How to Clean Your Retainer

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on April 09, 2022
4 min read

Your retainer sits inside your mouth. So the food and plaque on your teeth can build up on your retainer. Just like with brushing your teeth, your retainer also needs to be kept clean. Find out how to keep retainers clean and how often you should clean them.

After your braces are removed, your teeth need help to stay in their new place. Your orthodontist will probably prescribe a retainer to help minimize movement. You may have to wear your removable retainer for at least 12 months after your braces are removed.

Your teeth move naturally throughout your life. When you speak, swallow, chew, and bite, these movements can cause your teeth to move. Nothing can fully stop your teeth from moving, but retainers can help if they’re worn properly.

You may have to wear your retainer anywhere between 12 hours and 23 hours a day. This means that bacteria can easily build up on your retainer.

There are several types of retainers, including:

  • Hawley retainers: These are removable retainers that are made of a hard material and wire. 
  • Clear Essix retainers: This type of removable retainer is made from a transparent material. 
  • Permanent or fixed retainers: These retainers are bonded to the tongue side of your teeth and are custom fitted. They can be placed and removed only by your orthodontist.

A study found that participants wearing clear Essix retainers had more plaque and tartar (dental calculus) buildup than those wearing Hawley retainers.

Brush your retainer. After eating, rinse your retainer with warm water. Brush your teeth. Use a separate toothbrush to gently brush your retainer.

You may also use a small amount of gentle dish soap to clean your retainer.

Use a cotton swab. You may also use a cotton swab to clean the nooks and crannies of your retainer.

There are a few different ways of deep-cleaning your removable retainer. Talk to your orthodontist to find out which is suitable for your type of retainer. 

Baking soda water. You may deep-clean your removable retainer in a mixture of baking soda and water. If you have a Hawley retainer, don’t soak it for too long or too often. The baking soda solution may corrode the metal parts of your retainer.

Because an Essix retainer doesn’t have metal parts, it can be soaked in the baking soda solution longer and more often.

Denture cleaners. You may also use denture cleaners to clean your dirty retainer twice a week. Fill a small container with water and denture cleaner. Rinse your retainer. Soak it in the denture cleaner solution for 20 minutes. Rinse your retainer. Then soak it in nonalcoholic mouthwash for 20 minutes.

You can’t remove your permanent retainers to clean them. But you can clean your fixed retainers the same way you clean your teeth — by flossing and brushing. 

Flossing around your permanent retainer can be tricky. You may want to use special dental floss or floss threaders that are designed for retainers. A water flosser may also be useful.

Because you can’t remove your fixed retainers to deep-clean them, you should also visit your dentist for regular checkups and cleanings.

Experts recommend using:

  • Warm water
  • Cotton swabs
  • Dish soap
  • Dental cleaners

Here are some cleaning agents to avoid.

Toothpaste. Regular toothpaste may rub off the surface of your retainer. This may cause bacteria to stick to it. Instead of toothpaste, make a paste of equal parts baking soda and water. Use this paste to scrub your retainer. 

Hot water or high temperatures. Don’t boil your retainer or use hot water to wash it. Heat can permanently warp the plastic materials of your retainer. You may then need to replace your retainer. 

Bleach. This chemical is too harsh for your retainer and may damage it.

Alcohol. Avoid cleaners that contain alcohol. Alcohol can cause your retainer to dry out.

Experts say that you should clean your retainer at least once a day. You may also want to deep-clean it in an antibacterial denture cleaner once a week. This can help kill any bacteria on your retainer.

If you don’t regularly clean your retainer, it can result in:

  • Small white spots
  • Bad smell
  • Bad taste
  • Layer of film
  • Cloudy look

Wash your hands. You risk transferring germs into your mouth if you don’t wash your hands first. Wash your hands before and after you handle your retainer.

Brush or rinse. After eating and before putting your retainer back in your mouth, try to brush your teeth or rinse your mouth. 

Make it a habit. Once you take your retainer out of your mouth, clean it right away. This makes it easier to remove any food particles and makes it less likely that debris will harden on your retainer.

You can set a reminder on your phone. This will help remind you not just to clean your retainer but also to wear it.

Use the right retainer storage. Talk to your orthodontist to find out the best way to store your retainer when you’re not wearing it. Some retainers may need to dry out, while other types may need to be soaked. Check with your orthodontist about what type of soaking solution your retainer needs.

Remember your retainer case. Always carry your retainer case with you. You may damage your retainer if you drop it into your bag or pocket without a case.

Clean your case. Your retainer case may have more bacteria than your retainer. When your retainer is soaking, use the time to clean your case. 

Don’t use a napkin. Try not to wrap your retainer in a napkin or tissue. It’s easily mistaken as trash and thrown away.

Avoid heat. Don’t leave your retainer in a hot car, near a heater, or near a hot stove. This can deform your retainer.

Keep it away from pets. Your dogs can easily chew up and damage your retainer. Keep your retainer away from your pets.