Ellumi Blue Light Special LEDs Kill Bacteria in Kitchen and Bathroom

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White kitchen with indicators of where germs are likely to be


But is it too much of a good thing?

Kitchen counters can be yucky, and cleaning them with a rag or sponge might just be moving the stuff around. TreeHugger has long objected to the use of antibacterial cleaners, which makes these Ellumi under-cabinet lights really interesting. They pump out visible light at wavelengths that have been proven to inhibit bacteria reproduction and destroy cells. They explain:

“The light excites certain molecules in harmful microorganisms through photo-activation. These molecules produce Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), causing cell wall damage and death over time.” Studies in hospitals showed that it works:

Chart showing antibacterial experiment
Open Forum Infectious Diseases / CC BY 2.0 

This study demonstrates that the LED disinfecting lights significantly reduced the microbial surface contamination in a trauma room at 15 weeks, even when room usage increased. The results suggest that LED Disinfection may not produce immediate results. However, over time, the lights are effective at reducing the overall microbial contamination.

Better Than Chemical Disinfectants

Vital Vio, which makes the commercial version, explains that the light is not ultraviolet but visible at 405 nanometers, which is deep blue light. Colleen Costello, president and cofounder of Ellumi, tells Fast Company why this is better than disinfectants or other technologies:

“There were different intermittent solutions, like wiping or washing [the area] once a day or large ultraviolet or chemical systems that would bomb the room, but they’re harmful to be used around people,” she explains. “I know I’m busy just like everybody else, and I don’t clean my countertop every single day.”

Reservations and Concerns

Light fixtures

I do have some reservations and concerns. When one looks at the Vital Vio site, the lights are being used in places where they are on constantly. Under-counter lights in homes are usually just on for a bit of time; if the plan with these is to leave them on all the time, each fixture is drawing about 9 watts. With a few fixtures, the load adds up; it's not much, but it is a constant dribble of electricity consumption.

Perhaps a bigger problem is that raised by Amber Case in a recent Medium post, Why Blue Light Is So Bad: The Science — And Some Solutions. She discusses HEV (High energy visible) blue light in the 380–500 nanometer range, with particular concern for the 415–455 nanometer range as being the most harmful. (The Ellumi lights pump out 405 nanometers.) She is particularly worried about light from screens, and actually recommends that in kitchens we should consider putting “drapes” over smart appliances, “so they doesn’t blast you into insomnia, when you go into the kitchen for a late night glass of water. Appliances with LED-based bulbs are another common culprit.” However, I have edited this post because when I tweeted her about this I got this response:

Chart of germs in bathroom

On the whole, I think the Ellumi lights are a wonderful idea; when it is available, I want to buy the pot light version for my bathroom where we have an intermittent mould problem. But I am thinking twice, especially with my new eyeball 2.0 which lets HEV light in. Killing bacteria is nice, but it might be that too much blue light isn’t.