With many schools searching for ways that they can safely resume classes in the fall, we have seen an influx of alternative methods for disinfecting devices being offered by various vendors. After all, the route of manually wiping down every Chromebook, laptop, or tablet would be a time-consuming effort. The frequency with which these devices will be used once school starts again makes this very inconvenient, if not impossible.
As a manufacturer of mobile device charging solutions for schools, we have also researched alternatives to this as part of our mission to provide our customers with useful new solutions that are both effective and safe to use. We are going to share with you some of the pros and cons that we have found through the process of reviewing some common technologies. Although we do not offer products or services that incorporate any of these methods currently, they are available, so you may have heard about them recently or may have even considered implementing one of them.
UV-C light has been used to disinfect mobile devices for more than a decade now and even longer for disinfecting air and water.
- Manufacturers of products using UV-C light tout its effectiveness in inactivating 99.99% of bacteria and viruses and claim that it is completely safe for devices. They do admit that continuous long term exposure to the bulbs can cause discoloration in plastics, much like the effect of UV light from the sun.
- The bulbs that are used are somewhat expensive. When implemented in charging carts in a way that light can reach all areas of the device, this can raise the cost of the cart or cabinet significantly.
- The light must be touching every area of the device for it to work. Chromebooks and laptops that are commonly used in schools cannot be properly disinfected in a cart using UV-C because the light cannot reach the keyboard or screen with the device in the closed position.
- There are one-device disinfecting systems for tablets and wands for general disinfecting, but those require devices to be handled individually. The devices also need to be exposed to the light for some time to be disinfected. When you are dealing with a large number of devices, you may find these to be not much easier than wiping down each device.
- There is cause for concern over the fact that UV-C products can cause damage to skin and eyes, so if you do choose to use these products, be sure to take proper precautions to avoid exposure.
- Different viruses and bacteria also vary greatly in how much exposure is required to inactivate them. If you are targeting something in specific, you will want to verify that the product and the way you are using the product works for that.
- At least one device manufacturer has recently commented on the many inquiries that they have received regarding whether or not UV-C light is safe to use on their products. Dell wrote on their website “While we are aware of products in the marketplace that use UV-C for cleaning items such as cell phones, we have no independent data or information regarding its use, efficacy, or issues that may arise. We have been unable to find any specific industry aging tests that are defined exclusively for exposure to UV-C.”
Ozone gas is a disinfectant used in products that employ an ozone gas generator. Aside from industrial uses, the most popularized type of ozone gas consumer product available is marketed as an air purifier, used to deodorize and sterilize. Ozone gas is used in products that are sold to disinfect CPAP machines. There are also cabinets and similar enclosures which utilize ozone gas for disinfecting, some of which also use UV-C light.
- The benefit of using ozone gas for disinfecting devices over UV-C light is that it could potentially be more affordable and the gas can permeate all areas of a cart or cabinet. That means that laptops and Chromebooks could be disinfected in the closed position and in bulk quantities.
- Ozone is a toxic gas that can cause respiratory damage if inhaled. For it to be effective as a disinfectant, it must be present in concentrations that are higher than what is considered safe for human health. If you are considering using this type of product for disinfecting devices, you will want to make sure that the gas cannot escape the enclosure and that it will be used in areas that will not be occupied for an appropriate amount of time. According to the FDA, in their independent testing of ozone generators used to disinfect CPAP machines, they found that when the gas leaks out of the machines it can cause the concentration of ozone in the room to temporarily rise to unsafe levels, especially when the room is small or not well ventilated. OSHA and the EPA have established guidelines for acceptable limits for the presence of ozone in the air.
- Be aware that ozone possesses strong oxidative properties, which make it a great sterilizer, but also causes corrosion in some metals and degrades certain plastics.
- Ozone is approved for use in disinfecting food, potable water, and reusable medical equipment, however, these processes are different than the uses of ozone gas described above. They are also performed under controlled conditions to ensure safety.
Electrostatic spraying is a service that is being offered to schools as a method of disinfecting their technology. Essentially, these sprayers are used to apply sanitizing liquids in a thin, even layer.
- This is much faster than other, more manual methods of sanitizing a space, can cover surfaces more thoroughly than manual methods, and it uses less sanitizer since it is applied more effectively.
- Studies have found a correlation between the use of electrostatic sprayers for cleaning school facilities in place of traditional methods and a reduction in absenteeism.
- Although intended to be applied as a fine mist, this is a liquid application. Device manufacturer instructions for care and maintenance of their devices typically warn against spraying devices directly with liquids. As such, this disinfecting method might be more appropriate for doorknobs and desks than Chromebooks and laptops.
- Sanitizers are regulated by the EPA as registered pesticide products, so they each have product labeling outlining proper use that should be reviewed before broadly applying them. Compatibility for use on different surfaces as well as required protective gear depends on the type of liquid sanitizer that is used.
- Operators of electrostatic sprayers should be properly trained on the safe use of the equipment.
Through the advice of our government agencies and that of the major device manufacturers, the method of wiping down devices with 70% alcohol and 30% water still seems to be the most recommended and sure-fire way to disinfect devices. While we hope that you find this information useful, we recommend consulting experts and government regulating agencies regarding the safety and efficacy of these products. You may also find our previous blog post "From School to Home: Tips on Sanitizing Laptops and Tablets" helpful.