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Anastasia Swearingen

Biocides: Essential Tools that Prevent Harmful Microbial Growth

The public relies on a class of biocides known as disinfectants to kill many disease-causing viruses (like the flu), bacteria (examples include E. coli and salmonella), fungi (such as mold), and other microbes, before they can cause harm. For example, these specialized substances help hospitals prevent the dangerous spread of disease, help restaurants and food processors keep harmful pathogens out of our food, and ensure the safety of our drinking water.

Child Drinking Safe Clean Water

Additionally, these biocides are essential in ensuring countless manufacturing and industrial processes are not compromised by microorganism growth. Biocides play a key role in livestock production, oil and gas extraction, marine shipping, and many other processes.

But the benefits of biocides don’t stop there. There are a suite of biocides that also are essential preservatives for materials—they protect a vast array of products from pharmaceuticals to furniture to building materials from destructive microorganisms.

Uses & Benefits

  • Public health
  • Patient protection
  • Disinfectants
  • Sanitizing Supplies
  • Cosmetics
  • Paints & Coatings
  • Fabrics
  • Wood


Antimicrobials are substances that prevent the growth and spread of microbes like bacteria, viruses, and fungi such as mold. Antimicrobial products, also called biocides, are used in hospitals, homes, schools, and countless other spaces to help kill germs, disinfect drinking water, ensure everyday products last longer, and keep manufacturing processes running safely.

Antimicrobial agent is a general term used for a drug, chemical, or other substance that either kills or slows the growth of microbes. Among antimicrobial agents are antibacterial drugs, antiviral agents, antifungal agents, and antiparasitic drugs. Some commonly used antimicrobial agents include silver, copper and other metals.

To help ensure safety, antimicrobials are strictly regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. state agencies depending on how they are intended to be used. If a product claims on its label to kill microbes like germs or bacteria, the manufacturer of the product must prove to the EPA that it kills what it is supposed to kill and that it does not cause any significant harm to people, animals, or the environment.

By law, EPA is required to periodically reevaluate every antimicrobial registration to make sure the product continues to meet safety standards.

Although these can be good chemistries and they may sound similar, there are distinct differences and it is important that you know these differences. Antibiotics are antimicrobials but not all antimicrobials are antibiotics. Antimicrobial medicines used to treat or prevent bacterial infections in humans or animals are antibiotics. And, while antibacterial products prevent the development of bacteria, antimicrobials have a broader spectrum and can kill and stop the spread of bacteria, fungi, and some viruses. This website focuses on antimicrobials that control harmful microbes on inanimate objects and surfaces.

As explained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are distinct differences between “cleaning,” “sanitizing” and “disinfecting” and you should know those differences when you want to stop the spread of germs and disease. When it comes to killing germs, think of these processes as Action 1 (low), Action 2 (medium) and Action 3 (high) action levels. Action 1 is to clean. “Cleaning” removes germs, dirt and impurities from surfaces or objects but it does not kill gems. Cleaning works by using soap and water to physically remove germs from surfaces. Action 2 is to sanitize. . “Sanitizing” lowers the number of germs on a surface or object by reducing the germs to levels considered safe by public health standards or requirements. Action 3 is to disinfect. “Disinfecting” kills germs by using chemicals directly on surfaces and objects. This process does not necessarily clean a dirty surface or remove the germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning it, disinfection can further lower risk of spreading infection.

Microbes can grow and thrive in many industrial settings, causing production problems and safety hazards. Antimicrobials are important in these spaces—for worker safety as well as more efficient manufacturing processes. Countless industries, from food production to manufacturing to gas extraction, rely on antimicrobials.

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