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How to Clean Up a Mercury Spill

Broken thermometers or thermostats

The small amount of elemental mercury in fever thermometers and thermostats is not likely to cause serious health problems if it is immediately cleaned up. Follow these instructions:

Immediately after the spill:

  1. If the spill is more than one pound (about three tablespoons), do not attempt to clean it up by yourself. Call Oregon Response System at 1-800-452-0311 or 503-378-6377.
  2. Try not to touch the mercury.
  3. If possible, have all people and pets leave the area and wait 15 minutes before starting the clean up. Then, keep all people and pets away from the spill except the person performing the clean up.
  4. Turn off heating, ventilating, or air conditioning systems that circulate air. Ventilate the area by opening windows or, if available, using fans that exhaust directly to the outdoors.
  5. Remove all jewelry (mercury bonds with metals, especially gold) and put on rubber gloves.
  6. Contain the spill to prevent it from spreading. Divert from cracks and crevices.

​If you do not have a mercury spill kit, you should have the following items:

  • stiff paper (for example, index cards)

  • flashlight

  • duct tape or packing tape

  • eye dropper

  • plastic or rubber gloves

  • sulfur powder (available at garden stores)

  • plastic zipper-lock bags.

  • small empty plastic container (bottle or tub)

Mercury spill kits are commercially available from safety supply companies or online (search for “mercury sorbents”).​

  • Never use a vacuum − it will blow mercury vapors into the area, increasing the chances that you will inhale the vapors.

  • Never use a broom or paint brush or cloth or paper towel − it spreads mercury.

  • Never use household cleaning products. They may react violently with the mercury and release toxic gases.

  • Never pour mercury down a drain or put it in the garbage. Call 1-800-732-9253 for information about where to safely dispose of mercury waste.

  • Never allow people with contaminated clothes or shoes to walk around.

  • All people and pets should be kept away from the area until proper clean up has been completed.

  • Continue ventilating the room for several hours.

  • After clean up is completed, wash your hands and face.

Hard surfaces such as linoleum, vinyl, or hardwood floors

  • Wearing gloves, work from the outside of the spill toward the center.

  • Use the stiff paper to push the beads of mercury together.

  • Use the flashlight to look around in all areas of the spill. The light will reflect off the shiny mercury beads and make it easier to see them.

  • Using the eye dropper, suction the beads of mercury and carefully deposit them into a small empty plastic container (bottle or tub). Use the eye dropper to get mercury out of cracks or crevices.

  • Using the tape, pick up remaining mercury and place tape, eye dropper, and plastic container into a plastic bag, along with the stiff paper and gloves. Seal the bag so that it won’t leak.

  • Sprinkle sulfur powder on the spill area, a color change from yellow to brown indicates that mercury is still present and more clean up is needed.

  • Place the plastic bag of waste in a second plastic bag and label it as mercury waste.

Carpet or rug

  • The section of carpet that is mercury contaminated should be cut out, if possible. The cut out carpet, along with all clean-up items, should be placed in a plastic bag and then placed in a second plastic bag labeled as mercury waste. If the carpet is not removed, open the window during the next several times you vacuum it to provide good ventilation.

Fluorescent light bulbs

Breaking a fluorescent light bulb is different from breaking a thermometer, thermostat or other item containing elemental mercury. You will not be able to see the mercury. Follow these instructions.

  • Scoop up the glass and all other pieces of the broken light bulb. Use gloves to protect against cuts.
  • Put all the pieces of the broken bulb into a rigid container such as an old paint can. Seal the container with a lid and remove it from your living area.
  • Air out the room where the lamp was broken for 12-24 hours.
  • Disposal options:
    • Take the container to a hazardous waste collection center that accepts mercury. To find out where to take it, call your local county solid waste department, garbage hauler, or 1-800-732-9253.
    • Some hazardous waste collection centers (including the Portland Metro HHW collection facilities) do not accept broken bulbs. In that case, dispose of the sealed rigid container with the broken glass in the trash. 

Emergency Telephone Numbers

Oregon Response System
(spills of one pound or more):
1-800-452-0311 or 503-378-6377

Oregon Poison Control:

In case of a life threatening injury or accident, call 911.