Contact killing is a novel term describing the killing of bacteria when they come in contact with metallic copper or copper-containing alloys. In recent years, the mechanism of contact killing has received much attention and many mechanistic details are available. The authors here review some of these mechanistic aspects with a focus on the critical physicochemical properties of copper which make it antibacterial. Known mechanisms of contact killing are set in context to ionic, corrosive, and physical properties of copper. The analysis reveals that the oxidation behavior of copper, paired with the solubility properties of copper oxides, are the key factors which make metallic copper antibacterial. The concept advanced here explains the unique position of copper as an antibacterial metal. Based on our model, novel design criteria for metallic antibacterial materials may be derived.