Lighting Understanding for a More Efficient Nation



Benefits of CFLs

Compared to a traditional incandescent, an ENERGY STAR-qualified CFL uses about 75% less energy than a standard incandescent bulb, lasts up to 10 times longer and produces about 75% less heat, making it safer to operate while cutting energy costs associated with home cooling.

Changing just one bulb in your home will save more than $40 over the bulb’s lifetime. Since the average household has about 30 light fixtures, even though CFLs are a bit more expensive than traditional lights at the cash register, their lifetime savings making choosing CFLs a no-brainer. Plus, you can buy multi-packs, making your savings even more significant.

Are you Worried About Mercury in CFLs?

CFLs contain trace amounts of mercury – only about four milligrams (mg) in each bulb. That’s an infinitesimal amount compared with old thermometers, which contain about 500 mg of mercury, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Because electricity use is the main source of mercury emissions in the United States, the EPA says CFLs actually reduce the total amount of mercury in the environment because they use less electricity than traditional bulbs.

When CFLs are intact and in use, they release absolutely no mercury. However, there are suggested rules for management, cleaning and recycling.

Are there Special Tips for Using a CFL?

  • Turn it off before you handle a bulb. Although a working CFL is not nearly as hot as a traditional incandescent, it needs just a bit of time to cool, especially if it has been on for a long period of time.
  • Hold it carefully to avoid breaking a CFL. The EPA suggests holding the plastic or ceramic base of the bulb instead of the glass tubing. 
  • Don’t twist too tightly. Gently screw in CFLs until they are snug – do not over tighten.
  • Don’t choose rowdy spaces. CFLs should not be put in open play spaces or locations in your home where children are likely to bump into and smash them.

What if a CFL Breaks?

  • Clear the room. If a CFL breaks, send people and pets out of the room. 
  • Open a window and turn off A/C. Directly after a bulb breaks, air out the room for 5-10 minutes by opening your windows or doors. At the same time, shut off any central air systems because they circulate air throughout a home.
  • Clean up with caution. Thoroughly collect all broken glass and any visible powder. Place the materials in a sealable container. Do not use a vacuum cleaner because it can stir up the mercury and trap some within the vacuum. Instead, use duct tape, or another large width tape, to pick up small pieces and powder.  
  • Double check the area you were cleaning and put the bulb debris outdoors until the cleaned-up materials can be disposed of properly.

Where do I Recycle CFLs?

  • Find recycling and waste centers in your area that have hazardous waste drop-off locations through Earth911.
  • Visit local retailers that have in-store recycling. For instance, Lowe’s and Home Depot stores both have CFL recycling programs.
  • Learn about mail-back services that provide pre-labeled recycling kits you can use to send CFLs to recycling centers.

CFLs and Recycling Resources