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What does science say about copper compression clothes?

It could be that I’m watching more football than I normally do, but I’ve noticed a peculiar uptick in commercials for copper-infused compression clothes. The industry is growing quickly and it has already drawn endorsements from a number of high-profile athletes across the different brands. They make a lot of claims, and I want to know how they hold up. So, what exactly does the science say?

In order to reach a more definitive answer, we need to separate the claims we’ll be analyzing. First, let’s take a look at the research on compression clothing. The industry claims that it will improve your athletic performance and increase your recovery for the next game. The science agrees, sort of. Compression garments are in fact beneficial for increased running performancemaintenance of leg power after endurance, and post-exercise recovery. A newly published study out of the University of Michigan Health System finds compression socks worn after a marathon improve performance in coming weeks.

Second, let’s look at the claimed benefits of infused copper—primarily that it prevents odor, that it has anti-microbial properties, and that the release of positive ions promotes health and wellness. Science agrees with one of those claims and partly with another, but with a significant caveat. The anti-microbial properties of copper itself are well known and studied:

Bacteria, yeasts, and viruses are rapidly killed on metallic copper surfaces, and the term “contact killing” has been coined for this process. While the phenomenon was already known in ancient times, it is currently receiving renewed attention. This is due to the potential use of copper as an antibacterial material in health care settings. Contact killing was observed to take place at a rate of at least 7 to 8 logs per hour, and no live microorganisms were generally recovered from copper surfaces after prolonged incubation. The antimicrobial activity of copper and copper alloys is now well established, and copper has recently been registered at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as the first solid antimicrobial material. In several clinical studies, copper has been evaluated for use on touch surfaces, such as door handles, bathroom fixtures, or bed rails, in attempts to curb nosocomial infections.

A secondary benefit of the anti-microbial properties of copper is the elimination of bacteria on the skin that creates body odor. But here lies the caveat. This research refers to the properties of large pieces of copper used as surfaces for sinks and similar applications.

How does it apply to the significantly smaller amount of copper used interwoven in fabric? We cannot know. It’s not improbable that many claims are likely exaggerated. Until we see proper research conducted on these products, this claim cannot be validated.

As for the alleged benefit of positive ions promoting health and wellness? We don’t know what health and wellness means in this case, how to measure it, or through what mechanism positive ions would be beneficial. Because there is no way to falsify the claim, we will simply disregard it as meritless. On a final note, the research on the alleged therapeutic effects of copper is not complimentary, see here and here.

In conclusion, the claims are mixed and fact is crossed with fiction. Many such products benefit from conflating the validity of some claims with the outlandishness of others for the benefit of physical wellbeing.

The alleged benefits of copper-infused compression clothes that we covered are mostly a mixed bag trending negative, and only given a number of a assumptions that we can neither prove nor disprove concerning the concentration of copper present in the clothing. It’s too difficult to discern the benefits of that claim in relation to the product being presented. Any claim concerning the promotion of health and wellness is simply a marketing gimmick with no basis in science. In general, I find that I am extremely skeptical any time claims are made with regards to benefits of exposing your skin to a pure metal or metal alloy.

7 Comments

  1. Rhonda Lorraine Philipps Rhonda Lorraine Philipps February 16, 2015

    I have 2 pairs of copper socks. My usual rule is wear socks 1 day only. But with my copper socks…2 days..and they also make my feet feel wonderful.

  2. Simon King Simon King February 18, 2015

    Very interesting, I knew that compression wear was generally effective for muscle fatigue and soreness after working out. Will look into copper infused compression clothing.

  3. Christie Christie June 19, 2015

    I wear socks with copper to bed and it allows my feet to quit burning and the pins and needles to quit.. much relief !!

  4. Gayla Brown Gayla Brown August 19, 2015

    For the past couple of weeks I would wake up to my feet cramping getting me out of bed. I am wearing my sox to bed something I don’t do. I’ve been wearing the pair of sox for about 7 hours and my feet feel great. I don’t feel like I need to give my feet air and let them relax. If I wake up with the sox still on my feet,I’ll know they are working.

  5. Pug Pug August 24, 2015

    Basically all that has been concluded is that compression clothes, in general, are benficial, and that the brands woven with copper won’t smell from body odor (or at least not as bad). Meaning copper infused compression clothes will not provide any additional therapeutic benefit. Just but regular ones and save your money.

    • Science Around Michigan Science Around Michigan August 25, 2015

      Basically, yes. And ultimately the effectiveness of the anti-microbial properties would depend on the prominence of the copper.

  6. Jeffrey Doty Jeffrey Doty April 17, 2016

    I’m not sure that research on copper bracelets is very relevant, since those products claim that copper on your wrist treats arthritis over the whole body. Not that I necessarily expect the outcome to be different, but I would like to see research specifically addressing whether copper infused garments provide any benefit to the local area of the particular muscles/joints.

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