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How to safely dispose of a mercury thermometer

The Canadian Paediatric Society does not recommend using mercury thermometers (thermometers with silver material in the bulb). If it breaks, you can be exposed to this poisonous substance.

Although mercury is a liquid at room temperature, it easily evaporates into a gas that has no smell. That gas, or vapor, is toxic if it is inhaled (breathed in). There have been a few cases where children have become quite ill after breathing in the vapor from a single broken mercury thermometer.

Bring your mercury thermometer; to your city or province’s household hazardous waste collection facility. You can find more information about local waste collections from your local health department, provincial environment ministry’s website, or  in the government listings of the phone book.

It is not safe to throw a mercury thermometer; in the garbage, down the sink or down the toilet. The mercury will become toxic to humans and the environment through the air or by getting into the water supply.

To safely clean up a broken mercury thermometer:

  • Do not use a vacuum to clean up a mercury spill. The vacuum cleaner will become contaminated and the heat from the vacuum will create higher levels of mercury vapor.
  • Never use a broom to clean up mercury. It will just break up the mercury into smaller beads, and will contaminate the broom.
  • Do not put contaminated items in the washing machine.
  • Keep all people and pets away from the spill area and open the windows in that room. Do not turn up the heat while you are cleaning the spill.
  • Environment Canada has detailed instructions for cleaning up a small mercury spill.

Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
Community Paediatrics Committee

Last Updated: January 2012