Which? urges caution over UV light home disinfection devices amid effectiveness and safety concerns

Which? is urging shoppers to think twice before buying UV light devices that claim to kill viruses and bacteria, as experts reveal some products may be ineffective or could pose safety risks to users.

UVC light has been used for years to help destroy bacteria and viruses in commercial and industrial locations such as hospitals, factories and water treatment plants. But the pandemic has created a growing market for lamps, wands and sterilisation boxes that emit UVC light, marketed to consumers for use in the home.

After a recent Covid-19 survey by the Office for Product Safety and Standards found one in 20 people had recently bought a UV sanitising device, the consumer champion approached industry bodies and experts about the effectiveness and safety of these home products.

The Lighting Industry Association (LIA) told Which? it encountered two common problems when testing these products. It found devices either failing to emit any or enough UVC to be used as an effective disinfectant, or emitting UVC in an unsafe manner.

Worryingly, the LIA said that many UVC-emitting devices lacked safety interlocks to stop accidental skin and eye exposure, which can cause burns and eye damage.

UVC wands are widely-available on online marketplaces and often cost as little as £15, but Which? has particular concerns about the safety of this type of product.

Most wands don’t have an enclosed light to prevent users looking at it and potentially damaging their eyes, and some have minimal or poorly-written instructions. They also risk giving a false sense of security when it comes to cleanliness as some may lack the power to have any effect, while it is hard to know if all traces of a virus or bacteria have been removed.

Which? is urging shoppers to take caution when looking to buy these products as they could be dangerous if not handled carefully, and may not be effective.

Another concern was the safety of UVC lamps, which are meant to be left in a room for a set period of time to emit light and disinfect the room.

Which? found that many UVC lamps found on online marketplaces had poorly-translated instructions and some had reviews where users reported someone accidentally walking into the room while the lamp was still on, exposing them to UV light.

Professor Clive Beggs, from Leeds Beckett University, told Which? that UVC lamps are not guaranteed to disinfect rooms from viruses or bacteria as UV light cannot get to every corner or around furniture.

The LIA says some products do produce enough UVC to effectively kill germs, but warned the stated disinfection times on products are often not long enough to be effective. They also claim there is “no definitive third-party data” on the exposure time necessary to kill Covid-19.

With many UVC products for sale being at best unnecessary, and some potentially dangerous, Which? is urging shoppers to take any claims with a pinch of salt and consider proven traditional cleaning methods such as bleach, detergent or soap.

Harry Rose, Which? Magazine Editor, said:

“While many consumers are keen to disinfect their homes thoroughly in light of concerns about Covid-19, they should take caution when shopping for UVC devices claiming to kill viruses and bacteria.

“Which? believes some of these devices are likely to be ineffective at disinfecting your home or could pose safety risks due to unclear instructions or emitting UVC light in an unsafe manner.

“The benefits of these products are often psychological and you could be better off cleaning surfaces and items the traditional way.”

Types of UVC devices

UVC Lamps

These freestanding lamps are meant to be left in a room for a set period of time to emit light and disinfect the room. Lamps found on online marketplaces had some reviews where users reported accidentally walking into the room while the lamp was still on. Experts also say there’s no certainty that everything in a room will be disinfected.

Which? verdict: Not necessary and not to be trifled with. You’re better off opening a window to air a room and cleaning surfaces the traditional way.

UVC Wands

UVC wands claim to sanitise items, but Which? has concerns about both the effectiveness and safety of this type of product. Most wands don’t have an enclosed light to prevent you looking at them and potentially damaging your eyes. There is also no way of knowing if you’ve removed all traces of virus during the time suggested that you wave the wand over the item, and some may lack the power to have any effect.

Which? verdict: Avoid. They could be potentially dangerous if you’re not careful while using them, and may well not be effective.

UVC Phone Sterilising Boxes

UVC phone sterilising boxes are one of the more mainstream UVC products. Just put your phone in the box, close the lid and power it up. However, there are quicker and simpler ways to sanitise your phone, and there’s uncertainty over whether the long-term use of UVC light can degrade materials such as plastic. Apple told Which? the best way to clean its phones is with an alcohol wipe. Samsung sells its own UVC steriliser device, but urged caution around buying devices from online marketplaces and warned that any Samsung phones damaged by a third-party UVC device would not be covered under warranty.

Which? verdict: Potentially more viable than other UVC applications, but risky if it damages your phone.

UVC Sterilisation Bags and Boxes

Travel bags and sterilisation boxes can be used for disinfecting larger items such as baby bottles, wallets and keys in the same way as UVC phone boxes. But like other options, effectiveness depends on multiple factors, including what the item is. Sterilising baby bottles in a UV box after they’ve been washed could be an alternative to a microwave or steam sterilisers. But like phone sterilising boxes, the long-term effect of UVC on plastic is unclear.

Which? verdict: Potentially useful, but hard to determine quality. May impact some materials over time, and alternatives such as washing with detergent, wiping down with alcohol and good hand hygiene are also effective.

UVC Fridges, Tumble Dryers and more

Home appliance brand Beko recently launched a tumble dryer that gives you the option to ‘refresh’ six dry pieces of clothing using UVC, or dry and UV sanitise 5kg of washed laundry. There’s also a fridge with a UV disinfection drawer. But while contained UVC devices probably pose less of a risk to consumers, aside from giving you peace of mind, these extra measures are likely to be unnecessary.

Which? verdict: The main benefit is likely to be psychological – drying clothes and storing food in the fridge aren’t high-risk activities.

UVC Mattress Vacuums

UVC bed or mattress vacuums are finding a new market in those worried about viruses lurking in the bedroom. The UV light on the vacuum head is claimed to destroy the germs, and suck up dust and dirt. However, organisms found in the weave of fabrics or folds of bed sheets will be hidden from UV rays so could be missed or unaffected.

Which? verdict: Regular bedding washes are sufficient.

Notes to editors

  • A Covid-19 consumer survey by the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) in September 2020 discovered that one in 20 people had recently purchased a UV sanitising device.
  • The Lighting Industry Association (LIA) looked into UVC products in collaboration with Public Health England and the OPSS. This has included testing and reporting dangerous or faulty products to market surveillance authorities.
  • For alternative methods of cleaning your home effectively visit here: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/03/coronavirus-how-to-clean-your-home-effectively/
    Which? is the UK’s consumer champion, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone.
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