If you wear an orthodontic retainer to help align your teeth, you probably clean it every day or at least every few days, but there’s more to it than just rinsing it with water after each use. You can make sure your retainer remains clean and fit to wear by following these 10 tips on how to clean retainers.
1) Do it when it’s dirty
If you have a removable retainer, take it out at night and clean it before bed. If you don’t, make sure to do it when you get up for morning—especially if your mouth tends to be especially dry in the morning (like mine!).
Leaving plaque on your retainer for long periods of time can lead to staining that’s difficult or impossible to remove without an appointment with your dentist. Plus, whatever gunk is in there is also touching your gums which isn’t exactly hygienic! I know how hard it is to remember, but after taking off my retainers for awhile I was shocked by how much calcium was caked onto them.
It’s so easy to forget about your retainer after taking it out at night—but then realize in the morning that you’ve been sleeping with something stained orange from Cheetos crumbs stuck on top… not pretty! So just pop that sucker into some warm water with some baking soda before going back to sleep and you’ll wake up pain-free AND clear-headed.
How easy is that? Oh, AND if you use whitening toothpaste like I do–always use white not colored toothpaste–it might stain your retainers too so check them occasionally while using whitening toothpaste just in case they’re sensitive.
2) Brush and floss
The most effective way to keep your retainer clean is flossing. And not just any floss, but floss with an angled head designed specifically for cleaning between teeth. We recommend Waterpik Aquarius Classic ($15) and Oral-B Glide Pro-Health Clinical Floss Picks ($5). After brushing your teeth and rinsing, take one of these small brushes and use it to clean around your mouth where it touches your retainer. When you’re done, brush again and rinse once more. This should be enough to remove bits of food from touching your retainer for another day or two.
3) Use toothpaste
Toothpaste contains an ingredient called sodium lauryl sulfate, which breaks down oils and removes debris. It is used in toothpastes because it has surfactant properties that make it an excellent cleaning agent. How well does it work for cleaning retainers? You can try rubbing some on your retainer and rinsing it off after half an hour or so. If you don’t want to use toothpaste, try cleaning with other items that also have surfactant properties (e.g., dish soap). It’s important that whatever you choose is safe for teeth and gums, because your mouth will be breathing in whatever you put on your retainer.
4) Dip it in mouthwash
Mouthwash is an easy, inexpensive way to clean your retainer. Simply soak it in mouthwash for about 20 minutes and then give it a quick scrub with an old toothbrush. Rinse thoroughly and let dry. Be sure you don’t mix alcohol-based mouthwashes (the kind with alcohol, not sugar alcohols) with any soft plastic retainers, as they could damage your retainers over time.
5) Soak it in warm water
The best way to clean your retainer is by soaking it in warm water with toothpaste for 10 minutes at least twice per day. The toothpaste will help loosen grime and hard-to-reach food particles that are stuck between your teeth and keep your retainer shiny and new-looking.
Don’t boil it, don’t put it in the dishwasher, don’t use vinegar or mouthwash—and most of all, don’t use soap! Soap can leave residue on your retainer, leaving it vulnerable to discoloration and long-term wear and tear. If you have metal braces or wires, take extra care not to let them come into contact with anything abrasive.
6) Use boiling water
Placing your retainer in boiling water is one of easiest ways to clean it. Boiling water is strong enough to kill germs and debris, yet gentle enough not to damage your retainers. All you need to do is boil some water and place your retainer in for five minutes.
Afterward, use some dish soap and scrub it with an old toothbrush or an old toothbrush cover (like you would use on baking dishes). How to clean retainers When done, run it under cold water and make sure that no soap residue remains. Let your retainer air dry overnight before wearing it again.
7) Use toothbrush on spots
If you have stubborn spots that need attention, try brushing them off with a soft toothbrush. Be careful not to scrub too hard; you could damage your retainer.
Just get in there and rub gently until it loosens up and comes off. Once you’ve gotten rid of all the visible dirt, you can rinse it under warm water and move on to step 2. (Be sure to wash your hands first so they don’t introduce additional germs.)
8) Baking soda
One of baking soda’s main uses is as an abrasive. That makes it an excellent cleaning agent for retainers, which are made from small pieces of acrylic that can become caked with food particles or other debris.
To clean your retainer using baking soda, simply boil water and pour it into a bowl containing half a teaspoon of baking soda (don’t use hot water directly on your retainer). Let sit for five minutes and then rinse with cool water. How to clean retainers You can also mix some in with your toothpaste and brush regularly. This will help keep your retainer clean, reduce any stains that may have formed and freshen your breath at the same time!
9) Bleach, but be careful!
If you’re cleaning your retainer at home, you can use diluted household bleach as long as you’re careful. Simply mix 1/2 cup of bleach with 3 gallons of water and soak overnight.
If it feels like your retainer is still dirty, try boiling it for about 10 minutes in a pot on the stove. While boiling can remove more difficult stains and odors, how to clean retainers
be sure not to let boiling water touch your teeth! Rinse with water after both of these methods have had time to work their magic.
10) Store it properly
Store your retainer in its original case (or an approved alternative) when you’re not wearing it. The silicone in retainers is water-soluble, meaning they can get dirty quickly if they aren’t being stored properly.
Give your retainer a thorough cleaning before and after wearing by soaking it in warm, soapy water for 20 minutes and then scrubbing gently with toothpaste or baking soda. Use toothbrush to clean any crevices. Rinse thoroughly with clean water and dry completely before putting it back in your mouth. How to clean retainers be sure to check with your dentist about how often you should clean your retainer, as each type of retainer needs to be cleaned differently.