I’m Lori Popkewitz Alper, a recovering attorney, writer, mom of three boys and the Founder of Groovy Green Livin. Join me as we work together to make the world a safer place for all.

Click HERE to contact Lori

Lori on ABC World News

Grab Button

Want to add a link back to Groovy Green Livin? Just place the following html code on your website.
Groovy Green Livin


100 Flares Twitter 26 Facebook 46 Pin It Share 14 Google+ 14 StumbleUpon 0 Email -- Filament.io 100 Flares ×