The Antimicrobial Properties of Copper—Plus, Why It's Effective Against Viruses Like COVID-19
Plus, a few germ-fighting products to try at home.
Copper is a many-splendored metal. Not only does it deliver electricity into our homes and help clean our drinking water, but it also packs some pretty powerful antimicrobial properties—otherwise known as agents that can kill bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. "The ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians used copper in various forms and formulas to keep water clean and to treat a variety of infections, diseases, and other ailments," explains John Gross, president of John E Gross Consulting Inc. and publisher of The Copper Journal.
It is only in more recent years that Gross says scientists have discovered that copper atoms breakdown cell walls of bacteria, allowing copper ions, which are toxic to microorganisms to enter the cells and destroy them. "There are several ways people can use copper, or copper alloys such as brass (copper and Zinc) or bronze (copper and tin), to help protect themselves from germs," he says. "Keys, doorknobs, handrails, and other points of contact that are made of copper will help."
Copper's disinfectant powers—with its antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-fungal properties—have been supported by scientific research. A study from the New England Journal of Medicine reports that SARS-CoV-2 could be detected on copper surfaces up to four hours; compare this to cardboard where it endures up to 24 hours, or even plastic and stainless steel where it can live for up to two or three days. In light of this knowledge, copper's use in health care equipment, facilities, and public spaces is anticipated to be on the rise. This is, of course, no substitute for the tried-and-true strategies of social distancing, washing your hands, wearing a mask, and using sanitizer, but in the midst of the pandemic, it pays to be proactive. Looking for more ideas about how you can use copper at home to fight bacteria and virus-spreading germs at home? From handheld devices to cleaning tools, here are five self-sanitizing copper products to keep germs at bay.
For Handheld Devices
Make no mistake about it: Our phones, laptops, and other handheld devices are covered in bacteria; about 25,127 germs per square inch, according to some reports. Designed with 3M adhesive, the StayWell Copper Germ Stopper Patch ($23, staywellcopper.com) adheres safely to the back of your electronic devices to kill germs on your hands and fingers and stop the spread of viruses, all while you hold them.
Looking for a goofproof way to avoid touching surfaces when you're out and about? A brass hand tool designed with a finger hole, like The Hygiene Hand at Popular Science Shop ($19.99, shop.popsci.com), allows you to open doors and use elevators, ATM machines, and other shared surfaces without any direct contact. Add one to your key chain so you can always have an alternative handy when you don't have access to rubber gloves.
Why scrub your dishes with a standard dish cloth when you can use one with antimicrobial properties instead? The Copper Cloth at The Laundress ($16, thelaundress.com) and Andrée Jardin's French Copper Sponge ($30 for 3, food52.com) are both woven with nonabrasive copper threads that help destroy virus-spreading germs while gently removing stubborn buildup from your glass, metal, and ceramic cookware.
In the market for a pint-sized product that can help you combat germs on-the-go? The Original StayWell Copper Germ Stopper Portable Roller ($33, staywellcopper.com) is manufactured from 99.94 percent pure antimicrobial copper and fits in the palm of your hand so you can protect yourself from viruses and bacteria in a pinch. Simply rub between your hands, or over other parts of your body, for 60 seconds.
And if you're searching for a portable solution that will only set you back a few cents? Our expert has a trick: Gross says to consider carrying copper pennies around in your pocket for an on-the-go virus zapper. "Pennies made prior to 1982 are 95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc," he explains. "So I keep 10 older pennies in each pocket and rub them together from time to time just to be on the safe side."