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27 Aug 2020

Antiviral products you don't need

From UV wands to a virus-repelling sofa, here's why you shouldn't pay out to be 'germ-free'

Anti-germ, antiviral and even antibacterial - these claims are everywhere you look these days as companies jump on the hygiene marketing bandwagon. But do you really need to splash out to stay safe?

It's an understandable impulse to want to avoid and eliminate germs given the current circumstances, but one that has inevitably been pounced upon by companies for whom fear of infection is big business.

Don't be fooled by the marketing. The best advice is still to pay attention to basic hand hygiene and social distancing to protect yourself and others, and fancy gadgets aren't necessary.

Which? has looked into three products that have been making antiviral claims, including sanitising UV wands, humidifiers and virus-repelling sofas.

At best, the products below are not worth your money, and at worst some could give you a false sense of security or potentially be harmful if misused.

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1. UV wands and lamps

One type of gadget that has seen a surge in popularity online is handheld UV wands and mini UV lamps, which claim to use UV or UV-C light to kill viruses.

We've even seen them explicitly marketed as a way to kill coronavirus on sites such as eBay (see image, above).

While it's true that UV light is lethal to viruses such as COVID-19 and that UV machinery is sometimes used to sanitise hospitals, the medical-grade tech is very different to what you can buy as a consumer.

Dr Lena Ciric, a microbiologist at University College London, told us that these handheld wands marketed for household use are 'not a good idea'.

She said you'll either spend a lot of money on something that is no better than a surface cleaner, or it just won't work.

What's more, UV-C light is extremely harmful to humans, and can damage your eyes and skin - as well as some materials - so it must be used in carefully controlled circumstances.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently had to issue a warning against using UV light to disinfect your skin and we've seen worrying comments online from people who accidentally turned on high-strength UV-C lamps while in the room.

According to Dr Ciric, the way UV light is used in hospitals for the disinfection of surfaces is tightly regulated - it's carried out in specialised chambers and requires rooms to be evacuated while this process (which lasts up to 20 minutes) takes place.

The effectiveness of the process depends on the power of the UV bulb as well as how long the microbes are exposed to the light, so a quick waft of a wand is unlikely to do the job.

Marketing images of UV wands being waved over surgical masks (as on Wish, below) could encourage people to reuse single-use masks, too, which would be inappropriate.

It's possible that light disinfection may be more of a thing in the future, though. A type of light known as Far-UVC light can deliver the germkill effects of UV-C without the harmful side effects, so we may start to see more technology harnessing this.

For now, though, the advice is not to buy UV-C products as they aren't appropriate for use in the home and aren't really necessary outside of specific environments, such as hospitals.

2. Air purification and humidification systems

We've previously looked at whether an air purifier could protect you from coronavirus and concluded that there wasn't enough evidence to support this.

As we begin to learn more about the role of aerosol transmission in spreading the virus (that is, the airborne particles you exhale), we've seen companies selling products to help you achieve 'healthy air' - a combination of fresh air and the right humidity.

One example is US company Aprilaire, which says its 'healthy air system helps to remove airborne dust, allergens, bacteria and viruses while maintaining the level of humidity that helps prevent the proliferation of viruses'.

Humidity levels have been linked to the ability of viruses to survive - they are thought to thrive more in drier air conditions - so a moderate level of humidity would be good in theory.

But there are lots of caveats surrounding the effectiveness of home air purification devices and humidity controls for infection prevention.

Filters need to be incredibly robust and able to filter large volumes of air - an exact balance that's likely to be hard for you to achieve in your home.

Beyond this, is it worth the time and money? Probably not.

If you live in a relatively well-ventilated house with windows, you'd be better off saving hundreds of pounds by opening a window and letting fresh air into the room.

3. Antiviral fabrics and upholstery

Antiviral fabrics are starting to pop up all over the place, from designer jeans to sofas. One example we've seen recently is upholstery company Aquaclean's 'Safe Front' material.

The company describes it as a 'revolutionary new sofa fabric that helps keep customers safe'.

In a press release, it says that 'Safe Front has recently been tested against coronavirus and it was found that the virus was reduced by 91% after only two hours of continuous contact'.

But on its website it says that 'in no case can anti-COVID19 fabric be spoken of, given that the population could believe that it is protected against infections of this nature'. This is because it was tested against a different kind of feline coronavirus, and while similar antiviral action is assumed, it's not proven.

Realistically, though, it's unlikely you'll catch COVID-19 from your sofa, whether it has a fancy coating or not.

It's worth noting that a recent article in medical journal The Lancet suggested the risk of transmission of the virus through contaminated surfaces may have been exaggerated and is only really likely to happen if you touch a surface soon after someone coughs or sneezes on it.

So, rather than fork out thousands of pounds for a new antiviral sofa, just stick to basic hygiene rules about catching coughs and sneezes.