Our vocabulary has really expanded in 2020. We’ve learned all about coronavirus, respirators, quarantines, and so many other things that were never on our radars.

You might also be hearing a ton of anti-words:  Antimicrobial, antibacterial, antiviral, and antiseptic. What’s up with all of this? What do these words actually mean?

Here’s what you need to know.


Definition: destructive to or inhibiting the growth of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, algae, fungi (like mold and mildew), and even dust-mites


Definition: destructive to or inhibiting the growth of bacteria only


Definition: inhibiting the growth of viruses specifically


Definition: free from or cleaned of germs and other microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi

Ultra-Fresh, a leading brand in antimicrobial protection, has a great analogy to tell the difference. Think of it like a “car” vs. an “SUV”. All SUVs are cars, whereas not all cars are SUVs. The same can be said for antibacterial vs. antimicrobial.

Antibacterial would be the SUV and antimicrobial would be the car. Antimicrobial is the broad term, while antibacterial is a specific type of antimicrobial.

Did You Know?:  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), when microorganisms are resistant to antimicrobials, they’re referred to as “superbugs.” This is a big deal because the infection isn’t easy to destroy and could easily spread to others.

Is Antibacterial or Antimicrobial Better?

Antibacterial products prevent bacteria like E. coli and MRSA from forming, or it will destroy the germs that are already there. Antimicrobial products, on the other hand, prevent and destroy not only bacteria, but also fungi, parasites, algae, dust-mites, and certain viruses.

This gives antimicrobial agents the competitive edge.

What Are Some Antibacterial & Antimicrobial Products?

Good hygiene is more important now than ever before during the COVID-19 pandemic. You should have a supply of antibacterial and antimicrobial products at home, the office, and everywhere in between.

Antibacterial Products:

  • Soap
  • Lotion
  • Cleaners
  • Detergents
  • Sprays
  • Wet Wipes
  • Toothpaste
  • Mouthwash
  • Pens
  • Rubber gloves
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Disinfectants
  • Mouse pads


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises that plain old soap and water is just as effective as antibacterial options. As long as you’re washing your hands, you’re good to go!


You should never use antibacterial lotion instead of soap, but it’s a good option if you’re dealing with dry skin. It will also help protect you against germs and contamination throughout the day.

Cleaners & Detergents

Antibacterial cleaners, detergents, and sprays are a must when it comes to household chores. They’re particularly necessary for doing the laundry, washing the dishes, and of course, cleaning the bathroom, which harbors over 34,000 bacteria on the toilet alone.


During the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ll see antibacterial or antimicrobial pens at reception desks and cash registers. These pens are designed for one-time use to help slow down the spread of infections.

Rubber Gloves

Disposable gloves that are used in medical facilities are made using antimicrobial agents. This helps keep the doctors and nurses safe from infections.

Hand Sanitizer

Hand sanitizer that is made with at least 60% alcohol is naturally antimicrobial. It will prevent the spread of any harmful microorganism, which is why it’s such a good idea to always carry a bottle.


Not all cleaners are disinfectants, which are chemical liquids that destroy bacteria. They’re less effective than total sterilization, but are particularly great for household cleaning.

Mouse Pads

Believe it or not, PPE products aren’t the only ones that can be antimicrobial. There are antimicrobial mouse pads on the market that are particularly great for public computer labs at libraries and schools.

Final Thoughts

Whether you pick up antibacterial soap at the store or hunt down antimicrobial hand sanitizer, the most important thing is that you’re being mindful of your hygiene habits.

You as a consumer are in charge of your own health. Make sure you’re always making the most informed decisions, and that starts with knowing the difference between antibacterial and antimicrobial. Stay safe out there!


Microban. Antibacterial vs. Antimicrobial: What’s the Difference? Retrieved from, https://www.microban.com/antimicrobial-solutions/overview/antibacterial-vs-antimicrobial

Ultra-Fresh. (2018, December 20). Difference Between Antimicrobial and Antibacterial. Retrieved from, https://www.ultra-fresh.com/antimicrobial-vs-antibacterial/

World Health Organization. (2017 July). What is Antimicrobial Resistance? Retrieved from, https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/antimicrobial-resistance

U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). (2019, May 16). Antibacterial Soap? You Can Skip It, Use Plain Soap and Water. Retrieved from, https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/antibacterial-soap-you-can-skip-it-use-plain-soap-and-water

Better Health Channel. Antibacterial Cleaning Products. Retrieved from, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/antibacterial-cleaning-products

Cleaner Home. (2017, November 6). Here’s How Much Bacteria is Living on Your Toilet. Retrieved from, https://www.thecleanerhome.com/blog/heres-much-bacteria-living-toilet

Landers, B. (2009, July 1). Oral Bacteria: How Many? How Fast? Retrieved from, https://www.rdhmag.com/infection-control/water-safety/article/16404976/oral-bacteria-how-many-how-fast

About the author

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is a promo expert with over four years of experience in the industry. She is the Lead Copywriter at Quality Logo Products and has had work published for the Promotional Products Association International and the Advertising Specialty Institute.