Doctors don't recommend everyday people wear gloves to protect themselves from coronavirus, but these touch tools can help.

By Taylyn Washington-Harmon
April 22, 2020
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Staying in a 26-floor apartment building with hundreds of tenants means there’s always a chance of spreading (or catching) viruses or germs once you leave your unit, even if you're only touching doorknobs and pressing elevator buttons just to go pick up your mail. My go-to tactic usually involves pulling my long sleeves over my hands to grab door handles, or bumping buttons with my elbow, though I’d rather not touch anything with a single part of my body—covered or not.

Your first thought may be to wear gloves whenever you leave home to keep from touching a potentially contaminated surface—but they could actually do more harm than good. “Gloves are a physical barrier between your hands and the shopping cart or the card machine at the register, but they themselves harbor germs,” Niket Sonpal, MD, a New York-based Internist and Gastroenterologist and Adjunct Professor at Touro College, previously told Health. “Because of these issues, gloves are no more protective than our tried-and-true strategies of social distancing, washing your hands, and not touching your face," she adds. Not only can they help spread viruses and germs from place to place while you run errands, but purchasing gloves also takes away a precious resource from healthcare workers who need them.

One solution? Enter touch tools: small, often-hooked pieces of metal, plastic, or wood that you can attach to a set of keys or a belt-loop for hands-free door-opening or button tapping. Sometimes referred to as “cootie keys” or “hygiene hooks,” these touch tools can be effective in helping to prevent the spread of germs, and even coronavirus, but only if used correctly.

“Copper and brass have been known to have antimicrobial (including antiviral) properties for a long time,” Glenn Randall, MD, a professor of microbiology at University of Chicago tells Health. Despite the antimicrobial properties of these metals, it’s really easy to contaminate other items you’re carrying—like your keys or phone—given the pocket and purse-friendly nature of these tools. However, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that SARS-CoV2 is dead after four hours on copper, which is likely similar to brass. A good rule of thumb? If you use a copper device, make sure not to touch the device to anything else, and then carefully store it in a plastic bag for four hours, says Dr. Randall.

The same study also states that coronavirus can live on plastic or stainless steel for up to 2-3 days, and it can live up to 4 days on wood, according to a study in the Journal of Hospital Infection. The bottom line: Copper or brass would be your best bet for investing in a hands-free touch tool.

While touch tools are a great addition in keeping a degree of separation between you and potential germs when touching frequently used buttons or handles, they’re no substitute for frequent hand washing or sanitizing, says Dr. Randall. Along with keeping your hands clean, be sure to disinfect your touch tool as soon as possible after using it for the most effective, germ-free use.

Ahead, a few of our favorite copper and brass touch tools to take you through the pandemic and beyond.

Copper Touch-Free Tool

This stylish touch-free hook is made of antimicrobial copper and works well for opening doors. Attach it to your keychain, backpack, or wear it as a pendant on a necklace.

To buy: Copper Touch-Free Tool ($15; etsy.com

Celestial EDC Antimicrobial No Touch Door & Bottle Opener Keychain

Doubling as a bottle opener and a brass hands-free tool, this adds a dreamy, otherworldly touch to your keychain. Plus, it provides a barrier between you and elevator buttons and ATM pin pads.

Antimicrobial Copper Door Opener

This handmade copper touch tool helps to put some distance between you and door handles. It conveniently fits in your pocket or purse, and looks just as good on a chain necklace.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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