NBC15 Investigates UV Lights; Are they safe and effective?

Recurring 10 p.m. news recording
Published: Nov. 16, 2020 at 9:38 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - There’s a growing demand for at-home UV light devices amid the pandemic, according to consumer experts.

You can buy small handheld devices in stores and online. Despite the popularity, these products are not FDA approved to prevent coronavirus. Still, Ultraviolet light or UV light technology does work and is used in schools, businesses, hospitals, and even jails to sanitize the air and surfaces.

There are three types of UV light: UV-A, UV-B and UV-C. UV-C is the range that’s best used for sanitizing purposes.

But is this powerful technology safe to bring into your home?

NBC15 Investigates purchased three UV light products from Amazon. Each product was listed at different price points ranging from $25 to $80.


We took all three products to a lab at UW-Madison to find out how effective they are at disinfecting and what the safety risks are of using them at home.

Mikhail Kats and Jenn Choy, Associate Professors study light in the Electrical Engineering Department and helped us test the products.

We tested two UV light wands, one at a price point of about $25, another we purchased at around $40.

We also purchased a UV light sanitizer box. It was the most expensive product we bought at around$80 and is big enough to put your cell phone, keys, or other small items you use daily.

After testing the intensity and spectrum of light, Prof. Kats and Choy found that all three devices emitted UV light, meaning they are most likely effective at disinfecting but UV wands come with some safety risks.

“UV is dangerous for the same reason why it’s effective at disinfecting because it breaks the bonds of DNA and RNA…it will also do damage to the DNA in your skin,” said Prof. Kats.

Our experiment found that in order to effectively disinfect with the UV lights we purchased, a person would need to use it multiple times on the item or surface they wanted to clean or hold the light close for at least 30 seconds.

Prof. Kats says he wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending UV wands unless they were being used with a drape over it or with protection goggles. He says it’s unlikely the average consumer will use these safety methods every time so the UV wands may not be worth the risk.

UV light wand
UV light wand(WMTV)

The UV light box on the other hand, had built in safety features. The UV lights inside of the box automatically turn off when the lid is opened. Prof. Kats says these are the kind of safety features consumers should look for.

UW-Health Doctor Nasia Safdar says while a powerful and effective tool, UV-light should never be a substitute for regular cleaning.

While sales for some in-home products have grown, more research needs to be done to find out how effective they are as a defense from COVID.

Given the safety concerns NBC15 Investigates found, it’s recommended that you handle with care around your children and pets.

NBC15 Investigates also reached out to the Better Business Bureau. The BBB says it has not received any complaints about UV Light devices but recommends you do your research before buying one. Check reviews and only purchase from a credible site.

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