How to Clean Retainers Without Harsh Chemicals

how to clean retainers

Q:
Is soaking my retainers in baking soda a good way to clean them? I’m looking for a safe and natural method to clean my retainers — what’s your recommendation?

A:
Yes, baking soda is great, and it’s what I use myself to clean my retainers.

Many years ago, I used to use those little tablets to “disinfect” my retainers until I realized how unnecessary this as and the potential risks of chemical exposure.

Below, I’ll show you how I clean my retainers without harsh chemicals. This method is completely safe and natural.

Why What You Use to Clean Your Retainers Matters

denture cleansers 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 thanks 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?

 

does brushing retainers scratch them

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 damages retainers:

  • The retainer drying out
  • Bleach, alcohol, and other harsh chemicals
  • Boiling water or other heat, which can deform it

How to Clean Your Retainer the Safe and Natural Way

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.

Step-by-Step Instructions

1. Brush your retainers gently with an all-natural toothpaste free of SLS, glycerin, triclosan, and polyethylene microbeads.

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.

How Can I Make My Retainers Smell Better?

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.

Always Avoid

  • Dishwashers
  • Boiling water
  • Mouthwash
  • Retainer cleansers and tablets

Mark Burhenne DDS
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About Mark Burhenne DDS

Mark Burhenne DDS

I'm Dr. Mark Burhenne, author of Ask the Dentist and a practicing family and cosmetic dentist. My mission is to help you heal your symptoms and take control of your oral health for a longer, healthier life. Read More »

Comments

  1. Rachel says

    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

  2. gabriela says

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

    • Ask the Dentist says

      @ 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

  3. Melissa says

    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?

  4. Melissa says

    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?

  5. Erin says

    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

  6. says

    Loving your website! I hope that you continue to write amazing posts like this in the future so people like me can adore it! I absolutely will be coming back to read more.

  7. Chelsea says

    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 says

      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.

  8. America says

    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?

  9. Mr. Fisherpus says

    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?

  10. Allison Lindsey says

    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?

  11. Anonymous says

    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 ! :)

  12. Bummed Out says

    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 says

      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

  13. Chloe says

    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?

  14. Ashley says

    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?

  15. Vanessa says

    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? 😮

    • Carrie says

      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.

  16. Sarah says

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

  17. Carrie says

    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.

  18. Anonymous says

    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 says

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

  19. Anonymous says

    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.

  20. Emily says

    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?

  21. Jay says

    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.

  22. Janine says

    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!

  23. Tiffany says

    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!

  24. Shelbee says

    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.

  25. Lucy says

    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 says

      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.

    • Brenna says

      Sorry this is a bit late of a resposne but I am in the same boat as you. My dentist gave me a soap specifically made to be gentle to aligners but also kill strep and flu on the aligner. I used it and my soar throats have gone away and aligner is clean. It is called Oap Cleaner. Hope this helps!

  26. Heather says

    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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  28. Shirley says

    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

    • Maria says

      Hi! I noticed you posted 2 months ago, I hope my response isn’t too late. The sore throat is because of the bacteria that has accumulated on the retainer; the same thing used to happen to me.

      It is important the retainer be kept clean at all times. How I keep the bacteria and nasty stuff under control is I brush and then soak my clear retainer in hydrogen peroxide for 5 minutes. Keep it in baking soda water for the rest of the day until it’s time to wear again.

      I hope this gives your daughter some relief!

      • Brenna says

        Use the cleaning soap called Oap cleaner. I love it. It kills bacteria (not just ODOR causing bacteria, which is what tablets do) along with some viruses. It works quickly also.

        Hope this helps you.

    • Anonymous says

      How long has your daughter had the retainer? The first week or two I had my retainer, my tongue got swollen and I felt like I had strep. It went away after my mouth got used to the retainer. Also, my ortho told me to brush my teeth and then use the leftover suds to clean my retainer. Using the toothpaste directly on the retainer would scratch it he said.

  29. Donna says

    I have been really bad with cleaning my retainer and have not done it in ages and it looks really disgusting but I am way too afraid to confront my dentist, will this method still remove bacteria from my retainer if it is very dirty? thanks, you are the go to solution for any embarrassing dental problems!! please answer i really need help! If this method of removing plaque is not a very strong wash, do you recommend a stronger method that will remove lots of bacteria?

    • ELGal2 says

      Someone else mentioned on this post, but for the sake of repeating: I found the easiest way to take care of them was the Oap cleaner solution.

  30. Jess says

    I have tried everything to clean my retainers for example bicarb soda and vinegar to brushing them. I had an appointment 3 days ago and they gave me new retainers because my old ones had a bit of wear on them I’ve nearly had them two years. I’m now using a denture tablet and water to clean them.

  31. Alex says

    I really want to know where he got the metal containers to keep his retainer/mouthwear. I cannot find these anywhere and I need them. I am sure I need to get rid of the plastic….

  32. Samantha says

    Hello! How often do you do the soaking in baking soda water thing? Because I did it today and it worked wonders as it got rid of the smell and didn’t warp. I’m not sure if I should do it tomorrow as I’m scared it might ruin the plastic – I have read that baking soda is a mild abrasive and could cause your retainer to go cloudy.

    Help?

  33. SandraBon says

    I used a cleaning solution called oap cleaner. It works like purrell. You put it on and rinse it off. I take it with me (it comes in a small bottle). Works well when im in school. Also it says it kills bacteria and viruses. Makes my invisalign clean and clear and smelling like mint. I think you can get it online.

  34. dee mac says

    I think my retainer infected my gums and they now have a sour taste together with a bad odour. Please advise on possible treatment.? mouth washes do not work. Thank u

  35. says

    Hello Dr Mark I’m dentist in Quito-Ecuador. I love your posts and I read you every moment I can. My english is acceptable (I believe jeje) and my favor to you is: If you can give me the documents or journals where your investigation based. I hope you can and I’m very happy to talk with you. Thanks.

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