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What Are UV Lights That Kill Germs?

Wednesday, July 22, 2020 By Ariana Thorn

UV lights that kill germs have been studied and used by many for several decades. While we are amidst a global pandemic, the concern of airborne pathogens within buildings has increased. Using the correct UV type, proper placement and taking the right precautions can assist in the sterilization and sanitation of your space.

UV can be emitted through two main sources, natural and artificial. The natural form of UV refers to radiation from the sun. It is important to note that UVC directly from the sun is absorbed by the ozone before reaching earth, unlike UVA and UVB – therefore exposing yourself to light from the sun does not mean you are utilizing UV lights that kill germs. The artificial form can be tanning beds, mercury vapor lighting, some halogen lamps, LED, fluorescent and incandescent.

There are three forms of UV radiation that are measured and classified by their wavelengths – UVA, UVB and UVC. Although there are three forms, the type of UV lights that kill germs are only UVC. The rays emitted from UVA and UVB wavelengths have lower energy levels and are unable to kill or inactivate pathogens. UVC can inactivate microorganisms, such as viruses and fungi by damaging their DNA or RNA, which prevents them from reproducing.

As UV lights that kill germs have been an effective way to inactivate pathogens, scientists began studying another form of UVC, called far-UVC. It has a more restricted wavelength and does not cause the same damage to human cells as typical UVC would. While this is new, studies show far-UVC are as efficient in inactivating microorganisms as the use of conventional UVC light.


Airborne pathogens that are common throughout different building spaces can be inactivated in just minutes with exposure to UVC. 

UV lights that kill germs has been shown to be effective in killing COVID-19. A recent study at Columbia University Irving Medical Center shows how effective it can be. Based on their results, the researchers estimate that continuous exposure to far-UVC light at the current regulatory limit would kill 90% of airborne viruses in about 8 minutes, 95% in about 11 minutes, 99% in about 16 minutes, and 99.9% in about 25 minutes. 

Some other pathogens that have been of concern over the years and can be inactivated by UV lights that kill germs are airborne tuberculosis, influenza, measles and superbugs, such as MRSA

Direct UVC light exposure can remove approximately 99% of microbial contamination on surfaces and in the air, along with 30% of four major superbugs – meticillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (staph infection), vancomycin-resistant enterococci, c difficile, and multidrug resistant Acinetobacter -  that are an issue and concern, especially in hospitals. Therefore, UVC utilization is an extremely effective way of keeping your buildings sterilized and indoor air quality high.


UV lights that kill germs have been popularly used over the years in hospitals or medical centers. UVC is a tool that can be beneficial and eliminate airborne pathogens seen in buildings across the board.

One of the most used placements for UV lights that kill germs is within your HVAC system. HVAC units that have UVC lighting installed provide system efficiency, occupant comfort and indoor air quality (IAQ), environmental impacts, and economic impacts.

Another way to install UV lights that kill germs is by using upper-room light. These lights are designed to emit UVC at an angle – typically by using a louver – on the upper part of the room.

Some locations that have used UVC or could benefit from installing UV lights that kill germs are hospitals, medical labs, long-term care centers, fire and police stations, offices, hotels, grocery stores and your own home.


Hospitals, medical centers, and labs have been using this method of sterilization for many years. Four major superbugs that are of concern in healthcare centers are:

  • Meticillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus. If spread to the blood stream staph infection can cause sepsis, pneumonia, infection of the heart valves and bone infections.

  • Vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) is of concern because it is resistant against commonly used antibiotics. VRE can trigger serious infections in the bloodstream, wounds, and urinary tract

  • C difficile infections can cause symptoms like diarrhea and inflammation of the colon that could be life threatening. These infections are being seen more frequently, but they typically affect older adults in hospitals or other healthcare facilities.

  • Multidrug resistant Acinetobacter is another bacterium that has a resistance against multiple antibiotics and causes infections in wounds, blood, lungs, and urinary tract. Higher risk individuals have wounds from surgery, are staying in an intensive care unit or an extensive hospital stay, have a catheter or are on ventilators.

Some hospitals use mercury lamps, devices or portable machines that emit germicidal UVC and kill pathogens associated with infectious diseases and infections. These devices are used in rooms that are unoccupied and depending upon the target dosage can take 5-45 minutes for a single cycle.


According to the CDC 1 to 3 million serious infections occur every year in long-term care centers such as nursing homes, assisted living facilities and skilled nursing facilities. Therefore, UVC in these facility types can be great in improving the air quality for inhabitants along with workers. UVC in HVAC is one way to implement this sterilization – as the potential of harm to occupants is low. Another tool that has been used, like in hospitals, is portable machines. They can be mobilized and set in certain rooms or locations like common areas to inactivate dangerous pathogens leading to infections.


Police and fire stations have been implementing the use of UVC by using mobile units to disinfect parts of their buildings, equipment, patrol cars and EMS vehicles.

The City of Mount Pleasant in Michigan is one example of this. They began using UV lights that kill germs by setting remote powered lights on the seats of fire and police vehicles. The departments here are also using this technology on masks, disinfecting them away from human exposure for close to an hour before reuse.
Also, in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, a fire department saw great appeal in the use of UVC – especially considering COVID-19. The department has germicidal lamps they set on a timer and allow to run for approximately a half hour, emitting UVC on the back of ambulances and rooms within the fire station to help combat lingering pathogens.


Individuals often spend a large portion of their day in office settings. Pathogens being spread are always a concern for those in this type of environment.
A study was done at an office building in Tulsa, OK using UV lights that kill germs in their air handling units. The study was conducted over a period of 4 months and showed a significant decrease in fungi at the end of the experiment where these lights were used.

Sick building syndrome is a topic of disturbance as it describes situations where occupants experience health issues that link to time spent in buildings or offices. Some problems that could be experienced range from breathing issues, asthma, infection, or fatigue.
Installing upper-room UVC or UVC in the HVAC systems of an office can help combat this concern along with other airborne pathogens traveling through these facility types.


Beverly Hilton’s Hotel has been intrigued by the benefits UV lights that kill germs can have. This hotel demonstrates the use of UVC with a hospital grade robotic device for around 30 minutes per session to disinfect guest rooms and other areas in the hotel.

Hotels constantly have patrons coming in from areas nation and world-wide, which increases risk of carrying viruses or infections into these facilities. Using mobile units for UV lights that kill germs in hotel rooms, common areas show great benefit. Other implementations could be helpful as well, including UVC installation in the HVAC system – thus sanitizing air traveling through the ducts.


Recently the robotics team for Amazon created a robot to roll down aisles giving off UVC to disinfect packaging, freezer doors, and refrigerator doors. This is still in the phases of being tested before getting sent out into Whole Foods stores and warehouses. However, it is an idea that could be great for the company and other grocers to follow suit.

Another grocery store in Toronto has begun experimenting with a machine at checkout. This has been designed to sanitize groceries on the conveyor belt, which in turn should help prevent customers from bringing bacteria from their groceries into their home. The machine is set to deliver 99.9% sanitation in the matter of 30 seconds.
Mobile units, robots and sanitation stations are a valuable method for disinfecting – as we have seen with the popular use in hospitals and health care facilities, and now expanding into new territories like grocery stores.


As a homeowner, breathing clean air in your living space can be very important. Airborne pathogens and bacteria can gather in air ducts pushing them through your home. This can cause breathing issues which may lead to lack of sleep, or other health problems. The reduction of these pathogens proves to enhance indoor air quality when installed properly by a technician and maintained.

Therefore, many people have opted to install UVC lights in their HVAC units at home to help prevent the reproduction, growth and spread of harmful contaminants. Ultimately providing a healthier living environment, and better indoor air quality for families.

UV lights that kill germs are proven to be effective but historically they have not been utilized to their full potential in buildings. With the several different uses available, whether it be direct overhead far-UVC, mobile units, upper-room light or UVC lamps within HVAC – this is a technology that could be used by commercial buildings all over. 


Some precautions you can take with UV lights that kill germs are to put the lamps on a timer to ensure they are only on when the room is unoccupied. Also, ensure access panels for HVAC units with internal UVC lamps are interlocked with automatic shutoff switches to prevent accidental exposure to UV radiant energy. Placing warning signs near the lamps and labeling switches can be helpful, as well. This will remind anyone that is near UVC lamps to avoid direct contact with the light.

If for some reason an individual cannot avoid direct contact with UV lights that kill germs, they should wear eye and face protection, and thick gloves – for instance nitrile or work gloves, and clothing that is full coverage and woven tightly to prevent light from reaching the skin.

UVC lights should be used in unoccupied rooms or spaces to prevent damage. If using upper-room light, proper angling is essential to avoid exposure to the lower room where there may be occupants. Lastly, it is always best practice to have UV lights that kill germs installed by a professional.

While the energy levels of UVC radiation are high enough to fight germs, viruses, and bacteria there is still potential for damage if precautions are not taken. Common forms of UV lights that kill germs can cause harm to the human body. Damage that may come from UVC radiation includes redness, ulcers, lesions, severe burns, and damage to skin and eyes.


We are in a time where sterilization and sanitation within our buildings is imperative. UV lights that kill germs is a technology that has been utilized and proven to be effective for decades. Installing UVC lights in your buildings can provide cleaner air for you and other occupants – and can inactivate several pathogens, coronavirus being one. 

Whether you are looking to have UV lights installed or add lighting controls to your facility, Illumetek is here and ready to help you with your next project. Feel free to contact us any time at (800) 644-2566 or at hello@illumetek.com.


Filed under: HVAC, Illumetek, Lighting, Trends

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Illumetek is a National Program Management company facilitating installs, updates, compliance and rebates for Lighting, Electrical, and associated Controls. If you have additional questions regarding LED lighting technology or design, please feel free to contact us anytime.

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Illumetek is a National Program Management company facilitating installs, updates, compliance and rebates for Lighting, Electrical, and associated Controls. Contact us today!