Reducing Mercury Risks at Home
Mercury can be found in many common household products such as fluorescent bulbs, silver thermometers and older wall thermostats. If mishandled, these items can break, spilling mercury and releasing an invisible poisonous vapor that is harmful to human health. Take a few minutes to learn how you can make your home mercury free!
Tips to Make Your Household Mercury Free
- Keep fluorescent bulbs and other products that contain mercury out of the household trash, where they can break and release harmful mercury.
- Bring fluorescent light bulbs, old thermostats, silver thermometers and other mercury-containing products to a certified disposal facility or recycling program.
- Many retailers will now accept used compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) for recycling—ask your local home improvement center.
- Replace old silver fever thermometers that contain mercury with safe digital thermometers. If you have one that contains mercury, recycle it properly.
- Consider replacing your old mercury-containing thermostat with a programmable electronic thermostat, which does not contain mercury and is more energy efficient.
- Avoid other mercury-containing consumer and commercial products whenever possible.
- Learn how to safely clean up mercury spills in your home to protect your family and the environment.
Give Your Household a Mercury Makeover
The best way to safeguard your home from mercury contamination is to:
- Safely dispose of or recycle mercury-containing products
- Update your home with mercury-free options
Proper Disposal of Mercury and Mercury-Containing Items: You can get rid of liquid mercury, fluorescent light bulbs, old mercury-containing thermometers, thermostats and other products at a household hazardous waste collection site near you. Also, please be aware that it is illegal to dispose of most mercury-containing items (e.g., fluorescent bulbs and old thermostats) in the garbage.
Fluorescent Light Bulbs and Tubes: Fluorescent light bulbs and tubes, which use up to 50 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs, are a common sight in households today. In fact, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) are probably the most commonly used products containing mercury on the consumer market today. It is especially important to handle these items carefully and dispose of them properly—please do not throw them in the trash! If carelessly disposed in a dumpster, garbage can or compactor, they will almost certainly break, releasing harmful mercury into the atmosphere.
Thermometers: Silver mercury thermometers can be a hazard if broken in the home, as the liquid mercury inside begins to turn into a harmful gas once released. If you haven’t done so already, replace your old mercury thermometer with a safe digital one, and recycle your old thermometer at your local household hazardous waste facility. (Some of the earliest activities of the Be Mercury Free program included thermometer exchanges, in partnership with Leader Pharmacies and Dignity Health (formerly Mercy), with a total of more than 17,000 thermometers exchanged!) If a silver thermometer breaks in your home, have everyone leave the area and then carefully follow these tips to prevent the spill from contaminating your home.
Thermostats: Older tilt-switch thermostats were used in homes and offices to control temperatures for many years. Today, digital thermostats are the norm and are a safe replacement if you still have an older thermostat in your home. They can also be programmed for maximum efficiency of your heating and cooling system, resulting in energy cost savings. Make sure to dispose of your old thermostat properly once you make the upgrade. Demolition and Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning contractors are required to handle and dispose of mercury thermostats in accordance with Universal Waste regulations and have additional reporting requirements. The California Department of Toxic Substances Control has more information on requirements for contractors.
Button Cell Batteries: Some button cell batteries contain mercury, and, in California, they cannot be thrown in the trash. To keep the mercury in button cells from ending up in our solid waste stream, please safely dispose of these batteries with your other household hazardous waste.
Paint: In the past, mercury was used in many water-based latex paints as a fungicide to prevent the growth of bacteria. Its use in interior and exterior latex paint was discontinued in the United States in 1991, but if you have any old paint lying around the garage, please make sure to dispose of it properly.
Antiques: Some antique clocks, barometers and mirrors contain elemental mercury. Learn how to safely handle these items here.
Other Products: Learn more about other Consumer and Commercial Products that contain mercury.
What Never to Do After a Mercury Spill
Click here to learn what you should do to safely deal with mercury releases and spills in your home. In the meantime, it’s also important to know what you should not do:
- Never use a vacuum cleaner to clean up mercury. The vacuum will put mercury into the air and increase exposure.
- Never use a broom to clean up mercury. It will break the mercury into smaller droplets and spread them around.
- Never pour mercury down a drain. It will pollute the sewer and waterways.
- Never wash clothing or other items that have come in direct contact with mercury in a washing machine, as mercury may contaminate the machine and the sewer. Instead, discard the clothing.
- Never walk around if your shoes might be contaminated with mercury. Contaminated clothing can also spread mercury around.
(Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)
Making Your Home Mercury Free (brochure)
U.S. EPA Resources
Have more questions?
Contact the Be Mercury Free Program at (916) 875-6644 or firstname.lastname@example.org.