The COVID-19 coronavirus has caused a shortage of disinfectant wipes, so many people are looking for alternatives to help ensure sure their homes are virus-free. This has sparked an interest in UVC lights and UVC wands in particular. Are they able to kill the virus?
UVC Products Are The New Clickbait
I recently received an email from Woot showing a “UVClean+ Portable Instant UV Sterilizing and Disinfecting Wand” which I impulsively added to my cart. After several weeks, I received the wand in generic packaging with minimal instructions (which just briefly mentioned a safety warning of not shining the light at people). I took the standard safety precautions of wearing gloves and safety glasses and never pointing the light at people as I shined the light on common touchpoints around the home, but I was left wondering if it was actually doing anything, or was I giving myself a false sense of virus safety?
Many of the comments for the item mentioned that there was no way that the UVC LEDs could effectively kill viruses when they were housed behind a piece of plastic. This was, of course, assuming the LEDs were real UVC LEDs.
Checking for Fake UVC LEDs
UVC Dosimeters – devices that can “read” the UVC light levels – are quite pricey and I didn’t feel that spending $200 on a meter to verify that a $40 wand was working properly was a wise use of my funds. Then I stumbled upon some UVC test cards on Amazon for under $10. At that price, I was willing to take a chance on them.
These particular UVC test cards light up with a neon green glow while the UV-C light is shining on them, and immediately stop glowing when the light source is removed (in contrast, many other UV test cards continue to show an indicator several minutes after the light source is removed).
I first tested out the UVC card in my Homedics UV-Clean Portable Sanitizer. I trusted that the Homedics product contained real UVC LEDs since they’re a well-established brand that is easier to track down and sue than a random vendor on Woot. It was a little tricky to test since it required the case to be completely zippered shut in order to operate, so I set my phone to record video of the UVC test card while inside the sanitizing pouch. The video showed that the card did indeed light up with a neon color while in operation, confirming that the Homedics product was using UV-C light.
The Woot UV-C Wand Test
I then tested by Woot UVClean Wand. Unfortunately, the card did not show any traces of neon green when waving the wand over it. I was very disappointed in this fact as the many items I thought were disinfected by this light were actually not receiving any potentially sanitizing UV-C light.
I then decided – at the suggestion of the product’s commenters on Woot – to dismantle part of the wand just enough to remove the clear plastic shield covering the LEDs. When I tested again, I was surprised to see the card light up neon green without the plastic covering in the way. To further test, I left the plastic shield half-on, half-off, and confirmed that the clean plastic shield was indeed blocking any useful UV-C rays.
This brought forth some interesting points:
- The product, as sold, does not emit UVC light. It is filtered by the clear plastic piece covering the LEDs.
- The product, however, does contain UVC LEDs that are effectively useless until you dismantle the product.
- To actually disinfect anything with this wand, you need to remove the clear plastic shield that covers the LEDs.
So are UVC Wands worth it? Well, much is unknown about UV-C and the COVID-19 coronavirus, so it’s best to stick with the CDC’s recommended disinfection procedures. A real UVC LED wand might be a good supplement, but it should not replace these recommended disinfection guidelines.