How to Locate Liquid Mercury in the Home

Mercury is naturally found in rocks and soils; it's a liquid metal with a shiny and silvery appearance. Exposure to mercury in large doses can be highly toxic to the nervous system and kidneys, with effects including anxiety and depression, memory problems, possible tremors and poor coordination.[1] Methylmercury is formed because of bacteria in water converting mercury. Methylmercury is considered to be a critical pollutant which harms both humans and wildlife.[2]

So, where can mercury be found in the home? Here are some places to look, with suggested ways to replace it.


  1. Image titled Locate Liquid Mercury in the Home Step 1
    Learn to identify mercury. Mercury (also known as quicksilver) is an element (symbol Hg) and has an atomic number 80 on the Periodic Table of Elements. Since mercury is solid below -38ºC (above -38ºC it melts into a liquid) and boils into a gas when the temperature rises above 356ºC, in the home it would be found in a liquid state. It would look like a highly reflective, silver liquid.
  2. Image titled Locate Liquid Mercury in the Home Step 2
    Inspect products in your home that have or are likely to have mercury inside. The most common items are fluorescent light bulbs, thermometers and electrical switches such as thermostats that control heating and air conditioning equipment and some float switches like those used to automatically turn sump pumps on and off. Some batteries also contain mercury. Some indoor paint and outdoor paint might contain mercury, as well as some inks. Many antiques such as barometers, some grandfather clocks, old medical equipment, and aircraft calibration tools also contain mercury.
    • If you are not sure whether an item contains mercury, contact the manufacturer and ask for their advice.
    • Locate fluorescent lights. A small amount of mercury is also used in all fluorescent lamps, regardless of whether or not they have the "green" ends.
    • Drugs and cosmetics may contain mercury. Some drugs use mercury as a preservative; ask your pharmacist for advice and always dispose of outdated and unwanted medications properly.
  3. Image titled Locate Liquid Mercury in the Home Step 3
    Ask your dentist. In the past, dentists used mercury to make "silver" dental fillings. The impact of such fillings can include inhalation of mercury vapor but the impact of amalgams may be dependent on your personal body burden of toxic chemicals.[3] There is other dental filling material (such as gold) that can be used instead, but using it is more costly than the silver fillings.
  4. Image titled Locate Liquid Mercury in the Home Step 4
    Check your food sources. Methylmercury in fish is one of the most toxic forms of mercury[4] and it's easily ingested through eating contaminated fish or seafood.
  5. Image titled Locate Liquid Mercury in the Home Step 5
    Determine the desirability or feasibility of replacing devices that contain mercury or sources of mercury in your home. The need to replace mercury-filled items will depend on their age and their condition in many cases. You may simply feel happier not having anything with mercury in the house but keeping in mind the costs of replacement, it can be more efficient to replace items that are old, worn, or broken first. Any broken item that contains mercury should be removed from the home environment (see the following step for what to do). If you want to remove devices and sources of mercury in your home, here are some suggested alternatives:
    • Thermometers can be changed to an electronic type or to the type that uses red dyed alcohol.
    • Thermostats can be replaced with an electronic or programmable model.
    • Fluorescent lamps could be changed to incandescent or LED types. Note that incandescent bulbs have been banned or phased out in some jurisdictions.
    • Float switches would require a completely different actuation or detection and would need the application to be assessed.
    • Dental fillings could be removed and replaced. Speak with your dentist about the risks and costs involved. Not all dentists will be happy to perform this procedure, and some people are concerned the removal process could be more harmful than leaving the mercury amalgam fillings in place. Do your own research first to determine how you feel about this source. Do not have amalgams removed while pregnant.[5]
    • Choose fish with low levels of mercury.
  6. Image titled Locate Liquid Mercury in the Home Step 6
    Keep mercury contained. Handling mercury is not difficult while it is encapsulated in the products listed above. Simple care to prevent breakage of the container is all that is required. Mercury that is allowed to escape however is not easily retrieved. It will break up into many small droplets and "roll away" into low areas. Here is what to do if you accidentally break a container, which releases mercury:
    • Remove all people and pets from the area apart from the person cleaning; you can do without the distraction and children and pets can be easily lured to the balls formed.
    • Turn off all sources of heat and ventilate the area as best you can.
    • Remove any jewelry, put on a pair of gloves and start retrieving the mercury droplets. Try to recover as much as possible by scooping up the droplets with a stiff piece of paper or an eyedropper; also, a damp paper towel or wet wipe may be used. If there are any last droplets, use sticky tape to pick them up. Place the droplets and the cleaning items in a sealable plastic bag for proper disposal, double bag it and label it "mercury waste". Call up your local municipality to find out where to dispose of the toxic waste; do not simply place it in your usual garbage.
    • Never use a vacuum cleaner or broom to clean up the spill.
    • If the mercury spill is on carpet, cut out the piece of carpet and dispose of it as well in a double plastic bag.


  • Some hospitals and community centers have thermometer exchange programs.
  • If you work with mercury, follow all precautions to avoid bringing mercury home on your clothing or in any other way.


  • Do not ingest or directly handle mercury. Minimize exposure of skin to mercury by wearing rubber gloves. Your body will easily absorb mercury if the silvery liquid touches your exposed skin, even during a brief period.
  • Keep all products containing mercury away from children.
  • Mercury is highly toxic and exposure to it should be minimized whenever possible.
  • Do not inhale excessive amounts of mercury vapor. Excessive amounts of mercury in any form can harm your body.
  • Do not discard mercury in the trash. Contact city or town refuse officials to learn how to dispose of mercury properly and safely.
  • Mercury in your body can be tested through a blood or hair analysis for methylmercury and a urine test for more chronic exposure.[6]

Things You'll Need

  • Replacement items where relevant
  • Cleaning equipment to deal with spills, such as stiff card or eye dropper, paper towel or rags, disposal bags, marker, and gloves

Sources and Citations

  1. Sunnybrook and Women's and Ontario College of Family Physicians, Mercury, Hidden Exposures, Reproduction, and Pregnancy pamphlet series, undated.
  2. Sunnybrook and Women's and Ontario College of Family Physicians, Mercury, Hidden Exposures, Reproduction, and Pregnancy pamphlet series, undated.
  3. Sunnybrook and Women's and Ontario College of Family Physicians, Mercury, Hidden Exposures, Reproduction, and Pregnancy pamphlet series, undated.
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