Not all light shines brightest: What to look for in a UV-C sterilizer

UVC Sterilizer

When first researching UVC sterilizer technology, it may seem too good to be true that such an incredible technology is available for use in the home. But UVC is already all around us, radiated by the sun, and for nearly a century after learning about its unique germicidal capabilities, we’ve been using the latest tech to make this incredible tool more and more accessible. But given the immense power behind this technology, it’s important to be an informed consumer when it comes to purchasing a UVC sterilizer device.

The power behind these devices stems from the fact that UVC light is lethal to bacteria and viruses because of its high-frequency, which scrambles and damages their nuclear material. When it damages the DNA (or RNA) code of these pathogens, it triggers lethal mutations that prevent them from reproducing. UV-C cleaners are designed to produce this specific high-frequency light, and for the first time they’re available formats that make it convenient and cost-effective for us to disinfect the surfaces and items we use every day.

What Is UV-C Light?

The type of UV light most people are familiar with is UVA and UVB, both of which contribute to how we get tans in the summertime (and if we’re not careful, burns). UVC is a very narrow band of light at the low end of the spectrum, and it’s unique feature is that it’s 99.9% germicidal: meaning that it stops germs and bacteria dead in their tracks simply by non-touch exposure. 

  • UVA: the part of the spectrum from 400-315nm in wavelength, it represents long wave black light, it’s not absorbed by our ozone layer and is known as ‘soft UV’
  • UVB: the part of the spectrum from 315 – 280 nm in wavelength, it is medium-wave and is mostly absorbed by the ozone layer.
  • UVC:  the part of the spectrum from 280-100nm in wavelength, it cannot make it through the ozone layer and is known as ‘hard UV’.

What Do UVC sterilizer Do?

Viruses can’t produce on their own, but they can pass down that genetic material: their DNA (or RNA). So they reproduce by finding cells and injecting their DNA into them, allowing them to infect that cell and continue along as that cell reproduces over and over. Most of us that have even the foggiest memory of our high school science classes will know what DNA and RNA look like: a spiraling staircase of strands, packed with genetic material. It’s what viruses and bacteria pass on, and what UV-C light effectively does is scramble these strands, stopping contamination in its tracks.

This is all probably great news (and bad news for germs and bacteria), but there’s just one problem… 

Unlike the UV rays that cause us to get a sunburn, the UV-C rays that are lethal to germs and bacteria are pretty rare on earth. They get filtered through the atmosphere, and what’s left by the time they make it to us isn’t enough to stop all those things that sit on surfaces, waiting to make us sick.

Will A UVC sterilizer Kill Coronavirus?

For those of us living through the pandemic – which, let’s face it, is all of us – the answer is probably. While UVC light is known to be germicidal, eliminating 99.9% of bacteria and germs on surfaces, in water, and in air, we do not yet know definitively that it can kill the Coronavirus.

What we do know is that it is highly effective against similar viruses like the common flu, H1N1, SARS, and even the more recent (and similar to Coronavirus) Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). Based on this anecdotal evidence, most scientific bodies, including the National Academy of Sciences, agree that there is a high degree of probability that UVC light will have the same germicidal effect on SARS-CoV2. The fat of the matter is that given how new the virus is, we just don’t have the definitive information yet.


One downside to so-called ‘broad-spectrum’ UVC light – light that represents the full 280-100nm of wavelength – is that it can be uniquely harmful to our skin and eyes when directly exposed. This is not to say that UVC lights are dangerous, but that like all things, a certain level of common sense is needed.

One way to avoid this potential risk is to seek out products that use only Far-UVC, an even narrower band of the UVC spectrum that allows only non-harmful (but still germicidal) light to be emitted. This light that has been found to be safer for humans falls into the 225-200nm section of the UVC spectrum. Different Far-UVC products accomplish this in different ways so it’s important to be educated. While some have specially manufactured LED’s that only emit this small sliver of the spectrum, other products employ glass or composite ‘shields’ that filter out the harmful wavelengths on either side of the 225-200nm spectrum.

What To Look For In A UVC sterilizer

There are two key things that any consumer is going to want to look for in a UVC device, as when combined they represent a superior product: Li-ion battery power and LED bulbs. Both these technologies are largely what have made UVC products small enough, reliable enough, and powerful enough to be used in the home, and any product you spend your hard-earned money on should have these two elements.

Li-ion Batteries

In just a few decades, the energy capacity of lithium-ion batteries has increased by threefold while their cost has come down nearly tenfold. Up until recently, the ability to power technology like germicidal UVC was limited by the need for plugs, and by the weight of the units themselves. Lithium-ion batteries are a huge part of what makes this tech finally convenient for personal use inside and outside the home. 

These batteries have a larger power to weight (and size) ratio than most, especially traditional disposable batteries. They can be recharged quickly, and charged thousands of times over their lifespan. They require no maintenance – so no running to the store to replace them – and are more stable and safe than other types of batteries. When it comes to UVC sterilizers, they are the only truly reliable power source to ensure you’re getting 100% of the sterilizing capacity out of your product. Though many other brands try, there are no truly competitive substitutes when it comes to this. Without strong reliable power, UVC lights are all but useless.

LED Bulbs

LED bulbs are everywhere today, and represent a huge leap over traditional incandescent bulbs of the past decades. Incredibly small, strong, and energy-efficient, in many ways the LED bulb is the catalyst that has led to UVC sterilizer technology making its way into the home for personal use. 

So combined with Li-ion battery power, you have a product that not only has the best battery for the job but the light that makes the most of that power. This means longer runtime, shorter charging times, and an overall longer lifespan for the product.

Do Your Research

Ultimately, it’s up to the customer to become informed and seek out a product that fulfills their needs. Given the current global pandemic, the market is being flooded with poorly produced (at best) or even counterfeit (at worst) products at an alarming rate. Because it’s very hard for you, the end consumer, to test these products, it’s important that you inform yourself and buy from a reputable source from the start so you can use and enjoy your UVC sterilizer with peace of mind. As with any product, it’s worth noting some common sense considerations when shopping for any ‘health’ product.

  • If it’s too good to be true, it probably is
  • Quality is worth paying for when it comes to a device like a UVC sterilizer
  • A good product will feature informed and ample information around it
  • Seek out signs of second and third-party testing when possible
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Erik Adler

Erik Adler