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How to Clean Up a Broken Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb (CFL)

Groovy Green Livin CFL [1]

The traditional (incandescent) light bulbs in our home have slowly been swapped out for a more efficient type of light bulb- C [2]ompact Fluorescent Light bulbs (CFLs) [2]. We also have a few Light Emitting Diode bulbs (LEDs). As the old light bulbs need to be replaced new CFL or LED bulbs make their way into every lamp, light and fixture in our home. I have to admit that I’m not in love with the lighting that a CFL emits and I’ve been known to get frustrated by the amount of time these bulbs can take to light a space. There are a few lamps that I’m holding out making the switch to a CFL.

Last week I learned the hard way that I made a big mistake with my placement of a certain CFL.

What is a CFL?

CFLs need a little more energy [3] when they are first turned on, but once the electricity starts moving they use about 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs. This entire process typically takes 30 seconds to 3 minutes to complete, which is why CFLs take longer than other lights to become fully lit.

CFL’s and mercury

CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury which is needed for fluorescent lighting -the type of lighting emitted by a CFL. No mercury is released when the bulbs are intact or in use [4].

You know where this is headed, right?

How the bulb broke

Last week a CFL broke. Can you guess how?

Nerf Gun war. Need I say more? Clearly my son hasn’t yet perfected his shot. Rather than hitting the desired target-a stuffed snake-the soft Nerf “bullet” hit a reading lamp in his room, knocking it to the floor. The  bulb broke and small pieces of the bulb were brought to me in another room.

Groovy Green Livin CFL [5]

I knew that CFLs contained mercury so I inwardly freaked and outwardly remained calm. Here’s what I learned…..

How to clean up a broken CFL 

I turned to the Environmental Protection Agency [6] (EPA) for help.


What I learned

Think about where you are placing a CFL. It’s probably not a good idea to put a CFL in a reading lamp that could potentially fall over or get shot by a Nerf Gun.

Have you ever broken a CFL? How did you handle it?

photo credit: Dano [8] via photopin [9] cc [10]

16 Comments (Open | Close)

16 Comments To "How to Clean Up a Broken Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb (CFL)"

#1 Comment By Jonathan Hunt On January 7, 2013 @ 12:28 pm

We used an LED bulb in our toddlers room for that very reason. Of course, I was the one who seemed to knock it off the table the most. [11]
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#2 Comment By Good Girl Gone Green On January 7, 2013 @ 12:33 pm

I broke one while in Texas and got little E out of the way, and followed all your steps. There is a company in Fort Worth that took back CFL’s. so I brought it there. I just couldn’t bring myself to put it in the trash.
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#3 Comment By Helga On January 7, 2013 @ 5:22 pm

OMG if I had known way back when what I knew now. One of the first packs of CFL bulbs I bought was in those impossible to open plastic containers. I was struggling with it when it finally popped open and not one but TWO went flying through the air onto the floor. They shattered every where. I didn’t know they had mercury back then so I swept it up, vacuumed up the rest, and threw it all away. No harm ever came to me or my husband (this was before my kids)but now I cringe when I remember it. ACK!

#4 Comment By Micaela @MindfulMomma On January 7, 2013 @ 4:24 pm

Same thing happened to me once with a lamp in our living room. I ended up taking CFLs out of any tippy light fixtures.
Have you tried any of the newer LED bulbs? I need to re-educate myself on what’s out there right now!
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#5 Pingback By CFL Lightbulbs: Green But Are They Safe? On January 8, 2013 @ 12:04 am

[…] FREAKED out. I had just read a post from Lori at Groovy Green Livin’ about cleaning up a CLF lightbulb. And thank goodness that I did otherwise I would have vacuumed it […]

#6 Comment By Tracey @ Dont Mess with Mama On January 8, 2013 @ 12:09 am

Lori, I can’t thank you enough for posting this. I read your post from my Twitter feed, and just tonight I broke a CFL bulb. Your post was literally a life-saver. I would have cleaned it up completely wrong if I hadn’t read your post. And to top it off, I was going to put my baby sleep in the room the bulb broke. So thank goodness. Thanks again and please keep up the great content. I just posted about my CFL experience too.
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#7 Comment By Rust On January 8, 2013 @ 5:47 am

What has happened to us as a country when not only has government regulated us into using something that is potentially lethal (to replace something 100% non-lethal), a common household product in use by the billions, but that product, when broken, necessitates out of prudence and safety a call to *another* government agency, the EPA? (Or poison control)

Despite the energy savings these CFC’s are a horrible idea. They run the gamut from inferior quality of lighting all the way to lethality for us or our children. Taken to an extreme example, would we agree to put *just a little* arsenic into our children’s breakfast cereal if the government said we should (out of deference to *any* green policy)?

It just boggles the mind that so many moms who are hyper aware when it comes to the safety of their children would unquestioningly accept these bulbs in their home. I do my part to live as green-conscious a life as I can but I will never use CFC’s.

#8 Comment By Cathy On January 8, 2013 @ 5:56 am

Luckily we have never broke any of our CFLs, but these are good tips in case it ever happens. I just hate that you had to learn the hard way.
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#9 Comment By Kim @ The Soulicious Life On January 8, 2013 @ 8:10 am

Oh, wow – I had no idea to take all of those precautions in the case of a breakate. Guess I was living in la-la land thinking all green things are healthier! Thanks for the info!
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#10 Comment By Lori On January 8, 2013 @ 2:04 pm

I had no idea either Kim-until I had to clean up a broken CFL!

#11 Comment By Lori On January 8, 2013 @ 2:05 pm

Hi Cathy, I’m trading out a few of our CFLs for LEDs or regular bulbs. No more CFLs in the boy’s bedrooms!

#12 Comment By Anne On January 8, 2013 @ 8:21 pm

Thanks for sharing. Does make you have second thoughts about putting one in a child’s room.
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#13 Comment By 2ndGreenReovlution.com On January 14, 2013 @ 7:25 am

CFL’s and other energy-efficient technologies are great, but there is an inherent hazard when something as common as a light bulb requires extra effort by the consumer to dispose of properly. I believe that even with the poor rate of “proper” disposal, CFL’s still provide a net benefit the environment–they take mercury out of the environment by requiring less energy from power plants. However, we need to address the facts that consumers are lazy and unaware of the added risks.

#14 Comment By CelloMom On January 14, 2013 @ 11:02 am

Do you know if places like the Home Depot accept broken CFL bulbs? – they take in whole ones.
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#15 Comment By Lori On January 14, 2013 @ 11:30 am

I just checked and the CFLs have to be unbroken for Home Depot to accept them.

#16 Comment By Isra {TheFrugalette} On January 15, 2013 @ 10:24 am

Wow, I didn’t realize how dangerous it is when they break! My husband always told me to be careful with it, but Im going to really watch out now!