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Can a pair of jeans kill the coronavirus?

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Are we asking too much from our jeans? Maybe. They’re expected to wick sweat, sculpt our behinds, and provide full-body motion for squats and lunges, all while exuding a cool-but-not-trying-too-hard vibe. And now, in these After Times, they’re also supposed to keep the coronavirus — the same one that has killed more than 1 million people worldwide and sent whole economies crashing — at bay. Possibly.

There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical, but that isn’t stopping denim brands such as Diesel, DL1961, and Warp + Weft from promoting jeans purported to squelch any traces of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, that presume to land on their surfaces.

They’re in good company. Italy’s Albini Group, which supplies dress shirts to luxury brands like Armani and Prada, is touting new Viroformula fabrics that use silver to “inhibit viruses and kill bacteria upon contact on the surface in a few minutes.” In London, Vollebak wove 7 miles of copper, another purported germ slayer, to create a “full metal jacket” for a “new era of disease on Earth.” US Denim Mills, which manufactures sustainable denim clothing in Pakistan, is inoculating its antiviral collection, dubbed “Safe for US,” with silver, copper, and the less commonly used peppermint. Los Angeles company Lambs sells a “snapback” glove you can slip on when opening doors and let dangle from your belt loop when you don’t need it. It’s clad in a patented silver-threaded fabric that “prevents virus or microbe accumulation.”

None of these manifested out of thin air. Antimicrobial textile finishes, the secret sauce behind BO-blasting gym shorts and sports bras, have been targeting odor-causing bacteria for decades, though few if any made claims of killing viruses, which are a different type of microorganism altogether.

Buoyed by the cresting popularity of “athleisure” that blurred the lines between activewear and everyday clothing in the early 2010s, the products enjoyed a rapid ascendancy. Their foothold slipped several rungs a few years ago, however, after studies emerged that silver nanoparticles, their most common ingredient, could breach body tissues and potentially disrupt cellular processes or damage DNA. Some experts suggested at the time that encapsulating ourselves in bacteria-zapping clothing could even throw our microbiomes — that is, the trillions of naturally occurring microorganisms, including those on our skin, that are essential to healthy bodily functions — out of whack. Warnings also sounded that nanoscale silver, which is invisible to the human eye, could slough off during laundry, contaminating wastewater and seeping into rivers, lakes, and wetlands to kill fish and other aquatic life.

“A year ago, talking to brands, a lot of them were moving away from these anti-odor treatments because they didn’t see the benefits really outweighing the risks,” says Martin Mulvihill, a researcher and adviser at the Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry and the co-founder of Safer Made, a Connecticut venture capital fund that invests in technologies that reduce human exposure to toxic chemicals. “They basically saw these things don’t really work that well to prevent odor — maybe a little bit for polyester on workout clothes — but for the most part they couldn’t justify the cost of using potentially harmful chemicals.”

But Covid-19 has brought the category surging back with a vengeance, rejiggered for a new age of hypervigilance and anxiety wherein invisible dangers lurk in every grocery aisle, classroom, and public park. Though still silver-based, these new formulations incorporate macro rather than nano versions, do not alter the skin’s microflora, and are certified free of harmful substances by textiles-testing standard-bearers such as Bluesign and Oeko-Tex, according to their manufacturers.

But Mulvihill sees them as more of the same-old, dusted off the shelf because a marketing opportunity suddenly presented itself. “I was disappointed because I saw these things kind of cycling out of the supply chain, and now they’ve gotten a huge boost,” he says. “And whether or not they’re actually doing any good is a good question.”

They might confuse people even further. Certainly consumers don’t always know what to look for. In March — when the lockdowns started — retail intelligence platform Edited saw a 133 percent spike in the number of products described online as containing antibacterial technology compared with the month before, as safety and hygiene suddenly sprang “front of mind,” says Kayla Marci, an Edited market analyst. But as their names imply, antibacterial treatments target bacteria, whereas antivirals zone in on viruses — meaning those products wouldn’t work on SARS-CoV-2 anyway.

What are “antimicrobial” treatments, and what are they supposed to protect you from?

Antimicrobial finishes take a broad-spectrum approach, blitzing viruses, bacteria, and other pathogenic microorganisms with equal aplomb — in theory, anyway. Companies sometimes “promote” an antibacterial treatment to an antimicrobial one by tweaking the dose of the chemical, which has to be stronger to snuff out viruses. That’s basically what Polygiene did when it launched ViralOff, its antiviral technology, in April, not long after Covid-19 graduated from burgeoning epidemic to full-fledged pandemic.

The Swedish chemicals company, whose signature “stay fresh” recipe infuses compression tights from Adidas, wrinkle-free Untuckit button-downs, and women’s suiting from M.M.LaFleur, adapted its bacteria-inhibiting silver-chloride active ingredient to strike against SARS-CoV-2. It has now partnered with Diesel to bring the jean maker’s “virus-fighting” denim and “always on” technology to stores next spring. The agreement is exclusive — only Diesel’s jeans will sport this particular treatment.

ViralOff doesn’t kill the coronavirus per se. It ruptures the bubble of fatty lipid molecules that surround the pathogen, inactivating it so it can’t replicate or hijack another host, thus curbing “any further evildoing,” says Polygiene’s marketing manager Niklas Brosnan. In September, Polygiene declared itself the world’s first ISO-approved commercial textiles treatment to reduce SARS-CoV-2 by more than 99 percent over two hours, which Brosnan says bodes well not only for consumers but also for shop assistants who don’t have to sanitize or sequester a garment just because someone tried it on.

The treatment, which is applied to the fabric at the finishing stages of production, is rated for 20 washes without a decline in efficacy. Since any garment will inevitably shed fibers — along with any protective chemical — when wrung through the spin cycle, for best performance (and maximum planet-friendliness) Polygiene advises consumers to wash less frequently and only when necessary. (The sustainability angle is something the company takes pains to emphasize. “The less you wash things, the better they’re going to hold up,” Brosnan says. “And, of course, that provides a much bigger energy savings as well.”)

One downside: Consumers can’t reapply ViralOff on depleted garments because the company has strict controls about the chemical saturation per weight of fabric. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Hoi Kwan Lam, chief marketing officer at HeiQ, the Swiss firm imbuing all new jeans from DL1961 and Warp + Weft with its Viroblock treatment, recently showed off over Zoom a sleek reapplication spray currently being validated for consumer use. (The finish has been tested to last up to 40 washes at 140 degrees Fahrenheit.) “We haven’t shown this to press yet,” she says with a tone of glee. “But we plan to go to market really soon.”

First developed in response to the Ebola crisis in 2013, then swiftly revalidated as soon as the first coronavirus warning signs came out of Wuhan in China, Viroblock has been tested according to ISO standards to reduce concentrations of SARS-CoV-2 and other types of viruses by 99.9 percent in 30 minutes, Lam says, making its technology especially appealing to face-mask manufacturers who have overwhelmed the company with urgent requests. A zipper manufacturer worked with HeiQ to create the “world’s first antimicrobial zipper.” It’s even developing an “antiviral mattress” with Serta Simmons Bedding.

Lam describes the treatment as a “silver and vesicle” technology that uses globules of encapsulated fat known as liposomes to drain the virus’s membrane of its cholesterol content and leave its innards vulnerable to attack by silver ions. Not that HeiQ can say any of this in the United States: Because of EPA and FDA regulations, neither HeiQ nor Polygiene — nor the brands they work with — can make claims, however tangentially, that might be construed as medical assertions. Companies without explicit approval to do so can be subject to legal action such as seizures or injunctions. Rather, companies are limited to either describing antimicrobial treatments as protecting the textile itself or employing euphemisms like “self-sanitizing” and letting customers connect the dots. “We cannot talk about the transferred benefit to the users themselves,” Lam says.

Virus-fighting clothing might not be effective, but they may also be here to stay

With apparel spending poised to shrink by as much as 30 percent this year, according to McKinsey & Company, it stands to reason that brands and retailers are desperate to do something — anything — to win back hearts and wallets. Denim, in particular, has ceded its supremacy to sweatpants, leggings, and other soft, elasticized bottoms as we spend increasing amounts of time at home. G-Star Raw, Lucky Brand, and True Religion filed for bankruptcy in the aftermath of the outbreak. Levi’s third-quarter sales tumbled 27 percent year over year because of reduced traffic due to lockdown-related store closures. Could antimicrobial jeans be partly born of desperation?

“Denim losses have recovered somewhat since the depths of the pandemic; however, sales are still down compared to last year,” says Neil Saunders, managing director of retail at GlobalData, a research firm and consultancy. Whether the Hail Mary works remains to be seen. Slumping consumer demand isn’t because denim is seen as unsanitary but because people are going out less and dressing down more. Still, Saunders doesn’t see this trend going away soon, even if we manage to get a handle on this contagion. “The rise of the ‘sterilized society’ will drive demand for all sorts of products claiming to reduce microbes, bacteria, and other nasties, including apparel,” he says.

Diesel CEO Massimo Piombini says the brand’s upcoming jeans, which will not be more expensive than its untreated ones, are an “important tool” to offer its customers. “We’re already protecting ourselves from coronavirus with masks, visors, and hand sanitizer,” he wrote in an email. “Now we can add the latest must-have in our Covid-fighting [arsenal] with antiviral clothing.” Washing, which people are doing more of, he says, takes time, is inconvenient, and “more importantly, puts a huge strain on the environment.” The ViralOff jeans would mitigate this need.

The HeiQ-enhanced jeans from DL1961 and Warp + Weft won’t cost any extra, either, says Ryan Lombard, PR manager at DL1961 — which falls under the same parent company, Pakistan’s Artistic Denim Mills, as Warp + Weft. “This is just an added benefit to protect our customers,” he says.

Even so, questions continue to swirl around the effectiveness of antimicrobial clothing as a Covid-19 defense. Antiviral face coverings might be a different matter; as far as we know, the main way the virus spreads is through respiratory droplets and aerosols spewed by talking, coughing, and sneezing, not via surfaces below the neck. It’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges people to practice hand hygiene, wear masks, and maintain a physical distance of 6 feet from others, rather than rely on nostrums and quick fixes. The coronavirus is also blessedly susceptible to soap. Washing clothes with regular laundry detergent and giving them a whirl in the dryer is enough to remove any SARS-CoV-2 that might have hitched a ride, however unlikely.

“I worry in this situation,” says Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease epidemiologist and assistant professor at George Mason University. “There’s a lot of selling of products, based off fear, that really aren’t going to be effective. I would rather people be vigilant in masking, distancing, hand hygiene, cleaning and disinfection, and avoiding crowded indoor settings.”

Even more worrisome than possible “Covid-washing,” say scientists like Mulvehill of Safer Made, is the current scorched-earth approach to germ warfare that could roll back years of efforts to tamp down the harsh chemistries we’ve been inflicting on our environments, often to the detriment of our overcoddled immune systems, which need “good bacteria” to thrive and beat off disease. It makes sense, at the peak of the coronavirus peril, to deploy maximum firepower and leave nothing to chance, yet Mulvehill isn’t sure if this is the “right response in the long term” in all but the riskiest of environments (read: hospitals). And while the EPA and the FDA take measures to sort the quacks from the credible for most health products — like, say, bogus vaccines or unregistered disinfectants — clothes, he says, are “much more of a Wild West.”

For Ashley J. Holding, an organic chemist and principal of Circular Materials Solutions, a circular economy consultancy in Manchester, England, antimicrobial textiles could complicate existing attempts to manage the deluge of garment waste — thanks, fast fashion — flooding landfills every day, especially if prognostications that such treatments will become the new normal come to pass.

Though the science is scant, biocides may stymie the biodegradability of natural fibers, since microbes are responsible for breaking down organic matter. Textile recyclers, already hesitant about reintroducing materials that could threaten product safety due to uncertain chemical content, may balk at the prospect of including more additives of dubious provenance, though the reality is that we simply don’t know what will happen. “It’s a question of scale and proportion, really,” Holding says.

It’s also important to note that not all antimicrobials are created equal, cautions Rachel McQueen, an associate professor at the University of Alberta who specializes in textile science. Not every technology that claims to stifle viruses will live up to its hype or translate seamlessly from sterile lab conditions to the imperfect real world, and snake oil salesmen will, unfortunately, always abound. Buying from reputable, “tried-and-true” companies, McQueen says, is key, though she admits her own personal selection would be fairly narrow.

“Maybe I would wear a mask [with] effective antimicrobials on it,” McQueen allows. “Jeans, probably not.”


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All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year

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(CNN) —  

Throughout the year, CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.

Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.

So, as we enter peak gifting season, if you’re on the hunt for the perfect gift, we know you’ll find something on this list that they (or you!) will absolutely love.

Coffee

Best burr coffee grinder: Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder With Digital Timer Display ($249; amazon.com or walmart.com)

Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder
Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder

Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). The best coffee grinder we tested, this sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.

Read more from our testing of coffee grinders here.

Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)

Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker
Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker

During our testing of drip coffee makers, we found the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker made a consistently delicious, hot cup of coffee, brewed efficiently and cleanly, from sleek, relatively compact hardware that is turnkey to operate, and all for a reasonable price.

Read more from our testing of drip coffee makers here.

Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)

Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus
Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus

Among all single-serve coffee makers we tested, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.

Read more from our testing of single-serve coffee makers here.

Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)

Blue Bottle coffee subscription
Blue Bottle coffee subscription

Blue Bottle’s coffee subscription won us over with its balance of variety, customizability and, most importantly, taste. We sampled both the single-origin and blend assortments and loved the flavor of nearly every single cup we made. The flavors are complex and bold but unmistakably delicious. Beyond its coffee, Blue Bottle’s subscription is simple and easy to use, with tons of options to tailor to your caffeine needs.

Read more from our testing of coffee subscriptions here.

Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)

Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot
Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot

This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4 1/4 cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second-most affordable of our inventory.

Read more from our testing of cold brew makers here.

Kitchen essentials

Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)

T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid
T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid

If you’re a minimalist and prefer to have just a single pan in your kitchen, you’d be set with the T-fal E76597. This pan’s depth gives it multipurpose functionality: It cooks standard frying-pan foods like eggs and meats, and its 2 1/2-inch sides are tall enough to prepare recipes you’d usually reserve for pots, like rices and stews. It’s a high-quality and affordable pan that outperformed some of the more expensive ones in our testing field.

Read more from our testing of nonstick pans here.

Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)

Breville Super Q
Breville Super Q

With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.

Read more from our testing of blenders here.

Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)

Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set
Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set

The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.97. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.

Read more from our testing of knife sets here.

Audio

Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)

Apple AirPods Pro
Apple AirPods Pro

Apple’s AirPods Pro hit all the marks. They deliver a wide soundstage, thanks to on-the-fly equalizing tech that produces playback that seemingly brings you inside the studio with the artist. They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide soundstage, easy connectivity and long battery life.

Read more from our testing of true wireless earbuds here.

Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)

Sony WH-1000XM4
Sony WH-1000XM4

Not only do the WH-1000XM4s boast class-leading sound, but phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise. Whether it was a noise from a dryer, loud neighbors down the hall or high-pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable. This is a feat that other headphones, notably the Solo Pros, could not compete with — which is to be expected considering their $348 price tag.

Read more from our testing of noise-canceling headphones here.

Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)

Beats Solo 3
Beats Solo 3

The Beats Solo 3s are a phenomenal pair of on-ear headphones. Their sound quality was among the top of those we tested, pumping out particularly clear vocals and instrumentals alike. We enjoyed the control scheme too, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the left ear cup design. They are also light, comfortable and are no slouch in the looks department — more than you’d expect given their reasonable $199.95 price tag.

Read more from our testing of on-ear headphones here.

Beauty

Best matte lipstick: Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick ($11, originally $22; amazon.com or $22; nordstrom.com and stilacosmetics.com)

Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick
Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick

The Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick has thousands of 5-star ratings across the internet, and it’s easy to see why. True to its name, this product clings to your lips for hours upon hours, burritos and messy breakfast sandwiches be damned. It’s also surprisingly moisturizing for such a superior stay-put formula, a combo that’s rare to come by.

Read more from our testing of matte lipsticks here.

Best everyday liquid liner: Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner ($22; stilacosmetics.com or macys.com)

Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner
Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner

The Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner is a longtime customer favorite — hence its nearly 7,500 5-star reviews on Sephora — and for good reason. We found it requires little to no effort to create a precise wing, the liner has superior staying power and it didn’t irritate those of us with sensitive skin after full days of wear. As an added bonus, it’s available in a whopping 12 shades.

Read more from our testing of liquid eyeliners here.

Work-from-home essentials

Best office chair: Steelcase Series 1 (starting at $381.60; amazon.com or $415, wayfair.com)

Steelcase Series 1
Steelcase Series 1

The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.

Read more from our testing of office chairs here.

Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)

Logitech Ergo K860
Logitech Ergo K860

We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic keyboards here.

Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)

Logitech MX Master 3
Logitech MX Master 3

The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic mice here.

Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)

Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light
Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light

The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $35.40, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.

Read more from our testing of ring lights here.

Home

Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)

Parachute Linen Sheets
Parachute Linen Sheets

Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.

Read more from our testing of linen sheets here.

Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)

Kohler Forte Shower Head
Kohler Forte Shower Head

Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.

Read more from our testing of shower heads here.

Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)

TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier
TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier

The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.

Read more from our testing of humidifiers here.

Video

Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)

TCL 6-Series
TCL 6-Series

With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.

Read more from our testing of TVs here.

Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)

Roku Ultra
Roku Ultra

Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box and the 2020 version is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K.

Read more from our testing of streaming devices here.

Travel

Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)

Away Carry-On
Away Carry-On

The Away Carry-On scored high marks across all our tests and has the best combination of features for the average traveler. Compared with higher-end brands like Rimowa, which retail for hundreds more, you’re getting the same durable materials, an excellent internal compression system and eye-catching style. Add in smart charging capabilities and a lifetime warranty, and this was the bag to beat.

Read more from our testing of carry-on luggage here.

Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)

Anker PowerCore 13000
Anker PowerCore 13000

The Anker PowerCore 13000 shone most was in terms of charging capacity. It boasts 13,000 mAh (maH is a measure of how much power a device puts out over time), which is enough to fully charge an iPhone 11 two and a half times. Plus, it has two fast-charging USB Type-A ports so you can juice a pair of devices simultaneously. While not at the peak in terms of charging capacity, at just $31.99, it’s a serious bargain for so many mAhs.

Read more from our testing of portable chargers here.

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Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained

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Open Sourced logo

Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.
Twitter

Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.
Facebook

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year

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From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.

Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital after an attack in Khost province [Anwarullah/Reuters]

The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

At least 24 people , mostly teens, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Kabul [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Calls for urgent reduction of violence

Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.

Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.

There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.

A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.

But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.

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