Eco Friendly Home Maintenance

Published on July 8th, 2013 | by Scott Cooney


How to clean up and recycle a broken CFL safely

Some people do not buy CFLs for fear of breaking one and having their home contaminated with mercury. The fear is real driving force, even if it’s mostly unfounded. The actual amount of mercury in a CFL is pretty minor. However, the heavy metal still presents a health hazard if it comes into contact with people.

Here at Green Living Ideas, we believe CFLs are still a good option for many people to help them save money on their utility bills and decrease their carbon footprint. CFLs use a lot less energy than regular incandescent bulbs, and cost less than higher tech (and mercury free) LEDs. Check out a cool video here comparing incandescents, CFLs and LEDs, for more info.

How to clean up a broken CFL mercury avoid exposure

Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) contain mercury.

Safe cleanup, disposal and recycling: a how-to guide

The mercury in CFLs is pretty minimal, but it is present, and it’s definitely best if you don’t inhale any of the vapor or dust from a broken CFL bulb. So if you break a bulb, evacuate people from the room, and open the windows for circulation to allow the mercury vapor to dissipate. Then, after you feel enough fresh air has moved through the room, you can clean up the broken glass, gently, with a broom and dustpan, so as to not volatize the dust and vapor if at all possible. NEVER VACUUM A BROKEN CFL! Doing so would put the dust into the air in the room, and you’ll likely end up breathing it.

CFLs that have just burned out but are not broken need to be disposed of properly, so as not to introduce mercury to the environment unnecessarily. Home Depot takes CFLs for recycling at all their major retail outlets, so just bring your old, dead CFLs down to Home Depot and drop them off at customer service.

Local municipalities may also recycle CFLs. Call your solid waste disposal division of your municipal government or check their website to find out.

Photo from Shutterstock

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About the Author

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride. Find Scott on

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