Jump to main content or area navigation.

Contact Us

Children's Health Protection

Things are Heating Up with Mercury in Thermometers

Thermometers are very useful when you are sick and need to know your temperature. However, mercury thermometers can cause problems if they break. Just because your mercury thermometer hasn’t broken doesn’t mean it never will. Your mercury thermometer has to be shaken down before you can use it to take your temperature. The thermometer is often broken during this process. If mercury spills from a thermometer and is not cleaned up properly, it can be dangerous. It can evaporate into the air, causing toxic fumes in the air that you breathe. If the thermometer breaks in the sink, mercury can even spill down the drain and get into the water system and contaminate nearby ponds, lakes, or rivers, and poison the fish.

Mercury thermometers should be replaced with non-mercury ones. Types of non-mercury thermometers include: digital electronic thermometers, glass alcohol thermometers, and glass gallium-indiumtin thermometers. These types of thermometers are much safer and can be found in most grocery stores and pharmacies.

Broken mercury thermometers can cause health problems for everyone who is exposed, but children are especially at risk. Mercury can be eaten, inhaled, or even absorbed through your skin. When mercury gets into your body, it can damage your brain, nervous system, and your kidneys.

Fever thermometers are not the only things in your house that might contain mercury. Other types of thermometers, thermostats, batteries, light and appliance switches, and light bulbs might contain mercury. Go to www.epa.gov/epawaste/hazard/tsd/mercury/con-prod.htm to learn more about products with mercury.

Why is Mercury in Thermometers?
Mercury is the only metal that is liquid at room temperature and expands and contracts evenly with temperature changes.

Getting Rid of Mercury Thermometers
  • Take your mercury thermometer to a special collection event or a collection facility for household hazardous waste.
  • If you don’t have the container for the thermometer, put it in a plastic soda bottle to keep it from breaking.
  • Never put mercury thermometers in the trash.
  1. Cleaning up Messy Mercury Spills
    • If a mercury-containing product is broken, do not touch the mercury.
    • Keep all people and pets out of the area and open windows for ventilation.
    • Never vacuum or sweep the spill. This will increase the mercury contamination.
    • Contact your local health department or your local fire department for proper disposal information.
    • Also see www.epa.gov/mercury/spills/index.htm for more information.
  2. And Remember…
    • NEVER use a vacuum cleaner to clean spilled mercury.
    • NEVER use a broom to sweep up mercury.
    • NEVER pour mercury down the drain or trash.
    • NEVER wash mercury-contaminated items in a washing machine.
    • NEVER walk around if your shoes might be contaminated with mercury. Contaminated clothing can also spread mercury around. Put contaminated clothing and shoes into a plastic bag. Seal the bag with tape and dispose of it at a special collection event or household hazardous waste collection facility.


Find out where you can safely dispose of mercury thermometers in your community. Work with your local recycling center to help organize a local mercury thermometer collection event in your community. There are many organizations that can help you, such as Health Care without Harm.

Write down the address of your local recycling center.

Design an education campaign on the hazards of mercury thermometers. Consider making posters, brochures or public service announcements for local radio stations.

Help your mom or dad select a new mercury-free thermometer.

  • Check out EPA’s Web site on mercury to help prevent mercury pollution at www.epa.gov/mercury.
  • For more information, visit Heath Care Without Harm at www.noharm.org Exit Disclaimer.

Jump to main content.