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Green hands and rears
October 29, 2008 12:18 PM   Subscribe

Using copper alloys for surfaces we touch could help control bugs Replacing stainless steel with copper for commonly touched surfaces such as taps (faucets), toilet seats and door push plates make it harder for bacteria to survive on the surfaces

There has been research for a while and a paper to be presented on Sunday indicates great promise. The main link has a video with one of the researchers. Sterilising properties of materials have been studied before, including the silver of the shared communion cup. This turned out not to be an important carrier of disease Link to scientific paper on spread of disease on communion cups, scroll to summary at end
posted by bluefin (37 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
But what about the remaining 5%? Isn't this how we got superbugs in the first place?
posted by prunes at 12:21 PM on October 29, 2008


It's not clear that making it harder for bacteria to survive in our homes is a good thing for us: the hygiene hypothesis
posted by Class Goat at 12:25 PM on October 29, 2008


In the future, all bacteria will be copper resistant.
posted by TwelveTwo at 12:25 PM on October 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


But the high cost of copper is leading to much theft - I could see copper being used in environments where sterility is critical, but I don't think it'll be a house-hold material unless some amazing reserve is found, or some other force brings the cost down.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:26 PM on October 29, 2008


Well, the 5% that live will be selected for their resistance to copper, as opposed to their resistance to powerful antibiotics. That won't necessarily mean they are also resistant to drugs, unless they were in the first place. Then they'll be resistant to drugs and copper.
posted by Science! at 12:26 PM on October 29, 2008 [7 favorites]


More than 4,000 years ago, the Egyptians used it to sterilise wounds and drinking water and the Aztecs treated skin conditions with the metal.

The ancient Greeks also knew of its benefits. Hippocrates, sometimes called 'the father of medicine', noted that it could be used to treat leg ulcers.


Ah those wise old-timey dudes! Is there anything they didn't know and then forgot? But I'm a modern guy. I want to know what *today's* quacks and shamans think!

Many of those with arthritis wear copper bangles.

There we go!

The research was funded by the copper industry.

I'll hold my applause until this is confirmed. (Also, what are the implications for putting pennies in my mouth? Safe again?)
posted by DU at 12:27 PM on October 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


You'll never get me alive, copper!
posted by kuujjuarapik at 12:29 PM on October 29, 2008 [17 favorites]


Good luck explaining the "patina" on your toilet seat.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 12:30 PM on October 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


2metals1cup.
posted by benzenedream at 12:33 PM on October 29, 2008


Also, what are the implications for putting pennies in my mouth? Safe again?

Where has that penny been? At least clean them a bit, or leave them in Coke/Pepsi for an hour. Because you don't know where that penny has been.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:44 PM on October 29, 2008


Good luck explaining the "patina" on your toilet seat.

That's from the copper on the crapper where your brass used to be.
posted by hal9k at 12:50 PM on October 29, 2008 [4 favorites]


Pennies aren't made of copper anymore.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:51 PM on October 29, 2008


Great, just what we need..."antibacterial" steampunk kitchen appliances.
posted by retronic at 12:53 PM on October 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I don't see a future in greatly expanding copper usage.
posted by adamdschneider at 12:56 PM on October 29, 2008


FWIW although the articles stress copper per se they also refer to copper alloys and certainly the fitments in the illustration look like brass - not copper. Brass and bronze have pretty good wear qualities and, if they are kept clean, the production of resistant bacteria should not be a problem.
The problem of theft, however, remains.
posted by speug at 12:59 PM on October 29, 2008


You cop her. You brung her.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:03 PM on October 29, 2008


I love copper. It is the ideal metal for making things yourself, you can shape it and solder it in your barn or workshop. There are so many old one of a kind copper utensils that to me embody a spirit of invention and independence and craftsmanship that isn't seen anymore.

Good luck explaining the "patina" on your toilet seat.

A friend of mine made etched copper plates, and he gave one to his father-in-law at theThanksgiving dinner table. "Why, it has such a beautiful texture, how ever do you achieve that?"

"Well, I urinate on it and bake it repeatedly."

Clunk! He dropped the plate on the floor.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:10 PM on October 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


You put what in your mouth?
posted by Crabby Appleton at 1:14 PM on October 29, 2008


Well, the 5% that live will be selected for their resistance to copper, as opposed to their resistance to powerful antibiotics. That won't necessarily mean they are also resistant to drugs, unless they were in the first place. Then they'll be resistant to drugs and copper.

What about drugs made of copper?
posted by blue_beetle at 1:34 PM on October 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


Not only will it prevent the growth of bacteria, but you'll also notice that your fixtures will no longer be at the mercy of Shipworm, barnacles, or seaweed. Although you may find that anything that is made of iron/steel and is electrically connected the copper pieces don't last very long, due to Galvanic Corrosion
posted by ArgentCorvid at 1:38 PM on October 29, 2008


commonly touched surfaces such as .... toilet seats

We already have layers of toilet paper to protect us in this case.
posted by gomichild at 1:38 PM on October 29, 2008


Aesthetically, this could be a boon, copper is a very warm color and could make kitchens and bathrooms quite attractive.

Until you have to clean it. I hope the "alloy" part of "copper alloys" is an effort to stop the oxidization process. It looks neat in a kind of distressed way, but it's not something I necessarily want my drinking water coming out of.
posted by quin at 1:38 PM on October 29, 2008


I propose that we all just stop touching.
posted by Kikkoman at 2:10 PM on October 29, 2008


Couldn't find a brass toilet seat, but how about ths bronze bathtub?
posted by mr vino at 2:14 PM on October 29, 2008


Oops, let's try that again.
posted by mr vino at 2:16 PM on October 29, 2008


Cu in DU.
posted by mandal at 2:17 PM on October 29, 2008


Break out the copper polish.

Silver might be even better for antibiotic properties, but way too expensive for most of us, and needs even more polishing.
posted by bad grammar at 2:24 PM on October 29, 2008


Well, if you want to keep costs down, there's other options: yum.
posted by mandal at 2:35 PM on October 29, 2008


I love the look and feel of copper and copper alloy stuff. I have a special edition 99% (or 95%?) copper Zippo, I have bought copper alloy sinks and bathroom fixtures for some of my father's costumers, I own random big chunks of different copper alloy chunks from flea markets, including a little bronze ball that weights over 15 kilograms.

But I can't touch my copper thing anymore, after it killed my very expensive Grade S Crystal Red Shrimp (scroll down a little bit), and some rare ramshorn snails.

Copper is extremely toxic to aquatic invertebrates, at least freshwater, and even the little trace left on your fingers when using a lighter will accumulate in the tanks and kill them.

Next time, I will build everything in my house out of gold and silver. I've always wanted to take a dump on a solid gold toilet.
posted by dirty lies at 2:51 PM on October 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've always wanted to take a dump on a solid gold toilet.

You and Ron Paul both, man.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:00 PM on October 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


Where has that penny been? At least clean them a bit, or leave them in Coke/Pepsi for an hour. Because you don't know where that penny has been.

I know where they've been.
posted by IvoShandor at 3:04 PM on October 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


IvoShandor: Those citizens are upright in posture only. (Oh, so that's the joke ...)

I didn't realize UCB had 3 seasons, but it's been a few years.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:53 PM on October 29, 2008


Was Clara Clifford named in the study?

I know, I know.
posted by pjern at 4:38 PM on October 29, 2008


This sounds a gawd-awful idea.

How do bacteria get resistance to heavy metals, like copper? They do it by creating molecular pumps to bind to the metal and push it out of its cell.

What happens when we try to kill off these bacteria with antibiotics?

This. And this.

They quickly evolve to use the same pump to pump out the antibiotics -- ta-da! Antibiotic resistance pretty much as fast as you can get it.


This is why companies need to hire evolutionary microbiologists. Anyone hiring? I graduate in August.

But seriously. Bad idea.
(Argh. I can't find better papers on this. I'm not in my office, but I swear that better ones are out there.)
posted by Peter Petridish at 4:50 PM on October 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Silver might be even better for antibiotic properties, but way too expensive for most of us, and needs even more polishing.

But don't polish your expensive silver electrical interconnects: silver oxide is a better conductor than silver.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:39 AM on October 30, 2008


silver oxide is a better conductor than silver.

Nope.

Silver metal 1.6E-8 ohms/m
Silver oxide 1.0E10 ohms/m
Silver sulfide 1.7E-3 ohms/m

Tarnish on silver is mostly the oxide in most environments.
posted by oats at 11:26 AM on October 30, 2008


What problem are we solving here?
posted by electroboy at 8:01 AM on October 31, 2008


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