Wouldn't life be easy if you could just wave a magic wand and have all the dirt, germs, and disease-causing bacteria out of your life forever? That's kind of how I see those UV light wands that I've noticed appearing in my targeted Instagram ads. I know they're not magic, but sanitizing surfaces by just hovering over them with these little light-emitting devices seems too good to be true.
Well, it kind of is. UV-C light does work against eliminating germs and bacteria — even possibly COVID-19. But the products you're seeing on the market probably aren't strong enough to actually do the job they claim to do.
"To be at all safe, those wands can't put out that much UV," says Edward A. Nardell, MD, a professor of environmental health and immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard Medical School. He tells Refinery29 that the level of UV-C rays required to kill germs is so powerful that you'd need gloves and protective glasses to be around it, or you'd be risking severe eye or skin injury. "So [the products being sold to consumers] are generally weak," Dr. Nardell says.
That means most of these UV light gadgets are misleading and not likely to be effective, Dr. Nardell says — and potentially dangerous, since people think they're a good way to disinfect objects when they're not. While he's a strong advocate of germicidal UV-C, he says these types of UV wands are not a good application of it at all.
"If you put a plate of bacteria or viruses under a UV lamp for long enough, it will kill 99.9% of what's there because UV-C is germicidal. No question," Dr. Nardell explain. "But it requires a dose, and when you're handling a wand you can't predict the dose you're giving." His "long enough" comment is telling too: If the wand does work, it might require you to hold it over the object you're sanitizing for hours and hours — not an efficient use of your time, to say the least.
I sent Dr. Nardell some information about a specific UV wand product from a popular home store to check out, to which he responded, "There's no indication of how much wattage that lamp has, there is no reference to any scientific study, so it's just... not optimal." To find a UV sanitizing wand that actually works, it would have to meet some sort of standard in terms of output and have specific studies that actually show you it works, he says. And, if you already have one of these products, it's pretty hard to measure just how much UV it's emitting.
In the end, Dr. Nardell advises that you should just save your money. Instead, stick to the things that we know work when it comes to COVID prevention: Wash your hands; avoid closely packed areas, especially indoors; wipe down dirty and frequently used surfaces often; and, of course, wear a mask.