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Antibiotic vs. Antibacterial — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman — Updated on September 30, 2023
Antibiotic is substance killing or inhibiting bacteria growth, e.g., penicillin. Antibacterial is an agent preventing the growth of bacteria, e.g., soap.
Antibiotic vs. Antibacterial — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Antibiotic and Antibacterial


Key Differences

Antibiotics are pharmaceutical compounds that either kill bacteria or inhibit their growth, playing a crucial role in treating bacterial infections in humans, animals, and plants. Antibacterials, on the other hand, are agents, such as soap or hand sanitizer, designed to destroy bacteria on surfaces, preventing their growth and multiplication, often used in healthcare settings and household cleaning products to maintain hygiene.
Antibiotics, derived from microorganisms or synthesized, are precise in action, targeting specific bacteria, helping in controlling infections in living beings. Antibacterials have a broader spectrum, intended for external use to disinfect surfaces and prevent the spread of bacteria, playing a key role in controlling bacterial contamination.
Antibiotics are regulated substances, requiring medical prescriptions due to their potent effects and the risk of antibiotic resistance development. Antibacterials are commonly available as over-the-counter products, and they are used in everyday products to mitigate the risk of bacterial infections, but overuse may also contribute to bacterial resistance.
Antibiotics operate systematically, interacting with the biological systems to eliminate or control bacterial infections internally. Antibacterials work on external surfaces, breaking down bacterial cell walls and reducing bacterial populations to create a safer, cleaner environment.

Comparison Chart


To treat bacterial infections in living beings.
To disinfect and prevent bacterial growth on surfaces.


Internal (Oral, Intravenous, etc.).
External (Cleaning products, soaps, etc.).


Prescription required (mostly).
Over-the-counter (mostly).


Specific to certain bacteria.

Development of Resistance

Can lead to antibiotic resistance if misused.
Can contribute to antibacterial resistance.

Compare with Definitions


A pharmaceutical agent used to treat diseases caused by bacteria, e.g., erythromycin.
Erythromycin is an antibiotic effective against a variety of bacteria.


A compound used for disinfecting surfaces, e.g., lysol.
Lysol is a widely used antibacterial for cleaning purposes.


A medicine used to treat bacterial infections, e.g., amoxicillin.
The doctor prescribed an antibiotic to combat the infection.


A product formulated to kill bacteria on surfaces, e.g., sanitizers.
Antibacterial sanitizers are crucial for maintaining hand hygiene.


A compound killing bacteria, e.g., penicillin.
Penicillin was the first discovered antibiotic.


A substance designed to control bacterial contamination, e.g., hydrogen peroxide.
Hydrogen peroxide is a common antibacterial used for wound cleaning.


A substance inhibiting the growth of bacteria, e.g., tetracycline.
The patient received an antibiotic to control the bacterial growth.


A substance designed to destroy bacteria, e.g., bleach.
We use an antibacterial to disinfect the kitchen counter.


A chemical substance produced by microorganisms to inhibit bacteria, e.g., streptomycin.
Streptomycin is a powerful antibiotic used against tuberculosis.


An agent preventing bacterial growth, e.g., triclosan.
This hand wash contains an antibacterial to inhibit the growth of germs.


An antibiotic is a type of antimicrobial substance active against bacteria. It is the most important type of antibacterial agent for fighting bacterial infections, and antibiotic medications are widely used in the treatment and prevention of such infections.


Destroying or inhibiting the growth of bacteria.


A substance, such as penicillin or erythromycin, produced by or derived from certain microorganisms, including fungi and bacteria, that can destroy or inhibit the growth of other microorganisms, especially bacteria. Antibiotics are widely used in the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases.


An antibacterial substance.


Of or relating to antibiotics.


(pharmaceutical effect) Killing or inhibiting bacteria.
This drug has an antibacterial effect.


Of or relating to antibiosis.


(archaic) Opposing the theory that diseases are caused by bacteria.


Destroying life or preventing the inception or continuance of life.


(pharmaceutical drug) A drug having the effect of killing or inhibiting bacteria.
Many household products contain antibacterials.


(pharmaceutical drug) Any substance that can destroy or inhibit the growth of bacteria and similar microorganisms, generally transported by the lymphatic system.


Killing or inhibiting the growth of bacteria; - applied also to serum for protection against bacterial diseases.


(pharmaceutical effect) Of or relating to antibiotics.


A chemical substance which kills or inhibits the growth of bacteria.


(obsolete) Of or relating to the theory that extraterrestrial life does not exist.


Any drug that destroys bacteria or inhibits their growth


A chemical substance derived from a mold or bacterium that kills microorganisms and cures infections.


Destroying bacteria or inhibiting their growth


Any chemical substance having therapeutically useful antibacterial or antifungal activity; - used commonly but loosely for synthetic as well as natural antimicrobial agents.


Of or pertaining to an antibiotic.


Having antimicrobial activity; capable of killing microbes.


A chemical substance derivable from a mold or bacterium that kills microorganisms and cures infections;
When antibiotics were first discovered they were called wonder drugs


Of or relating to antibiotic drugs

Common Curiosities

What is an antibiotic?

An antibiotic is a medicinal substance that treats bacterial infections by killing or inhibiting bacterial growth.

What does antibacterial mean?

Antibacterial refers to agents that destroy or inhibit the growth of bacteria on surfaces.

Are antibacterials found in cleaning products?

Yes, many cleaning products contain antibacterials to disinfect surfaces.

Can antibiotics be used as antibacterials?

No, antibiotics are specifically for treating internal bacterial infections, while antibacterials are for external disinfection.

Can overuse of antibiotics lead to resistance?

Yes, overuse or misuse of antibiotics can lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Can antibacterials also lead to resistance?

Yes, excessive use of antibacterials can contribute to the development of resistant bacterial strains.

Can antibiotic overuse impact gut flora?

Yes, antibiotics can disrupt the balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut, leading to digestive issues.

Are antibiotics bacteria-specific?

Yes, different antibiotics are effective against specific types of bacteria.

Can I buy antibacterials over-the-counter?

Yes, most antibacterial agents like soaps and cleaning products are available over-the-counter.

Can antibiotics be synthetic?

Yes, antibiotics can be naturally occurring, semi-synthetic, or synthetic.

Can antibiotics treat viral infections?

No, antibiotics are not effective against viruses; they are specific to bacterial infections.

Are all antibiotics prescription drugs?

Most antibiotics require a prescription due to the risk of misuse and resistance, but some are available over-the-counter in certain countries.

Are antibacterials only chemical?

Most are chemical, but some natural substances also have antibacterial properties, like certain essential oils.

Are antibacterials broad-spectrum?

Yes, antibacterials are usually broad-spectrum, acting against a wide range of bacteria.

Do antibacterials kill all bacteria on surfaces?

Antibacterials reduce bacteria to safe levels but may not eliminate all bacteria.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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