Swapping your traditional light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs can cut down on energy use and save you considerable money in the long run. However, these bulbs contain small amounts of highly toxic mercury, which can be extremely harmful to humans and ecosystems.
Unfortunately, breaking a CFL requires a more serious response than a routine cleanup. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warns that simply sweeping or vacuuming could expose your family to harmful mercury.
The agency offers some specific guidelines for cleaning up a broken CFL.
Air out the room
Remove people and pets, keeping them far away from the broken bulb. Open windows, shut off central heat and air if you have it, and leave the room for 15 minutes before returning to clean up.
If the bulb broke on a hard surface
Don’t use your vacuum cleaner or broom. Instead, scoop up powder and glass shards with stiff paper or cardboard. Place them in a sealed plastic bag or a glass jar with a metal lid (like a canning jar).
Next, use duct tape or other large-roll sticky tape to get remaining debris off the floor. Wipe the area with damp paper towels or wet wipes, then place the used wipes or towels in the sealed bag or jar you used for the debris.
If the bulb broke on carpet
Pick up glass fragments (carefully, of course) and put them in a sealed plastic bag or glass jar with metal lid. Use tape to get remaining debris off the rug.
Vacuum only if necessary. Afterward, dispose of the vacuum bag or empty and wipe down the canister. Bags or debris from the vacuum should go in a sealed plastic bag.
If the bulb broke on your stuff
Bulbs that break on fabric, clothing or bedding can be a serious issue. Do not wash these items; the mercury fragments could contaminate your washing machine or sewage system. It may seem drastic, but the EPA recommends throwing away fabric, clothes or bedding that come in direct contact with broken glass or mercury-filled powder from inside a CFL bulb.
Clothing that has not come in direct contact with the bulb can be washed.
If you step on broken glass or mercury-containing powder, wipe off your shoes with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Place the towels or wipes in a glass jar or plastic bag for disposal.
Remove sealed items to an outdoor trash container; wash your hands thoroughly.
Check your local requirements; some states and municipalities require mercury bulbs to go directly to a local recycling center.
Air out the room thoroughly before and after your next several vacuuming sessions.