I’m going to be blunt. There is airborne feces in your bathroom, and it’s landing on your toothbrush. You are brushing your teeth with poo particles, and the closer your toilet is to your sink, the worse it is. If you find headlines like “ Experts Warn Of Fecal-Oral Transmission of Covid-19” to be overly breathless, go straight to the source: There’s peer-reviewed scientific literature about the “toilet plume aerosol” effect, and lots of it.
While these toilet fairies will land on every surface of your bathroom, it’s the toothbrush that draws the most attention, for the obvious reason that you put it in your mouth twice a day. Typical advice is to keep your toothbrush as far away from the toilet as possible, but is there really such a thing as “far enough away” in a situation like this? (Pro tip: Whatever you do, close the lid of your toilet when you flush it.)
Here’s one high-tech solution: Sterilize your toothbrush every time you use it, using the power of ultraviolet light, which has a long history of being effective at killing bacteria and viruses. While this technology was once limited to the medical and industrial communities, thanks to the advent of UV-C LEDs, it’s become easy to embed germ-killing light in small consumer gadgetry, particularly those designed for toothbrush sanitizing. I obtained five such devices, most of which are available from Amazon, purpose-made for the task.
But before I dive into the reviews, some caveats. First off, the jury’s out on how long it takes UV-C to kill various germs. Many will die in a matter of seconds, but some hardy bugs (potentially including Covid-19) can survive half an hour or more. All but one of the devices in this roundup run for less than 10 minutes. Second, UV-C LEDs are far from standardized, and there are numerous reports of fake consumer devices on the market that don’t generate UV-C radiation at all. I don’t have the equipment to measure the ultraviolet wavelengths being emitted by the devices, nor did I perform any petri dish testing on sterilized brushes to see how germless they were after cleaning. As such, these reviews are primarily concerned with the design, build quality, features, and usability of the devices tested.
Seago UV Sterilizer
This stand-alone $18 sterilizer is powered by three AAA batteries (not included) and looks a lot like an electric pencil sharpener. The top of the device has slots to two toothbrushes. In theory, you just drop your brush into one and press the large button on front to fire up the UV, which runs for up to 8 minutes per press. In practice, it’s a little trickier to manage. A small channel inside the unit is designed to direct the brush heads so they face the light source, but I found I always had to manually finagle them into place so they wouldn’t have their back to the light. There’s no mirrored surface to reflect the UV rays, and a lip that stretches down into the chamber can shade the top of your brush, depending on how it’s situated. It’s nothing fancy, but if you need a countertop toothbrush holder that doubles as a workable sanitizer, this does at least make for a passable—and very inexpensive—solution. Just note that it’s tough to find at US retailers right now, but it could reappear soon. Rating: 6/10, Seago.cn
LocknLock Travel Sanitizer
The LocknLock sanitizer is unique in that it’s designed to go with you: The single-brush unit is about the size of a Zippo and weighs next to nothing. To use it, just snap the top around the head of your toothbrush, and the UV light automatically fires up. (Running time is just 3 minutes.) The device recharges via a mini-USB port, which makes it even easier to pack in your bug-out bag; a cable is included but not an A/C adapter. During use, a mirrored panel helps to reflect the UV light onto all the surfaces of the brush—at least if your brush head isn’t enormous. It’s also available in your choice of three pastel colorss, and some tape-back magnets are included if you want to mount it to the wall instead of taking it to go. A slightly-larger double-brush unit—otherwise basically identical—runs $31. Thanks to its demure size and flexibility, it’s my top pick in this roundup – provided you don’t have to serve the sanitization needs of a large family. Rating: 8/10 (WIRED Recommends), $26 at Amazon.
Pursonic S20 UV Toothbrush Sanitizer
While I was testing it, Pursonic’s basic sanitizer system was both the largest and the bluest thing on my bathroom countertop. The somewhat flimsy, all-plastic device—which touts unexplained “ozone and photo catalyst technology”—stands the size of a hefty paperback and has room for up to five toothbrushes. Or, as intended, four toothbrushes and a razor, owing to the wider slot on the left side of the device. Sadly, the placement of the holding clips means that many modern razors won’t fit inside the unit. A Gillette Fusion5 was much too large for the Pursonic, but if you use a smaller razor you should be fine. The device is especially large because the entirety of each brush fits inside, not just the head, so while the UV bulbs are aimed exclusively at the bristles, they probably bounce around a bit to help disinfect the handles too.