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What are UV Systems?

By S. Boerchers
Updated: May 17, 2024

Ultraviolet systems, or UV systems, are a range of systems that utilize shortwave ultraviolet light to disinfect air, water and surfaces without the use of chemicals. Exposing microorganisms to UV-C, or germicidal UV radiation, in the range of 240 nanometers to 280 nanometers disrupts their genetic makeup, rendering them sterile and ultimately destroying them. UV systems can effectively reduce or eliminate mold, viruses, bacteria, fungi, and spores. The systems have been in use for more than 60 years in environments that require hygienic, sterile conditions. UV systems are widely used in both commercial and residential facilities as a cost-effective, environmentally friendly way to disinfect and purify.

Many homeowners with septic tanks use UV water purification systems. This water treatment is especially appealing because it does not add harsh chemicals to the water, produce bi-products, or alter the taste or other properties of the water in any way. It is safe for plumbing and septic systems and is simple to install and maintain. UV treatment is also widely used in municipal water systems, because it is environmentally friendly and cost efficient. Whether in-home or on a larger scale, UV treatment kills contaminants and renders them completely harmless, but it still is usually combined with a filtration system to further remove them.

UV-C air purifiers kill germs and molds as well as odors. These use a special bulb that produces only minute traces of ozone much lower and, therefore, safer than ozone air purifiers. UV-C air purifiers are especially advantageous to people who suffer from airborne allergens. What’s more, UV-C light technology is extremely effective at killing bacteria and viruses that can cause pneumonia, staph, tuberculosis, bronchitis and meningitis.

The same technology is available in UV-C wand sanitizers used by homeowners and travelers alike to rid surfaces of germs and bacteria. These compact, easy-to-use wands are said to be effective in killing 99.9 percent of germs and bacteria on anything from hotel pillows and toilet seats to countertops and computer keyboards. Similar sanitizers are available to destroy germs on personal items such as toothbrushes.

The UV-C radiation that is necessary for UV systems to kill microorganisms is rare in nature because the Earth’s atmosphere blocks it. In a UV system, a special germicidal lamp is used to emit the necessary radiation through mercury vapor, which then penetrates the microorganism’s cell wall, disrupting its ability to reproduce. Over time the microorganisms are, therefore, eliminated. Radiation at this level is not harmful to humans and does not cause cancer. There are no microorganisms known to be UV resistant.

About Mechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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