What Is Microban? How the Antimicrobial Protects Your Home from Icky Bacteria, Mold, and Mildew

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

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You've probably seen the phrase "with Microban" on packaging and marketing for items as diverse as pet food dishes,($24, Chewy) bath mats, and front-load washing machines ($848 The Home Depot).The word Microban refers to both a company, Microban International, and many of the products containing one of its multiple antimicrobial technologies. So what exactly does it do? Microban gives products the ability to fight the growth of microbes such as bacteria, mold, and mildew.

woman cleaning spray
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While some materials, such as copper, naturally kill microbes, others incorporate antimicrobial additives, like Microban, to fight against things like 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 coronavirus pandemic has 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,($1,000, Costco) mattress pads, pillows, and blankets have recently been an area where we have seen the most interest and growth." Some of that attention may be due to the fact that many of these items, like mattresses, are difficult to clean or are cleaned less often, making them particular areas of interest for disinfecting. While most Microban products do not protect against coronavirus, 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, 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

In general, there are two types of Microban products: built-in and surface applications. In most Microban home products, the antimicrobial agents are incorporated during manufacturing. These protect the product they are built into—whether that's 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. As a result, it keeps items cleaner and fresher longer.

Built-in antimicrobials provide continuous protection and remain active for the lifetime of the product; they do not 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

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 in accordance with the product's directions for use against Rotavirus on hard, non-porous surfaces. However, they do not 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), there are "more than 4,000 antimicrobial products currently registered with EPA and sold in the marketplace." However, not all antimicrobial products are required to be registered with the EPA. 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 will not have an EPA registration number on the product label, and the marketing language 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 kinds of antimicrobial products are registered with the EPA following scientific efficacy tests. Therefore, Microban 24, and other products like it, are able to claim they combat COVID-19 and are included on the EPA list of approved disinfectants for use against the coronavirus.

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