This post follows up on Should I UVC My AT? which took a look at what is known about the effectiveness of shortwave UV light (UVC) for disinfecting objects and surfaces. I concluded UVC could complement another disinfection strategy, but not enough is known about how long of an exposure is necessary to kill the new coronavirus. Also, UVC light disinfects only what receives exposure, not dark crevices. That said, UVC is proven effective against viruses, broadly, and could be a useful weapon in the arsenal to deploy this coming Covid-19 winter season.
Some State and Territory AT Programs are using UVC light as an additional means of disinfection for gadgets, including plush toys and additional items that are difficult to clean. To get in on the action, I purchased a UVC disinfecting travel bag as an option for use with my cell phone and keys and anything else I might think to drop in there, particularly for items such as electronics, that should not get wet. I did so before I began to research the topic. But, as they say, “my pain is your gain.” This post reports on my experience with that device, highlights two additional UVC lamp products, and provides some considerations to help you make a less impulsive purchase than I did.
Before making a purchase, consider:
Does the product you are interested provide data on its effectiveness from an independent lab?
Certainly, most do not. But those that do have been in the germicidal lamp business since long before the pandemic and market to industry. Keep in mind, home products are not regulated… and then there’s user error.
Is there a customer support line, should you have questions?
Always a good thing, but especially for a product you want to use correctly. Keep in mind, as with assistive technology, customer service and support likely means a higher price tag. Webmd says you should expect to pay over $300 for a UV light device from a company with a track record making these devices.
What I Purchased: a UV Sanitizing Bag
The Violet Clean Kit is a UVC sanitizing bag that is made by a company with experience making fashionable luggage and decided to get in on the UVC sanitizing action. Since I made this pandemic-driven purchase, a number of similar products are now on the market.
- Feels well-made and well-designed with a durable reflective interior.
- Not just for cell phones, it can fit a variety of devices or multiple devices/objects at one time.
- Easy to use.
- Pleasing violet light through little window shows device in action and when its cycle is complete.
- Uses LEDs that contain no mercury.
- Runs for three minutes but I have no reason to believe that is long enough to kill a coronavirus (seems like an arbitrary length of time and no justification is provided). Studies using UVC to kill the coronavirus that causes SARS found much longer exposures necessary and varying results based on the material and surface of an object to be disinfected.
- No ability to vary how long it lights for. To run longer, I have to keep activating it at the end of each cycle.
- Light cannot get to any surface resting on the bottom of the bag. I have to flip over my cell phone to be sure light hits all surfaces (though I’ve found a way to perch it on its side). I notice the company is now providing a rack to put inside that suspends objects above the floor of the bag.
- Misleading claims on the website. The CDC is certainly not claiming UVC is a best defense for cleaning everyday masks! (At one time there was advice at the CDC site regarding using UVC for N95 masks in short supply for hospital workers.) We know soap kills the novel coronavirus; there are no studies on UVC for this virus.
- No lab data is provided on the product’s effectiveness and there is no customer support line to call with questions.
Ultraviolet Sterilization Cabinet
For products that are tested and come with support, UV cabinets have been around for a long time for use in hospitals and industry. The Idaho AT program has purchased this Kerkau model for its generous capacity. The vendor website reports, “Independent testing has concluded that the ultraviolet sterilization process used in our cabinets is lethal to virtually 100% of all microorganisms.” I note, with interest, that the timer built into this cabinet runs for up to 15 minutes (as opposed to my bag’s three-minute cycle). Southern Labware also provides a technical support line.
UV germicidal wands are growing more popular and include models sold to industry and for the consumer market. The BioGlow is for sale at Southern Labware and is not marketed to mainstream consumers. It is distinguished by its hefty price tag, as well as a unique feature: it shuts itself off should the wand turn over. UVC is extremely damaging to skin and eyes, so this is attractive for safety.
I’m skeptical, however, about using any wand to disinfect surfaces. A wand suggests it takes just a wave and presto! You’re all good. But even my chic travel bag runs for three minutes. If I have to hold a wand in place for three to up to fifteen minutes to achieve disinfection of one surface of an object, I’m not likely to want to use it. I’m also likely to start looking around for how to clamp it to a shelf… hence the cabinet.
DIY UVC Cabinets
Which brings us to do-it-yourself (DIY) options. Because of the hefty price tag for a UV sterilization cabinet and because needs for depth and height vary by their users, some makers are designing their own (and sharing their ingenuity online). Two that caught my attention:
The DIY UV Sterilizer Cart is a project of the FIRST Team 305 in Ontario, a robotics team. Instructions for making their “UV Cube” are available at their website.
Homemade UV-C Disinfection Cabinet for COVID-19 and Other Nasties from Instructables
Remember, less is known about using UVC to kill the novel coronavirus than soap and water. If your object is not at risk of damage by fluids, give it a scrub before turning to a futuristic light box or wand. For sensitive electronics, however, a UVC light device that you know how to use or that at least provides up to 15 minutes of full UVC exposure, is an option, though preferably as a secondary means of disinfection.