Ultraviolet (UV) sanitisers are marketed as an effective way of sanitising small items you carry around and use a lot. They started to gain attention in 2020, as the spread of Covid-19 made people more aware of the presence of bacteria and viruses on the surfaces we touch multiple times a day.
You can wash your hands all the time and regularly disinfect high-touch surfaces like door handles, but what about the tech you carry around and touch all the time? You can't dunk your phone in soapy water or scrub your earbuds.
That's where sanitising devices come in. They can also be used to disinfect the other small items you take with you when you go out – your phone, glasses and keys – and they may help to prevent you from transferring microbes from the outside into your home.
How does a UV sanitiser work?
A UV sanitiser, also called a phone steriliser or disinfecting box, cleans by killing germs. Place an item under the UV light and it should destroy the bacteria and viruses living on its surface.
There are three types of UV light: UV-A, UV-B and UV-C. UV-C has been shown to be effective at killing microbes, including bacteria and viruses. UV-A and UV-B are less effective, or not effective at all.
But there’s a catch. UV-C light destroys microbes by breaking down their DNA – which means it’s also dangerous to people and animals. That’s why we can’t have people passing under UV lights in train stations or airports to remove germs on their skin. The exposure to UV-C light would be hazardous. Strong UV-C light can give people sunburn in seconds and lead to cancer.
Which type of UV sanitiser works best?
UV sanitisers generally come in two forms: boxes, into which you place your tech and personal effects, and wands.
The type to buy is a box, which can safely contain effective UV-C light.
However, you should bear in mind the limitations of this tech. The UV light is most effective on flat, non-porous surfaces. It won't reach into nooks, cracks and gaps in your devices. That means you'll need to remove your phone case to clean your phone. And, if the box contains a single light source, you'll probably need to turn it over to ensure both sides are clean.
It's also important to note that the type of powerful UV-C light used to disinfect items in industrial settings will be far removed from the consumer technology available to buy and use at home. Products you buy won't be as effective as the lights used in lab studies you may read about.
Do UV sanitising wands work?
The short answer here is probably not. There are two key reasons why. The first is that as there’s no protective barrier to shield people’s skin and eyes from UVC rays, a UVC wand that’s strong enough to destroy microbes would also be very dangerous to people. So, the chances are that a wand will only have a very weak form of light.
Second, UVC rays don’t kill microbes instantly. The UV sanitisers that are likely to be effective have a cleaning cycle that will take several minutes, at least.
This means that you'd have to hold a UV wand over a surface you want to clean for minutes at a time. A quick swipe won't do anything at all.
Are UV sanitisers for phones safe?
UV sanitisers will be safe for people and animals as long as the UVC light within them is contained. You shouldn't look into the light, or point it at your skin.
Will a UV sanitiser damage your phone?
UV sanitisers are safe for use on all technology.
Will a UV sanitiser work against Covid-19?
A recent study published in the American Journal of Infection Control (AJIC) showed that UV-C light is highly effective at destroying coronavirus, doing so in 9 minutes. The same test showed that UV-A light was ineffective.
However, this doesn’t mean that the UV light sanitisers you can buy commercially will be as effective as the devices used in the test or that you can forgo other sanitising methods and be safe from Covid-19 or other infections.
What features should you look out for in a UV sanitiser?
As we've said, the best sanitisers will be boxes. Some, like Moshi's Deep Purple, can fit all the bits and pieces you carry around with you. (Deep Purple isn't on the market yet but will be available to buy soon.)
Others double as a wireless charger, like Belkin's UV sanitiser, which is available on Amazon for ￡39.99.
UV bulbs will dim over time, so look out for products with UV LEDs, which will likely have a longer lifespan.
Larger sanitising units
You can expect to see more sanitising tech coming on to the market in the near future. Appliance manufacturer Beko will be launching a UV light disinfecting cabinet later this year. It’s the size of a small microwave and is designed to sit on your hall table and sanitise your phone, wallet, tablet, keys, mask, sunglasses and similar items.
A sanitising cycle will take 20-40 minutes to complete and, like a microwave, won’t start until the cabinet’s door is closed - with your fingers safely outside.
A sanitiser of this kind will be more expensive, and probably more effective, than a standard UV phone sanitiser.
Do I need a UV phone sanitiser?
The best form of protection from Covid-19 and other infectious diseases is to wash your hands regularly and follow public health guidelines. But using a UV phone sanitiser can offer another layer of protection to your routine – and may bring with it some peace of mind.
For more phone accessories, have a look at our round-up of the best wireless phone chargers we've tested.