Mercury Clean-up Guidelines

What To Do For A Thermometer Spill
(or other small liquid mercury spills)

*If cleaning a broken compact fluorescent light bulb, view our CFL Clean-up Guidelines  

Pre Clean-up Guidelines

Do Not VacuumImage of a thermometer
The heat from the vacuum cleaner turns mercury into a toxic gas that is then inhaled.  The vacuum cleaner also further disperses the mercury, and itself will be contaminated. Using the vacuum cleaner afterwards will continue to contaminate other parts of the home.

*Note: If cleaning-up a broken compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL), clean-up guidelines are different.
Avoid the Area

Mercury is easily cross-contaminated, or spread throughout the home, by way of shoes, clothing, or pets. Shut the door to the room or block off access to the contaminated area, and prevent anyone (especially children or pets) from getting to the area.

Mercury Program Home

Health Effects

Recycling & Disposal 
 -Thermostat Recycling

Clean-up Guidelines

Mercury in Schools

Mercury Call Line

Indoor Air Quality Program


Ventilate the Area
Open windows, shut vents if furnace fan is on, turn off furnace fan. Mercury readily off gasses, or evaporates, at warmer temperatures. Try to manage airflow out of the area into other parts of the home by shutting vents and turning off the furnace fan. Try to ventilate the area and remove mercury vapors by opening windows. If the air conditioning is on, consider turning it off and opening windows in the home to encourage off gassing.

Clean-up Guidelines

If the mercury spill is about the amount in a thermometer or smaller, follow the pre clean-up steps above and clean-up guidelines below. If the spill is larger than a thermometer, follow the pre clean-up guidelines, and call the Nebraska Mercury Call Line at 888-242-1100, Extension 4. If the spill is more than two tablespoons (1 pound), it is mandatory to call the National Response Center at 800-424-8802.  

Clean-up carefully

  • Use the "flashlight test" to find all spilled mercury. Getting the room as dark as possible, shine a flashlight around the area where the spill occurred. Because mercury is metallic, it will reflect the light, making it easier to see.
  • Collect all visible recoverable spilled mercury using an eyedropper or by gently scraping the mercury up with a card or paper. Place collected mercury in a non-metal, airtight container for disposal or recycling. 
  • Properly dispose of the mercury and contaminated items. Do not discard mercury in sink, toilet, or dumpster. See the Recycling & Disposal page for more information. 
    • Remove and dispose of all absorbent materials like carpeting or upholstery that were contaminated.
    • Anything used for clean-up (e.g. broom, card, gloves, etc.) must also be discarded. Consider discarding clothing worn during clean-up.

Care of Shoes

  • If you have potentially stepped through a mercury contaminated area, it is possible that you may have trace amounts of mercury on the bottom of your shoes. Trace amounts of mercury will evaporate to the surrounding environment fairly quickly, particularly at warmer temperatures.
  • The recommendation is to remove your shoes as soon as possible to avoid spreading contamination further. Leave your shoes outdoors to off gas any remaining mercury vapor for at least two or three days. If you are uncomfortable with this, you can dispose of your shoes in the normal trash.

Cleaning-up a CFL

Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), HID lamps, and some other types of bulbs contain a very small amount of mercury which can be released when the bulb breaks. The following recommendations should be used when a CFL breaks indoors.

Ventilate the Area
Open a window or door to the outside and shut off the furnace fan or central air if running. Keep the area isolated from any traffic, including children and pets. Have everyone leave the room for approximately 15 minutes. 
CFL Clean-up Guidelines
Wearing gloves, carefully pick up any fragments from the bulb, and scoop up powder with stiff paper, cardboard, or use sticky tape to pick up the debris. Wipe the area with a damp paper towel or other disposable wipe. If possible, keep the area of the spill ventilated for several hours.  

Vacuuming is not recommended for all CFL breakages, however vacuuming may be needed if the CFL was broken on carpet or if broken glass and powder remain after cleaning. Using a vacuum may temporarily increase the amount of mercury vapors in the air, so following the recommendations below will help decrease your exposures:
  • If you do vacuum, refrain from vacuuming the area immediately.
  • Open a window or door to the outside and the heating/air conditioning system is turned off. 
  • Throw away the vacuum bag after vacuuming the area the first time.
  • The next couple of times you vacuum, air out the room during and after vacuuming.

Get Detailed Information from the EPA

DHHS- Mercury Program
PO Box 95026, Lincoln, NE  68509-5026
Fax 402-471-8833

Documents in PDF PDF format require the use of Adobe Acrobat Reader
which can be downloaded for free from Adobe Systems, Inc.

Environmental Health Page