You Don’t Need a UVC Wand to Kill COVID-19

Sean Jackson
Updated Sep 10, 2020
2 min read

With the continued outbreak of COVID-19, some are trying solutions such as UVC wands to protect themselves. However, not all wands kill the virus and incorrect use could lead to significant safety risks. 

Companies Market UVC Wands as a Disinfectant Alternative

UVC wands have been around for a while. However, they’ve become more prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic due to increased marketing by their manufacturers. This piece examines why UVC wands are marketed as a way to kill COVID, expert insights into why they don’t, and warnings about the safety risks associated with using these wands. 

How Do UVC Wands Kill Viruses?

Ultraviolet light C, also known as UVC has the shortest wavelength and contains the most energy out of any of the three UV lights. Its strength allows it to curb virus development by damaging the RNA and DNA to the point it can’t replicate. Because of its potency, hospitals use UVC lights to kill superbugs like MRSA. 

The science suggests UVC also has the ability to reduce the spread of viruses like COVID-19. Now, companies are cashing in on this, marketing UVC wands as a way for people to disinfect their homes so they don't catch COVID-19. These wands become even more appealing for consumers when you consider there’s still a shortage of disinfectant wipes due to supply chain disruptions

However, there are multiple problems people encounter when dealing with UVC wands. Namely, they might not work the way you think they will. 

UVC Wands Can Be Unreliable

“The problem with all these wands is much is not known such as the strength of these little wands and the time needed to make sure the DNA chain of the organism (Covid-19 or any other) is damaged sufficiently to inactivate the organism,” remarks Irwin Stromeyer, who’s an expert in public infection control and germ eradication and owner of Sterile Space. “In addition, most are made in China and may be of poor quality.”

Compounding matters is the fact there are no regulations regarding the manufacturing of UVC wands. Meaning the company can claim these gadgets could kill the virus, but do they contain enough UVC to do so?

One way to determine if the wands contain enough UVC is to read the instructions. “If the manufacturer does not tell you to wear goggles and cover your body while operating the devices, the strength of such the device is probably not sufficient to kill the pathogens,” says Dr. Ella Faktorovich, Opthamologist and founder of San Francisco’s Pacific Vision Institute.   

And in all cases, it’s important to be careful, as UVC exposure could do more harm to your body than good. 

UVC light exposure could result in health risks

Along with uncertainty in quality comes the simple fact that exposure to UVC light can be dangerous. “UVC light is a known carcinogen - same as UVB light (which sunscreen protects us from,)” states engineer and sun safety expert, Derek Jouppi. Similar to the way UVC can kill cells in viruses, it can also kill healthy cells. Jouppi states, “The reactive strands can form skin cancer or other cancers (hence, why UVC is a carcinogen).”

Dr. Faktorovich adds, “Special eye goggles to block the light need to be worn as well as clothing to cover all parts of the body. Such light, if it reaches the eye for example, can cause significant photokeratitis after as little as 10 seconds of exposure. It can also cause skin blistering after a similarly short period of exposure.”

When asked if there was a simpler solution than using UVC wands, every expert reached the same consensus: using hand soap to clean countertops and other surfaces. By using soap on your surfaces, it removes the bond that allows COVID-19, along with other viruses to stick on your surfaces or hands. 

The Bottom Line 

With the lack of cleaning supplies available, some are considering UVC wands to disinfect their surfaces from COVID-19. However, the quality of UVC wands is questionable at best and exposure to UVC under the wrong environments could result in significant health risks. Therefore, instead of trying UVC light, scrub your surfaces with hand soap instead. 

(Photo by Cesar Manso/AFP via Getty Images)

Contributing Writer

Sean Jackson

Sean Jackson is a freelance journalist who has covered home security, safety, and other topics for, ESPN, CBS, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

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