Mercurochrome and Merthiolate

When there was a scrape or cut in my childhood home, and there were many, out came the rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide or Mercurochrome or the Merthiolate! Merbromin was a chemical compound that contained carbon, hydrogen, bromine, mercury, sodium, and oxygen atoms.


It was marketed as Mercurochrome, the over the counter version of diluted Merbromin with water and tincture alcohol. It was the post war antiseptic of choice that would leave a nice red stain on the skin. In 1998 the FDA classified Merbromin as “not generally recognized as safe” due to the lack of studies and updated information on its mercury content.

Thiomersal is a derivative compound developed by Eli Lily and Company. This compound contained carbon, hydrogen, mercury, sodium, sulfur, and oxygen atoms. In 1929, they trademarked it as Merthiolate as an antibacterial treatment and a vaccine preservative.

It gained popularity after World War II also, was mercury based, left the same red stain, but stung like fire! Mother always told me that the burning meant it was working. I would try to hide some of my injuries to not get them treated! In the 1970’s mercury poisoning came into the light and the FDA began to study Merthiolate in 1978. Over the next decade Eli Lilly would stop producing it as an antiseptic. Later versions of both Mercurochrome and Merthiolate would have Benzalkonium chloride, an ammonium compound, as their active ingredient.


I’ll never forget that the antiseptic for my wound hurt more that the injury itself!