How Dangerous Is a Broken CFL Bulb?


When it comes to broken light bulbs, it's no secret that they can pose a serious risk to our health and safety. While most people are accustomed to handling traditional incandescent bulbs, the rise of compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFL bulbs, has led to some confusion about their potential dangers.

So, just how dangerous is a CFL bulb when broken? Keep reading to learn more about how to handle a broken CFL bulb safely.

Are Light Bulbs Toxic When Broken?

CFLs are a popular energy-efficient alternative to traditional incandescent bulbs. However, it is important to note that CFLs contain a small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing. While this mercury is usually not a concern during regular use, it can become an issue if a bulb breaks in your home.

When this happens, some of the mercury may be released as mercury vapor, which can be potentially harmful if inhaled. This means that the clean-up process should be done with care and attention to minimize any potential exposure to this substance.

How Much Mercury Is in a CFL Bulb?

The amount of mercury in CFLs averages to only around 4 milligrams (mg) of mercury. Some CFL bulbs may even contain as little as 1.4 mg to 2.5 mg. In comparison to mercury thermometers, these devices may contain up to 500mg of the toxic substance. Anywhere from 500mg to 700mg of mercury is considered a small spill.

It is important to remember that exposure to mercury can have adverse health effects depending on the following:

  • How much has entered your body
  • How it entered your body
  • How long you have been exposed to it
  • How your body responds to the mercury

Due to the small amount of mercury in CFLs, if a bulb does happen to break, it shouldn't cause any significant health effects. However, children and pregnant women are advised to avoid a room where a CFL has broken for several days after clean up. Children are particularly vulnerable to mercury poisoning, due to their smaller body size. For example, small exposure can affect a developing brain and central nervous system in defuses and young children.

How to Clean Up a Broken CFL Bulb

1. Leave the Room

It's not uncommon for home accidents to happen, but a broken CFL bulb can be particularly dangerous. Shards of glass and hazardous materials from the bulb can scatter and contaminate the surrounding area, which can be harmful to anyone who is exposed to it. That's why in this situation, it's important to have everyone including adults, children, and pets leave the room immediately, making sure to avoid the CFL breakage area on the way out.

2. Air Out the Room

Next, you’ll want to air out the room to minimize exposure to any potential mercury vapors released from the broken bulb. To do this, simply open a window or door to the outdoors and leave the room for 5-10 minutes.

3. Turn off Heat/AC

If you have any central forced-air heating or air conditioning, be sure to shut this off as well. This precaution will prevent any harmful particles from spreading throughout your home.

4. Collect Cleaning Materials

While you wait for the room to air out, you can begin to collect the materials needed to clean up the broken bulb.

Materials needed include:

  • Stiff paper or cardboard
  • Damp paper towels or disposable wipes for hard surfaces
  • Duct tape, or any sticky tape
  • Glass jar with a metal lid or a sealable plastic bag(s)

5. Clean the Larger Broken Pieces

Start by carefully scooping up the larger pieces of glass and powder with stiff paper or cardboard. These materials can be placed in the glass jar with a metal lid or a sealable plastic bag.

6. Carefully Clean Debris

Don't forget to use sticky tape to pick up any small fragments left behind. Once all the glass is removed, wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes.

If you must vacuum, try to use the vacuum hose and seal the vacuum bag and items used to clean the vacuum afterwards in a plastic bag for disposal. If your vacuum does not use a vacuum bag, empty the contents and clean the canister.

7. Dispose of Bulbs

Place all of the bulb debris, clean up materials, vacuum bags, etc. outside. Next, consider following one of Georgia’s recommended methods of recycling CFL bulbs.

8. Continue to Air Room Out

Lastly, after you’ve disposed of the materials, wash your hands with soap and water. Continue to air out the room and leave the HVAC system shut off for several hours.

For more detailed directions on how to clean carpet and rugs after a broken CLF, follow the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s directions.

Tips to Avoid Breaking CFLs

While some accidents that occur are out of your control, there are a few precautions you can take to help avoid breaking CFL bulbs.

Tips to avoid broken CFLs include:

  • Avoid using CFLs in playrooms, children’s bedrooms, or other areas where bulb breakage is more likely to occur.
  • Put down a drop cloth on the floor when switching out CFL bulbs.
  • Avoid storing many CFLs at home before recycling.
  • Screw in CFLs by holding the plastic or ceramic base and not the glass tubing.
  • Gently screw in the bulb until it is snug and avoid over-tightening it.
  • If available, purchase CFL bulbs that have a glass or plastic cover over the tubes. These tend to be more durable.

At Lightning Bug Electric, we place safety as our highest priority. Our team is available to provide our customers with answers to any questions they may have about CFLs.

In addition, we offer home safety services to keep you and your loved ones protected every day of the year. So, if you're in the market for a reliable team that puts your safety first, look no further than Lightning Bug Electric.

Call us today at (404) 471-3847 or reach out to us online.