Mercury in Consumer Products
Some commercial products contain mercury. If you think a product in your home has mercury, you should know:
- How to safely handle and store it,
- How to safely throw it away when you no longer need it,
- What to do if the mercury spills from a product such as a CFL or thermometer when it breaks.
You should also be aware of products that contain mercury and are not safe for use. Some skin lightening creams, for example, contain mercury and should not be used.
EPA encourages consumers to consider alternatives to products that contain mercury. For example, digital non-mercury thermometers are a safer alternative to mercury thermometers.
On this page:
- List of common consumer products that contain mercury
- Recycling and disposing of items that contain mercury
- What to do in case a mercury-containing product breaks
The following products may contain mercury. Unless otherwise noted these products need to be properly disposed at household hazardous waste collection centers if they contain mercury. Consult your local or state collection program.
Some antiques such as barometers, clock pendulums, mirrors, vases and organs contain mercury.
- Inspect each item thoroughly for cracks or leaks.
- If possible, replace mercury-containing components.
- When moving them, handle them with care to prevent the mercury from spilling.
- Keep them outside of the reach of children.
- Mercury is regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation, so know about applicable shipping laws before you ship.
Older model electric appliances including chest freezers, space heaters, clothes dryers, clothes irons and washing machines may contain mercury switches that turn the device on or off, or turn a light on or off. When disposing of larger appliances, either contact your state or local household hazardous waste collection center for advice on recycling or disposal, or contact a local appliance recycler.
Gas-fired appliances, including ovens, water heaters, furnaces, poll heaters, and appliances in some recreational vehicles, may contain mercury. Older models may have pilot light sensors containing mercury. If you do not know if an appliance contains mercury, contact the manufacturer.
- Automotive parts
Cars manufactured before 2003 may contain mercury switches ore relays.
Switches are products or devices that open or close an electrical circuit, or a liquid or gas valve. They are used in trunks and hoods, heated car rear windows, acceleration sensors for air bags and seatbelts and anti-lock braking systems. Automotive relays are products or devices that open or close electrical contacts to control the operation of other devices in the same or another electrical circuit.
These switches and relays need to be properly removed by dismantlers.
Wheel balancers on trucks, motorhomes and motorcycles installed behind the vehicles' wheel assemblies may also contain mercury. Send discarded items to the manufacturer for recycling.
For more information:
There is a risk of the mercury spilling if the unit is broken or handled improperly.
See the Mercury in Batteries page.
- Dental amalgam
See the Mercury in Dental Amalgam page.
Mercury is used in LCD screens and monitors. It is also used in laptop screen shutoffs. Televisions manufactured before 1991 may also contain mercury switches. These products need to be properly disposed at household hazardous waste collection centers.
Some jewelry, mostly imported from Mexico, contains liquid elemental (metallic) mercury encased in glass. If the glass breaks, the mercury can spill.
- Light bulbs
Includes fluorescent bulbs, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), high intensity discharge (HID) lamps, ultraviolet lamps, neon lights. See CFL light bulbs website.
- Medical pharmaceuticals
Mercury is used -- usually in very small amounts as a preservative or antibacterial agent -- in a number of over-the-counter and prescription pharmaceutical products. These include: antibiotics; blood pressure cuffs; contact lens solution; dental amalgam; diuretics; ear and eye drops; eye ointment; hemorrhoid relief ointment; Mercurochrome; nasal spray; and thermometers.
Most of these can be put in the regular trash and require no special handling. For prescription medications, follow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's guidance on disposal of unused medicines.
- Skin cream
Most skin creams do not contain mercury compounds. Those that do are generally imported from outside the U.S. and are sold as skin lightening or freckle creams. Do not use of skin cream that contains mercury as this can lead to skin rashes or poisoning because mercury can be absorbed through the skin.
- Sporting equipment
The recoil suppressor unit of rifles may contain mercury to absorb and dampen shock. Mercury is also used in stabilizers in archery bows, and in switches in fishing tip-up lights.
See the Mercury Thermometers page.
Mercury thermostats are unlikely to break or leak mercury while is use, but they need to be properly disposed of when being replaced. Old thermostats should be taken to a state or local household hazardous waste collection center for recycling. Non-mercury thermostats are commercially available.
- Thermostat Recycling Corporation Exit
- Northeast Waste Management Officials Association: Mercury Use in Thermostats (PDF)(4 pp, 231 K, About PDF) Exit
- the Product Stewardship Institute's best practices guide LESSONS LEARNED: Voluntary Mercury Thermostat Take-Back Programs (PDF)(4 pp, 231 K, About PDF) Exit
- 2011 fact sheet "Before You Tear it Down, Get the Mercury Out: Recommended Management Practices for Pre-Demolition Removal of Mercury-Containing Devices from Residential Buildings" -- addresses pre-demolition removal of:
- mercury-containing gas pressure regulators,
- mercury-containing boiler heating systems/Honeywell heat generators, and
See the Mercury in Thimerosal Vaccines page.
Information for consumers: Please recycle mercury-containing products rather than disposing of them in regular household trash. Recycling of mercury-containing products is one of the best ways to help prevent mercury releases to the environment by keeping these products out of landfills and incinerators. Once landfilled, mercury from the products may end up in ground water, and potentially in sources of drinking water. Once incinerated, mercury may end up in the air.
Many states and local agencies have developed collection/exchange programs for mercury-containing devices such as thermometers, manometersmanometer(man-NAH-mut-ter) An instrument for measuring pressure. Usually, a manometer is a glass tube filled with a liquid that is used to measure the difference in pressure across a flow-measuring device such as an orifice or Venturi meter. The instrument used to measure blood pressure is a type of manometer., and thermostats. Some counties and cities also have household hazardous waste collection programs. For information about these programs, contact your local officials to find out when and where a collection will be held in your area.
- Storing, transporting and disposing of mercury in your home
- Search on Earth911.com for recycling and disposal options using your zip code or address, city and state Exit
Information for businesses and industries: Under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, some widely generated hazardous wastes, including mercury-containing wastes like certain spent batteries, thermostats, barometers, manometers, temperature and pressure gauges, certain switches and light bulbs, are designated as "universal wastes". Businesses and industries that qualify as universal waste handlers must follow specific requirements for storing, transporting and disposing of these wastes. Households are exempt from these regulations.
Note that some states and local jurisdictions have elected to pass regulations that are more stringent than the federal hazardous waste regulations. Several states and municipalities do not recognize the exemption for households; others regulate all fluorescent bulbs as hazardous, regardless of their mercury content. For example, Vermont bans all mercury-containing waste from landfills, including mercury-containing waste generated by households.
- Hazardous waste generators
- Universal wastes
- 2011 fact sheet "Before You Tear it Down, Get the Mercury Out: Recommended Management Practices for Pre-Demolition Removal of Mercury-Containing Devices from Residential Buildings" -- addresses pre-demolition removal of mercury-containing gas pressure regulators, mercury-containing boiler heating systems, and thermostats.