Skip to Content

Ultraviolet Lamps

Ultraviolet (UV) lamps are useful germicidal tools, but they also pose a potential health hazard. The following sections provide essential safety information for working with UV lamps and light.

Health Hazards

Exposure to UV radiation can cause extreme discomfort and serious injury. Therefore, you must protect your eyes and skin from direct and reflected UV light. Pay particular attention to laboratory surfaces, such as stainless steel, that can reflect UV light and increase your UV exposure.

The effect of UV radiation overexposure depends on UV dosage, wave length, portion of body exposed, and the sensitivity of the individual. Overexposure of the eyes may produce painful inflammation, a gritty sensation, and/or tears within three to twelve hours. Overexposure of the skin will produce reddening (i.e., sunburn) within one to eight hours. Certain medication can cause an individual to be more reactive to UV light.

Personal Protective Equipment

Adequate eye and skin protection are essential when working around UV radiation. Before entering a laboratory with ultraviolet installations, you must turn off the lights or wear protective equipment (e.g., goggles, cap, gown, and gloves).

Safety glasses with side shields or goggles with solid side pieces are the only equipments that provide adequate eye protection against direct and reflected UV light.

Germicidal Function

UV radiation is particularly useful in the laboratory when combined with other methods for decontamination and disinfection. UV radiation is used primarily to reduce the number of microorganisms in the air and on surfaces. It is most effective against vegetative bacteria.

UV rays can only kill organisms that are invisible to the naked eye. To be effective, UV rays must directly strike the microorganisms. If microorganisms are shielded by a coating of organic material (e.g., culture medium), the UV light will be ineffective.

Ultraviolet lamps lose germicidal effectiveness over time and may need to be replaced even though the lamp has not burned out. It may be necessary to replace the lamp according to the manufacturer's recommendations. There are two types of UV lamps – hot cathode and cold cathode. The hot cathode lamp has two pins at each end, and the cold cathode lamp has one pin at each end. Manufacturers recommend that hot cathode lamps should be replaced every six months and that cold cathode lamps should be replaced every 12 months.

In addition to replacing UV lamps as indicated above, follow these guidelines to maintain UV lamps:

  • Regularly wipe cool, unlit UV lamp bulbs with a soft cloth moistened with alcohol. (Dust can decrease the effectiveness of a UV lamp.)
  • Do not touch a UV bulb with your bare hands. The natural oils on your hand may leave a fingerprint and create dead space on the bulb's surface.

May 2011
Revised November 2014