Cleaning Up Small Mercury Spills

Although the following procedures can be used to clean up small spills, certain situations may require the help of a trained professional. Remember : The best way to avoid a mercury spill is to limit the presence of mercury-containing items in your home. A list of potential mercury-containing products can be found on the Mercury-containing products page.

Equipment you will need:

(Any items used to clean up a mercury spill must be properly disposed of afterward)

  • rubber gloves
  • protective eyewear or safety glasses
  • clothing that can be worn and later discarded
  • eyedropper
  • large trash bags
  • Large tray or box
  • plastic bags with a zipper seal
  • paper towels, facial tissues or toilet paper
  • rags
  • tape - duct, masking or packing
  • stiff paper
  • plastic dust pan
  • wide-mouth containers with tight fitting lids
  • flashlight
  • commercially available mercury spill kit (optional)

Step 1: Determine the Extent of the Spill

  • If the spill is small and on a non-porous area such as linoleum or hardwood flooring, or on a porous item that you can throw away (like a small rug or mat), you can probably clean it up yourself.
  • If the spill is large, or on a rug that can not be discarded, on upholstery or in cracks or crevices, it may be necessary to hire a professional. Large spills involving more than the amount of mercury found in a typical household product should be reported to local environmental health authorities. If you are not sure whether a spill would be classified as "large", contact local environmental health authorities to be on the safe side. Under certain circumstances it may be advisable to obtain the assistance of qualified personnel for professional clean up or air monitoring, regardless of spill size.
  • If the spill contaminates a large rug or other valuable item, remove and ventilate the item for several months after cleaning up the spill. The item should be tested before bringing it back into the home.
  • If a fluorescent light bulb is broken, it is not likely that any mercury will be visible. However, the broken glass should be treated as a hazard and the procedures below should still be followed.

Mercury Spill
United States. California Department of Health Services, Environmental Management Branch. A Guide to Mercury Assessment and Elimination in Healthcare Facilities.
December 2002. p. 68-70.

Step 2: Contain the Spill

  • Check to see if anyone, or their apparel, or any porous household items (such as floor mats) have been splashed with mercury. If so, contaminated items should be removed and double or triple wrapped in a plastic or sealable bag and sealed before leaving the spill site. Mercury on the skin should be wiped off and also placed in the plastic bag.
  • Evacuate the area and ensure that children and pets are kept well away from the spill.
  • Close all interior doors leading to other indoor areas.
  • Open widows and exterior doors to ventilate the area - the danger of mercury exposure is much greater in poorly ventilated areas.
  • Turn off ventilation, heating or air conditioning systems that could circulate air from the site of the spill to other areas of the building.
  • Turn down the thermostat. Lowering the temperature decreases the amount of mercury vapor that will enter the air.
  • Use stiff paper to push the drops together.
  • Stop the spread of the spill by blocking it off with rags. Mercury droplets should be prevented from entering cracks in the floor, crevices and drains.

Isolated mercury spill
United States. California Department of Health Services, Environmental Management Branch. A Guide to Mercury Assessment and Elimination in Healthcare Facilities.
December 2002. p. 68-70.

Step 3: Preparation

  • Remove jewelry because it can form bonds with the mercury (amalgamate).
  • Change into old clothes that can be discarded.
  • Put on rubber gloves and safety glasses.

Step 4: Clean-up

DO NOT

  • Do Not Put Contaminated Items in the Washing Machine - mercury may contaminate the machine and pollute the sewage system. See Step 5 for disposal instructions.
  • Do Not Vacuum - vacuuming a mercury spill may increase the mercury vapor in the air and increase the risk of inhalation. If used, vacuums may become contaminated and therefore may need to be discarded.
  • Do Not Use a Broom or Brush - sweeping or brushing up a spill will scatter mercury droplets, making them harder to find and clean up.
  • Do Not Pour Mercury Down the Drain - mercury may settle in the S-trap of your drain and may pollute the sewage system or your septic tank.
  • Do Not Throw Mercury or Contaminated Items in the Garbage - mercury may be emitted as a vapour from landfill sites or from waste incinerators.

DO

  • Follow the instructions on a mercury spill kit if you have one.
  • Carefully clean up any broken glass. Wear rubber gloves to avoid contact with mercury and to prevent cuts. Place the glass in a rigid, wide mouth container that can be sealed with a lid.
  • Work from the outside of the spill area towards the center. Using stiff paper or a mercury vacuum, slide any droplets of liquid mercury onto a plastic dustpan, and away from any carpet or other porous material.
  • Use a flashlight to illuminate the mercury spill and to help spot small droplets. An eyedropper or an adhesive strip can be used to pick up small droplets.
  • Pour collected mercury into a large mouth container slowly and carefully. This should be done over a box or tray lined with plastic to prevent spillage. Close the container with an air tight lid, and seal with tape. Place inside a sealable bag and seal.
  • Residual mercury can be removed by wiping with a vinegar-soaked swab followed by peroxide. The swabs should then be placed in an air tight container or sealable bag.
  • Remove clothing worn during clean up, and all other items that may have come into contact with mercury such as shoes, carpeting and clean-up materials. Double or triple wrap all of the above using plastic or sealable bags.
  • Thoroughly wash and rinse humans and animals that came into contact with the mercury with an alkaline soap.
    If you are on a city sewer, your local wastewater treatment plant can handle small amounts of mercury from rinsing the skin. HOWEVER, if you are on a septic system, all mercury containing water should be collected and disposed of. If mercury accidentally enters the septic system, stop using it and contact a professional waste contractor.

Mercury Vacuum Mercury micro vacuum
United States. California Department of Health Services, Environmental Management Branch. A Guide to Mercury Assessment and Elimination in Healthcare Facilities.
December 2002. p. 68-70.

Step 5: Disposal

  • Make sure that all bags with contaminated items and mercury are double or triple wrapped. Label these plastic bags "Elemental Mercury: Hazardous Waste."
  • Label any containers with contaminated washing water in the same fashion.
  • Contact your municipal waste department for further disposal instructions.

Step 6: Follow-up

  • Mercury may have seeped into porous surfaces and be impossible to remove. If this is the case, seal with epoxy paint or another sealing agent.
  • Continue to ventilate the area with outside air using fans for a minimum of two days if possible. In an office building increase the air exchange rate for one day.
  • To evaluate the mercury levels in your home, contact commercial environmental services or your local sanitation or integrated waste management authorities for information on conducting a building survey. This type of testing can be carried out using portable mercury monitors.
  • In extreme cases it may be necessary to conduct blood and urine tests. Discuss the possibilities with your doctor.

This site provides only recommendations for homeowners to follow; following these steps does not guarantee that all of the mercury will be removed from a spill area. For more information call your regional Poison Control Centre.

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