Due to its unique chemical properties, mercury has been used in a wide range of products over the years, but currently most of it is used in electrical and electronic devices, switches (including certain thermostats) and relays, measuring and control equipment, energy-efficient fluorescent light bulbs, batteries and dental amalgam.

Smaller amounts of mercury are used in some laboratory equipment and in some cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, paints and jewelry.

There are mercury-free alternatives to most products containing and processes using mercury and are now available in an increasing number of countries.

Mercury and mercury compounds cannot be destroyed, but only contained so that they do not circulate in the environment, endangering human beings and wildlife. When products containing mercury are discarded into the general waste stream, the mercury pollutes the environment – in waterways, wetlands, and the air – and endangers people both locally and globally.

Examples of uses of mercury, in products, in alphabetical order, include:

  1. As a metal (among others) in:
  2. As a chemical compound (among others) in:
    • Batteries (e.g. mercury oxide batteries, button cells)
    • Biocides/fungicides in paper industry, paints and on seed grain
    • Soaps and creams (as a bactericide and/or whitening agent)
    • Vaccines (as preservative in form of ethylmercury in thimerosal)
    • Pharmaceutical antiseptics
    • Laboratory analysis reactants
    • Pigments and dyes (may be historical)
    • Detergents (may be historical)
    • Explosives (may be historical)

Relevant information on mercury uses in products can be found among others in the UNEP Global Mercury Assessment (2002) and in the COWI/Concorde (2008) reports.