Compact Fluorescent Lights 

Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL)

On this page: Mercury Spill/Leakage | Bulb Cleanup & Disposal

CFL Usage Recommendations

Ceiling Fans

  • Use CFL bulbs specifically designed for use in ceiling fans. These are made to withstand the high vibrations caused by the fan. Using a regular CFL in this fixture will significantly reduce life of the bulb.

Dimming

  • Make sure to use dimming CFLs only with a dimmer switch. Using standard CFLs on dimmers will significantly shorten the life of the bulb.
  • Use CFLs specifically designed for recessed cans. Many reflector CFLs are designated 'high heat' reflector CFLs. Since heat rises and cans can be tightly insulated, it's best to use a reflector CFL that is specifically designed to withstand high temperatures.
  • If regular CFLs are used in these high temperature environments, the bulb's life will be significantly reduced.

Frequent On/Off Locations

  • Never use a CFL bulb in a location where the lights are turned on and off frequently. The more a CFL gets turned on and off, the shorter the life span of the bulb.
  • CFL bulbs are best used in locations where they will be on for at least 15 minutes. Closets, for instance, are less than ideal CFL applications since the light is turned on/off frequently.

Motion Sensors/Timers

  • Regular CFLs should not be used with motion detectors. The frequent on/off will greatly shorten the life span.
  • CFLs can only be used on some timers. They can be used on mechanical timers (for instance the inexpensive dial type timers) but cannot be used with electronic timers. Using a CFL on an electronic timer will greatly shorten the life of the bulb.

Outdoor Use

  • Use only CFLs specifically designed for outdoor usage. These CFLs have a UL (Underwriters Laboratory) rating and are made to withstand wet locations.

Mercury Spill/Leakage

  • If a CFL gets broken in your home or office, keep children, pets and other persons out of the room where the spill occurred.
  • The affected room should be isolated from other rooms by closing connecting doors.
  • Turn off the heat and any air circulation systems and open all windows in the affected room to ventilate it to the outdoors.
  • Leave the room to ventilate for at least 15 minutes before starting cleanup procedures.

Never use a household vacuum cleaner (even one with a HEPA filter), broom or any type of cotton towel to try to wipe or blot up the spill since it will only scatter and spread the mercury.

Never use household cleaning products to clean the spill, particularly products that contain ammonia or chlorine. These chemicals will react violently with mercury, releasing a toxic gas.

  • Remove all jewelry before beginning cleanup as the mercury will bind to gold and silver.
  • Prior to cleaning up the spill, put on old clothes or disposable coveralls, old shoes or disposable booties, and disposable rubber, latex or nitrile gloves. These items may need to be disposed of after you have completed cleanup of the spill. Place clean clothes, shoes and a trash bag just outside the room where the mercury spill occurred.
  • After cleaning up the spill, carefully remove your gloves by grasping them at the wrist and pulling them off inside-out. Place the gloves in the trash bag for disposal.
  • If you were wearing disposable coveralls and booties, carefully remove these items and place them in the trash bag for disposal.
  • Any clothing or shoes that came in direct contact with the mercury should be placed in the trash bag. Clothing and shoes that did not come into direct contact with the mercury should be placed outdoors to air out. Once thoroughly aired out, the clothing can be laundered as normal and the shoes wiped off with damp paper towels. Put the used paper towels in the trash bag.
  • The tools used to clean up the spill (index cards, tape, eyedropper) should also be placed in the trash bag and the trash bag double-wrapped in another trash bag.
  • See the disposal section for information on how to handle the collected mercury and cleanup materials.
  • Once the cleanup is completed, you may turn the heat or circulation systems back on, but keep the door to this room closed and the window open for at least a few hours, 24 - 48 hours would be best.

Broken Bulb Clean Up

CFLs contain a small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing. Although bulb manufacturers have reduced the amount of mercury in fluorescent bulbs, a certain amount is necessary for the bulb to function.

While minimizing contact with the spill area, pick up any large pieces of glass from the broken bulb and place them on a paper towel. Carefully fold the paper towel around the broken glass and put it in a zip-top bag. You may also use a glass jar with a metal lid (like a canning jar), but extra care must be taken not to break the jar after use.

Wrap a piece of masking tape, scotch tape or duct tape around your finger, sticky side out, and gently dab at the contaminated area to pick up the remaining glass fragments and powder. Place the tape in the zip-top bag when finished.

If the bulb broke on a hard surface, wipe the area clean with a damp paper towel and place the used towel in the zip-top bag.

If the bulb broke on the carpeting or a rug, you may vacuum the area where the bulb was broken after you have picked up all glass fragments and powder that you can with sticky tape.

Remove the vacuum bag and put it into a trash bag. If the vacuum is a canister-type with no vacuum bag, empty the contents of the canister into a trash bag, wipe the canister with a damp paper towel, and put the paper towel into the trash bag. Double wrap the trash bag in another trash bag.

Shut off the heat and any air circulation systems and open a window before vacuuming for the next several times you vacuum. Keep the heat and any air circulation systems off and the window open for at least 15 minutes after vacuuming is completed.

Disposal

Dispose of Broken Bulb

The preferred method of disposal for unbroken mercury thermometers and fluorescent lamps, and the mercury from these items if they break, is to take them to the Boulder County Hazardous Materials Management Facility (HMMF) at 1901c 63rd Street, Boulder, CO 80301.

Fluorescent bulbs, and/or recovered mercury contained in a zip-lock bag should be taken to the HMMF. The rest of the cleanup tools and mercury-contaminated material should be double-bagged in trash bags and can be disposed of in your regular household trash.

Dispose of Intact Bulb

CFLs require the use of mercury to operate. The amount of mercury in a CFL is very small; however, once the bulbs have extinguished, they must be properly recycled to ensure that no mercury gets into the environment.

  • If the bulbs are properly recycled, they work to significantly reduce energy consumption and are not a negative impact on the environment once they burn out.
  • Once your CFL bulb is no longer usable, put it back in the original box. If the box is not available, wrap the bulb in bubble wrap and secure with tape.
See Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) Voluntary Collection Programs for safe disposal options.

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