The Safe and Effective Way to Clean Retainers

The liquid you soak your retainers in gets absorbed by the retainer and held up against sensitive tissue in your mouth -- so choose carefully.

The liquid you soak your retainers in gets absorbed by the retainer and held up against sensitive tissue in your mouth — so choose carefully.

Q: Can a plastic Invisalign style retainer actually harbor bacteria in the plastic itself, not just contained in calculus, tartar, or plaque on the retainer? Also I’ve been using a heavy baking soda solution to soak my retainers for the past year or so. Is this in your professional opinion the best option for soaking retainers?

Thanks,
Zach S.

A:
Great question, Zach.

When you say Invisalign “style” retainer, you are referring to an over-the-teeth clear style device that holds your teeth in place after orthodontic movement of the teeth, either via conventional braces or via Invisalign itself.

The company Invisalign has its own proprietary material (a form of implantable-grade polyurethane). Its optical clarity and ability to stay clean are perhaps beyond reproach in the dental profession. It cleans up well since its outer surface is very non-porous.

But other Invisalign-like materials are more porous and may take up outside substances.

This means that whatever substance you use to clean these retainers may be held up against your teeth and gums, which can result in allergic reactions and other symptoms.

I do recommend using baking soda as a cleaner for dental devices or as an ingredient in mouthwash. 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.

Here is how I clean my own retainers

Baking soda is also a great way to combat a smelly retainer. A lot of these dental devices start to get a rotten fruit smell after a while and baking soda is a natural and safe deodorizer.

Retainers have the capability of absorbing whatever chemicals they’re soaked in, which is why I recommend against soaking your retainer in Efferdent, Polident, or mouthwash. These solutions contain things that are bad for the mouth, like alcohol and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, and will dry out your retainer and your mouth at the same time. Stay away!

Flu-like symptoms (like sore throat, cough, nausea) have been reported by Invisalign users (although I have never experienced these symptoms nor seen them in my patients). Whether this is due cleaners like Polident or Efferdent or the actual material (or a synergy between the two) is unknown.

Here is what I recommend to clean all types of retainers (and play it safe):

Use the least porous material available.
I think it’s best to have the least porous material possible in your mouth. Make sure it’s FDA approved.

Keep them moist!
Never let the retainers dry out, as this is when the tartar and biofilm starts bonding to the reatainers: Either it’s in your mouth or in a container of distilled water.

Use castile soap.
You can use a squirt or two of Organic 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.

Do it the old-fashioned way.
Brush your retainers with a toothbrush and toothpaste.

In the mean time I’m looking for and experimenting with newer methods as this is currently a big problem that is not resolved.

Mark Burhenne DDS

What’s your favorite way to clean your retainers/dentures/Invisalign aligners?

Share your suggestions by leaving a comment below!

  • Rachel

    I had a retainer but then I got diagnosised with TMJ so I wear that instead, but when I got my bite guard, they told me to buy cheap mouthwash and let it soak in there, it cleans it.
    Also once a week I’ll wash it with a toothbrush and tooth paste. Its crystal clear now

    • Anonymous

      What is the mouthwash called bc my retainer is cloudy

  • Johanna Smith

    this has been very helpful to me. I have found that using baking soda does weaken my gums.

  • Sophie

    I’ve just had my retainers fitted

  • gabriela

    I thought i lost my retainers but i found them, should i keep them or get new ones tey look dried out.

    • http://askthedentist.com/ Ask the Dentist

      @ gabriela,
      Soak them in clean water for 7 days, then try them in. That should make them expand a bit. If they fit without forcing them over your teeth, then wear them. Show your dentist the retainers next time you go in for your scheduled cleaning and check up. Nice job finding them!

      Mark Burhenne DDS

  • Michelle

    I cant find a way to keep my retainers clean… :( can someone help?

  • Melissa

    My son just received his retainer today. Although it is not a post braces retainer, it is to correct over bite and correct his habit of pushing the back of his top teeth with his tongue before he gets braces. Although my son is 10 and is good at caring for things his father is not. He has to spend 42 days with him in the summer. I have already ordered a dentasoak starter kit but in the mean time what toothpaste is safe to use on his retainer? He currently uses Pronamel Bengal whitening toothpaste and a mentadent toothbrush on his teeth. Does he need to use a separate toothbrush for his retainer?

  • Melissa

    My daughter had a fixed palatal crib placed today. Although she is doing well with it her’s unlike the ones I saw online has metal prongs hanging from it making it easy for food build up. Can anyone suggest a good toothbrush for this appliance? She also uses Pronamel gental whitening toothpaste, even though the appliance is all metal it is cemented in will this toothpaste cause us any undue problems?

    • alyssa

      No its most likey similar to braces so no toothpaste should damage it

  • Erin

    i got my retainer a few days ago and it’s basically an invisaline but my orthodontist told me not to use a toothbrush and toothpaste because it can scratch it and make it more prone to cracking

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  • Chelsea

    I just got my braces off 5 days ago, and now I wear a retainer. My orthodontists never mentioned anything about cleaning them. I thought a toothbrush and toothpaste would scratch them, so I’m not sure what to use. Could you help?

    Thanks

    • Anonymous

      My orthidontist said to brush it with water as soon as I take it off. But I have been doing some research and Viniger is supposed to get off any stains. If you want to find out about how to use Viniger just google it and they will give you all the information you need.

    • Shannon

      also, i’ve heard that 1 part bleach and 10 part water works, as the water keeps the bleach “in-line”

  • America

    I just got my braces off yesterday and they gave me a retainer, but they didn’t tell me how to clean it or if I should soak it in water when I’m not wearing it. What’s the right way to clean it so it won’t smell and won’t be dirty? And what do I do with it when I’m not wearing it so it won’t dry up?

  • Mr. Fisherpus

    My retainer seems to easily catch bad smelling stuff. I use toothbrush and toothpaste to clean it, but I don’t want to have to clean it after every time I eat something. Is there any efficient way to clean it and do I need a separate toothbrush for my retainer?

    • Anonymous

      Same here!! Help?

  • Melissa

    Don’t use toothpaste or a tooth brush for a plastic retainer; it can scratch the plastic.

  • Allison Lindsey

    So, I had my retainer stole years ago, when I got it back it wouldn’t fit and the orthodontist said I needed braces again that a retainer wouldn’t fix it, my teeth are terrible, about what they were before the three years of braces I had before the retainers that were stolen. So I was looking into invisalign, but I work for room and board and it doens’t look as though I’ll be able to find other work anytime soon, is there a at home product of some kind that I can use that I don’t need a dentist or orthodontist for? You know something to just get started on getting them moved some, without killing my tounge and muscles pushing on them? I know I need a dentist to have them all straight, but I just want them non crowded enough to clean them well for the time, till I have the money and means for braces again or invisalign…any suggestions?

  • Anonymous

    My orthodontist said not to use toothpaste to clean a retainer because it makes them go cloudy

  • Anonymous

    but if you use toothpaste it turns the retainers cloudy!!!

  • Anonymous

    VINEGAR !!!!! Seriously this works so amazing ! Soak them in there for the whole day then rinse them off with warm water && then brush them with toothpaste ! I. Do this everytime ! :)

    • Anonymous

      How many times da day or week do you do this?

  • Bummed Out

    I followed the advice about the 2 drops of organic castile soap. Before bed I soaked my Invisalign retainers in a cup for about an hour, in cold water. After I removed them from the solution I brushed them with toothpaste and went to wear them and THEY HAD WARPED! I have had them for 3 years with no problems, and my teeth were absolutely perfect – Veneer perfect. After they warped, I could tell by the way that they fit over my teeth, I tried to wipe them dry and I set them on the counter to dry off. I figured that when they dried off, they would be back to normal – NOPE!

    Hoping that my retainers would somehow magically go back to the perfect shape that they were, they didn’t… My teeth have shifted and now I actually have to pay about $300.00 to get new top and bottom retainers to fix my shifted teeth.

    I’m not sure if vinegar will warp the new ones if I soak them. I’m so nervous to soak them in anything other than water and mouthwash or hydrogen peroxide.

    Thank you for the advice, other than the organic castile soap junk. That stuff was expensive too!

    • ashton

      Same thing just happened to me. I have had this retainer for 7 years as of yesterday it was super tight on my teeth. I’ve used efferdent or just brushed it off with toothpaste all this time. I discovered efferdent had harmful ingredients and decided to try a ‘safer’ option. One day in castille soap/water solution and it is so loose it wont even stay over my teeth. This is going to be a very expensive mistake. Author of this post needs to address this

  • Chloe

    Ok so I got my retainer about a year ago in August and the dentist didn’t tell me anything but to put them on at night. They are cloudy and something have a bad odor. How do I get rid of this?

  • Ashley

    Ive had my retainer for about 2 months now and when i take it of i put it in the case. Is it safe to put mouthwash in the case and let it sit there while its off? I brushed it with a toothbrush and tooth paste but im scared it will damage it! What do i do?

  • Vanessa

    Hi there! I just got my retainers like about 3 or 4 weeks ago, and my dentist didn’t gave any instructions on this :/ he doesn’t entertain questions… So this has been a real help for me. Btw how can i now if what i’m doing is correct? I mean how do i know if my retainers are dirty? :o

    • Carrie

      Hi Vanessa, I know it’s been awhile since you posted but you know your retainer is dirty if it smells, if it tastes bad, and/or you notice white or yellowish buildup of stuff on it. Clean it off as fast as you can. Once it is set on there it is hard to get off.

  • Gregory

    Never, I repeat never! Use toothpaste and toothbrush to clean your retainer

  • Sarah

    My orthodontist said to use either toothpaste or mouthwash, or any anti Bactria soap. I use toothpaste and a tooth brush. Lol

  • Sarah

    And it does make them cloudy but idc they warned me that too, but I’m lazy lol

  • Carrie

    I got my retainers years ago. They are the clear Invisalign type retainers, Essex I thing they’re called. At first I was diligent in cleaning them. But as time went on I did it less and less to the point of stopping entirely ( disgusting I know.) When attempting to clean the finally I couldn’t seem to get off the white crusty junk.

    I researched it and found many sites recommended vinegar. I was hesitant, retainers aren’t cheap. But I but the bullet and tried it and oh my god it worked wonders. Not all of it came off but anything is better than it was. I still have yet to try it again to see if more comes off but I look forward to it.

    • Carrie

      Wow I need to stop staying up so late. So. Many. Spelling. Errors.

  • Jacquie

    I was told by dental office to use hand sanitizer to clean my retainer.

    • Big MAMA 3012

      I believe using mouthwash is effective

  • Anonymous

    My ortho sai to use gentle dish soap.

  • Copala

    Vinegar n water

  • Anonymous

    My ortho told me to use toothpaste and a toothbrush but now my retainer is all cloudy so is there a way to make them not so cloudy?

    • Me Again

      Also, will putting my retainer in mouthwash be a better way to clean or is there a better way to clean my retainer

  • Grace

    If I use baking soda, how much should I use?

  • Anonymous

    Oral dentist told me to use a capful of hydrogen peroxide with enough water to cover the occlusal guard. It soaks in there during the day.

    My dentist told me to use Efferdent.

    In checking out the persulfates that are in Efferdent, even though I bought a box of it, I will return to the first choice. Am calling the Efferdent Co. tomorrow because they do not list in detail what is in the tablet.

    I was told that you never, never use toothpaste as it can scratch and change the conformity of the guard.

  • Emily

    I just got my Invisalign retainer last week, and I need advice on cleaning it! My orthodontist told me to clean it with a tooth brush and tooth brush, but after I did, it got cloudy. I also read online about how toothpaste can make it cloudy so what should I clean it with?

  • Claire

    Can a dirty retainer cause your lips to swell possibly bringing on allergies you never had before?

  • Jay

    Just got my invisalign and my doctor told me not to use denture tablets bec they ruin the film of the thing. He gave me a packet called OAP cleaner and told me to use it. Anyone know if this works? want to make sure before i use it.

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  • Janine

    Hello. My son used a toothbrush & paste to clean his retainer – remember we are strong people, against a little wire – Yep – broke it. Today, had to spend another $200 to have a new one fit & made. I don’t advise a toothbrush… looking for something a lot more gentle. Just soak it in soda water – which will soften up any food particles; swish & wear it!

  • Tiffany

    Thank you! I finally realized why I’ve been getting sick from wearing my over night retainer. I’ve been soaking it in alcohol during the day and would wear it at night. I would wake up in the morning with a sore throat and stuffy nose. Now I know!

  • Shelbee

    I just had to dig through garbage to find my retainers and they are disgusting. I’m using retainer brite or whatever it’s called but that is not enough for me to want to put them in my mouth… What else can I use that will disinfect them? Ones like an Invisalign and the others the plastic with wire. Please help.

  • Sarah

    Is a UV retainer sanitizer safe to use for cleaning retainers daily?

  • Lucy

    i’m seeing so many contradictory posts, some saying you must never use a toothbrush and toothpaste and some saying you must. i just got my retainer yesterday and i woke up with a sore throat and a stuffy nose. i would just like to find out what the right thing to do is as i don’t want it to get cloudy or warp or anything. my orthodontist suggested a gentle liquid soap, but i’m sure then it will taste funny? what do you suggest i do? please help.

    • Shannon

      i’d say use 1 part bleach 10 part water, as it helps clearing the cloudiness and disinfects the retainer, not to mention you would brush your teeth with it a few times, so its not like you might be allergic.

  • Heather

    I worry about scrubbing my retainer with toothbrush and toothpaste in case I crack it or break it like my sister did with hers. Also I notice that my toothbrush struggles to get into all the nooks and crannies on the inside. Is the some way I keep it thoroughly clean without risking damage?

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  • Shirley

    I don’t know the manufacture of my daughters retainer but its clear plastic that fits over the teeth, she was told to where it to bed every night! Every night she gets a sore throat …if she takes it out the sore throat goes away. Shes been to a doctor and he says she is not sick….what can be done? The orthodontist said he has never heard of anyone getting a sore throat from there retainer. HELP