Taking a Shine to Copper

April 30, 2021
The material and other antimicrobial coatings gained attention because of the pandemic, but how do you know which options to choose?

Life has changed over the course of a year: We wear masks. We work from home. And we have grown wary about the surfaces we touch. But sometimes our newly adopted “hands-off” approach isn’t feasible, such as when we have to open a door.

Antimicrobial solutions, such as those that contain copper, have caught the attention of the public as a hopeful solution to combat widespread concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Early studies that suggest copper’s capability to protect against the spread of coronavirus has led to it being added to all sorts of products, even socks. Solutions for door hardware range from permanent copper alloy antimicrobial coatings to sprays and adhesive wraps. With a growing number of options, how do you know how to advise your customers and which ones even work?

This article will explain the latest advancements for copper and what locksmiths should understand when selecting door hardware. It will also explore applications for surface technologies in various markets.

Latest Advancements

Hospitals and healthcare facilities have used copper-alloy and silver-ion antimicrobial surfaces for years to combat healthcare-associated infections (HAIs). A 2016 survey conducted by Allegion found that about 1 in 5 healthcare customers use some antimicrobial solution. However, in the past year, markets outside of healthcare noticed the potential for these applications, particularly those of copper-alloy surfaces.

Of the surface technologies available, the antimicrobial properties of copper appear to be among the most effective against the spread of germs. In February 2021, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that certain copper alloys provide long-term effectiveness against viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

This was big news in the fight against the coronavirus, because copper alloys became “the first product with residual claims against viruses to be registered for use nationwide,” per the EPA’s announcement. The Copper Development Association’s Antimicrobial Copper Alloys Group 1 (EPA Reg. No. 82012-1), which is made of at least 95.6 percent copper, now is listed as a supplemental residual antimicrobial product for coronavirus on the EPA website.

Further, copper-based solutions have been shown to kill 99.9 percent of bacteria, whereas silver-ion-based antimicrobials only can claim to prevent the growth of bacteria.

Copper Considerations

It’s important to keep in mind that although copper options have proven to be most effective, copper in its purest form isn’t feasible for hardware. It isn’t strong enough and tarnishes easily. And not all copper-infused and copper-alloy products are created equal. There are a few important things to keep in mind when considering copper solutions:

Speed and efficacy: How quickly and effectively does the copper solution kill bacteria or mitigate the spread of viruses? Look for the evidence. Solutions should have information on testing to back up claims of efficacy. Pay attention to key words. Does it “prevent” the growth of bacteria, or does it “kill” it? And note the difference between bacteria and virus claims.

Virucidal vs. bactericidal: Know the difference! Virucidal indicates that the agent can kill viruses, while bactericidal means it can kill bacteria. A substance can fall into both categories, but the capability to destroy one doesn’t guarantee that it destroys the other. Just because something kills bacteria doesn’t mean it will stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The EPA just started to approve copper alloys for viricidal claims. At the time of publication, the requirement was 95.6 percent copper content, which affects few, if any, door hardware products on the market. The EPA will continue to review more alloys that have decreasing amounts of copper.

Maintenance: Adhesive wraps have to be replaced, so it’s important to understand the frequency of replacement and how the wraps can be cleaned while in use. For these reasons, adhesive wraps often are more suitable for temporary use. If the wrap has to be replaced often, it might cost more in time and resources than a more permanent solution. It also is important to verify that the wrap covers the entire touchable surface.

Hardware Applications

2014 research by Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona monitored the spread of a tracer virus throughout the day and found that the contamination of a single doorknob or tabletop could result in the spread of viruses throughout office buildings, hotels and healthcare facilities. Although handwashing and cleaning surfaces are necessary, it’s easy to see why the future of copper appears so promising. If more copper-based solutions are approved by the EPA, facilities will have more opportunities to add these solutions throughout a facility to help to mitigate the spread of germs, including door hardware.

Implementing copper door hardware isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Consider the application and hardware that’s required at the opening. What’s the traffic? If a low volume of pedestrians pass through, it might be suitable for your customers to stick with tried-and-true cleaning protocols, such as those recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. High-traffic openings, such as main entrances to buildings, might benefit from going completely touchless by adding an automatic operator.

Many interior openings could benefit from a similar hands-free solution to provide a completely contactless experience. However, that isn’t always feasible, and that’s where copper alloys can have a big effect.

Here are some applications to consider when exploring the value of door hardware that might include copper alloys for your customers.

Hospital patient rooms: Hospitals have to protect patients from infections. There were 2 million healthcare-associated infections (HAI) each year and 90,000 related deaths before the pandemic, according to STATnews.com. It isn’t just doctors and nurses going in and out; visitors and patients touch these openings, leaving potentially harmful germs behind.

Healthcare exam rooms: Similar to patient rooms, exam rooms at doctors’ offices could benefit from antimicrobial copper-alloy products. For privacy and HIPAA concerns, exam room doors typically are closed, which means office personnel handle the door anytime they see a patient. Is it disinfected in between each use?

 K-12 classrooms: Germs in schools will continue to be a concern post-pandemic. Schools can’t control everything that students touch, so door hardware that’s made with copper alloys can help to lessen the concerns of one of the high-touch surfaces within a facility.

Higher education lecture halls: As students rush from class to class, they often come in contact with several doors along the way. Adding copper alloys throughout a campus isn’t feasible for all universities, but smaller colleges might find value in using surface technologies at busy areas, such as lecture halls.

Multifamily shared spaces: Gyms, delivery rooms and common areas are frequented at all times of the day. Disinfecting surfaces after each visit requires a lot of manpower.

Public areas in government buildings: Touchless access is frequently the ideal in these busy areas, but copper-alloy solutions would be a next-best option where automatic operators aren’t feasible.

Public restrooms: People already were hesitant to touch surfaces in public restrooms. Facilities can have more peace of mind that germs aren’t being passed as people touch these frequently used doors.

Commercial building entries: Businesses that see a decent amount of foot traffic probably don’t have time to disinfect their door hardware as much as they would like.

Antimicrobial surface technologies have a wide variety of uses and can provide peace of mind for facilities of all sizes. Help your customers to identify spaces that would benefit from the addition of door hardware that has copper alloys, and keep in mind that some openings benefit more from hands-free mechanical door pulls or completely contactless access. And remind your customers that regardless of the hardware, regular cleaning still is imperative.

Keep an eye out for new developments in the coming months as the EPA continues to evaluate the effectiveness of alloys that have lower copper content this year. Continue to check the EPA website for claims specific to prevention of SARS-CoV-2.

As more markets understand the benefits, look for increasing demand for copper alloy hardware, even beyond the pandemic. People are more aware of the germs that live on surfaces and how quickly they can spread. To avoid confusion and misleading claims over antimicrobial properties, consider working with a door hardware consultant or expert in the field. And always make sure to read the fine print to ensure the products you recommend for customers are effective.

Brad Sweet is commercial marketing leader for Allegion.