In a time when we try to touch as little surfaces as possible and if we must, we prefer to disinfect them beforehand, more and more people are looking at copper as a miracle material, thanks to its antimicrobial properties. What are these properties and how can we use this material to combat the coronavirus?
Heavy metals like gold and silver are also antibacterial, but none as much as copper. The material has a specific atomic makeup that kills germs very effectively.
Copper has been used as a disinfectant for thousands of years, even before people knew about germs and viruses. The first recorded use of copper can be traced back to Egypt in 3200 BC. In 1600 BC, the Chinese used copper coins as medication to treat heart and stomach pain, and Phoenicians drank from copper vessels to prevent diarrhoea.
Copper’s effect lasts, too. Surfaces installed over 100 years ago still have the same antimicrobial effect as they had when new. In addition, microbes cannot become resistant to copper like they can with antibiotics.
One way to disinfect your hands is installing copper or copper alloy (like brass) surfaces in various places. Researchers calculated that if just 10% of hospital surfaces was covered in copper, it would prevent infections and save more than €1,000 per day.
Brass doorknobs would be a very good candidate to bring back, since you have to touch those anyway, and it would be nice if your hand was disinfected simultaneously instead of having to wash them after opening the door.
One downside of copper (alloys) is that while their disinfectant properties last, touching the material does have a visual effect on the surfaces. Touch a copper surface and you will see your fingerprints be left behind. The company VeroMetal, which sells cold-workable liquid metal, developed a copper-based coating that is fingerprint-proof, yet is still has antimicrobial properties. The coating can be used on nearly anything, and it is currently being tested if it is effective against the coronavirus.
Face masks are a relatively new fashion item in many Western countries. Due to the corona virus, more people than ever are wearing them. Since medical grade face masks are reserved for medical professionals, the face masks most people wear are made of various common fabrics like old T-shirts. On cloth, the coronavirus can survive for several days, which is why you shouldn’t touch your face mask and wash them regularly at a high temperature.
Including copper in a mask could help prevent the spreading of the virus. If an infected person is wearing a copper (infused) mask, droplets from their nose and mouth, which spread the virus, would land on the mask and be killed off in a matter of hours instead of days. In addition, if the wearer touches the mask, the viruses on their hands would be killed off as well. Copper also doesn’t lose its function if washed.
To have a sheet of copper in front of your face might not be very comfortable, but fortunately, there are better ways. The microbiologist Phyllis Kuhn developed a mask of copper mesh. US-based company Cupron developed a copper-infused fabric, consisting of a cotton/polyester blend with copper. The above-mentioned VeroMetal is experimenting with a copper coating on face masks.
Face masks aren’t the only fashion items using copper. Science and technology fashion brand Vollebak developed the Full Metal Jacket, a jacket with 11 km of copper included. Consisting of 65% copper in total, the jacket has three layers. The first layer is made of a lacquered copper yarn, woven on rapier weaving looms before being scoured, heat-set, dyed and dried. The middle layer consist of laminated copper to make it water- and windproof. Only the inner layer doesn’t contain copper. For more innovative fashion by Vollebak, click here.
The (postcorona) future looks coppery.