Copper oxide infused technology might not be something that you’ve heard about in fabric before, particularly socks. Copper is known for its antibacterial and antifungal properties, but does not always get the recognition that it deserves. Copper infused technology refers to fabrics and yarns which have been treated with minute copper oxide particles, thus “impregnating” the fabric with copper’s antimicrobial properties and making it self-sterilizing. This is particularly useful in garments like socks, which are typically subjected to a warm, damp environment that is particularly suited for the growth of bacterial and fungal infections, and indeed many people do suffer from skin conditions on their feet. Copper oxide technology has other applications too, and some manufacturers have also experimented with products like hypoallergenic makeup brushes and bedsheets utilizing it. Copper infused textiles may well help to heal diabetic ulcers and cure a range of other ailments, but few parts of your body are as pointedly vulnerable to these problems as your feet.
Copper fabrics are becoming a rising trend largely because of their antimicrobial properties. Quite simply, foot odor and athlete’s foot are both caused by microbes - odor by bacteria and athlete’s foot being a fungus. Copper prohibits the growth of these microbes and therefore eliminates these problems. Fifty-six people suffering from chronic athlete’s foot saw significant improvement regarding itching, swelling, and scaling after forty days in a 2008 study published in the journal Foot. The same fungus that causes athlete’s foot also causes toenail fungus, and thus copper oxide technology could be useful in treating this as well. Not everyone suffers from athlete’s foot or toenail fungus frequently, but if you lead an active lifestyle then you are more than aware of the nuisance of smelly socks. As such, people have become interested in copper infused socks because it kills bacteria, including the kinds that cause sock odor, and it’s particularly useful in applications where one would be at risk of ending up with foul-smelling feet - athletics, hiking, the military, or if you’re a diabetic. It can prevent infection in general, and additionally promotes skin cell growth. The way that copper infused technology works is that when copper ions and bacteria encounter one another, the process of oxidization weakens the cell’s outer membrane. As copper is toxic to the inside of the cell, the copper ions eventually cause the cell to rupture and therefore die when it loses its vital structure. Unlike many anti-bacterial products which eventually cause bacteria to become more resistant through evolution, copper oxide technology has multiple pathways to kill bacteria and thus does not entail this risk.
The first time where there was a real-world test with copper infused technology was in 2010, when a mine collapse occurred in Chile, leaving 33 miners trapped nearly 700m below the earth’s surface. Conditions in the mine were conducive to the growth of bacteria and fungi, with temperatures greater than 34°C and 85% humidity. This left many of the trapped miners suffering from skin irritation and infections, with their feet being particularly affected. Several topical ointments such as clotrimazole were given to the miners after they were discovered on their seventeenth day underground, but to no avail. Based on interviews and questionnaires with the miners when they were rescued some sixty-nine days after becoming trapped underground, many noted that they were suffering from skin irritation and scaling on their feet - indicators of fungal infections but also possibly irritant dermatitis. On the thirty-sixth day, each miner was given three pairs of polyester socks with copper oxide technology in what was not a planned trial, but a practical one. Up until this point, copper infused technology was something that had been discussed, but several doctors and the media had been cautious about the benefits without any controlled tests. After beginning to use copper infused socks while still trapped underground, the skin problems went away, mostly within four to seven days of starting to use the socks. Many miners had noticed a bad smell emanating from their feet previously, and almost all of them noted that this went away within days of starting to use the socks.
Considering just how conducive that the environment in the mine was to microbial growth, this stands as a testament to the effectiveness of copper oxide technology. Not everyone who buys copper infused socks works in a mine, and no one plans on being trapped underground for sixty-nine days. But if you frequently suffer from athlete’s foot or want a good pair of sports or hiking socks, this stand as a testament to the effectiveness of copper infused technology.
The US Marine Corps has tested copper oxide defense socks on new recruits, and NASA was interested enough in Pro-Tect copper infused socks to test them although they do not allow findings from studies to be published or used in marketing. The Israeli Defense Force was interested enough in copper infused socks and their antimicrobial properties that they started issuing them to their soldiers. Being on active military duty or in space means having little chance to do laundry, high likelihood of being in situations where you would not have the opportunity to change your socks for an extended period, and conditions which are conducive to microbial growth and therefore a high risk of skin irritation and athlete’s foot. If copper infused technology is good enough for them and demonstrated its efficacy on the Chilean miners, you can rest assured that it will be more than effective for your hiking socks.