CFL Bulb Safety Tips

Using Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs Safely
There's no doubt that compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) are better for the environment—and our pocketbooks—than traditional incandescent bulbs. ENERGY STAR qualified bulbs use up to 75 percent less electricity than incandescent bulbs, last up to 10 times longer, and provide a good return on investment.

However, concerns over the mercury in CFLs have raised questions about the proper disposal of them. CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury—an average of four (4) milligrams—sealed within the glass tubing. By comparison, older thermometers contain about 500 milligrams. Mercury is an essential part of CFLs: it reacts with the coating on the inside of the glass tube to produce light while using very little electricity. CFLs are safe to use in your home as no mercury is released when the bulbs are in use and they pose no danger to you or your family when used properly.

The following tips have been recommended for safe handling of CFLs:



  • Always carefully handle CFLs when removing packaging, installing, or replacing them.
  • Hold the bulb by its base and not the glass part.
  • Never forcefully twist the CFL into a light socket.

If a CFL breaks, follow these guidelines:

  1. Carefully sweep up fragments, wipe the area with a wet paper towel, and dispose of all fragments (including the used paper towel) in a sealed plastic bag.
  2. In North Carolina, residences can dispose of CFLs in their regular household trash.
  3. Use duct tape to collect small glass fragments from carpet.
  4. Open a window and have people (including you) and pets leave the room for at least 15 minutes.
  5. Do not use a vacuum cleaner as it might stir up the remaining dust and vapor.
  6. Wash your hands after disposing of the materials.


Recycling or Disposal
It's best to recycle CFLs when they no longer work and aren't broken.

Recycling programs exist for mercury in older non-digital thermostats and mercury thermometers, but residential CFL recycling programs are just now appearing. Blue Ridge Electric is working with local counties in its service area to set up proper waste handling and recycling programs for CFLs. Ashe and Watauga Counties have already established CFL recycling programs with drop off at solid waste convenience centers, and other local counties are working on similar programs.

Many counties also hold Household Hazardous Waste Collection Days for accepting CFLs and other fluorescent bulbs for recycling.

For additional tips on cleaning up broken bulbs, go to


Some information provided by Chris Grammes, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Sources: Environmental Protection Agency;

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