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Compact fluorescent light bulbs have provided a good alternative to incandescent bulbs.

What to Do If a Compact Fluorescent Bulb Breaks

Posted on March 23, 2017

Compact fluorescent light bulbs have provided a good alternative to incandescent bulbs typically using 75% less energy. In addition, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) last as much as six times longer than incandescent bulbs. With benefits that include saving energy and therefore money as well as not having to be replaced as often, do CFLs have any drawbacks?

First, to understand drawbacks, it’s important to understand how CFL light bulbs work. Incandescent light bulbs run electric current through a wire filament putting out a warm glow. CFLs run electric current through a tube containing argon and mercury vapor creating ultraviolet light. CFLs don’t reach their greatest brightness immediately when switched on. They also can’t be used with dimmer switches.

The biggest drawback is the mercury that is necessary to efficiently produce light. Mercury is a central nervous system poison and exposure is a potential health hazard and environmental concern. The amount of mercury in CFLs is considered small at approximately 4 milligrams per bulb. The danger occurs when a CFL breaks.

The risk can be fairly small if managed correctly by following these steps:

  • Remove all people and pets from the room where the broken bulb is located.
  • Cut off the heat or air conditioning system so that air is not being moved inside the house.
  • Open windows and/or doors in the room to air it out.
  • Leave the room for at least 5-10 minutes before starting cleanup.
  • Gather the supplies that you will need to clean up the broken CFL bulb: a piece of cardboard or very stiff paper, heavy sticky tape such as duct tape, damp paper towels or wipes, and a strong sealable plastic bag or glass jar.
  • Use the cardboard to thoroughly scoop up the glass pieces and powder placing them in the plastic bag. Use the sticky tape to pick up any remaining fragments or powder.
  • Place the used tape and cardboard in the plastic bag and seal it. Place the plastic bag and all cleanup supplies in a trash container on the exterior of your home.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after disposing of the plastic bag containing the CFL debris and
  • Continue to air out the room for several hours before closing windows and doors. Leave the heat or air conditioning off for the entire time.
  • Never use a vacuum cleaner as it could actually spread the mercury in your house as well as making it difficult to get the mercury out of the vacuum cleaner. The first time you use a vacuum cleaner after the cleanup, dispose of the vacuum cleaner bag.
  • Check with your local municipality about any regulations regarding the disposal of your CFL bulbs whether broken or unbroken. Most Lowes home improvement stores have a recycling center for CFL bulbs. If no recycling resources are available, then place the trash bag in your household trash.
  • If you have questions about CFL cleanup, contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

In recent years, some compact fluorescent light bulb manufacturers have reduced the amount of mercury in their bulbs to as low as 1.4 to 2.5 milligrams. When CFLs are unbroken, there is no risk of mercury being released.

If a CFL bulb breaks at your house, don’t panic. Follow the steps above. Consider switching your light bulbs to LEDs. While more expensive, LEDs last las much as 25X longer than incandescent bulbs and as much as 5X longer than CFLs.

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