Is Spilled Mercury Dangerous?

Friday 6th January 2023

Joanna Grimbley-Smith

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mercury droplets CONTENTS


Mercury can still be found in many household objects today, from fluorescent lightbulbs and thermometers to batteries. Should one of these items break and the silvery liquid metal leak out, you must bring in professionals to clean it up immediately.

Here at ICE Cleaning, our technicians can clear up any mercury spill, no matter how big. They are fully permitted to handle and dispose of mercury, and can be on site in several hours in an emergency.

Read this blog to find out the dangers of a mercury spill, and what to do in the event of one.

What is mercury?

Elemental mercury is the shiny, silver-grey metal form of mercury. It is a liquid that breaks into droplets when spilt or touched. At room temperature, it can evaporate into an odourless, invisible vapour which is toxic.

Breathing the vapours in is the most common and most dangerous way to be exposed to mercury. It can also pass through the skin if you touch it, but this is less harmful. You can find out more about mercury here.

Mercury is found far less in modern household objects due to the health risks. Thermometers produced today, for example, contain coloured alcohol, instead. Should your thermometer break, you can tell if it contained mercury if the liquid is a silver colour.  

The dangers of mercury exposure

It can affect your health

If you inhale its vapours, it can be absorbed through the lungs into the bloodstream and cause health problems.

Short term exposure to even a small amount of mercury can be harmful. You may experience a cough or a sore throat, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and vision problems.

People exposed to mercury for a long period of time, might experience more serious health problems. This includes anxiety, anorexia, sleeping problems, and damage to your central nervous system and kidneys.

How serious the effects are depends on how much mercury has been spilled. However, some people are more vulnerable to its harmful effects:

  • Pregnant people can pass mercury on to the foetus
  • People breastfeeding their children could pass it onto them through their breast milk
  • Young children might play on the floor where the spill was, and could breathe in more vapours

It is very difficult to clean up mercury

To make the affected area safe again, all traces must be removed and any items in contact with it disposed of according to local regulations.

Unfortunately, this is not an easy task as mercury can split into very small droplets which could roll away and settle into small crevices. If it is on porous material, like fabric or upholstery, the item must be disposed of.

Although some claim you can clean mercury spills yourself, it is always recommended that you bring in professional cleaners. Miss any mercury and it will continue to vapourise slowly, and might put your own and others’ health at risk for a long period of time. Or you could make the situation worse:

  • If you attempt to vacuum it, it will evaporate faster and the vapours will be released into the air
  • Don’t sweep it up with a broom as it will split the mercury into droplets and spread them around
  • Should you wash it down the sink, it could contaminate your plumbing and pollute your septic tank or the sewage treatment plant
  • Make sure contaminated clothing is not put in the washing machine or it will get contaminated, too

What to do in the event of a spill

First, contain the affected area so vapours can’t spread around the property. Shut doors to other rooms, and open any windows and doors that lead outside to ventilate the room. Make sure no one goes near the spill, nor walks through it.

Don’t forget to turn off the heat and air-conditioning to stop the mercury evaporating and vapours travelling elsewhere.

Then, contact professional cleaners as soon as possible. They can remove all of it safely, dispose of the waste appropriately, and even test the air for mercury vapours to make sure the affected area is safe to re-enter. You can find out more about what to do in the event of a spill in this blog.

Our technicians are chemical clean up specialists that can handle and dispose of a number of dangerous substances including hazardous waste and bromine. We operate day and night, 365 days a year.

Get in touch

Contact us today to book our technicians for mercury spill cleaning on 0208 066 0360 or at

Zoe Dunning

Zoe Dunning

Sales Representative

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