How to keep your retainer clean

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When you are on the road to a straighter, better smile, the last thing you want is to undo your hard work.

After wearing braces, you might need to wear a retainer to keep your teeth from shifting. However, almost as important as wearing your retainer is keeping it clean and properly maintained. By knowing the do’s and don’ts of retainer cleaning, your dental appliance will last longer and your mouth will stay healthier.

Why should you clean your retainer?

Cleaning and maintaining your retainer and overall dental health go hand-in-hand. Insufficient cleaning leads to the build-up of bacteria, which can have a negative effect on the rest of your mouth.¹

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When to clean your retainer

To get the most out of your retainer, clean it thoroughly and regularly. If you are required to wear it all day and night except for meals, bring a travel toothbrush to clean it. However, everyone who wears one should make cleaning their retainers part of their nightly routines. Studies show that most people wear their retainer at least one night per week, so even if you only remember to wear it every so often, it’s important to keep it clean.²

If anything on the appliance should appear damaged or exhibit persistent buildup, bring it to the dentist for a professional cleaning. 

Steps to clean a dental retainer

  1. Begin cleaning your retainer by cleaning the rest of your mouth. Proper brushing and flossing are the keys to maintaining a healthy smile and serve as the basis for keeping your retainer clean.³

  2. Before you start to clean your retainer, place a towel in the bottom of the sink. Some retainers are fragile, and if you drop them, the towel will help to cushion the blow.

  3. Use a different toothbrush than you use for regular brushing in order to avoid passing bacteria from your usual toothbrush onto the retainer.  

  4. Do not use toothpaste because many are too rough on your dental appliance. Use soap and warm water. Most household soaps are mild enough not to do any damage but are also strong enough to properly clean the surfaces of your retainer. Many dentists and orthodontists recommend using organic castile soap. It even comes in a minty scent to give you that extra clean feeling.⁴ 

  5. Brush in gentle circles, slowly covering the entire appliance. Don’t scrub hard. If something isn’t coming off of your teeth, it is time to schedule a dental appointment.  

  6. Rinse it off with water and place it back in your mouth.

  7. If you don’t have to wear it throughout the day, leave it soaking in a bowl of distilled water with some baking soda to keep it moist. Dry retainers are breeding grounds for bacteria.

Retainer cleaning do’s and don’ts

Do clean your retainer daily. The importance of making this a daily habit cannot be stressed enough.  

Don’t boil your appliance or use very hot water. While boiling would kill the bacteria effectively, it will also destroy your dental appliance in the process. Extreme heat distorts the plastic and will leave you with an uncomfortable, ill-fitting retainer that is uncomfortable. You may have to completely replace it if you decide to boil the retainer instead of caring for it properly could cost you the price of a new one to fix.

Do keep it out of direct sunlight. It seems like a no brainer, but try not to leave it in your car or outside to avoid warping the material.

Don’t use bleach. Not only will this also damage the appliance, but the retainer can absorb some of the bleach’s toxicity and be harmful to the rest of your mouth.  

Do clean the case. It’s easy to overlook this step, but it is just as important that the case where the retainer is kept when not in use is as clean as the retainer itself. Warm, soapy water will work.

Don’t use mouthwash to soak or clean your retainer. While it is fine for general hygiene as part of your daily routine, prolonged and concentrated exposure to the alcohol in most rinses can damage your retainer.  It is better to use mouthwash when you are not wearing it. 

Do ask your dentist if there are other solutions that may work to soak your retainer. Some dentists recommend a denture cleaner when not in use.

Don’t place a retainer in a napkin when you take it out to eat. Too many people have done this only to throw them away. Make it a habit to keep your case with you in a pocket or purse so you can put the retainer back in afterward.

Do remember to bring your dental appliance to your dentist or orthodontist for every appointment for maintenance and a professional cleaning.⁵

While it may seem like a lot to keep track of, keeping your retainers clean is a simple process that helps your oral health and keeps your newly straightened teeth looking great for longer. 

Does your dental insurance cover retainers? See what dental insurance covers. If you have concerns about your current dental insurance coverage, it is important to review your policy.

Links to external sites are provided for your convenience in locating related information and services. Guardian, its subsidiaries, agents and employees expressly disclaim any responsibility for and do not maintain, control, recommend, or endorse third-party sites, organizations, products, or services and make no representation as to the completeness, suitability, or quality thereof.

Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice. It is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.


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  1. (Last accessed February 2020)

  2., 2010

  3., 2018

  4., 2017

  5., 2018