How to Clean a Retainer

Retainers are the victims of many accidental tosses into the trash, drops onto the floor, sometimes ending up in the muckiest of situations. This device is a necessity in preserving your smile, so what do you do? Here are some ways to keep your retainer clean and ready to use along with how to disinfect and rescue your retainer from any unfortunate germy mishaps.

Disinfecting Your Retainer

If your retainer finds itself in a germy predicament, the first goal is to sanitize it thoroughly to kill any bacteria and germs. It’s generally not safe to boil a retainer because it can lose its shape. Here are some other alternatives to try.

What You Will Need:

  • Alcohol (concentrated, not the diluted type)
  • Listerine (optional)
  • Small bowls
  • Old toothbrush
  • Mild dish detergent

The Cleaning Process:

  1. Fill the small bowl with enough warm water to cover the retainer.
  2. Add a small amount of mild dish detergent (antibacterial detergent might be good) and mix until suds begin to form.
  3. Place the retainer in the water and scrub away any dirt or grime using the toothbrush.
  4. Rinse with clean water.
  5. Place the retainer in the second bowl and cover with alcohol. If you don’t have alcohol available, Listerine is also a germ killing mouthwash that could be used.
  6. Let the retainer soak for 15-30 minutes. Do not leave the retainer soak for too long or the alcohol could start to break down the plastic.
  7. Remove and rinse thoroughly under running water. Be sure to remove any alcohol that may be on the surfaces.
  8. Clean following the instructions for regular cleanings to ensure all alcohol is removed along with any peculiar tastes.
  9. If you are worried that you may damage you retainer, another option is to take it to your orthodontist and they can sanitize if for you.

Cleaning Your Retainer

Regularly cleaning your retainer is a necessity for good health. The retainer is exposed to many germs in your saliva, food particles or other things that enter your mouth. A retainer that is not kept clean can lead to bigger problems like infections of the throat, bacterial endocarditis and gastrointestinal infections. Here’s how to keep your retainer clean and yourself healthy.

What You Will Need:

  • Small bowls
  • Dental cleaner
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Mouthwash (alcohol free)

The Cleaning Process:

  1. Remove the retainer from your mouth and rinse thoroughly.
  2. Fill the small bowl with enough dental cleaner to cover the retainer.
  3. Let the retainer soak for at least 15 minutes or longer if required by the manufacturer’s directions.
  4. Remove the retainer and use the toothpaste to scrub with toothpaste. You want to remove any plaque that has built-up.
  5. When you have removed all of the plaque, let the retainer soak in a small dish of mouthwash. The longer the better, try to soak it for at least two hours or overnight if possible.
  6. Remove the retainer and rinse.
  7. Your retainer should be clean and ready to use.

Additional Tips and Advice:

  • Avoid boiling or using high heat methods to clean your retainer. The heat will warp the plastic and cause disfiguration.
  • Avoid alcohol based mouthwashes and denture cleaners as they can cause the retainer to crack and break.
  • If you are unable to remove the plaque, you may need to have a professional dentist clean it or you may need a new one.
  • It’s best to brush your retainer daily when you brush your teeth. This will decrease the need for more intense cleanings.


  1. Brian says:

    My wife has a clear plastic retainer like the Invisilines. She brushes them, but also soaks them in hydrogen peroxide. This gets them clean and even smelling/tasting fresh.

  2. SJ says:

    I work in the orthodontic industry and have seen thousands of retainers cleaned a million different ways. Using a toothbrush actually helps bacteria and the white scaly stuff stick to retainers by scratching their surface areas and allowing the gross stuff to stick better. Think of how you sand something before you paint it. Using mouthwash and stuff like bleach actually deteriorates the plastics and/or acrylics that retainers are made of. The denture tablet-type cleaners are much too harsh and take 15-20 minutes to work, which is way too long to soak something like a retainer. The best way to clean your retainer is to use a product that is specifically designed to clean things like retainers, night-guards, mouth-guards, etc. There are several products available and you can find them by Googling “retainer cleaner.”

  3. Gen says:

    My sister puts the retainer in her mouth, brushes it and takes it out and then brushes it again.

  4. Sharon says:

    Our orthodontist advised us NOT to use denture cleaner as they make the plastic parts brittle over time.

  5. Tengberg says:

    I’ve had retainers/bite guards for the past 30 years. I’ve never had a problem with Efferdent denture cleaning tablets. In fact, I won $10,000 in a scratch and win game they had during the 1996 Olympics, so that experience made me an Efferdent customer for life. Anyway, a Great Dane that I once pet sit for did one of my retainers in (to the tune of $700 to replace it) by getting it off the soap dish above the sink and chewing it to shards. I’ve been using Efferdent for years with no issues.

  6. KSE says:

    My retainer is stained beyond belief and I can’t afford a new one, but when I wear it, which is nonstop (as it has two fake teeth in it), I look like my teeth are orange and disgusting. Is there anything that is safe to use to paint it??

  7. Melody says:

    I just got my retainers – June 19, 2009. I try to clean my retainers every day. I only do soap and mouthwash and water, and then I do it with the toothpaste. When I put them back in, at the time I need to wear them, they feel so good and don’t smell bad.

  8. Mary says:

    I just got my retainer today, and I know that you have to brush your retainer regularly to keep it clean, but I use an electric toothbrush; is it safe to use on my retainer? Should I buy a regular toothbrush instead?

  9. DT says:

    I am also using a high powered electric toothbrush to clean my plastic retainers. I think I’m going to use it on slow now to clean them, also the bristles on the head are worn so they are soft, and I don’t think they will scratch it.

    I clean mine with very cold water and no toothpaste. I am getting white deposits mostly where it can’t reach on the top half of the retainer in the place where my two Bugs Bunny incisors are (they’re not that big).

    Thanks for the advice; I never knew they get plaque, even though I brush my teeth every time I eat and wake up or go to sleep.

  10. Retainer says:

    I soaked my retainer in mouthwash for like 12 hours. It has 20% alcohol. Is it going to break down my retainer or harm me by wearing my retainer at night?

  11. Kara says:

    I have had my retainer for two months and I have been using my toothbrush and toothpaste to clean regularly. I clean in the morning, after meals and at night!! I looked online to find out what to clean with and there’s so many ways, but which is the correct way? Wow, I just did what SJ said and went to Google and searched for retainer cleaner, and it come up with Sonicbrite. It works, so it says not to clean with your toothpaste and toothbrush. It scratches it and discolors it, so that’s what to do!!

  12. Tino says:

    I have a retainer and in the first couple of months, it was unbearable to wear. I did some research and I found that they have cleaning machines for retainers. It works awesome! Just do a search, the one I use is called Sonicbrite. I hope this helps, Good luck!

  13. Tracy says:

    My dental hygienist just cleaned my soft night guard in some kind of machine today and now it has a terrible taste that I cannot get rid of. Is this harmful to wear? Are there chemicals used in this process at the dentists office that are maybe not OK to use for soft plastics, but would have been OK to use if my night guard were a harder plastic? Worried about using this now. Thanks for input.

  14. Emily says:

    If you have a plastic/glass retainer, do not soak it in mouthwash! It will ruin it!

  15. Alex says:

    My orthodontist said to brush my teeth, then use whatever toothpaste is left on my brush to brush my retainer. I do this twice a day. This is what he said to do, and I will follow him. I like having different ways to do it. Make sure you have a SOFT bristle brush.

  16. Jessica says:

    I have a retainer, and I clean it by soaking it in vinegar in a small bowl, then leaving it there for 5-7 minutes. Then I will use warm water to wash it off. It tastes weird at first, but the retainer feels really fresh! :)

  17. Shelly says:

    Is it okay to bleach my retainers? I have no idea if plastic and chloride react. My instinct tells me no, but I really want to get rid of the tea stains!

  18. Theresa says:

    I just got my braces off on Tuesday and the orthodontist didn’t give me advice – one of his assistants did. She told me to brush it every time that I brush my teeth with toothpaste and soak it in a product you would use to soak false teeth. I am reading these comments on here and I think my best bet is to just use Dawn dish detergent and rinse really well. I can’t afford to buy a new retainer in a few months because of the wear and tear from different chemicals.
    Also, responding to some people who are saying their retainers are stained. When they gave me my retainers, they told me to take them out when eating and drinking anything except drinking water. I was wondering if other orthodontists said that you can drink with them in? Also, my retainers are extremely painful and I tend to wake up in the middle of the night – instinctively taking them off while I’m half asleep. Is that normal for them to hurt? I have a really bad lisp with them in too; it’s worse than the braces!!

  19. Terry says:

    I’ve tried several methods and vinegar wins by a mile. I soak mine in a jar (with a lid) for 24 hours, shaking regularly, and then rinse well . Brilliant results. I never use toothpaste, as it would scratch the retainer surface.

  20. Lauren says:

    Do not use toothpaste on retainers; it will ruin them!

  21. Melanie says:

    Remember when your orthodontist would tighten your braces and it would hurt for a few days? A new retainer can be like getting your braces tightened one last time. Did you wake up in the night from the pain of your braces? If so, the only difference is that you can alleviate the pain now (by removing the retainer). The reason that you have the retainer is because your teeth and mouth are still changing and the retainer is used to prevent and control that change. If you don’t wear the retainer for a while, sometimes as little as a day or several hours, it will hurt when you do use it because your teeth have moved and the retainer has to move them back.
    After some time with your retainer, it should only be uncomfortable or slightly painful for your retainer to fix teeth that moved; if your retainer is extremely painful, your wisdom teeth could be coming in, you could be going through a growth spurt, or you could just have stubborn teeth that are trying to move back to their pre-braces positions.
    The pain could also have to do with the way you’re sleeping; if you sleep on your side, you could be pushing against the retainer.

    For a simple midnight pain reliever, try swishing with cold water – place a glass of ice by your bed and by the time you wake up, there will be cold water (note: use a coaster). Although you’re supposed to wear the retainer full time, removing it for the last couple hours of sleep should be fine. It is important for kids especially to get a good night’s rest and any slight movement in your teeth can be repaired in the morning with the retainer.

    A retainer is an excellent excuse to get in the habit of drinking water. Any hot beverage could melt the retainer. Juices are usually acidic (orange, apple, grape only slightly less so), coffee or teas could stain a retainer or be acidic and sodas are extremely acidic. Milk is thick and would be a bit gross if left to sit without a full rinse so you might as well just take the retainer out to begin with for a glass of milk. If you’d like a special drink while wearing your retainer, mineral water or cucumber water should be fine. You should rinse your mouth with water (or brushing) after a meal or drink regardless of whether you have a retainer anyway, as the same principles apply to your teeth as your retainer when it comes to acids, staining, etc.

    Source: The Kentucky Center for Orthodontics – Questions & Answers
    Source: Health – Sodas
    Source: Natural – Natural Relief for Toothache

  22. Erin says:

    My daughter has a retainer; she has strep throat and it has been advised that she get a new toothbrush. Should I also replace her retainer? It is a soft, rubbery one and I’m not sure how to clean it.

  23. Sam says:

    Is it alright to put retainers in a fridge or a freezer?

  24. Susie says:

    Is it ok to put my retainer in a glass of cold water when I take them off to eat, etc.?

  25. Melanie says:

    Soaking your retainer in cool water while eating is safe for the retainer and a good idea to prevent throwing it out accidentally (if wrapped in a napkin), etc. It would be best to just use cool water though, rather than ice cold water, just in case the ice water is too cold for the retainer to tolerate and causes it to warp.
    Source: Cohen & Montini Orthodontics – Retainer Care

  26. Asif says:

    My orthodontist has recommended to clean my retainer with a dishwasher. Is this safe? And what do I do if my retainer smells?

  27. Jackie says:

    I have the clear vacuum type of retainers. I am also in the process of getting an implant on a front tooth. In the time while waiting for it to heal, the orthodontist made me two retainers with a tooth like substance filled in. One of the retainers only covers the front four teeth and I was told to use this retainer when I am out in public. I was told to also use this partial retainer if I was out eating in a public place, such as a restaurant or at work. I’m finding now that the “tooth substance” in the partial in getting darker than the rest of my teeth, probably from coffee. What do you recommend to use to try and brighten up this “tooth”? It should only be a couple of months longer, but I believe it is very noticeable. I have been wearing it for about a month so far.

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