Lighten Up! Tips for Letting Go in 2024 – Mercury Thermometers

Thermometer and a female memoji looking sick, with little birds flying around her head. Lighten Up! Tips for Letting Go in 2024 – Mercury Thermometers

Today we carry on in “Lighten Up! Tips for Letting Go in 2024” by talking about mercury thermometers.

Taking our temperature became quite common when the pandemic hit. Fortunately, the process has become quite simple these days. Rather than sitting around with a glass stick under our tongues (or somewhere worse), we can simply aim a light at our forehead or press a nozzle into our ear. In my mind, this is progress!

Nevertheless, many of us still have the old-fashioned mercury thermometers, with their telltale silvery-white liquid inside, lying around in bathroom drawers and medicine cabinets. [Note: if your glass thermometer has red or blue liquid, this is alcohol, not mercury.] Since mercury is a hazardous chemical, and one you don’t want to contaminate you or your home, getting rid of these old thermometers is a smart idea. Even the small amount of mercury in a thermometer, which is about one gram, is enough to contaminate a 20-acre lake for a year.

Unfortunately, the presence of mercury means you shouldn’t toss these items in the trash or recycle them. So, what do you do with your old mercury thermometer? Anything containing mercury, which might also include compact fluorescent lightbulbs, thermostats, and mercuric oxide and button cell batteries, should be treated as hazardous waste. This means, that although it can be inconvenient, the best course of action is to take it to your town’s annual hazardous waste day. Last year, my town of Darien offered a trade-in, offering a digital thermometer in exchange for a mercury one.

Here are instructions from the EPA on how to handle items containing mercury:

Packaging Mercury for Storage and Transportation
  • Place all mercury-containing products or containers of mercury inside a larger container with a tight-fitting lid.
  • Place kitty litter or oil-absorbent matter around the product to protect it from breaking from sudden shocks.
  • Clearly label storage container as “Mercury – DO NOT OPEN.”
  • If you must wait for a hazardous waste collection day, store products safely in their original containers with the labels intact and keep them out of reach of children and pets.
  • Transport containers to a household hazardous collection center in a cardboard box. Secure the containers so that they do not tip over, and to minimize shifting or sliding during sudden stops or turns.
  • Transport containers in the back of a pick-up truck or in your car’s trunk. If you must transport in the passenger compartment, make sure there is adequate ventilation.
Recycling and Disposal Options

Many states and local agencies have developed collection/exchange programs for mercury-containing devices such as thermometers, manometers, and thermostats. Some counties and cities also have household hazardous waste collection programs. For information about these programs, contact your local officials to find out when and where a collection will be held in your area. You can also use Earth911’s Recycling Locator to find a recycling center near you.

If all you have is a small thermometer, transporting it safely shouldn’t be too difficult. The trick is to keep it somewhere safe until the date when it can be dropped off. I suggest that you contact your town as soon as possible to find out your next hazardous waste pickup date, and then go ahead and put that date on your calendar now. Set a reminder for a week or two ahead of time to gather all of your hazardous items together in a box. That way, when the day arrives, you’ll be able to place the box in your car and swing through the drop off. Prioritizing this activity is important because you may have to wait another year before getting a second chance.

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With safe and affordable options for measuring body temperature available, getting rid of old mercury thermometers is a worthwhile effort.

When is the last time you used one of these old thermometers?

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6 thoughts on “Lighten Up! Tips for Letting Go in 2024 – Mercury Thermometers”

  1. This is incredibly important; I’m not sure the younger generations even know about mercury thermometers and I fear that without these kinds of warnings, they might just toss them out when downsizing their parents’ or grandparents’ homes. I’m really glad you wrote about this!

    And I’ll admit, I didn’t know that thermometers with blue or red liquid had alcohol, not mercury. (I had and used the mercury thermometer I purloined from my mom sometime in the 1980s; in the last decade, I moved to the $10 battery-operated digital ones you still stick under your tongue. I suppose someday I’ll upgrade to the kind you point at your face, like a Star Trek tricorder.
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    1. I asked for the one you point at your forehead for my birthday and love it. It’s so easy. I had the ear thermometer before that, but this one is even easier (and so great for babies or anyone who might not be able to understand how to hold a thermometer under their tongue or why one is being stuck in their ear!).

      This post didn’t receive as much attention as some of the others, but I do think it is important. These thermometers are still out there.

  2. I have a glass thermometer but it has red liquid. I had an ear thermometer but it wore out-time to get a new one.


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