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Build a UV-C Sanitizer (for COVID-19)

Updated: Feb 8, 2021

When COVID-19 hit I got a little crazy about sanitization and how to best get peace-of-mind in preventing exposure to the virus. I had already bought and been using things like Phonesoap for my keys, wallet and anything that would fit... but there was an issue I was running into with its internal capacity. Some groceries and clothing (like gloves) were great candidates for UV-C sanitizing but the Phonesoap couldn't fit them. So I came up with a cool idea to convert a dresser drawer on its last legs into a high-volume UV sanitizing station.

It's an extremely simple project that anyone can do from home. All it took was a little research on how UV-C light works in the first place (with sites like this and this) in order to make the 'sanitizing station' effective, and a healthy understanding of the dangers of UV-C as well. Importantly, finding the right types of bulbs that emit UV-C wavelength light (and not just broad spectrum UV, or LED's that claim UV but aren't in the UV-C wavelength), and making sure you build out a container that is covered when the lights turn on to minimize skin and eye exposure to the light itself, are critical steps in your endeavors to build one of these.

UV-C wavelength light doesn't penetrate well through surfaces, so apparently even thin glass (excluding the glass from the bulb itself) can block the light along with any solid surfaces that may stand between the light and the object you're trying to sanitize. This is why my design takes two lights, one on each side of the drawer, to maximize direct exposure to the light.

Anyway, on to the project. Here are the materials you're going to need:

  • 2x 12" 8w T5 UV-C bulbs like these.

  • Standard sized dresser drawer with at least 12" of internal depth (the taller the better, so you can fit larger objects inside)

  • A roll of tin foil

  • Sticky tacky to keep tin foil in place over time

  • Philips head screwdriver (to secure bulbs to the sides of the shelf)

  • Power extension cord (to route the bulbs' power cables back to an outlet)

  • OPTIONAL: Smart Alexa/Google plug for voice control and auto-off timer setting ("Okay Alexa, turn on the sanitizer")

  • OPTIONAL: Gloves - if you want to avoid touching the bulbs with your bare hands, as (apparently) they are capable of breaking when exposed to the oil on your hands... who knows if that's actually true though.

Now that you've got the materials, here's a visual guide for each step:

  1. Remove your designated drawer, and wrap the entire internal area with tin foil. Ball up a little sticky tacky in all the corners of the drawer, along with in between any overlapping area of the tin foil strips to secure it in place. This procedure allows for as much light coverage of the objects you'll be sanitizing as possible.

2. Place a bulb in the drawer with the small fasteners and power connector attached (but not plugged into the wall) to get an idea of the angle you'll have to mount them to fit in the drawer. Make sure that the power connector and cable are routed out the back side of the drawer. Make a mental note of the location of the fasteners or just make a mark with a sharpie on the foil.

3. Use the fastening clips that came with your bulbs, and screw them into the drawer with the screws that also came with the drawer. If for some reason they didn't come with screws, you can use ones like this. Make sure they're on tight. Then attach the bulbs to the drawer (they'll 'click' into the fasteners), making sure the power cords are still connected to the back of the bulbs (but not plugged in yet) as seen in the picture below.

4. Go ahead and slide your drawer back into the dresser, making sure to route the power cables through the backside of the dresser. You may need to make a small hole in the rear of the dresser to put the cables through (very easy if it's thin plywood. If you're in a pinch and don't have tools to make a clean hole, just drive your Philips head through an inconspicuous area of the plywood and twist until the hole is large enough to fit the power cable through).

5. Plug the bulbs into your extension cord (or the optional Smart Plug mentioned in the materials section above) and then into the wall. Make sure to shut the drawer almost completely, only open enough to see the faint blue light shine through when the bulbs are on. Then, turn on the bulbs and behold your new sanitizing station!

One last factor to take in, is with standard form factor incandescent germicidal bulbs, they do emit ozone when they're turned on which can lead to a unique scent (which some people like and some people don't, apparently it's similar to the smell you get after a thunderstorm as lightning also creates ozone) in poorly ventilated rooms if you keep them on for too long. The smell goes away within minutes though as the ozone dissipates. Cheap chinese marketing on the pictures of these bulbs (and many air sanitizers as well) will try and make this a selling point, but I believe there are more drawbacks than advantages to creating ozone indoors. I'm no scientist but after using these bulbs long enough, overwhelming ozone scent along with the apparent hazards it may present to people with sensitive respiratory systems and allergies definitely outweigh any of the potential germ-neutralizing effects of ozone in my opinion.

This explanation isn't to turn you off, all of the negative points I've brought up are VERY minor relatively speaking. Exposure to UV-C won't kill you, ozone creation isn't off the charts or even something many people care about or notice to begin with. These are just my personal findings. But it is SO cool and so reassuring to know you have the ability to safely decontaminate something you may find suspicious when you bring it into your house. Use it on your groceries, the cans of beer/coke you buy in convenience stores, your shoes, your face masks, anything you want. The s̶k̶y̶'s drawer capacity's the limit. Now here’s the finished product with Alexa integration!

Stay safe out there!

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