I have broken a mercury thermometer. How do I clean up the spill?

Mercury is a highly toxic liquid metal that ‘shatters' into tiny balls, so take great care when cleaning it up. The poisonous vapour is the main threat.

Get help cleaning up a spill

For help cleaning up a mercury spill, contact Fire & Rescue NSW.

Find your nearest fire station

Steps to clean up a minor spill

Tip: Mercury can move a long way on a smooth flat surface and shatter into tiny balls - check the entire room carefully. Use a piece of paper or light cardboard to collect larger blobs and put these on a wet paper towel then put this into a sealed container. Use an eyedropper or heavy duty tape to pick up any tiny spheres. Use the sulphur neutralising process on these as outlined.

  1. have all people and pets leave, then ventilate the room (continue to do so for 24 hours)
  2. put on heavy duty rubber gloves and pick up any shards of glass, wrap these in a paper towel and seal it in a zip-lock bag
  3. darken the room and use a torch to find all the mercury - it will shine in the light
  4. apply sulphur powder (available at pharmacies) and sprinkle on twice the amount of the mercury spill - the sulphur will neutralise the mercury and make it easier to clean up
  5. leave the sulphur on the mercury for 30 minutes to give it time to neutralise the mercury (do not leave it longer as the sulphur will oxidize into harmful sulphur dioxide)
  6. collect the mercury-sulphur and put it in a plastic bag - use a small brush such as a cheap artists' bristle brush to sweep it up
  7. add another neutral powder to the site to absorb any residual sulphur-mercury (e.g. powdered diatomaceous earth, ordinary baking flour or cornflour)
  8. collect by brush a second time, then discard the brush and gloves in a plastic bag
  9. put the mercury-sulphur and all other paraphernalia into the domestic waste (in plastic bag)
  10. if the mercury has spilt onto carpet, clothing or upholstery, the contaminated part needs to be removed and disposed of.

Disposal

Mercury that cannot be stabilised by sulphur powder or is stored in a jar is a hazardous waste and can only be disposed at a household chemical cleanout.

Contact Environment Line
By phone: 131 555
By email: info@environment.nsw.gov.au

Do not

  • use a vacuum cleaner as they do not pick up the drops and vacuuming vaporises the mercury
  • use a broom as this breaks up the mercury further
  • pour it down the drain as this blocks the sink and harms the waterways
  • wash clothing with mercury spilt on it as this will contaminate the washing machine and spread it in the material - dispose of such clothing after stabilising the mercury.