Antimicrobial, antibacterial, microbicidal: Why it’s important to understand the differences

Sherwin-Williams - Paint and design and health

An EPA-registered microbicidal paint, Paint Shield is designed to kill nearly 100 percent of Staph, MRSA, E. coli, VRE, and E. aerogenes on the painted surface.

Bacteria-killing properties are moving paint beyond just aesthetics. AIA partner Sherwin-Williams explains what architects need to know to specify the correct coating.

When it comes to specifying a coating for health care and other settings, there is much more to consider than just color. Due to recent advancements in technology, paint can go beyond aesthetic benefits to perform a variety of tasks, such as killing harmful pathogens on painted surfaces, helping to reduce odors and improving indoor air quality.

In order to select the right coating for each project, it’s important to know the difference between these new advancements to ensure the correct one is chosen for the right project. One particular source of confusion is the use of the terms antimicrobial, antibacterial, and microbicidal. Each refers to specific benefits and each offers different types of protections. Here are the key differences to help inform and empower the specification process.

Antimicrobial

When microbes, such as mildew and mold, grow on the painted surface, they can stain and deteriorate the paint film, thus reducing the coating’s integrity. Coatings that contain an antimicrobial can inhibit the growth of these microorganisms, protecting the film itself from degradation. In addition, antimicrobial agents inhibit the growth of bacterial odor.

The term antimicrobial can be used in a variety of product claims across industries. As such, products that claim antimicrobial properties with a public or nonpublic health claim must go through appropriate testing by product type to demonstrate efficacy and then approval by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Paints with antimicrobial properties are ideal for areas with high moisture that tend to see mold and mildew growth, such as bathrooms, gym pools and more.

Antibacterial

A type of antimicrobial, antibacterial agents are used to inhibit the growth of bacteria. However, in paint, antibacterial agents typically inhibit only the growth of the common microbes that make up harmful bacteria, thus only protecting the paint film itself.

Microbicidal

Generally speaking, microbicidal substances or compounds go a step further by actually killing microscopic organisms on the surface. Paints formulated with these properties are designed to kill microorganisms, such as bacteria or other disease-causing microorganisms, on painted surfaces. Any product that has health-related claims to kill harmful microorganisms must be registered with the EPA.

For example, Sherwin-Williams’ Paint Shield is a microbicidal paint that has an active ingredient—quaternary ammonium compound (Alkyl Dimethyl Benzyl Ammonium Chloride)—that actually kills five types of harmful bacteria. The ingredient is commonly known in the industry as “quat.”

The first EPA-registered microbicidal paint, Paint Shield kills greater than 99.9 percent of Staph (Staphylococcus aureus), MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), E. coli (Escherichia coli), VRE (Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecalis), and Enterobacter aerogenes within two hours of exposure on a painted surface.

The development of Paint Shield represents a major breakthrough in the industry, with far-reaching benefits for health care settings and beyond. Far from simply performing an aesthetic function, in many ways coatings have now become a key part of the solution for many hospitals seeking ways to overcome some of their biggest challenges.

Designing for health is more important than ever, especially in hospital or clinic projects. Understanding the difference between antimicrobial, antibacterial, and microbicidal is a great first step in that process.

For more information about Paint Shield and other coatings solutions, visit swpaintshield.com/pro.

AIA does not sponsor or endorse any enterprise, whether public or private, operated for profit. Further, no AIA officer, director, committee member, or employee, or any of its component organizations in his or her official capacity, is permitted to approve, sponsor, endorse, or do anything that may be deemed or construed to be an approval, sponsorship, or endorsement of any material of construction or any method or manner of handling, using, distributing, or dealing in any material or product.

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Sherwin-Williams - Paint and design and health

Sherwin-Williams

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