Difference Between Antimicrobial and Antibacterial

Difference Between Antimicrobial and Antibacterial

The terms “antimicrobial” and “antibacterial” are often used interchangeably, however, they do have rather different meanings!

Would you say a car and an SUV are the same thing?

Well, kinda…but not really.

If you look at the pair one way, both are motorized vehicles that are used to travel, but at the same time, they do not carry the exact same meaning.  A car is a broad term for vehicles, whereas a SUV is a specific type of car.

This same line of thinking can be applied in order to understand the difference between antimicrobial and antibacterial.

Antimicrobial is the broad term while antibacterial is a specific type of antimicrobial.


Before we dive deeper, if you want a little refresher on the definition of a microbe, read our previous blog titled: An Introduction to Microorganisms.

If you aren’t exactly sure what an antimicrobial agent is, no problem – we’ve got you covered.  You can learn more via our blog titled: Antimicrobial Agents: What Are They?


So, What’s the Difference Between Antibacterial and Antimicrobial?

The primary difference between antimicrobial and antibacterial treatments is the types of microorganisms they inhibit.  First, let’s start with an antimicrobial definition, along with an antibacterial definition, before we compare the two directly.

Antibacterial Definition

An antibacterial treatment is an active agent that, when included in the manufacturing process of a product or material, works to inhibit the growth and even entirely prevent bacteria from occurring within the product/material throughout its entire lifespan.

Definition of antibacterial


Antimicrobial Definition

Antibacterial treatments only actively prevent the growth of bacteria within products.  Antimicrobial treatments may further protect products by safeguarding against fungi, algae and certain “micro-animals” such as house dust mites.

An antimicrobial treatment is an active agent that, when included in the manufacturing process of a product or material, works to inhibit the growth and even entirely eliminate microorganisms from occurring within the product/material throughout its entire lifespan.

“Anti” stands for “against,” while “microbe” refers to any microorganism (microscopic organism). In a broad description of common microorganisms, bacteria, fungi, algae and micro-animals (such as house dust mites) are included.

definition of Antimicrobial


Therefore, antimicrobial treatments may provide an additional line of defense against microorganisms beyond what antibacterial treatments can offer.

While antibacterial treatments will prevent bacterial growth, they do not protect against other odour-causing and damaging microbes to the extent that antimicrobials can.


Conclusion: Antibacterial vs Antimicrobial

Even though they mean different things, antimicrobial and antibacterial are still used somewhat interchangeably.  However, antimicrobials continue to offer more protection than antibacterial products.  Therefore, your products and materials are further safeguarded from odor and stain-causing mold, mildew, algae and/or dust mites.

At Ultra-Fresh, our antimicrobial technology keeps products and fabrics cleaner and fresher for longer.  Items are protected against odors and material breakdown caused by microbial growth, ultimately leading to longer product life.

Our antimicrobial are applied to products across a variety of industries, from textiles, polymers and foam to coatings, adhesives and latex.


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Our Antimicrobial Expertise

Thomson Research Associates (TRA) is a global leader in the field of antimicrobial treatments, providing technologies that impart bacterial and fungal efficacy to finished products for over 60 years.

We are committed to helping our clients deliver fresh, durable and innovative products by providing antimicrobial additives and treatments for fabrics, polymers, foams, coatings and more.

Our ultimate goal is to satisfy our clients’ specific needs through excellence in service, science, and support. Find out how we work with you through our scientific testing laboratory, highly-qualified technical and regulatory specialists.

We offer a selection of products, including options that are US EPA registered, BPR compliant and OEKO-TEX® listed.

Furthermore, acknowledging our social responsibility, we have partnered with bluesign® in our joint initiative for the removal of harmful substances and practices from the manufacturing process.

Learn more about us or contact us for more information.