What Does Antimicrobial Mean?

Antimicrobial cleaning products

People come across the term “antimicrobial” daily, whether it is in relation to cleaning products, soaps, or even food. It is a common term that people see and hear and may not necessarily know what it means. So, what does antimicrobial mean?

What Does Antimicrobial Mean? 

The term “antimicrobial” refers to a substance that kills or inhibits the growth of microorganisms. Microorganisms include bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa. Antimicrobial agents can be found in soaps, detergents, disinfectants, and cleaning products.

The term is used in the context of human health, animal health, and plant health. In human health, you can use antimicrobial agents to treat wound and infections caused by microorganisms. In animal health, you can use them to prevent and treat infections in animals. In-plant health, they control diseases caused by microorganisms.

Some antimicrobials are natural substances. For instance, silver has antimicrobial properties. Others are man-made chemicals designed explicitly for their antibacterial properties. These chemicals are present in soaps, detergents, and cleaning products.Antimicrobial cleaning products

How Do Antimicrobial Agents Work? 

These agents work by either killing microorganisms or inhibiting their growth. When microorganisms are killed, they can no longer infect or cause disease. When their growth is inhibited, they are unable to reproduce and spread.

There are different types of antimicrobial agents, each with a different mode of action—some work by physically destroying the microorganism, while others work by interfering with its metabolism.

The choice of antimicrobial agent depends on the type of microorganism that you need to kill or inhibit and the environment in which it is. For example, certain agents may be more effective against bacteria and not viruses, while others may work against both.

What Types of Products Are Available That Contain Antimicrobials?

These products are categorized into groups and where each is used. The following are the groups of antimicrobial products:


Sanitizers are used on inanimate surfaces to reduce the number of microorganisms. These products are not designed to kill all microorganisms; however, they only reduce the number to a safe level. Most sanitizers contain alcohol, which is a quick-acting antimicrobial agent.

You need to take into account that the sanitizer should contain at least 60% alcohol to be effective. Hand sanitizers usually have a higher concentration of alcohol as they need to quickly kill a broad range of microorganisms.


Disinfectant antimicrobial agents are applied to the surface of non-living objects to destroy microorganisms that are living on the objects. Disinfectants are commonly used in hospitals and other healthcare facilities to clean surfaces and equipment in order to prevent the spread of infection.

Most disinfectants kill a wide range of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. However, some disinfectants are only effective against specific types of microorganisms.

The choice of disinfectant to use depends on the type of microorganism that is to be killed and the surface on which the disinfectant will be used. Some common disinfectants include bleach, quaternary ammonium compounds, and alcohol.


Antibiotics are antimicrobial agents that treat infections caused by bacteria. Antibiotics are typically used to treat bacterial infections that are difficult to treat with other medications.

Common antibiotics include penicillin, cephalosporins, and tetracyclines. Antibiotics are typically taken orally, although some can be given intravenously.


Antifungal, antimicrobial agents are used to treat infections caused by fungi. They are applied in the form of creams, ointments, or powders to the affected area. Many individuals with fungal infections use antifungal otc medications such as miconazole or clotrimazole.

It is important to note that antifungals are ineffective against bacteria or viruses. Therefore, they should not be used to treat infections that are not caused by fungi.


Antiviral, antimicrobial agents are used to treat infections caused by viruses. Antivirals work by preventing viruses from replicating inside the body. Common antiviral medications include acyclovir, valacyclovir, and zanamivir. Antivirals are typically taken orally, although some can be given intravenously.Person rubbing their hands after using a hand sanitizer

Are All Antimicrobial Products the Same?

No, all antimicrobial products are not the same. Each type of antimicrobial agent has a different mode of action.

Furthermore, each antimicrobial agent is designed to kill or inhibit a specific type of microorganism. Therefore, it is important to choose the right antimicrobial product for the job.

For example, using a sanitizer to disinfect surgical instruments would not be effective as sanitizers are not designed to kill all microorganisms. It is also important to follow the directions on the label when using antimicrobial products.

What Are the Benefits of Antimicrobial?

  • Reducing the spread of infection-causing microorganisms.
  • Keeping surfaces clean and free of harmful microorganisms.
  • They can be used on a variety of surfaces, including countertops, door handles, and floors.
  • You can use some antimicrobial products on the skin to help prevent infections such as athlete’s foot.
  • Extending the usable life of your product range- This is because antimicrobial products help prevent the growth of microorganisms on surfaces.

What Are the Risks of Antimicrobial Use?

  • The overuse and misuse of antimicrobial products can lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This is because antimicrobial agents kill both good and bad bacteria, and over time, the bacteria that are most resistant to the antimicrobial agents will survive and multiply.
  • Some people are also allergic to antimicrobial agents. The most common reactions include skin irritation, rashes, and hives. In rare cases, more severe reactions such as difficulty breathing and swelling of the throat can occur.
  • Some products that contain antimicrobial agents also release harmful chemicals into the environment. These chemicals can be toxic to animals and plants.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is There a Difference Between Antibacterial and Antimicrobial?

Yes, there is a difference between antibacterial and antimicrobial. Antibacterial agents can only kill bacteria, while antimicrobial agents can kill a wide range of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

Is Soap an Antimicrobial?

Antibacterial soaps contain antimicrobial agents that kill bacteria. However, regular soap does not contain antimicrobial agents and only removes dirt and oil from the skin.


To sum it up, antimicrobial agents are important in many industries and applications. You can use them to protect yourself and your belongings from harmful microorganisms. When you use it correctly, antimicrobial agents can be very effective in preventing the spread of diseases.