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Thermometer Lab Safety

Updated February 21, 2017

Mercury thermometers, used in some science labs, require special safety precautions. Alcohol thermometers, though less dangerous, should still be handled carefully to avoid broken glass.

Thermometer Safety

When inserting a thermometer into a rubber stopper, such as that on a distiller head, according to Seattle Central Community College, twist gently and press firmly, but don't use brute force. If necessary, use a drop of glycerine or other lubricant to make the thermometer slide more easily.

Considerations

When performing this procedure, hold your hand less than 1 inch from the stopper to avoid exerting torque on the thermometer.

Types

Lab thermometer safety depends on the type of thermometer: broken alcohol thermometers and other non-mercury thermometers only require the same cleanup as any other broken glass, according to University of Illinois at Chicago. A broken mercury thermometer requires special cleaning procedures.

Warning

High school and college students should never try to clean up a mercury spill from a broken mercury thermometer; instead, inform other students, turn off any heat sources, and tell an instructor. Trained department staff will come to clean up the spill.

Mercury Spill Cleanup

Personnel responsible for cleaning up a mercury spill, according to Princeton, should wear protective clothing, gloves and goggles, and use index cards to sweep the contaminated material into a sealable jar. Never use a vacuum cleaner or sink. Label the jar, and deliver it to a hazardous waste facility.

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About the Author

Eri Luxton holds a B.A. in liberal arts, an M.F.A. in creative writing, a first aid certification and a biomedical ethics certificate. She has worked as an English teacher overseas and as a local volunteer in first aid and in technology troubleshooting. Luxton mentors students in chemistry and physics while studying toward a pre-health sciences degree.