Since ancient times, societies have discovered a myriad of practical uses for copper. Copper naturally possesses antimicrobial properties, combating microorganisms that contaminate water, cause infection, food spoilage, skin conditions and odor. The element has also been used to make tools, musical instruments, sculptures and jewelry, among other decorative pieces.
Ancient uses for copper demonstrate the element’s versatility. Ancient Egyptians used copper to make weapons and jewelry, but also in medical applications because of its sterilizing properties. The Greeks and Romans applied copper to treat infectious diseases.
Many cultures have used copper for water purification and storage. Since copper disrupts bacterial cycles it discourages microbial multiplication and keeps drinking water safe. Four-thousand years ago, Indian traditional medicine known as Ayurveda instructed citizens to boil water and dip heated copper into the water before filtering. A 2012 study found that contaminated water stored in copper containers for 16 hours showed no signs of contaminants, while contaminated water stored in glass for 16 hours remained contaminated.
Ayurveda, an Indian health system with thousands of years history, also recommended the use of copper in water storage. According Ayurveda, drinking water from a copper vessel balances your body. This is said to help digestion, slow aging, kill bacteria and help wounds heal faster. Other cultures seem to have had a similar appreciation for copper’s sterilizing properties.
Traditional Korean societies also used copper in smelting bronze ware called Bangjja or Yugi. Royal families used these copper based metalwares because they could be sterilized unlike porcelain tableware that was more commonly used. Bangjja Yugi has been designated an “Intangible Cultural Property,” to preserve the revered practice of producing these wares.
The Washington Post reported on the element’s increased use in hospitals on “high touch” areas like door handles, toilet levers and light switches. Studies found that 99.9 percent of E. coli perishes after 1 to 2 hours on a copper surface, while living for weeks on stainless steel surfaces. Copper surfaces also fight the flu, MSRA and fungi growth. The Atlanta-Hartselle Airport applied this logic when they installed drinking fountains with copper components.
The bacteria-fighting qualities of copper make it an ideal component for making clothing. Sweat and heat combine to form the perfect environment for odor-causing bacteria, and copper is a natural combatant to the bacteria that causes body odor. Other benefits of embedding copper ions into fabric include: increased durability, healthier skin and reduced inflammation. Using copper avoids the use of chemicals unlike many toxic synthetic materials.
Modern use of copper confirms what the ancients knew: copper is useful in many different arenas from medical applications, food and water storage and in making tools. Modern scientific studies along with ancient wisdom ensure its continued use in many different industries.