Copper Is Antimicrobial, So Why Not Decorate With It?

Kaitlin Menza
Photo credit: Fabio Pagani / EyeEm - Getty Images

From House Beautiful

How much do you know about copper? When you picture the metal, you might see a reddish gold color, or the most useless denomination of American money (sorry, Abraham Lincoln). You might know that the substance turns green as it oxidizes over times, which is why some important landmark buildings and monuments like the Statue of Liberty have a creamy seafoam color.

But here’s another fascinating fact: Copper is antimicrobial. Bacteria and viruses die within hours of coming into contact with copper; E.coli, listeria, MRSA, and staphylococcus are killed with minutes. The medical benefits of copper have been known for millennia, in fact, as the Egyptians used copper to sterilize their wounds and their water supply 2,000 years before Jesus.

Even if you weren’t paying super close attention in high school chemistry class, copper’s advantages might be of more interest to you now. In the era of a highly contagious global pandemic, when we’ve never been more aware of the need to scrub the webs between our fingers for 20 seconds, every little change helps. It might be time for copper to make a triumphant return to our homes and our hospitals, as a recent Fast Company article argued.

The expert the magazine spoke with, Bill Keevil from the University of Southampton, has even conducted research where another coronavirus was "inactivated" when it came in contact with copper. While the same test hasn't yet been run on COVID-19, copper's medical benefits are so well documented it certainly couldn't hurt to have more of it around.

While copper was previously used in medical facilities and food-processing plants—and, of course, within home interiors—the metal fell out of favor in the 20th century. To the detriment of our aesthetics and also, possibly, our health, stainless steel, plastic, and aluminum accents have replaced those rendered in copper.

Fast Company links this downfall to the invention of modern antibiotics, as well to the rise of using cheaper, sleeker-looking materials inside buildings. As anyone who has ever purchased a piece of copper cookware, it's expensive! So much so that the metal is occasionally stripped and stolen right off of buildings. Yes, copper kitchen countertops might make your meal prep even safer, but they might also set you back around $150 per square foot. Not to mention, the shiny surface would turn green over time if not regularly polished.

But it is lovely, even in small doses. Copper is the original rose gold, and looks gorgeous when used as bathroom or kitchen fixtures or when mixed with other metals. And copper alloys like brass have similar antimicrobial effects—grandmillennials rejoice! Bring on the ornate candle sticks, scrolling mirror frames, and whimsical paperweights.

So if while you’re sheltering in place, considering all the home projects you’d like to do now that you’re stuck indoors for weeks, ponder swapping in some copper accessories or trying these DIY copper projects. Even when we eventually return to the routines of normal life—one in which we don't have to be hyper aware of germs —it would be wonderful to enter and exit a house with copper door knobs.

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