Most retainers will absorb the ingredients in mouthwash and retainer cleaning tablets — meaning you’re holding those chemicals inside your mouth every time you wear your retainers.
Below, I’ll show you how I clean my retainers and answer some of the most commonly asked questions about keeping retainers clean.
Is Your Retainer Cleanser Toxic?
Most retainers are made of a porous material that can absorb whatever you use to soak or clean your retainers.
This means that your retainers could absorb whatever you use to clean them.
I used to use those effervescent tablets you add to a glass of water to soak my Invisalign and retainers, until I realized that this method can actually be toxic due to an ingredient called persulfate.
Persulfate is a known allergen used in most cleaning tablets you find at the supermarket — like Polident and Efferdent — and has been shown to cause allergic reactions and other symptoms in people using these solutions to clean their dentures.
The FDA issued a warning about the use of these cleaning solutions containing persulfate in 2008, recommending that people who do use these cleaning tablets soak their devices thoroughly before inserting them into the mouth and to consider persulfate-free alternatives.
Mouthwash isn’t any better. Most mouthwashes contain alcohol and sodium lauryl sulfate, which dry out retainers and your mouth at the same time. Dryness damages your retainer and dryness in your mouth causes bad breath.
Persulfate is by no means necessary to get your retainer clean, so I don’t bother taking the risk, nor should you.
Why Baking Soda Is All You Need
Baking soda is not only safest; it also does a far better job than the retainer cleansers at the supermarket.
Baking soda keeps bad bacteria at bay
Baking soda increases the pH of the mouth in a natural way, which can keep at bay the bacteria that cause problems in the mouth. Typically, the “bad guys” that cause trouble in the mouth like a more acidic environment, and baking soda combats this problem by making the environment more basic.
Baking soda combats the stink
A lot of retainers and other dental devices start to get rotten fruit smell after a while, and baking soda is a natural, safe, and effective deodorizer.
Doesn’t a Toothbrush Scratch My Retainer?
This is a myth.
You can’t scratch or damage your retainer with a toothbrush, in fact, brushing it with a toothbrush is the only way to remove the tartar that will naturally buildup on your retainer.
What can damage a retainer:
- Drying out
- Bleach, alcohol, and other harsh chemicals
- Boiling water or other heat, which can deform it
How to Clean Your Retainer Without Chemicals
Always keep them moist. Never let the retainers dry out, as this is when the tartar and biofilm start bonding to the retainers. Your retainer should either be in your mouth or a container of distilled water.
Soak them in distilled water. If they’re not in your mouth, your retainers should be soaking in distilled water with some baking soda or a squirt or two of castile soap. If you’re out of both, just plain distilled water works too.
Brush them. Soaking doesn’t replace brushing, so you’ll need to brush your retainers every few days or as needed to prevent tartar buildup.
Bring them to your dentist. If your retainers need to be disinfected or feel like they’ve got a lot of buildup on them, your dentist has a tool in the office that can disinfect them and remove the buildup safely and without chemicals.
Use the least porous material available. You probably already have a retainer, but it’s still worth saying that, if you have a choice in the material your retainer is made of, it’s best to have the least porous material possible in your mouth. Make sure the material is FDA approved.
2. Rinse your retainers with water and pop them in your mouth to wear at night.
3. Wake up in the morning, take your retainers out, and put them in a bowl of distilled water to soak during the day while they’re out of your mouth. Add baking soda or peppermint castile soap.
Repeat Steps 1-3! It’s that simple and easy.
What If I Want My Retainers to Smell Clean?
After I stopped using Efferdent, I missed that “clean” smell. A great way to still get this without chemicals is castile soap.
You can add a squirt or two of peppermint castile soap to the water you soak the retainer in.
The main ingredients of castile soap are olive oil and coconut oil and castile soap does a wonderful job cleaning retainers while not exposing them to any harmful substances.
What to Avoid
- Boiling water
- Retainer cleansers and tablets
Mark Burhenne DDS
Download the Free Guide for Caring for Your Retainers
This one-pager cheat sheet has simple, step-by-step instructions on how to clean your retainers safely, effectively, and without chemicals.
Download it for free when you sign up for the Ask the Dentist newsletter below: