Posted by Doug Root on 9th Mar 2021

A Guide to the Different Types of UV Light Bulbs and their Uses

Here at Atlanta Light Bulbs, we sell a lot of fluorescent lights, incandescent lights, halogen lights, and LED lights, along with fixtures and other components of lighting circuits. We also sell a wide range of specialty light bulbs, including a variety of UV light bulbs, which have a wide range of specialized applications.

While many light bulbs are used for the purposes of visual illumination, UV bulbs, which produce little visible light, are not used for area illumination. Instead, they have a large range of applications ranging from disinfection and sterilization to curing inks and polymers. They are also very different and some are even dangerous to human health, so understanding the different types and their uses is very important.

To understand how these interesting light bulbs work, we need to have a basic understanding of what UV radiation - short for ultraviolet radiation - is, as well as the effects it produces.

What is Ultraviolet Radiation?

Ultraviolet radiation is often referred to as ultraviolet light, despite the fact that most UV light is invisible to the human eye. The wavelength of UV light is so small that it is measured in nanometers (often shortened to nm), and these wavelengths are right on the shortest end of the visible spectrum, extended into the invisible.

Ultraviolet light is naturally produced by the sun and is the type of radiation that is responsible for producing a tan in human skin. However, it is also responsible for sunburn and is implicated in skin cancer as well, which is why exposure to it must be limited. Much UV radiation does not reach the ground; a lot of it is absorbed by the atmosphere or is reflected back into space.

A Wide Range of Uses

Humans have developed quite a large range of uses for UV radiation, which we will explore below. One of the uses for UV light that we will not address at length in this blog is its utility in producing fluorescent lights.

Fluorescence is a process by which certain materials will glow with visible light when they are exposed to UV radiation. Fluorescent lights contain an inner tube and another tube coated with phosphor powders, which glow when irradiated with UV light.

This is one specific process, but it is responsible for many of the following uses for UV light that we will address. To learn more about fluorescent lights, check out our primer on fluorescent lights.

UVA Lights - Black Light Blue and Black Lights

There is a class of UV lamps that emit UV radiation that is known as UVA or UV-A radiation. UVA radiation has the longest wavelength of all forms of UV radiation and UVA lights are commonly called black light blue or black lights. This is the form in which most people probably are familiar with UV lights, as these are the pale purple lights that are commonly used in clubs and for accent lighting. Because they are right on the border of visible light, UVA light is detectable as a pale purple glow.

These types of UV light bulbs have a large range of commercial and recreational uses, including but not limited to the following.

1.They look cool

First off, they look really cool. A lot of people keep them in their homes to create that “club-like” glow that makes white clothing glow a bright blue or purple. The reason for this is that bright white items like clothing and paper are usually treated with phosphors (a fluorescent material) so that they appear brighter. These lights are frequently used in clubs, bars, and other public gathering areas to produce this familiar effect.

2.Inspecting sinks, kitchens, and bathrooms

Small, portable UV black light blue lamps (or black-lights) can also be used to inspect areas of your home for signs of waste or improper cleaning. For example, some forms of human waste are fluorescent, as are some cleaners, so you can illuminate your sink or your bathroom with a black-light to see if there are any areas that need additional cleaning.

3.Inspecting for signs of pet stains and other damage to furniture and flooring

Similar to how black lights can be used to detect some human waste, they can also be used to detect pet waste as well. This is useful for home inspectors and potential buyers because they can see how flooring and carpeting have been kept in the past. Even when pet waste has been cleaned up, it will leave behind a telltale, fluorescent sign. Simply illuminate any areas you want to check for areas of pet stains or other damage, and if you see a glow, you’ll be able to see where it occurred.

4.Inspecting for signs of vermin such as mice

Continuing in this trend, UVA light can also be used to inspect for signs of infestation. Exterminators and other specialists sometimes use black lights to check for signs of rat or mice populations, since the mice and other vermin will leave behind telltale fluorescent signs that will glow under a black light. This is one of the reasons that pest specialists can often be seen with black-light in hand (or in pocket) but it can also be useful for those inspecting a home to see how well it has been kept free of pests.

5.Attracting insects to bug zappers

Have you ever noticed that bug zappers glow with an eerie purplish-blue light? Probably, since all bug zappers do and it’s like their defining feature. The reason for this is that they emit UV light - but why?

Interestingly enough, flowers and other sources of food for insects also reflect UV light from the sun, which is one of the reasons that UV light draws bugs, literally, like “moths to a flame.” Then, once the insects have been drawn too close, the zapper zaps them with a jolt of electricity.

6.Detecting counterfeit art, banknotes, identification, and more

Black lights can also be used to detect counterfeit art and banknotes, as many treasuries treat their currency with fluorescent compounds in very intricate patterns or stamps that are hard to replicate and will show up under a black light. Another interesting use for UVA radiation is in validating and verifying official forms of identification. For example, many states’ driver’s licenses have special fluorescent markings that only show up when irradiated with UV light. This makes it harder to produce counterfeits and easier to detect real forms of ID.

7.Inspecting equipment and vehicles for fluid leaks

Another very interesting fact about UV lights is that they can be used to check for a variety of leaks in vehicles and industrial equipment. Many oils, lubricants, antifreeze, and other industrial and mechanical liquids are treated with a special fluorescent tracer. This is invisible under normal circumstances, but it makes the liquid glow under a black light. That way, when a mechanic has a concern that a car might be leaking a precious fluid, for example, all they need to do is light up the engine bay or the undercarriage to check for sure signs of a leak. This has many other industrial applications as well.

8.Curing polymers, dyes, and pigments

Certain wavelengths of UV light are also useful for curing dyes, drying printer inks, and polymerizing certain agents. Some printers use inks that are specifically dried and cured with exposure to UV light, for example. Some UV radiation is also used in the form of nail lamps to dry nails and cure epoxy.

This application of UV radiation makes longer wavelengths of UV light extremely useful in some commercial applications. However, very specific wavelengths of UV are required for curing given compounds, so you’ll need to know exactly what you’re working with and what you need, for this purpose.

9.Tanning beds

UVA radiation, as well as UVB radiation, are commonly used in tanning beds. The exact type of wavelength emitted will vary according to the manufacturer of the bulbs and the type of tanning bed, but they have been used extensively in the past for this purpose.

UVB Bulbs

Another form of UV radiation, UVB radiation, is made of wavelengths that are slightly shorter than UVA light. UVB light only makes it to the surface of the Earth in relatively small amounts, but it is one of the forms of radiation that is most responsible for tanning human skin. While it is not as harmful as UVC light which we will explore below, overexposure to UVB light is damaging to your skin and eyes. Though overexposure to UVB light causes sunburn, it has a few interesting uses.

Uses for UVB Bulbs

1.Tanning beds

Some tanning beds use a combination of UVA and UVB bulbs, so it’s reasonable to list this as a primary use of UVB radiation.

2.For some pets (namely reptiles) - Vitamin D3 synthesis and calcium absorption

An interesting and highly specific use of UVB radiation is more familiar to herpetologists and others who keep reptiles as pets. A common problem among domestically-kept reptiles is calcium deficiency, which is one of the reasons that reptiles’ diets are so often supplemented with calcium powder. However, you can’t just give them more calcium. They also need to have adequate access to UVB light, which helps them synthesize vitamin D3 and enables them to better absorb calcium. That’s why some pet shops sell specialized UVB lights for reptile enclosures.

UVC Lights - Otherwise Known as Germicidal UV Bulbs

Finally, we have UVC lights, which emit UV C light, which is the most harmful form of UV radiation. These lights are also occasionally known as germicidal lights because they are expressly used to disinfect surfaces and kill germs.

This very short - and hazardous - wavelength of UV radiation penetrates a cell’s nucleus of a virus’s capsule and permanently destroys its genetic material. This makes it impossible for the cell or the virus to reproduce, effectively killing it. These lights are useful for killing all forms of microbes and viruses, including the virus that causes the human disease SARS-CoV2, also known as COVID-19.

Uses for Germicidal UV Light Bulbs

Because UV C light is so effective at disinfection and sterilization, it is widely used for a variety of purposes associated with these needs. However, extreme care and caution must be practiced when handling these lights as they are extremely hazardous to human health.

1.Sterilizing medical equipment

Among the many things for which UVC lights are useful is their role in sterilizing a variety of medical tools, equipment, and surfaces. Not only are these types of UV lights useful for sterilizing equipment and surfaces, but they are also useful for preventing the spread of diseases between patients as well as preventing cross-contamination.

2.Sanitizing food preparation surfaces

Speaking of cross-contamination, germicidal UV lamps are highly useful in disinfecting surfaces and utensils used in food preparation. Food services providers widely use UV lamps to keep their equipment and surfaces clean, keeping them sterile between uses and preventing cross-contamination and blooms of pathogens.

3.Treating wastewater

UV C radiation has a very short wavelength and exhibits a wide range of ability to penetrate a variety of materials. This makes it effective for treating wastewater to prevent the spread of microscopic pathogens. Many wastewater treatment facilities include UV treatment as a component of their disinfection.

4.Air disinfection (Sometimes used in hospitals and operating rooms)

Some hospitals also use UV lights to disinfect the air in high-risk, sterile environments, such as in operating rooms, where sterility is of the utmost importance.

Still have questions about UV lights? Want to learn more about the UV light bulbs that we sell here at Atlanta Light Bulbs? We’re always ready to help or to answer your questions about our products. Get in touch with us by giving us a call at 1-888-988-2852 and let us know what you need. We’ve been renowned for our customer service for over 40 years, and we’d be more than happy to assist you.

Otherwise, take a look through some of the links in these articles to learn more about the specific types of UV lights, including black lights, and fluorescent lights that we sell.

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