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Antibacterial vs Antimicrobial, What is the Difference?

The world is full of great rivalries: The Chicago Bears vs. the Green Bay Packers, Apollo Creed vs. Rocky Balboa, Pepsi vs. Coke, Democrats vs. Republicans, Chevy trucks vs. Ford trucks, Marvel vs. DC Comics.

In the germ-fighting game, the No. 1 feud going today is the performance battle between antibacterial and antimicrobial substances. These two strong cold and flu fighters deliver instant eradication of the building blocks of colds and influenza. The million-dollar question in this rivalry: Who does it better?

Let’s start by breaking down the primary difference between antibacterial and antimicrobial substances. Both act upon different types of microorganisms. Let’s start looking at the definitions of each:

Definition of Antibacterial: Anything that destroys bacteria or suppresses their growth or their ability to reproduce.

An antibacterial is a chemical that specifically kills bacteria cells.

Definition of Antimicrobial: Destroying or inhibiting the growth of microorganisms and especially pathogenic microorganisms.

An antimicrobial product is an agent that inhibits the growth of a microorganism or kills such an organism outright.

While antibacterial products like antibacterial soap and detergents prevent the development of bacteria, antimicrobial agents like alcohol-based hand sanitizers prevent the spread of bacterial, fungi, parasites and some viruses. This gives anti-microbial products a broader scope of protection than the defense present in antibacterial products. In essence, antimicrobials can act as both antibacterials and antiparasitics.

Which is better or more effective?

Antimicrobial has the advantage.  An antimicrobial is effective against a wide spectrum of microbes: this includes bacteria, mold, fungi and even viruses. An antibacterial, on the other hand, is only effective against bacteria. Antimicrobials offer a greater level of protection by continuously inhibiting microbial growth on surfaces for a very long period of time.

Still, both of these proven germ killers deliver championship-caliber results.

Case in point: Cleansing wipes, which are available as both antibacterial and antimicrobial products. Antibacterial hand wipes destroy bacteria, while antimicrobial wipes kill bacteria and other microorganisms that can cause sickness. Both antibacterial and antimicrobial wipes can be components of effective hand hygiene.

But antibacterial’s limitations have industry experts almost universally giving the edge to antimicrobial products like alcohol-based hand sanitizers in stopping germs and bacteria dead in their sickly tracks.

“An antibacterial is an antibiotic, but as its name implies, it can only target bacterial,” Mental Floss’ Stephanie Lee writes. “Antibiotics, on the other hand, can kill or keep pathogens from growing.”

Ancient Egyptians first discovered the remarkable cleansing power of antimicrobials more than 2,000 years ago, using specific molds and plant entrants to treat infections. In 1928, Alexander Fleming discovered the immense healing power of a natural antimicrobial fungus known as penicillin.

Today, millions of Americans across the country turn to antimicrobial products like hand sanitizer daily to keep their hands clean, and themselves and their families happy and healthy.

Popular Avant Hand Sanitizers

B4 Brands offers the following antimicrobial, 60% ethanol-based hand sanitizers:

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(12-Pack) 16.9 oz Avant® Fragrance-Free Hand Sanitizing Gel


Item #: 12089-16-FF
Type: Hand Sanitizing Gel
Active Ingredient: Ethanol 60%
Fragrance: Fragrance-Free
95% bio-based
Cases ship free

12094 18 cs

(12-pack) 18 oz Avant® Fragrance-Free Foaming Hand Sanitizer


Item #: 12094-18-FF
Size: 18 Oz. Pump Bottle
Type: Hand Sanitizing Foam
Active Ingredient: Ethanol 62%
Fragrance: Fragrance-Free
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Popular Aterra Antibacterial Hand Soaps

B4 Brands offers the following Aterra antibacterial hand soaps:

Sale 12007 18 cs

(12-pack) 18 oz. Aterra® Antibacterial Foaming Hand Soap


Size:  18 oz. bottles
Foaming, Antibacterial
Active Ingredient: 
Benzalkonium Chloride 0.1%
Fresh Cotton (IFRA Certified)
Ships Free

12007 9410front

(4-pack) Aterra® 7 Antibacterial Foaming Hand Soap, 1000 mL Refills


Size: 1000 mL
Type: Foam, Antibacterial
Active Ingredient: Benzalkonium Chloride 0.1%
Use with dispensers: 9410, 9410-B, 9415, 9415-B

12007 34 1

(4-pack) Aterra® 7 Antibacterial Foaming Hand Soap, 1000 mL refill


Item #: 12007-34
Size: 1000 mL Refills
Type: Foam, Antibacterial
Active Ingredient: Benzalkonium Chloride 0.1%
Use with: Dispenser 9360
Free shipping