A lot of people in USSR used to place silver spoons into containers with water. The exact benefit/mechanism was generally not defined other than "avoid contamination", but was frequently implied to be antibacterial.

I don't have any references at the moment (can google if community requests) but it was an extremely common practice (every family I knew who owned a silver spoon did that, which was probably 80%+ people) so I'd consider the notion to be notable enough even without web links.

So the question is, are there any studies supporting or refuting ANY health benefit (probably antibacterial but not restricted to that) from placing a silver object into water container where water for drinking is stored for a long period (say, 6 to 144 hours).

Due to a somewhat vague nature of the claim, I'm specifying the following restriction: The claim being investigated must somehow be a plausible scenario that a random family would expect to affect the water being stored. E.g. antibacterial/antiviral are in-scope. Decreasing radioactive exposure isn't.

  • As a side note, it is used in watercooling for computers to prevent algae growth. Example: petrastechshop.com/sikibyia.html
    – Fredrik
    Dec 14 '11 at 11:30
  • 1
    @Fredrik - is it effective at that task?
    – user5341
    Dec 14 '11 at 15:30
  • Well to increase spoons "solubility" I mean, for spoon to release Ag2+ ions you can wire it up to a source of electricity. (?) - EGA♦
    – user15235
    Sep 3 '13 at 4:42

Both silver and copper are used in swimming pools to prevent algae growth, and in combination with lower-than-usual levels of chlorine, to control bacteria. In some of those applications, an electric current is applied to drive silver (or copper) ions into solution where they destroy algae cells. Other applications use a solution of "colloidal silver", which is silver in extremely fine particulate form.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has an online publication titled "Water Disinfection for Travelers" which indicates that silver can be used for disinfection, though it's not effective against all potential contaminants:

Silver ion has bactericidal effects in low doses and some attractive features, including absence of color, taste, and odor. The use of silver as a drinking water disinfectant is popular in Europe, but it is not approved for this purpose in the United States, because silver concentration in water is strongly affected by adsorption onto the surface of the container, and there has been limited testing on viruses and cysts. In the United States, silver is approved for maintaining microbiologic quality of stored water.

The Journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology contains an article titled "Silver as a Residual Disinfectant To Prevent Biofilm Formation in Water Distribution Systems" The article states that silver has known antimicrobial effects, and presents a mechanism of action:

Silver's antimicrobial effect has been demonstrated in numerous applications against different types of microorganisms (7, 10). The bactericidal efficacy of silver is through its binding to disulfide or sulfhydryl groups in cell wall proteins (11, 35). Silver also binds to DNA (38). Through these binding events, metabolic processes are disrupted, leading to cell death (21).

The article also cites its use in Europe

Silver is effective against planktonic bacteria (34) and has been used for water disinfection in Europe (18, 31).

this is a link to a This Old House recommendation to use copper strips, or shingles containing copper granules to prevent algae growth on roofs.

  • 6
    There's a big difference between "silver is one part of a antibacterial system" and "a spoon in a carafe makes a measurable difference to health". (Aside: Patents are close to worthless as evidence; the claims in them are ambitious by nature and not necessarily tested.)
    – Oddthinking
    Sep 3 '13 at 2:23
  • Just to be clear, I don't think that drinking water with small amounts of silver provides any health benefit. I think that drinking water that's not contaminated with algae or bacteria provides a clear health benefit.
    – Mark
    Sep 5 '13 at 23:23

Silver has been known to have antimicrobial properties for since at least Hippocrates (300 BC) used it for dressing wounds.

It is still seen as significant anti-bacterial agent as well as having antifungal and antiviral effects.

Medical usage is typically with microparticles or as silver salts. I don't know how much impact a solid spoon would have.

  • 2
    Not exactly: silver is not such a good anti-bacterial agent as you may think...
    – Sklivvz
    Dec 13 '11 at 18:11
  • 1
    @Sklivvz - that abstract seems to address wound infections. That's not necessarily correlated to water quality.
    – user5341
    Dec 14 '11 at 15:28
  • @Henry - would you mind citing some of the relevant pieces from the links in the second paragraph? As you noted, it may not 100% relate to a silver spoon but would definitely be worth an upvote
    – user5341
    Dec 14 '11 at 15:29
  • 3
    Thsi doesn't address OP's question about whether silver decontaminates drinking water.
    – Publius
    Mar 10 '13 at 7:31

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