Silver as an antimicrobial: facts and gaps in knowledge

Crit Rev Microbiol. 2013 Nov;39(4):373-83. doi: 10.3109/1040841X.2012.713323. Epub 2012 Aug 28.


Silver has been used for centuries. Today, silver and silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) are used in a wide range of healthcare, food industry, domiciliary applications, and are commonly found in hard surface materials and textiles. Such an extensive use raises questions about its safety, environmental toxicity and the risks associated with microbial resistance and cross-resistance. If the mechanisms of antimicrobial action of ionic silver (Ag+) have been studied, there is little understanding of AgNPs interactions with microorganisms. There have been excellent reviews on the bacterial resistance mechanisms to silver, but there is a paucity of information on resistance to AgNPs. Silver toxicity and accumulation in the environment has been studied and there is a better understanding of silver concentration and species in different environmental compartments. However, owing to the increased applications of silver and AgNPs, questions remain about the presence and consequences of AgNPs in the environment. This review provides an historical perspective of silver usage, an overview of applications, and combined information of microbial resistance and toxicity. Owing the evidence provided in this review, a call for a better understanding and control of silver usage, and for tighter regulations of silver and AgNPs usage is proposed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Infective Agents / pharmacology*
  • Anti-Infective Agents / toxicity
  • Disinfectants / pharmacology
  • Disinfectants / toxicity
  • Humans
  • Nanoparticles
  • Silver / pharmacology*
  • Silver / toxicity


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Disinfectants
  • Silver