The market for UV sterilizers has suddenly surged in the wake of Covid-19. New Ultraviolet light machines are flooding the market.
But are UV sterilizers effective? How does it work? We know that this technology has been around for decades and is known to inactive viruses and bacteria. It is vastly used to disinfect houses, hospital rooms, personal accouterments like mobile phones, glasses, keys, etc. However, not all UV sterilizers are created equal. Some UV sterilizers can be ineffective or out-and-out dangerous to use.
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Is a Portable UV Sterilizer Effective?
Let's get in detail so you can understand the pros and cons, the effectiveness of these devices, and make an informed decision before you purchase a UV sterilizer.
What is UV-C light or Germicidal UV?
The term "Ultraviolet" means "beyond violet." It means electromagnetic radiation with a shorter wavelength but lower than X-rays and has higher frequency and energy.
Ultraviolet rays are of three types.
- UV-A (320-400 nm) (approximately 1000 times less effective than UV-B or UV-C)
- UV-B (280-320 nm) (less effective than UV-C)
- UV-C (200-280 nm) (Germicidal UV, the most effective against bacterias and germs)
Not all kinds of UV are effective. Only UV-C light with higher energy (and a wavelength of 200-280 nanometer) is efficient for inactivating pathogens like bacteria and viruses. It has higher energy than UV-A and UV-B light from the sun, which can cause sunburns.
Fun Fact: Sun also emits UV-C light, but it doesn't penetrate the Earth's atmosphere.
As stated above, UV-C light or UV devices are proven to disinfect germs in hospitals, air, flat surfaces, and airplanes. Now UV lights are being attached to drones to combat the spread of COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) by sanitizing workplaces with a 99% disinfection rate.
How Do UV Sterilizers Work?
We know that UV-C light used in UV sterilizers is effective only if it has a specific wavelength (200-280 nm). The question is, how does this actually work?
According to research, UV light targets the DNA and RNA of microbes or disease-spreading germs. It causes the inactivation of microbes by causing mutations and/or cell death and failure to reproduce. It is almost similar to the antibacterial effects of sunlight but more intensified due to the inclusion of an electric discharge lamp, known as a UV lamp.
Are the Portable Home UV Sterilizers Effective?
There are many kinds of UV sterilizers in the market. But do they all work the same way? Are they all effective? How can we determine if they are safe to use or not? Or do they emit light at a wavelength that can effectively kill the germs?
Karl Linden, a professor from the University of Colorado, a renowned UV light researcher, and a winner of the annual Clarke prize, says:
"It takes very low doses of UV light to inactivate many microbes. So, many devices out there that are certified for almost any organism will also be effective for disinfection from other viruses."
According to FDA, for UV radiation to be effective, the surface or object should be directly exposed to UV light. There shouldn't be any obstacle that can prevent UV light penetration. Soil, dust, and bodily fluids can create a blockage and thus reduce its effectiveness against viruses and germs.
Since home portable UV sterilizers have a low dose of UV, that's why you may need to expose the object a little longer under the light to be effective against tough germs and bacteria.
Risks Involved in Using UV Sterilizers
However, there are certain risks associated with UV light.
- It is a known carcinogen. Accidentally exposing your skin or eyes to it could cause severe damage, including cancer. So, you should never look directly at a UV lamp or never point a UV light at someone to be completely safe.
- FDA also points out that some devices contain mercury which is toxic even in the most minuscule amounts.
- UV-C light also creates ozone gas which can cause airway irritation if the gas is inhaled. Ozone risk is more expected in older, mercury-based devices with a wavelength below 225 nm.
So, if you are thinking of getting any portable UV sterilizer, you must understand that every UV device has its pros and cons, and it can be misused.
Buy the portable UV device by thoroughly weighing all the potential risks. Especially if you have a curious kid at home who could be directly exposed to UV light.
What to Keep in Mind Before Buying a UV Sterilizer?
Some UVC products are safer than others. You have to learn to recognize which UV sterilizers are effective and safer to use.
- It is important to note the wavelength of the UV sterilizer because it will determine the effectiveness of the device. The wavelength should be between 200-280 nm; the best wavelength range to be effective in disinfecting germs is 254-280 nm.
- Ensure that the portable UV stabilizer is tested and has some qualification label on it, mentioning it is 99% effective.
Underwriter Laboratories (UL) - a global certification company, has recently released a guide that outlines what kind of UV sterilizers the company is willing to certify.
Underwriter Laboratories does not certify portable sterilizers in the form of a wand used in room cleaning because it has a higher chance of misuse. People and pets can be accidentally exposed to the dangers of ultraviolet rays from this handheld device.
Handheld Portable UV Sterilizer
Unlike handheld or wand-shaped devices, any portable UV sterilizer which disables the UV-C upon opening the lid can be safe for use.
Portable UV sterilizers are effective in killing microbes and germs. However, there are certain risks involved too. That's why it is of utmost importance to understand which product you purchase. Also, germicidal UV sterilizers are not completely accurate. And there may be a discrepancy in their specification and performance. Distance of sterilizer from the object can also impact its power and effectiveness. So, choose your portable UV sterilizer carefully to get the maximum benefit out of it.