Germicidal lamps utilize ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) to break down harmful microorganisms. Germicidal lamps are effective in combating pathogens, viruses, and molds. Germicidal lamps are frequently used in applications involving the purification of water, air, and food for human consumption, but may also be used for water purification in aquariums and ponds. Many applications also exist for germicidal lamps in laboratory settings. Traditionally, germicidal lamps have been used for medical sanitation and sterile work facilities, but now germicidal lamps are used commonly to sterilize air and drinking water. Once germicidal lamps were only found in laboratories, but germicidal lamps are now commonly found in household devices.

Germicidal lamps use short wavelength UV to disrupt an organism's DNA. Thus, germicidal lamps remove an organism's reproductive capabilities and eventually kills the organism. Most naturally occurring UV waves are blocked by the earth's atmosphere. Devices using germicidal lamps directly expose micro-organisms to UV by trapping air and water, for example, within the device for concentrated exposure. Only direct UV exposure, like that provided by germicidal lamps, will sterilize an object.

Some wavelengths of UV are harmful to humans and other forms of life. Exposure to UV from germicidal lamps can cause sunburn and even cancer in some cases. UV light from germicidal lamps can cause eye damage and/or blindness. Most devices utilizing germicidal lamps shield the user from UV exposure and will shut-off automatically if opened. Obviously, germicidal lamps should only be used in devices designed for use with germicidal lamps.

Germicidal lamps are similar in design to standard fluorescent lamps, but they do not have a phosphor coating on the inside of the glass, thus germicidal lamps are clear. Like fluorescent lamps, germicidal lamps require a ballast in order to operate. Also like fluorescent lamps, wattage between a germicidal lamps and it's ballast must correlate (i.e. ballasts are designed to run a specific lamp wattage). Germicidal lamps require ballasts specifically designed to operate germicidal lamps.

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