How Does Copper Kill Germs?
Why More & Pure isn’t Always More Effective
Copper, like it’s close neighbors on the table of elements, silver and gold, can kill many pathogens and even small organisms. To understand how copper specifically works, it’s helpful to revisit high school chemistry. As you may remember, Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Sulfur are the building blocks of all living things, including cells and viruses. Copper, in some forms releases an electron, which can be highly destructive to viruses, fungi, and bacteria.
Keep in mind:
- Cell walls/membranes are Phospholipids (P)
- Enzymes and proteins are made up of thiols (S) & amines (N)
- RNA & DNA consists of Phosphates (P), thiols (S), amines (N) and carboxylic groups (C and O)
So, the Copper Ions are able to:
- Bursts the cell membrane
- Create Reactive Oxygen Species that corrode the cell membrane
- Once inside a cell Copper Ions bind to the DNA and prevents it from replicating
- Breaks down RNA (key with viruses)
- Disrupts a cells energy production and respiration
Pure copper and copper containing compounds exhibit these kill mechanisms differently depending on a variety of factors such as temperature, humidity, and surface area exposed. This is why some bacteria and viruses might survive for several hours on copper alloy, but be killed within minutes on a non-woven textile that contains a copper compound.
Copper compounds that can be antimicrobial include copper oxide, copper iodide, copper sulphate, copper carbonate, and copper thiocyanate. Some are used to treat lumber, some to make coatings for ships to prevent mollusk growth, others are commonly found in face creams and wound dressings. The safety for exposure to humans varies by compound.
While copper is an excellent antimicrobial, there are many considerations when choosing which form of copper to use, and how to use it. The end use, and the likely conditions of the end use (like temperature and humidity) must be well understood. Simply adding copper to something does not make that product antimicrobial, which is why testing is so important in the product development process.