Chile is the world’s leading exporter of copper and now a new use for the material could increase demand by 300,000 tons.
An innovative line of apparel that features garments made of an antibacterial Chilean copper fiber used for the 33 Chilean miners rescued in the Atacama desert has been launched by state mining company Codelco, along with signatories Monarch and Cobre Andino.
“While we were down there, one of the things I appreciated most were the copper-fiber socks. Our feet got to be in very bad condition because of the moisture, but the socks helped make things better,” said Mario Sepulveda, one of the workers trapped in the San José mine.
Copper yarns have been studied by leading universities worldwide and the results showed that copper ions create a natural zone of protection that eliminates 99.9% of bacteria and fungi on the skin.
The protection of the copper fibers starts to work at first contact with fungi, bacteria and viruses. The antimicrobial activity of the fiber will not wear out with use of socks and not be lost during washing.
The only special care required for the garment is to avoid fabric softeners. These will leave an oily layer over the fabric that prevents direct contact with the copper fibers and skin, thus diminishing the garment’s healing properties.
Suitable for diabetics
Scientists have always known about the antibacterial properties of copper. After two years of research, they concluded that the only way for it to have the desired effect on affected skin is in direct contact.
“Therefore, we focused on creating a strand of copper that is flexible, resistant to wear, wash and affordable,” said Luis Améstica, PhD in chemical engineering and business manager of Andean Copper, a company that for some years has been studying the antibacterial properties of copper in polymers.
“In the case of textiles for diabetics, we developed a different design which had fiber with copper covering the entire foot to protect it from fungi and other infections, with flat seams to avoid chafing,” said commercial director of Monarch Textile Group, Aldo Magnasco.
The copper-fiber socks have fast healing effects on wounds in general, making it the safest choice for people with diabetes. They also eliminate different kinds of fungi, mites and odors.
The dermatologist at Hospital San Juan de Dios Maria Isabel Benavides said “this is a very interesting innovation, because something as simple as copper contributes to the eradication of many infectious agents, while also being non-toxic and environmentally friendly.”
“There is no doubt this project will have tremendous importance,” he added, “because the rate of people with fungal foot problems is high. Approximately 20 percent of the population suffers from these problems and this number increases as people increase in age.”