Are Copper Face Masks Actually Worth It?

Kelly Corbett
Photo credit: Instagram
Photo credit: Instagram

From House Beautiful

  • Copper is antimicrobial, which means that bacteria and viruses die within hours of coming into contact with it.

  • A recent study shows that copper deactivated SARS-CoV-2, the virus that leads to a COVID-19 diagnosis, in just a few hours.

  • Experts claim that for a copper mask to fully live up to its potential, copper must be incorporated into every single fiber of the mask.

  • While the idea of copper masks is promising, retailers are being vague about how much copper is actually in a mask.

As face masks become the new must-have (literally) accessory, you may have stumbled upon coverings that contain copper. You may have not thought too much of it, as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention advises us to wear cloth masks or other PPE, mentioning nothing about copper masks specifically. However, given what is known about the metal thus far, a copper mask could potentially one-up a cloth mask in terms of protection.

Besides being a flashy, standout material perfect for design, copper is antimicrobial. This means that bacteria and viruses die within hours of coming into contact with it. In fact, E.coli, listeria, MRSA, and staphylococcus can be killed within minutes. And when it comes to this particular strain of coronavirus, a recent study from the New England Journal of Medicine showed that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that leads to a COVID-19 diagnosis, was found inactive within four hours of landing on a copper surface. This begs the question: if copper has the potential to eliminate the disease so quickly, why are we not talking about copper masks more?

Fast Company did a deep dive into the topic. Now, if you’re an individual at a high risk of being exposed to the virus, your best bet is still an N95 respirator (inspired by a House Beautiful alum) and/or other PPE. However, for the average person who is trying to social distance while sporting a cloth facial covering, an upgrade to a copper mask could be worth it, but only if the mask is 100% pure copper.

Currently, companies like Atoms, The Futon Shop, Doc Silver Copper Top, Copper Compression, and vendors on Etsy are selling copper masks. However, you’ll notice that these masks resemble cloth masks, and that copper is just one of the materials used. In fact, copper masks are a lot like fabric masks, in the way that they can become loose on the sides and create gaps where particles can enter. As Elizabeth Segrain explains for Fast Company, copper masks are designed to be an improvement of the cloth mask. The key difference is that virus-laden droplets that land on a copper mask will be killed off within a few hours. Meanwhile, when a cloth mask comes in contact with the virus, the virus could live there for days— which is why it’s so important we clean our masks (you can follow our cleaning directions here).

Michael Schmidt, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina tells Fast Company that if someone has the virus, a copper mask could help reduce the number of viral particles transmitted into the air. “As the viral particles go out of you [an individual with the virus] through the copper mask into the environment, they will die,” he says. However, he notes that there is still a lot of research that needs to be done about the effectiveness of these masks. "If you’re just throwing copper layers onto a mask, we don’t [know] if they work," he explains. And although copper is proven to kill off the virus, the metal's effectiveness when woven into a mask has not been examine

Cupron, a copper-based antimicrobial technology company, teamed up with Via Sitting to create copper-infused masks — the copper used in the mask was even approved by the EPA, making it one of the few vendors that went the extra mile to have their product registered. Unfortunately, these masks are only available for purchase by institutions, leaving most consumers on their own when it comes to purchasing a copper mask. Schmidt explains that virus particles are extremely small and for a copper mask to actually be effective, copper would need to be incorporated into every single fiber of the mask, rather than just a single layer inside the mask.

Furthermore, Lexie Sachs a textile director at the Good Housekeeping Institute told Good Housekeeping that masks are currently being marketed as "copper," when in reality, there may only be a single strand of copper woven into it. "Manufacturers are using vague language and aren't listing the amounts of copper used," Sachs says. She warns consumers to be careful around retailers who claim their product contain elevated antiviral abilities due to using copper in its construction. As Good Housekeeping explains, most retailers have not conducted the necessary research to prove that copper face masks can protect against SARS-CoV-2 "better" or "faster" than other kinds of face masks currently available.

Bottom line: do your research. There is a lot of potential for copper masks; however, as the concept of everyday face masks is still relatively new, not all sellers may be assembling the masks so users reap copper's full antimicrobial benefits. It can be hard to know which copper masks (if any) are the real deal, but if you're looking to buy a cloth mask anyway, searching for one that contains copper can't hurt. As wearing face coverings becomes part of daily life, hopefully scientists will be able to delve more into the topic and inform manufacturers on how these masks need to be fashioned in order to provide for optimal protection. Regardless of how effective your mask may be "this isn't an excuse to skip handling it with clean hands or washing it after you've worn it outside," Sachs says.

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