What is copper used for? Copper is unusual because it is what’s known as a native metal. This means it is one of the few metals that can be found in nature in its usable form. Unlike many other metals, copper doesn’t need to be extracted from an ore or combined with other elements. For this reason, copper has been being used by human beings for many thousands of years, and is still utilised all around us in the modern world. Copper conducts heat and electricity exceptionally well, can be recycled and it is non-magnetic. It is also very malleable and even has antiviral and antibacterial qualities, so it’s a great all-rounder of the sheet metal world. Here are some of the most popular uses for copper today.
1. Electrical Wires
Copper is the most-used material for electrical wires for a number of reasons: as well as being a great conductor of electricity, it is resistant to heat, which is a crucial safety consideration. It’s also relatively low-cost, ductile and lasts a long time. Chances are the electrical wires that power your home are made of copper.
Most water pipes are made of copper. Why? It’s incredibly durable and doesn’t rust, which is important for something that runs under the ground. Not only that, but copper is non-toxic; in early 20th-Century America, many people died from lead poisoning after consuming water that had passed through lead pipes. Copper also conducts heat, making it very useful in heating systems.
3. Industrial Machinery
Copper is used in a whole host of industrial settings, such as in pumps, power stations, scrapyard cranes, heavy machinery and anywhere that requires an electromagnet. It is also used in offshore rigs; in an at-sea setting with so much moisture in the air, copper’s top-notch durability is absolutely key.
4. Kitchens and Bartops
Copper looks stylish in many interior settings, and is often used for table tops, bar tops and kitchen splashbacks. It can be used in its natural state, or professionally patinated so it has the turquoise swirls of aged copper. As well as its gleaming good looks, copper makes for a great surface in kitchens and bars because it is antibacterial and easy to clean.
One relatively recent discovery about copper is its superior sterility. Copper is a hostile environment for microbes, essentially meaning germs can’t survive for long on its surface. Even before medical research discovered microbes in the 1800s, ancient civilisations found that water contained in copper vessels was of a higher quality than that contained in vessels made of other materials. Currently, many medical applications are made using stainless steel or specialist plastics, but that’s starting to change. In a world where antibacterial and antiviral properties are more important than ever before, copper is making its way into hospitals, from door handles to specialist beds.
One of the earliest uses for copper that’s still going today is coins. British ‘copper’ coins are actually made of steel coated in copper. Despite rumours that our 1 and 2p coins will eventually be discontinued, and the fact that Canada and Australia have phased out their own copper coins, UK ones are still going strong… for now.
Copper has been used in roofing for centuries. It is long-lasting, resistant to the elements and fireproof. It might be more expensive than other roofing materials, but copper is low maintenance and can last 50 years or more, so there’s great value in its longevity. The metal has two distinctive looks, too: after exposure to the elements, that luminous glow gradually transforms to the unmistakable fresh green shade of patinated copper.
No one can deny the impression a freestanding copper bathtub can make. Often used in hotel design and frequently appearing in art, the spectacle of a shining copper tub is something of an icon. Before fitted baths became popular, the tub was a mobile item that was put away and brought out as needed, and was often made from copper or tin. Now, copper baths are back. As well as looking refined, they are easy to clean and retain heat for longer than baths made of other materials.
Copper is a vital component in automobile technology. Thanks to the properties we’ve already discussed, copper makes its way into radiators, windscreen wipers, brake pipes, wiring and more. In fact, the average family car contains around a kilometre of copper wire within it.
Copper is easy to manipulate into shape, which is just one reason why it has been used to make jewellery since ancient times. Some people claim that wearing a copper bangle or ring can help boost your immune system, soothe joint pain and even slow down ageing. Whether or not you believe in the health benefits of wearing copper, no one can deny that its unique pinkish colour makes for beautiful jewellery.