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Mercury is not harmful in accidental exposures to the skin but is dangerous when vaporized.  Breathing in the vapors can cause lung injury, especially if the mercury is heated.

Mercury is usually found in: 

  • Thermometers (older glass type)
  • Barometers
  • Electrical switches
  • Fluorescent lights (CFL bulbs)
  • High density light bulbs
  • Clock pendulums

Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs) contain mercury and should be handled with care.

If a CFL bulb breaks:

  1. Use cardboard or other stiff paper to carefully scoop the fragments and powder into a sealed plastic bag.
  2. Double bag the particles and put them in the trash outside.
  3. Wash your hands with soap and water when you are finished.
  4. Air out the area well.

What should I do if mercury is spilled in my house? 

Spilled mercury liquid is difficult to find and clean because it separates into tiny beads.  If it’s a small mercury spill (like a glass thermometer):

  • Have everyone, especially children and pets, leave the spill area.  Don’t let anyone walk through the spill on the way out.

  • Isolate the spill and air out the area right away.  Open windows and doors to the outside and close all doors between where the mercury was spilled and the rest of the house.  Turn off the air conditioning or heat source in the room to limit the spread of the vapors.
  • Use a flashlight by holding it close to the floor to find all the beads or particles.  Mercury is a silver-colored liquid metal; you can see it with the flashlight.  Be sure to inspect the entire room when you are searching for the mercury beads.

  • If the mercury gets on shoes, clothing, or skin:
    • Stay still and use wet paper towels to wipe off a visible bead of the mercury.
    • Put the paper towels into a trash bag.
    • Remove contaminated shoes and clothing and put them into the trash bag.
    • Seal that bag and put it into another bag (double bag).  If shoes or clothing has visible liquid metal on them, dispose of them in the trash.

What should I NOT do if mercury is spilled in my house?

  • Do not use a washing machine to clean any clothing, shoes, or other items that may have the metal mercury on them.  It can contaminate the washer and/or pollute sewage.

  • Do not use a vacuum cleaner or broom to clean up spilled mercury.  Instead, use duct tape, a dropper, or a damp paper towel to pick up the particles.  Discard the mercury by putting it in a double plastic bag and throwing it away in the trash.  Wash your hands with soap and water after cleaning up a mercury spill and allow the area to air out before re-entering.

  • Do not pour mercury metal down a drain.  It can get caught and continue to vaporize into that room.

What should I do with the contaminated clean up materials?

Place all materials used during the cleanup in a trash bag and then double bag the trash bag.  Place the bag outside the home in your regular trash pickup unless your local health department, fire department or municipal waste authority provides other advice.

What should I do if the mercury spill is greater than a thermometer or CFL bulb?

Larger amounts of mercury (greater than 2 tablespoons) are used in a variety of industrial settings.  Larger spills will need a more aggressive cleanup.  Some households may need extra assistance with mercury cleanup if the metal was tracked around the home, if it was heated, or if a spill was on a surface that cannot be easily cleaned.

Call NC Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 or chat from this
site for further treatment advice with larger spills or questions about a mercury spill as we have more information on these special circumstances.

Last Updated on 12/19/2023