It has been suggested that antibacterial copper could be used in place of stainless steel to help reduce the occurrence of hospital-acquired infections. The antibacterial activity of copper has been clearly demonstrated when using cell suspensions held in prolonged contact with copper or copper alloys. The aim of this study was to evaluate the antimicrobial properties of copper in comparison with stainless steel in a generally dry environment. Three stainless steels of varying surface finish and polished copper were soiled with Staphylococcus aureus suspended in a protein-based organic soil (bovine serum album), dried rapidly, and then incubated for 24 h. Surfaces were then wiped clean using a standardised wiping procedure with two cleaning agents recommended by UK National Health Service guidelines. This soiling/cleaning procedure was carried out daily over five days. After each cleaning cycle the amount of residual soil and live cells was assessed using direct epifluorescence microscopy. All materials were easily cleaned after the first soiling episode but a build-up of cells and soil was observed on the copper surfaces after several cleaning/wiping cycles. Stainless steel remained highly cleanable. Accumulation of material on copper is presumably due to the high reactivity of copper, resulting in surface conditioning. This phenomenon will affect subsequent cleaning, aesthetic properties and possibly antibacterial performance. It is important to select the appropriate cleaning/disinfecting protocols for selected surfaces.