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UV Lights
UV-C and Far UV Light Options

Ultraviolet (UV-C) light kills or inactivates microorganisms by destroying nucleic acids and disrupting their DNA. UV-C is a great option for sanitation because you don't need to keep buying potentially toxic chemicals and you don't have to worry about it leaving behind drug-resistant bacteria.

The problem with UV-C light is that every surface you want cleaned must be exposed to the light. The light won't bend around an object, but will work when bounced back from highly reflective surfaces. You need to pay attention to where those lights are placed for maximum exposure.

You must also make sure you get a large enough dose to all the surfaces you need to disinfect. But at the same time, you have to be careful around it because it can harm your eyes and skin. Prolonged exposure to UV-C light can kill live plants and fade fabrics.

Here's a quick video that shows some of the promises and pitfalls of UV-C lights.

In simple terms, there are three types of UV light you need to understand. If you use sunscreen lotion, the bottles list their levels of protection against UV-A and UV-B. Those two come from the sun.

UV-C light also comes from the sun, but it doesn't penetrate our atmosphere, so no living thing has developed any protections against it. That's why when you shine UV-C light on germs, it kills them.

UV-A, UV-B and UV-C Lights from the sun.

There are five options to consider when looking at light sanitizing products.

(We do not include information on UV-C sterilizing pouches for toys, water bottles for fluids or specialized cases to clean things like your mobile phone. We are only covering items that can clean surfaces in a business.)

Hand-held UV-C Wands

These units are typically about a foot in length and many run on batteries. The idea is that you aim the light at the item you want to sanitize and wave the wand over to do the job. The concept is great, the reality isn't.

The first problem is the effectiveness of each unit. You need to know how long an item has to be exposed, and how close it must be to an object for proper disinfection. If it's a weak light, you might have to hold it within an inch of the object you're trying to sanitize, for three minutes or more.

Forget about sanitizing large objects because it could take several minutes. Even bigger spaces like rooms could potentially take hours. Imagine holding a light a couple of inches above every surface you want to clean, for several minutes at a time. They're impractical for anything but small areas like a computer keyboard, remote controls or a credit card machine.

Few of the personal units come with protective gear. UV-C lights can damage skin and eyes that are exposed over time, so you need to wear proper coverings and glasses. You could potentially do more harm to yourself than the germs you're trying to kill.

The best uses for these type of units are for travelers. Buy protective glasses and follow the manufacturer's recommendations. They can be effective ways to disinfect seatbelts, armrests and tray tables on planes and trains. Make sure you don't aim the light where it might strike the person sitting next to you.

Hotel bathrooms, remote controls, door handles and nightstands could all use a good cleaning before you touch them. The same is true for the insides of rental cars.

You can find recommendations for several effective units from The Strategist in New York Magazine. That link is here: STRATEGIST INVESTIGATES UPDATED JUNE 26, 2020 - Does UV Light Kill Viruses and Germs? - By Liza Corsillo

Hand Held UV-C Lights
Hope C+ UV-C LED Sterilizer Wand Portable UV sanitizer Wand.

Tabletop UV-C Lamps

These units are designed and marketed as a way to disinfect smaller rooms. They range from a few inches to a couple feet tall. To work, the light shines out in all directions. Ideally, you would set it in the middle of the area you want to disinfect. Many come with timers to run them for 15, 30 or 60 minutes at a time.

Tabletop units all will give a maximum square footage they can cover. A typical unit will claim to be able to disinfect a room 300-550 square feet in size. But remember, the bigger the space you're trying to disinfect, the longer it usually takes.

Distance (how far away the light is from the object) plus time (how long it's exposed to the object) determines how effective these units are. Tabletop UV-C unit must be close enough and shine on objects for a long enough time to be effective.

The biggest drawback is how long these units take to work. If you can move them very close to the area you want to disinfect, they can do their job in 10-15 minutes. But if you're trying to sanitize 500 square feet in the middle of the room, you'll need to leave them on for a full hour or longer.

Few of the units come with protective gear. UV-C lights can damage skin and eyes that are exposed over time, so you need to wear proper coverings and protective glasses. You could potentially do more harm to yourself than the germs you're trying to kill.

The best uses for these type of units is to handle smaller spaces like restrooms or smaller office spaces. Buy protective glasses and follow the manufacturer's recommendations.

Tabletop UV-C Light
A tabletop UV-C light.

Larger Industrial UV Lamp Systems

These units are for commercial spaces that need rapid disinfection. They are often on wheels or robotic platforms to move on their own. Specialized systems are designed to clean airplanes, hospital rooms and factories.

They provide extremely rapid disinfection. Some models can completely sanitize an area while just moving through, without even stopping.

There are two issues you may have with these systems. The first is storage when the unit is not being used. They are often large and take up quite a bit of space. The second is cost. The lowest cost units are about $1,000, with the fully autonomous models for surgical centers costing 20,000 to 40,000 dollars each.

Most units come with protective gear, but you might want to get extra glasses for additional operators. UV-C lights can damage skin and eyes that are exposed over time, so you need to wear proper coverings and protective glasses.

Industrial UV-C Lights
Robotic UV-C light.

Far UV-C Lights.

UV-C and far UV-C lights work on the same light spectrum, but there are a few very important differences. The first is that far UV-C has a shorter wavelength and more photon energy than standard UV-C.

Regular UV-C has a wavelength of 254 nanometers. It's great for killing germs and viruses, but over time it can be a health hazard for skin and eyes.

Far UV-C has wavelength ranges between 207 and 222 nanometers. It's also good at killing germs and viruses, but early studies show that it may be safe for human skin and eyes. However, there are no long term human trials yet that verify this.

If far UV-C light is deemed safe, it could be placed in higher traffic and germ-filled spaces. It would be ideal to light up subway cars, airplanes, gyms and hospital waiting rooms. Because it can be run when people are present, it can kill germs and clean the spaces continuously.

Until this technology is proven safe with long-term exposure on people, we would suggest a wait-and-see approach before using it.

Indigo-Clean

This is often confused with germicidal UV-C lights. It uses light in the visible spectrum at a wavelength of 405 nanometers to kill germs. It's been proven to work in hospitals around the country and with several clinical trials. It's not harmful to eyes or skin, so the lights can stay on and kill continuously.

There are three issues with this technology.

First, it has not been shown to be effective against viruses. So it does not protect against the virus that causes COVID-19.

Second, it takes awhile to kill bacteria. It works over several hours to disinfect a surface. If there's a sudden, large introduction of bacteria to an area, you would still have to sanitize the traditional way.

Third, the cost is fairly significant. When we at WeBeFit looked into putting these lights into our training center, the cost for 1,700 square feet was 30,000 dollars, plus the cost for electricians to install it.

If it killed viruses, we would have spent the money. However, since it's mostly just effective against bacteria, we couldn't justify the expense. But for hospital waiting rooms, surgical centers and doctors offices, it could go a long way toward reducing hospital acquired infections (HIAs).


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5/1/2020
Updated 7/20/2020