Harnessing the Oligodynamic Properties of Copper to Reduce Disease Transmission During a Pandemic

Casey Fienberg

A major source of the spread of infection is contaminated high-touch surfaces such as doorknobs, light switches, handles, and countertops.1 Germs can live and thrive on surfaces for many days, leading to the transfer of these microbes from human to human as people touch the surface. In fact, doorknobs and other high-touch surfaces in hospitals are typically made of stainless steel, which has few antimicrobial properties and can be an easy breeding ground for bacteria.2

It is known that copper exhibits the oligodynamic effect, meaning that it has antimicrobial properties that enable it to disinfect itself over time. Specifically, copper ions bind to bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens in a way that destroys and effectively deactivates the cell. This effect can take place in as little as 15 minutes to a few hours and has been shown to be effective against microbes including Salmonella and E. Coli.3

My proposal is to develop inexpensive, easy to apply, copper containing coatings to be applied to high-touch surfaces in order to help combat the spread of infection. While it would not be a replacement for frequent sanitation and disinfection of these surfaces, it could be helpful in continually weakening and eliminating the harmful pathogens that are present, especially in high-risk areas such as hospitals. One study found that when copper alloys were used in hospital components, “…an 83% reduction in bacteria was seen…” and “…infection rates were found to be reduced by 58% in patient rooms with components made of copper…”.4 Unfortunately, few hospitals in the U.S have adopted the widespread use of copper components.

One possible solution is a copper infused alcohol based gel or spray. This would be similar to liquid chalk used by rock climbers, which is a mixture of alcohol and fine chalk that is applied to the hands of the climber. The alcohol then evaporates, leaving only the chalk behind. This idea would be implemented using copper, with fine copper dust being added to an alcohol, forming a solution that could be administered to any surface and leave behind a layer of copper once the alcohol has evaporated.

A second possible solution is a copper infused paint which could be applied to any surface. Many paints on the market today already contain copper,5 and with some experimentation could conceivably be modified to display oligodynamic properties. This leads to the possibility of easily covering many more surfaces, such as walls, with copper, therefore taking greater advantage of its antimicrobial properties.

A third possible solution is a “copper sticker” of sorts. That is, a thin, flexible sheet of copper with an adhesive backing could be used to allow the metal to stick and conform to a surface.

While much experimentation is needed to determine an ideal solution, copper’s oligodynamic properties mean that an inexpensive and easy to apply copper containing product could help dramatically reduce infection from high-touch surfaces and help to contain infection spread during a pandemic.


1. Website. Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020). Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/disinfecting-building-facility.html.

2. Website. Continuously killing bacteria on coated stainless steel – add bleach to recharge. American Chemical Society (2018). Available at: https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/pressroom/newsreleases/2018/march/continuously-killin g-bacteria-on-coated-stainless-steel-add-bleach-to-recharge.html.

3. Shrestha, R., Joshi, D. R., Gopali, J. & Piya, S. Oligodynamic Action of Silver, Copper and Brass on Enteric Bacteria Isolated from Water of Kathmandu Valley. Nepal Journal of Science and Technology vol. 10 189-193 (1970).

4. Michels, H. T., William Keevil, C., Salgado, C. D. & Schmidt, M. G. From Laboratory Research to a Clinical Trial. HERD: Health Environments Research & Design Journal vol. 9 64-79 (2015). 5. Website. Grant, D. Toxic Art: Is Anyone Sure What’s In A Tube of Paint? Observer (2016). Available at: https://observer.com/2016/10/toxic-art-is-anyone-sure-whats-in-a-tube-of-paint/. (Accessed: 25th June 2020).

5. Website. Grant, D. Toxic Art: Is Anyone Sure What’s In A Tube of Paint? Observer (2016). Available at: https://observer.com/2016/10/toxic-art-is-anyone-sure-whats-in-a-tube-of-paint/. (Accessed: 25th June 2020).

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