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"​Germs don't stand a chance!"

     The International Ultraviolet Association

   Advice for the selection and operation of equipment for the UV disinfection of air and surfaces

Download Advice Document

   The International Ultraviolet Association (IUVA) is a non-profit association bringing together scientists, engineers, ultraviolet (UV) manufacturers, consultants and others with an interest in safe and effective treatments using UV light. IUVA has received many inquiries recently, as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, as to a whether or not IUVA has advice for the selection of and use of UV disinfection systems for the healthcare industry. This list is intended to provide advice for those who are thinking of purchasing UV disinfection equipment. These tips should only be considered as suggestions.

   Although the content of this document will have relevance in some sense around the world, it has been prepared largely for the North American market.

   Buyer beware! – there are few accepted standards for equipment designed for the UV disinfection of air and/or surfaces. As a result, there are many ads and promotions that claim amazing performance with little or no scientific backup.

   Ask the vendor for copies of scientific papers documenting that their unit will actually work as they claim. The scientific paper(s) should show actual reduction of a test microorganism in the environment that the unit is supposed to operate.

   Is the company registered with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a pesticide device producing establishment? See the website (

   Does it have appropriate built-in UV safety sensors for automatic shutoff or is safe operation totally reliant on the operator?

   Does the device meet NIOSH, UL, IEEE and related safety standards?

   Does the device emit/generate ozone? If so, is it compliant with NIOSH requirements. How is the ozone mitigated? (We suggest avoiding ozone devices, as it is a safety hazard for operators, unless ozone is specifically part of the treatment process and is applied in a controlled and safe way)?

Is the device being used to disinfect medical devices? If so, is it compliant with US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements (see FDA document 21CFR 880.6600)?

If the device is a UV wand used to disinfect a surface (e.g., countertop or an envelope):

The technical specifications should give the UVC irradiance at a fixed distance from the UV front of the device (e.g., 10 mW/cm2 at 2 cm).

   The UV dose (irradiance multiplied by the exposure time in seconds) should be at least 40 mJ/cm2 to inactivate viruses on perfectly flat and ideal surfaces. So if the irradiance at the target surface is 10 mW/cm2, the exposure time would have to be 4 seconds. However, the presence of microscopic crevices on flat surfaces can inhibit the disinfection, and disinfection on other materials such as cloth may require wholly different doses. For example, the disinfection of viruses on protective medical masks may require doses in the order of 1000-3000 mJ/cm2. This is an issue that is currently being researched and our current understanding is changing almost daily.

   With any UV device, DO NOT look at the UV light or expose your hands from the UV side. UV light is a source of skin burns/cancer, and can quickly damage the eyes.

   Remember that UV disinfection is based on “line-of-sight” between the UV lamp and the target surface. If the UV beams are shadowed by elements of texture on the surface, the shadowed sections may receive much reduced UV light or no light at all. The disinfection efficacy will therefore be determined by the UV dose that these sections are exposed to.

Like any disinfection system, UVC devices must be used properly to be safe.

   They all produce varying amounts of UVC light in wavelengths of 200 – 280nm. UVC light is much more energetic than normal sunlight, and can cause a severe sunburn-like reaction to your skin, and similarly, could damage the retina of your eye, if exposed.

   Some devices also produce ozone as part of their cycle, others produce light and heat like an arc welder, others move during their cycles. Hence, in general machine-human safety needs to be considered with all disinfection devices

   These considerations should be addressed in the operations manual, in the user training, and appropriate safety compliance.


Helping You Find Solutions

Castine Bernardy, graduate research assistant, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of New Hampshire

Corresponding author James P. Malley Jr., Ph.D., Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of New Hampshire

Worldwide concern over the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19 has sparked widespread interest in using UV devices for air and surface disinfection. The purpose of this Operator’s Corner is to provide tips to the buyers and users of UV devices to inactivate air and surfaces. That market contains thousands of different products and is estimated to be $1 to $2 billion per year in sales. Unfortunately, it lacks uniform validation protocols, manufacturing specifications or guidelines. Hence, it can be the “Wild West” so “Let the Buyer/User Beware.”

Ultraviolet (UV) means many things

Buyers and users need to familiarize themselves in some fashion with the different types of UV including UV-A (wavelength: 315 to 400 nm), UV-B (wavelength: 280 to 315 nm), UV-C (wavelength: 200 to 280 nm) and Vacuum UV (wavelength: 100 to 200 nm). The wavelength ranges given here are based upon IUPAC Gold Book-2020, and for the discussion of disinfection by these UV devices, UV-C wavelengths should be the focus. A subset of that UV-C, which has received some recent attention, is far UV-C (200 to 225 nm) and this, at times, is vaguely and incorrectly simply called far UV. In general, the lower the wavelength, the more energy in the photons of light wave energy being employed by the device.

When discussing the disinfecting power of sunlight, consider a mixture of approximately 95% UV-A and 5% UV-B. Given enough time (days) these wavelengths surely have many effects, but it is a long timeframe and many other factors come into play, such as desiccation of the organisms on a surface, etc.

There are many benefits to sunlight and fresh air, but sunlight is generally not considered as a practical disinfection option due to long timeframes.

All forms of UV have pros and cons, and careful consideration of which UV wavelengths are being used and for what purpose must be done. Dosing human and animal tissues with any forms of UV energy should not be done by buyers and users of these UV devices. Special cases performed by experienced medical professionals under very tightly controlled conditions for very specific medical problems may be found in internet searches, but “do not do this at home” is the best message for all buyers and users of UV devices.

Human and animal tissues should not come in contact with any forms of UV light unless it is performed by a medical facility under the careful control and monitoring by healthcare professionals. The UV devices sold to the public are not carefully regulated, and some advertisements make claims that are not supported by clinical medical trials and testing.

Time is not the most important factor

Often the information provided by advertisements and many very brief user manuals for UV devices simplify operations to talking about time.

All UV professionals recommend that UV device specifications be discussed in terms of delivered dose, since time is not the most important factor. The effectiveness of any UV device or application depends upon at least four key factors: a) the irradiance or fluence rate of the light source at specific wavelength(s) emitted (some refer to this as intensity or strength of light, but those are vague, non-technical terms), b) the optical geometry of the UV device or how it is to be applied, c) the type of organisms to be targeted, including such things as their action spectra and what amount of percent removal (or log inactivation) is desired and d) contact time. Of these lamp characteristics, optical geometry and organism characteristics are far more important than time.