I was unscrewing a compact fluorescent lightbulb this morning and it broke while it was unscrewing it. A few chunks of glass showered down, but the entire bulb didn't shatter; ultimately a few chunks fell close to where I was standing.

I've read about the presence of mercury in CFLs and I'm wondering if I should throw away the clothes that I was wearing? There's potential that some of the glass shards, and even some of the mercury, came in contact with the sweater I was wearing.

  • Does the bulb have a circled "Hg" symbol on it? – Ron Beyer Jan 20 at 20:29
  • Also see: EPA: Cleaning up a broken CFL. – Ron Beyer Jan 20 at 20:31
  • 3
    Unless you're a fetus or plan on doing this regularly it's not that much of a problem. I'd give it a good shaking out and move on. – isherwood Jan 20 at 20:33
  • Voting to close. This is not about home improvement and is mostly a matter of opinion. – isherwood Jan 20 at 20:34
  • Agree with @isherwood: a tuna fish sandwich probably contains more ingestible Hg than the CFL. – bishop Jan 20 at 22:50

The dangers of mercury in CFLs and other fluorescent bulbs has been sensationalized in some news sources. The main health risk associated with mercury is the vapor released when it is heated or if a large quantity is sitting around evaporating into the air for some reason.

Very little mercury is absorbed by your body if you swallow a small amount of liquid mercury or get it on your skin for a short time. This is considered almost non-toxic and you'll probably have no symptoms.


If a drop of liquid mercury got in your clothes, it should wash out without much fanfare. Keep the room well ventilated right after the breakage, and wash the clothes.


Modern flourescent fittings, compact or otherwise, have a small amount of mercury vapour in them. This will have escaped when the fitting broke. You may have breathed an infinitesimally small amount of it in.

This amount of vapour is so small, that any possible effects are negligible.

As there was no liquid mercury in the fitting, there's not anything to contaminate your clothes with, besides a tiny amount of phosphor, and possible glass particles. Both of these will wash out.

If you are concerned, just chuck the clothes in the wash, but really, there is nothing to worry about.

  • Modern CFLs have way, way less mercury than even modern tubes, and they have way, way less than old tubes. Those get broken in industrial and office spaces all the time. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jan 21 at 3:49

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