How to clear up after an energy saving light bulb breakage

How to clean up broken energy saving light bulbs after a breakage

Most people don't realise the real hazard of breaking a modern day light bulb. The bulb you see in this picture is called a CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) and is often referred to as an energy saving light bulb; they are now extremely common in most households today.

If you hire one of our skips, one of things we don't allow you to put in it is any kind of light bulb. Aside from the dangers of the very thin glass used to make them, fluorescent bulbs also contain mercury, which is potentially dangerous if inhaled.

Traditional older style filament bulbs (also known as incandescent bulbs) are now quite rare due to their high running cost and low efficiency. This is due to them producing a large amount of heat along with the light emitted. If you've ever touched one when it's switched on or recently turned off, you'll know how extrememly hot they are. Modern day energy saving light bulbs produce must less heat than tradition bulbs and are therefore considerably more efficient and cheaper to run, making them an appealing choice.

Why are energy saving light bulbs potentially dangerous?

CFL bulbs contain mercury and when it gets broken, the mercury that's in the tube is then released as a vapour. Although it can't be seen, breathing in the vapour is toxic for the body.

Which are the main bulbs containing mercury?

  • Linear, U-tube and circular tubes
  • Insect killing lights
  • Tanning tubes
  • High pressure sodium lamps
  • Metal halide bulbs
  • Neon lights

What do I do if I break a CFL light bulb?

The cat knocks over your table lamp, you drop the bulb when removing it.... Let's face it, breaking a bulb is easy to do...but what procedure is best to ensure you keep you and your family safe after an energy saving light bulb breakage?

The clean up process

Firstly, make sure that everyone leaves the room and if you have pets, move them to a different room as well. Assuming the room has a window, open it fully to air the room for at least 15 minutes. If the room has a door to the outside, open that as well.

Make sure to turn off your central heating or air conditioning unit if you have one and then prepare yourself for the cleanup. Gather together the list below:

  • A piece of card or stiff paper
  • A roll of sticky tape/ gaffer tape
  • A wet cloth/ disposable paper towels etc.
  • A large enough glass jar with a lid or a sealable bag
  • A pair of rubber gloves if you have them

Whilst it may be tempting to get out your vacuum cleaner, this isn't recommended as it could spread the dust/ vapour around the room - it's best to try and disturb the debris as little as possible.

Firstly, scoop up as much of the broken material as possible using the thick paper/ cardboard. Take your time and be as thorough as you can. Put everything you've cleaned up so far into the jar.

Next, use your sticky tape to clean up as much of the remaining dust/ debris as you can. Put the used tape into the jar as well. The wet cloth can then be used to clear up any remaining dust or small debris (mainly on hard surfaces). When you're certain you've done all you can, place everything in your sealable container and leave it somewhere safe outside the house - then check with your local authority about the best way to dispose of it.

If you're able to, try and leave the room ventilated for a few more hours with the heating / air conditioning switched off.

How to avoid breaking energy saving bulbs in the first place

There are several common sense ways to prevent breaking the bulbs in the first place:

  • Make sure you allow the bulb to cool down before handling it - It's easy to drop it when it's still hot.
  • Screw/ unscrew it by gripping the plastic base. Don't attempt to twist the bulb by gripping the glass.
  • Place something soft underneath the fitting when changing the bulb such as a large towel to minimise the risk of breakage if it's dropped.
  • Avoid putting them in places where they are more likely to get broken such as a play room or a table where things are at higher risk of being knocked off. Don't put energy saving (CFL) bulbs into bare light fittings, only put them into a fitting that has a protective cover.

It's also worth considering using LED lights as an alternative. These don't contain mercury and have dropped significantly in price over recent years. They are also cheaper to run than CFL energy saving bulbs as they produce less heat when switched on.

I broke a bulb and didn't clear up properly - What should I do?

There's no need to panic; the guide you've just read describes a more cautious approach to take when dealing with the clean up process. It's worth noting that a typical CFL bulb only contains less than 1% of mercury when compared to a household mercury thermometer. Some research also suggests that you'd have to break quite a few bulbs in an enclosed space for it to pose any potential danger. However, if you do have concerns after breaking a compact fluorescent lightbulb, or you experience any unusual symptoms, please seek further medical advice.


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