Is Microban Safe and How Does Microban Work Against Bacteria?

The hardworking antimicrobial can be found in flooring, mattresses, and even COVID-combating disinfectants.

woman cleaning spray
Photo: demaerre/Getty Images

You've probably seen the phrase "with Microban" on packaging and marketing for items as diverse as pet food dishes, bath mats, and front-load washing machines. The word Microban refers to both a company, Microban International, and many of the products containing one of its multiple antimicrobial technologies.

What Is Microban and Is It Safe?

Microban safely gives products the ability to fight the growth of microbes such as bacteria, mold, and mildew.

While some materials, such as copper, naturally kill microbes, others use additives like Microban to fight against bacteria (which can double on your home's surfaces every 4 to 20 minutes). This makes surfaces "easier to clean and last longer; you can even wash some items less," says Brian Aylward, Senior Director of Global Textiles Business at Microban.

Antimicrobials aren't new—Merriam-Webster says the term was first used in 1891—but the COVID-19 pandemic brought renewed interest in Microban and antimicrobial products. "We have seen an increase in interest in home products overall," says Aylward. "In particular, home textiles such as mattresses,($680, Costco) mattress pads, pillows, and blankets have recently been an area where we have seen the most interest and growth."

Some attention may be because many of these items, like mattresses, are challenging to clean or are cleaned less often. While most Microban products don't protect against coronavirus or other transmittable illnesses, Microban-treated products fight surface pollutants, like bacteria or mold, to allow for better disinfecting.

"With everyone spending so much time at home these days [during the pandemic], cleaner items can be very comforting and even allow the user to worry a little bit less," says Aylward. According to Aylward, the company expects the home cleaning trend to last for the next few years—and it's likely to go longer, given past pandemics' impacts on architecture and interior design.

In the future, you may see more homes with Microban products as foundational elements, such as flooring underlays, porcelain floor and wall tiles and carpets, engineered stone kitchen countertops and backsplashes, and even smaller details like caulk and sealants.

lime green bathroom with colorful shower curtain
David Tsay

Built-In Microban Products

There are two types of Microban products: built-in and surface applications. In most Microban home products, antimicrobial agents are incorporated during manufacturing. The product is protected—whether a shower curtain liner ($13, Walmart) in a damp environment or doorknobs in high-touch areas—against microbes that might otherwise damage the item and reduce its lifespan. Depending on the type of antimicrobial, Microban can protect products from mold and bacteria that cause odors, discoloration, and staining.

Built-in antimicrobials provide continuous protection and remain active for the product's lifetime; they don't wash off or wear away. "Textile applications can typically last up to 50 home launderings, and polymeric applications are permanent and lasting the product's life," says Aylward. However, antimicrobials are not a magical, self-cleaning solution, and regular cleaning and care of products with Microban is still necessary.

Microban cleaning products

Courtesy of Microban

Microban Surface Applications

The second type of Microban product is applied to a surface to protect and clean it. This includes new Microban 24-hour cleaners ($4, Walmart) and Adam's Interior Detailer with Microban. The effects of these products are shorter-lived than built-in antimicrobials, and their effectiveness dissipates with time and use so they must be reapplied.

These cleaning products also require careful use to be truly effective. "When using an aftermarket spray technology, always look at the product label for use instructions," says Aylward. For example, the Microban 24-hour products are effective against COVID-19 when used following the product's directions for use against Rotavirus on hard, non-porous surfaces. However, they don't claim to fight viruses, such as COVID-19, for 24 hours.

What to Know About Antimicrobial Registration and Regulation

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), "more than 4,000 antimicrobial products [are] currently registered with EPA and sold in the marketplace." However, not all antimicrobial products are required to be registered with the EPA. For example, antimicrobial agents that are used to exclusively protect the product (instead of claiming that the antimicrobial protects people) are exempt from registration. This includes most Microban product partnerships for home products. These built-in antimicrobial products won't have an EPA registration number on the product label. The promotional information should clearly identify the product as being protected by the antimicrobial properties.

Microban 24 cleaning products, however, do make claims regarding pathogens that impact people. These antimicrobial products are registered with the EPA following scientific efficacy tests. Microban 24 and other products like it can claim they combat COVID-19 and are included on the EPA list of approved disinfectants for use against the coronavirus.

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  1. "Just How Fast Can Bacteria Grow? It Depends." Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. 2010. pp. 310-559.

  2. Grass, Gregor et al. "Metallic Copper as an Antimicrobial Surface." Applied and Environmental Microbiology, vol. 77, no. 5, 2011, pp. 1541–1547, doi: 10.1128/AEM.02766-10

  3. "What are Antimicrobial Pesticides?" U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2022

  4. "Consumer Products Treated with Pesticides." U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2022

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