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What Is a UV Sterilizer?

What Is a UV Sterilizer?

A UV sterilizer makes use of ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI), a disinfection technique that uses short-wavelength ultraviolet light to kill bacteria and viruses by creating a hostile environment. This article will examine what a UV sterilizer is, what it does, can UV light kill the coronavirus, and what you should look for when choosing a UV sterilizer that is best for you.

UV light is a form of electromagnetic radiation, discovered almost a century ago by scientists. It was discovered that UV light can kill bacteria in the same way that sunlight can. Overexposure to UV radiation may cause sunburn and damage to human skin. UV light is not visible and therefore is technically not light, however, the term “ultraviolet light” is widely used.

Electromagnetic radiation is emitted by the sun and transmitted in particles or waves at varying frequencies and wavelengths. This large span of wavelengths is the electromagnetic spectrum and is broken up into seven sections in the order of decreasing wavelength and increasing frequency and energy. Lower frequencies are radio waves, microwaves and infrared (IR). A mid-range frequency that many are familiar with is visible light. Ultraviolet (UV), X-rays, and gamma-rays are the highest frequencies and can be very harmful for humans.

UV light is divided into several ranges: (close to the visible light range) UV-A, UV-B, UV-C, Vacuum-UV (close to the x-ray range). As previously mentioned, overexposure to UV radiation may result in sunburn and this falls in the UV-B range. The UV-C range is the only one able to destroy germs. It is found in UV water purifiers, used in fish tanks and portable UV light sanitizers created to destroy germs that may exist on your tech gadgets and other regular household items. UV-C lights are most effective on flat surfaces and cannot get into cracks or curved spaces such as buttons and cellphone cases. UV-C light can fracture the molecular bonds of the viruses’ and bacteria’s DNA, affecting their ability to reproduce and ultimately killing them.

The current coronavirus pandemic has understandably caused people to implement measures that will prevent the spread of the virus, with UV lights being used as a supplemental infection control strategy. Known as “nature’s hand sanitizer”, many people are looking towards UV technology as a way to prevent catching SARS-CoV-2, the virus that is responsible for causing COVID-19. In this current climate of fear and uncertainty, it is no wonder that UV wand disinfectants are rising in popularity, and more people are looking to UV light for disinfection. They are conveniently sized, portable, and claim to eliminate 99.9% of germs, bacteria, and viruses. However, how effective is UV sterilization at combating COVID-19?

Historically, UV light has been proven to destroy other coronaviruses, however, it should only be used to disinfect objects and surfaces. UV light is harmful to the skin and should not be seen as an alternative to hand sanitizer and washing your hands regularly and properly. Safe exposure time to UV light is unique to each person but could be harmful 5-10 minutes after exposure for very fair-skinned people. The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a warning to individuals to not use UV light to sterilize their hands or any other part of the body. Rather, wash your hands with soap and water following handwashing guidelines that are readily available online, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Also, adhere to other precautionary measures such as not touching your face and maintaining social distancing. UV sanitizers are effective, but only when being used on objects such as face masks, glasses, or when cleaning your phone.

UV light for disinfection and sterilization has been used from the mid-20th century. As technology has advanced in recent decades, so has the UV bulb. Its lifespan has greatly expanded to thousands-of-hours and its size has been greatly reduced. These innovations have enabled it to be used in a variety of fields and to disinfect a multitude of objects such as electronics, fresh produce, medical devices, air, water, toys, and other surfaces. Advanced UV technology has also seen the creation of sterilizer machines such as a disinfection cabinet which utilizes UV rays and heat to sterilize a variety of objects.

Pros

Cons

UV sterilization is convenient to use and does not require the use of chemicals, leaving no chemical residue behind.

UV-C is harmful to humans. It is imperative to avoid direct exposure to the skin and eyes.

It can eradicate a variety of microorganisms and viruses, including bacteria resistant to drugs.

UV sterilization has a limited reach. It has to be used on smooth surfaces as it can be blocked by objects. It only works if an object is placed directly in its light path. This problem may be mitigated by multiple UV bulbs to create UV irradiation from different angles.

  1. Ensure that you purchase the correct wavelength - As mentioned above, UV-C is the only wavelength that can destroy germs. Many UV lights being advertised emit UV-A wavelengths and will be ineffective at sterilizing objects. Many deceitful sellers are attempting to cash in on the COVID-19 pandemic by using the term “ultraviolet” as a means to attract customers that are seeking a sterilization device. The optimal wavelength for sterilization is 265 nanometers.
  2. Be aware of the safety risks - UV-C wavelengths are more powerful than other types of ultraviolet. Exposure to UV-C may result in sunburn or even skin cancer. It is vital to avoid exposing animals and humans to UV-C radiation. When installing a UV-C product ensure that it is configured and installed in a way that prevents exposure to animals and humans. UV-C rays are invisible, which increases the risk of accidental exposure. Certain materials are also at risk of being damaged such as plastic and wood. Houseplants may also wilt and die if they experience sustained exposure to UV-C.
  3. Understand UV’s limitations - Remember that for UV-C to work it must be used on a certain surface at a specific strength. UV-C, although a remarkable discovery, is not necessarily a full-proof solution that completely sterilizes the intended object or room.
  4. Sterilization vs disinfection - Sterilization refers to completely removing pathogens, whereas disinfection refers to the depletion of pathogens to the point that is very unlikely to cause an infection. Keep this in mind when considering a UV sterilizer - they are not capable of sterilization, only disinfection. However, UV sterilizers may also be used alongside ozone and thermal sterilization technology. This triple impact approach ensures the absence of germs and bacteria through the use of moist heat and steam.

UV light was discovered in the mid-20th century, revolutionizing humankind’s approach to disinfecting objects. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen increased attention given to products that may disinfect objects, surfaces, and people. Although effective when used correctly and used on the correct objects, UV-C must never be used on human skin as it may cause significant and long-lasting damage. UV sterilizers are effective but do not guarantee perfect results. Therefore it remains imperative to ensure you are not being duped into buying the wrong thing, have adjusted your expectations regarding UV lighting, and continue to practice good hygiene and disinfection methods with or without a UV sterilizer present.

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