Is Mercury Used In Thermometers?

Wednesday 21st June 2023

Joanna Grimbley-Smith

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Close up of a mercury thermometer CONTENTS 

Since April 2009, is has been illegal to sell thermometers that contain mercury to the general public in the UK. Many other countries have also phased out products containing mercury to protect people in the event of breaks. However, lots of people still own thermometers containing the harmful metal.

At ICE Cleaning, we offer rapid-response mercury spill clean up services. Our hazardous chemical clean up specialists are fully permitted to handle and dispose of mercury. They can quickly deal with any spill, no matter the size.

Continue reading to find out whether your thermometer contains mercury and what you should do if it breaks.

Why mercury is used in thermometers

A mercury thermometer consists of a glass tube containing mercury and a temperature scale marked next to it. When mercury is subjected to a change in temperature, it expands and contracts, or the mercury level rises and falls. You can then clearly read the temperature from the scale.

Mercury thermometers can determine body, liquid, and vapour temperature, and are used in many different settings including households, laboratories, and industry.

Lots of thermometers in your home may contain mercury including oral, rectal, baby, basal temperature, oven, candy, and meat thermometers.

The dangers of mercury

Mercury is a neurotoxin that can cause major health problems. Elemental or metallic mercury – the kind in thermometers – is most harmful when its vapour is inhaled and can lead to health effects including:

  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Changes in nerve responses
  • Neuromuscular changes, like weakness and twitching

Prolonged, high exposure could also cause kidney problems, respiratory failure, and potentially be fatal. Elemental mercury evaporates as an odourless, invisible odour so you can easily inhale it without realising.

Touching and ingesting metallic mercury, though far less hazardous, may still put your health at risk as mercury can cause skin irritation and be absorbed through the digestive tract.

How to tell if your thermometer contains mercury

Elemental mercury is a thick, silver-white liquid metal which breaks up into beads when touched. If your thermometer contains a silver liquid and is not labelled to say it is “mercury-free”, you should assume that it contains mercury.

Some thermometers contain a metallic-looking liquid which is not mercury, however. Galinstan® is a mix of tin, indium, and gallium which is not toxic to inhale or ingest but can cause skin irritation.

Most mercury-free thermometers contain a coloured alcohol which is safe to be exposed to. Some thermometers don’t even contain liquid – some meat thermometers, for example, use a metallic strip or coil - and therefore don’t contain mercury.

How to clean up mercury

First, evacuate the area so no one can walk through the spill and tread it through the property. Then, open any windows to ventilate the room to stop mercury vapours build up.

Make sure you keep doors to the rest of the property shut so the vapours don’t travel around the home. Turn down the heating to reduce how much mercury vapour is produced, as well.

Next, contact mercury clean up professionals to remove all traces of the mercury, clear up the broken mercury thermometer, and dispose of the waste correctly.

Why you must not attempt to clean up mercury yourself

Although mercury from a thermometer will only be a small amount, you must not attempt mercury clean up yourself.

Mercury is very hard to clean as it can split up into small beads which roll far away or sink into gaps and crevices. You will not have the specialist tools and knowledge to remove all traces of the mercury which could slowly evaporate over a very long period of time.

You may also clear it up incorrectly, such as using a hoover to vacuum it up or sweeping the spill with a broom. The former can warm up the metal and encourage it to evaporate, while the latter can spread it over a larger area and make clean up harder.

There will be a substantial health risk as you will come in very close contact with the hazardous metal, too. Without personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep yourself safe, you could be in danger throughout the clean up process.

You may dispose of the mercury and waste incorrectly, as well. Throwing it in the bin or down the sink can lead to pollution or cause mercury to get lodged in your plumbing.

Professional cleaners will have the training, PPE, and specialist equipment including mercury vapour detectors to give you peace of mind that your property is safe. They can provide a rapid service to minimise potential health implications.

Get in touch

Our technicians are available nationwide, 24/7, 365 days a year. In an emergency, they can be on site in hours. They have been accredited by a number of organisations, including SafeContractor, BICSc, and IOSH.

To book our mercury clean up and disposal services, call our team on 0208 066 0360 or send them an email at

Zoe Dunning

Zoe Dunning

Sales Representative

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