If you’ve got questions about how to clean your removable retainer, you’ve come to the right place. It doesn’t matter whether you have a Hawley (orthodontic) retainer or use Invisalign.
We will cover topics such as:
- The best retainer cleaning methods.
- Why keeping your retainer clean is so important.
- Common retainer cleaning mistakes.
- Natural retainer cleaning solutions.
- The best commercial retainer cleaners.
- How ultrasonic cleaning can help.
But let’s start with a simple step-by-step process.
How To Clean Your Retainer In 5 Easy Steps
1. Rinse: Always do this immediately after removal. Warm or cool water is fine. And don’t be afraid to use your fingers to help remove any loose buildup.
2. Soak: Submerge your retainer in water with your favorite cleaning solution and let it sit for about five minutes. You can also apply a paste made from baking soda and water and let it sit for the same amount of time.
3. Scrub: Use warm water and a soft-bristled toothbrush to scrub your retainer. Be sure to reach all the smallest crevices because that’s where bacteria breed. This is hands-down the most important step to complete. Brush your retainer every single day.
4. Rinse Again: Again, rinse thoroughly. You don’t want to put it back into your mouth with soap or other harsh substances.
5. Put It Back: When you aren’t brushing or soaking it, your retainer should always be either in your mouth or in a glass of distilled water. Pick one.
It’s as simple as that. Well, almost…
Other Need-to-Know Info
Following a step by step process is great.
However, we’d like to emphasize thoroughness. It’s very important that you remove plaque and bacteria from your retainers. The microorganisms in your mouth are easily transferred to any type of dental appliance and back to your mouth again. It’s important not to let this “biofilm” build up.
You may notice a white or yellow coating start to build up on your retainer. It will grow if you leave it unchecked. And over time it will harden, becoming much more difficult to remove.
Luckily, you can remove the biofilm completely and easily if you do it everyday.
Soft bristled brushes are the way to go. Especially if you have an Invisalign retainer, you need to be careful that you don’t brush too vigorously as they lose their transparency when scratched. You might even want to look into an ultrasonic cleaner.
You should have a separate toothbrush for your retainer alone. You might also want to bring it along with you to school or work so that you can brush your retainer between meals.
It’s also important that you always keep your retainer moist. When you allow a retainer to dry out, biofilm begins to bond to it. Allow this to go on too long and you may end up having to fork over money for a new one. No one wants to do that.
Since we’re on the topic, we might as well go into some more things that could cause you to have to purchase a replacement retainer.
How NOT to Clean Your Retainer
It’s surprising how often people do the wrong thing when trying to clean their retainer.
This can be a costly mistake. It’s unfortunate that people aren’t better educated. We aren’t sure whether it is more the fault of the individuals themselves or the dental professionals that serve them. At least you won’t make one of these mistakes.
Part of the reason people make mistakes is because they incorrectly assume that other dental hygiene products are effective retainer cleaning agents. Or worse yet, they use something even more abrasive.
Here are some of the most common mistakes people make when trying to clean their retainer:
Toothpaste: It’s great for teeth, but not for retainers. Toothpastes contain abrasive compounds that help to scrub your enamel clean. Enamel is hard enough to handle it. But toothpaste will damage the softer materials in your retainer, whether you use Hawley or Invisalign.
Mouthwash (or anything containing alcohol): Alcohol is far less effective for cleaning your retainer than other solutions we’ll talk about later. It can also dry out your retainer, causing it to need replacing sooner than necessary. However, you can use it once in awhile as long as you dilute it thoroughly (like to 10 to 1 or higher)
Denture Cleaners: Denture cleaners such as Polident are sometimes recommended as retainer cleaners. However, we recommend against them. They can remove buildup, but can cause damage as well. Used over time, they can change the color of your retainer. Many of them also contain persulfate, a chemical that the FDA labels a known allergen. Only use as an emergency solution.
Cleaning Agents: Bleach and other household cleaning agents are too harsh to clean something that will be going back into your mouth. Like alcohol, they may also be absorbed by your retainer and dry it out.
Extreme Heat: Boiling water does sanitize, but it will warp the shape of your retainer. It doesn’t even have to be boiling to be hot enough to change the shape of a plastic or acrylic retainer. This affects the way it interacts with and guides your teeth.
Pepsi or Coke: It may come as a surprise to some, but soda can be an effective cleaner on different materials. However, using it on your retainer is a great way to breed more bacteria in your mouth. This may seem like common sense, but some people need to know.
Avoiding these isn’t as hard as you may think. In fact, you probably have some of the best options in your home already.
The Best Retainer Cleaning Solutions
Simple solutions are often the best. It’s certainly true here.
The number one most effective—and most important—retainer cleaner is your toothbrush. Think of brushing as the foundation of retainer care and cleaning solutions as taking things to the next level.
While there are commercial products that will help to get your dentures clean, there are several natural solutions that will get the job done as well.
Natural Retainer Cleaners
More and more people are leaning towards natural solutions.
However, retainer cleaning is one of those rare areas where the natural solutions actually outstrip the commercial ones in terms of popularity.
Baking Soda: This might be the most popular retainer cleaning solution out there. All you need is baking soda and a bit of water. Mix it together to make a paste. Apply and let it sit before brushing to increase its effectiveness. Some resources online may tell you that it is too abrasive, but baking soda is very low on the tooth abrasion spectrum. Your toothbrush is just as hard.
Vinegar: This is another very popular, very effective solution for retainer cleaning. Mix it with warm water at about a 50:50 ratio and let it soak for at least 15 minutes. While most people find the smell of vinegar to be unpleasant, it’s not all that hard to rinse off. And if you brush at the end of the soak, the smell will be even less likely to stick.
Hydrogen Peroxide: As you might expect, the main value of peroxide in this case is to kill bacteria. Use it in a soak with warm water with a ratio of something like 30 to 1. Let it soak for at least 30 minutes. Take it out and rinse thoroughly.
Castile Soap: Castile soap is a very gentle kind of soap. It is made from olive and other vegetable oils. You can also find it mixed with peppermint or other essential oils, which add a pleasant smell. Alternatively, you could make it yourself and put whatever you want in it. You can use it to soak and/or to brush your retainer with.
All of these options are inexpensive.
They are also disinfectants that can help to remove bacteria and mouth yeast. This keeps the smell away and helps dental appliances last longer. Combined with a good soaking and brushing routine, this should keep that layer of tartar from forming and hardening on your retainer.
If you’re dead set on a chemical cleaner however, there are actually a few products on the market specifically formulated for retainers.
Commercial Retainer Cleaners
There are plenty of products on the market designed to help you keep your retainer clean.
The main focus of most of their marketing is on killing bacteria and eliminating odor. Again, that is because your toothbrush (or an ultrasonic cleaner) is the only thing that will actually remove the buildup of biofilm.
We are of the opinion that retainer cleaning products are mostly a waste of money when you can use something cheap and natural. Still, they can help to prevent buildup on clean retainers.
Here are some of the most popular ones on Amazon:
1. Dental Duty has such a high percentage of positive reviews it’s fishy. However, that is something that you could say about almost all of the products on this list. And in this case, it may actually be due to their price per use being lower than the competition. Like most of these products, it is an effervescent tablet.
2. Retainer Brite (or Retainer Brite) seems to have the largest market share in this space. They have several listings on Amazon with tons of reviews and great average ratings. It is also an effervescent tablet.
3. Kleenite has exceptionally high reviews as well. Unlike the two before it, it is actually a cleaning solution that you dilute with water and soak your retainer in.
4. OAP Cleaner seems to be newer. While it doesn’t have as many reviews as the others on this list, the reviews are still very positive. It’s unique in that it is basically a dental disinfectant foam that supposedly gets the job done in sixty seconds.
5. Cleanguard offers the second best price per unit. Like everyone else on this list, is above a 4.0. They also seem to have the second highest number of total reviews. This one is another effervescent tablet.
6. Fresh Guard looks like the only brand on this list whose overall review rating might not be manipulated through slick marketing efforts. Yet it does have a poor price per tablet and it could always be that the other products on this list are just better.
Unlike our other dental product reviews, we didn’t take this one too seriously.
If you are shopping for a retainer cleaning product, take our ranking order with a grain of salt. We advise comparing reviews of the products on Amazon and reading what people actually say. You often learn a lot more from this than simply comparing star ratings.
Remember, brushing is the most important part. Or at least, mechanical cleaning is what removes biofilm.
Truth be told, brushing isn’t technically the only mechanical cleaning method that is effective for retainers.
If you have a hard time brushing your retainers or are worried about scratching your Invisalign, an ultrasonic cleaner might be the solution you’re looking for. An ultrasonic cleaner is basically a vibrating water bath that uses bubbles to scrub items clean.
We have already taken the time to research and compile everything you need to know about ultrasonic cleaners.
The last real retainer cleaning option left is to go see your orthodontist or dentist. Obviously, this is going to be the most expensive solution. But an appointment with a dental health professional will be the only option you have left if you don’t take retainer care seriously.
In the end, cleaning your retainer is pretty easy.
Your retainer will last as long as you make sure to follow the same steps every day and avoid using abrasive substances. Fail to make retainer care a daily habit though, and you’ll end up needing to buy a new one.