Are broken LED bulbs safe for you?

Susan Fernandez February 02 2022

What if your LED bulb is broken? What are the risks? This question is asked by many because it's easy to break an LED light bulb. Breaking an LED bulb can happen by accident, meaning you could have left your lights on too long and burnt out the lamp or it fell off the table and hit the floor.

When this happens, users wonder if they should continue using other lamps in their home until they get a replacement or if they should immediately go outside and start digging for their Geiger counter. Believe it or not, there really isn't any risk of radiation poisoning from broken LED bulbs but there are dangers that come with an exposed electrical current.

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What is dangerous about a broken LED bulb?

There are two common dangers that come with a broken LED bulb.  

First, the glass itself is very sharp and can cause injury to you or your children if not cleaned up properly.  Removing the broken glass from carpeting or off of any surface should always be done by an adult because it's easy for young ones to cut their hands on jagged pieces that are leftover.

Once the glass is removed, make sure to sweep or vacuum to remove particles that still may linger. It would also be wise to wear protective gloves while cleaning up the mess, just in case you end up cutting yourself on smaller shards of glass.

Second, there is an electrical current running through each LED bulb so they should always remain unplugged when not in use.  An electrical current presents a danger to all living things so playing with the light socket or trying to cut live wires is never recommended. If you need to unplug your LED light, do so at the source and not any individual sockets because there will always be electricity running through even if one section of lights isn't currently being used.

Don`t forget about Mercury!

LED bulbs contain mercury which is a hazardous material that needs to be properly disposed of.  Once the broken LED light bulb has been cleaned up, you should contact your local county environmental agency office or check online for where to bring it for recycling.

The amount of Mercury in LED bulbs is actually minimal but anything that can be recycled into another product is good for the environment. Mercury causes brain damage and nervous system conditions, so it's not something you want to keep around your home if possible. When this element (Mercury) happens to be inside the human body, it can cause tremors similar to that of Parkinson`s, lack of muscle coordination, and even hearing impairment.

How much mercury is inside each LED bulb? The amount of mercury contained in each bulb varies but it's usually less than 1 milligram (mg).  It would be very difficult to ingest this minimal amount because most LED bulbs are designed with shatter-proof glass which prevents small pieces from breaking off if it falls or gets crushed.

Keep in mind that the chemical element isn't going to be released from the broken light if left alone on a carpet. There has been no evidence showing any harmful side effects from inhaling or touching a broken LED light if left alone.

Do LEDs contain any other toxic elements?

There are hundreds of LED light bulb manufacturers throughout the world and each uses different chemicals when building its products. The only way you'll know if there are any toxic substances in your bulb is by researching where it was produced and what type of elements have been included along with processing techniques.

In general, companies will always want to promote their products as being safe because they don`t want lawsuits from anyone who got sick after handling the product.

How can you replace the broken LED bulb safely?

When it comes to replacing the broken bulb itself, you never want to touch any part of it with your bare hands.  Use protective work gloves or at least kitchen tongs when removing the broken glass so any chemicals inside don`t get absorbed into your skin. You can also use tongs to pull out the electrical socket and replace it with a new one before plugging in the light.

To prevent injury from sharp pieces of glass, cutting off the power first is always best because then you won't have any electricity running through that could shock you otherwise. Removing small shards of glass should be easy enough by using tweezers but if there are larger chunks left, call an electrician for help safely removing them.

If you already bought the new LED bulb, the installment will be quite easy. You just need to screw it into the light socket and then plug in the cord to power it up again. The last thing you'll want to do is clean up any small pieces left on the floor or carpet with a vacuum cleaner before wearing your protective gloves again.

Remember not to touch these broken pieces of glass or mercury anymore if they are exposed after removing pieces of glass.  It's best to put them inside an airtight plastic bag until you can properly dispose of them by contacting your local garbage agency for recycling locations.

What if a bulb breaks in a car? 

Is it safe to drive with a broken LED? If you have a light bulb break while driving, make sure your vehicle is parked and turned off before checking the damage. 

Any tiny shards of glass should be removed carefully away from other passengers using sturdy tweezers that are non-metallic. Removing the base of the socket with all wiring still attached is important because then you can cover it over completely by plugging in an auxiliary cord into your cigarette lighter.

Then the other end can be plugged into another working light bulb so at least one side will still work properly.

How do I know if the break is near the socket?

If you see a crack or hole anywhere in the base of your bulb's glass casing, this means there might still be some tiny pieces of glass left on the floor and it's best to wear a pair of gloves before cleaning up.

You should always try to handle any broken LED light bulbs as little as possible because they can release toxic chemicals that are known carcinogens into the air. Handling them with gloves will reduce exposure by irritating particles coming from inside each broken bulb.

What if there isn't an auxiliary cord available? 

If you don't have one available, ask your passengers to hold a piece of cloth over any exposed wires at all times.  This way, if it does happen to reach a heating point from the car's engine, there won't be any chances of getting shocked by the broken glass touching anything metallic.

We know how important it is to get these issues fixed right away but don't forget your safety first! The good news is that most LED light bulbs nowadays are safe enough not to contain any mercury or other toxic chemicals inside of them so you'll only have to worry about cleaning up the sharp pieces on your own and making sure no one else gets hurt in the process.

What to do with broken LEDs?

There are a lot of places that accept broken light bulbs for recycling including Best Buy, Lowe's, Target and even Home Depot.

Some towns have small hazardous waste disposal plants but those will only take certain types of products that contain chemicals or heavy metals.  Other options include donating the bulb to a local school or hospital department.

Taking the time to research your city's rules and regulations on where to recycle lights is important because you don't want them going to a landfill where they might contaminate other sections of the planet.

It helps if you do this as early as possible so there isn't any rush when the bulb breaks unexpectedly one day after cleaning up a spill. Do your research before then so you'll know what needs to be done. If you need additional assistance or have questions, please feel free to leave a message below and we'll try to provide the best advice possible.

What are safety precautions for children?

If you deal with broken LED light bulbs often, there are some precautions to take with children.

Parents should never allow their kids around jagged pieces of glass and the electrical socket should always be covered over by a piece of plywood before installing a new bulb. Kids shouldn't be anywhere near even small shards and removing them yourself is the best idea without having someone else do it for you.

It's also important to remember that they should never throw this bulb into air vents or inside any other appliance because there might be mercury left inside which can cause health problems down the road if exposed to electronics. If you have small children at home, keep as much distance as possible from where the broken light has been cleaned up until everything has been completely sealed off and disposed of properly.

This will reduce accidental contact with any chemicals or loose pieces of glass left on the ground.

What if your child cuts with a broken LED bulb?

The biggest thing to worry about with kids is the shards of glass. It's not only possible for them to step on broken pieces but if they managed to cut themselves during this process, there will be blood and that means you'll need to act quickly before any contaminants get into their body.

If this happens, wash the wound carefully with soap and water then take your child over to the nearest emergency room as soon as possible so the staff can look at it. They would prefer shots or serum treatments instead of having to deal with infections later on in life because these things could lead to serious health problems such as kidney damage or iron poisoning.

What are safety precautions for pets?

If your dog or turtle happened to be near the broken LED bulb, it's important to take careful steps in cleaning up their surroundings.  Just as with kids, don't attempt to handle the sharp pieces by yourself and keep pets away from them until you've disposed of this light safely.

Don't let your animals lick or chew on anything that they find on the floor, especially if they have broken glass attached to their fur.

If your reptile has eaten any particles, there are some specific toxins that can harm their health so it's best to look into what types of chemicals might still be lingering around after you clean up the mess.  It's also possible for a turtle to mistake the shards for food pieces during an accidental walk-over.

Bottom line

LED light bulbs are extremely safe after they've been unbroken and used by themselves, but if you drop one on the floor or it accidentally breaks during a repair process, there needs to be caution taken so you don't harm yourself or anyone else around.

Make sure you get rid of all chemical pieces before throwing the bulb away in the local dumpsters and keep your pets far away from any broken glass.  If your children find shards lying around, walk them over to where the mess was left and explain how dangerous these could be.

Kids should avoid touching these at all costs because even just a little bit can cause major issues down the road if swallowed or exposed to their eyes.