The Best Way to Properly Clean Your Retainer

The Best Way to Properly Clean Your Retainer
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Table of Contents

  1. Proper Cleaning of Retainers
  2. Step-by-Step
  3. Water Cleaning
  4. Toothpaste, Mouthwash and Dental Floss
  5. Baking Soda
  6. Retainer Cleaner
  7. White Vinegar
  8. Denture Cleaner
  9. Frequency of a New Retainer
  10. Results of a Dirty Retainer
  11. References

A retainer is a dental device that fits snugly into the mouth to keep teeth in place. Retainers hold onto your teeth by a rubber ring that slides over the front teeth and into your mouth. Alternatively, they can clip directly onto some braces.

Orthodontists recommend that the five million Americans wearing braces should probably use retainers after wearing braces and having them removed. And because retainers must be in place for several hours at a time to do their job (usually overnight), it’s essential that they be cleaned well and cleaned regularly.

Proper Cleaning of Retainers

The first thing you should know about caring for your retainer is that you should clean it daily. You don’t want to let chunks and bits of food collect on it. Doing so causes bacteria to build up. That would not only give you bad breath but would also increase the likelihood of an infection if you should incur cut or develop a sore inside your mouth.

There are a number of ways you can clean your retainer, and here are six that come recommended by dental professionals.

Step-by-Step Cleaning List

The best approaches to cleaning your retainer depend on the type of retainer you have.

For example, bonded retainers are attached to your teeth. You’ll simply brush your teeth as normal, making sure to gently brush along the retainer to reduce plaque. Removable retainers, like Hawley or clear plastic retainers, benefit from being cleaned while they are not in your mouth.

How to Clean a Hawley Retainer

These are steps for how to clean a Hawley retainer:

  1. Clean your retainer as soon as you take it out of your mouth. Delaying allows food to become dried and stuck to the retainer.
  2. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and lukewarm water to brush plaque and food off the retainer. You can use the same brush you use for your teeth, or have a separate brush specifically for your retainer.
  3. If your retainer is not immediately going into your mouth, you can mix a small amount of mild dish soap with warm water and brush your retainer with this. Do not use toothpaste, which has some abrasive ingredients that can damage the retainer.
  4. Examine your retainer for trapped food. Use a soft cotton swab or denture brush to get into these tough-to-clean areas.
  5. Ask about dedicated retainer cleaner options that your dentist recommends, as soaking in these concoctions can thoroughly clean the retainer. You might also be able to use some denture cleaners, but ask about options first.

How to Clean a Plastic Retainer

These are steps for how to clean your clear plastic retainer:

  1. Take the retainer out when you eat or drink, especially if the food or drink might stain the retainer.
  2. Immediately rinse the retainer in cool water, not hot or warm.
  3. Brush your teeth before putting the retainer back in.
  4. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush to clean the inside of the retainer, but not every day, as this can scratch the retainer. Avoid using toothpaste on it.
  5. Ask about retainer cleaner to safely soak your retainer.
  6. Never use chemicals, including many soaps, as these can warp or soak into the retainer.

The best regular cleaning method for any kind of retainer is to clean it with cool or lukewarm water with a gentle brush. Although you might accidentally warp a Hawley retainer, clear plastic retainers are at higher risk of being warped or stained from food, drink, or warmth.

Try to avoid anything that will scratch the surface of the plastic since this can allow bacteria into the crevices. Avoid anything that might warp the retainer, as this can shift your teeth out of proper alignment.

Although Hawley retainers can take slightly harsher treatment, they are not a great option for many people. They are visible, compared to clear plastic. The wire can come undone or become misshapen in a way you would not notice until your dentist points it out. They can be less comfortable since they require more space in your mouth.

If your dentist recommends a retainer, ask about which option might work best after your orthodontic treatment.

Water Cleaning

For the 58% of people who use removable retainers, the best way to clean it is to remove it from your mouth and soak it in warm water for a few minutes.

Remove it from the water and brush the surface with a soft-bristled toothbrush that’s been scrubbed free of any coloration, flavor or fragrance. Take care not to use hot water, which can cause the retainer, which is made of acrylic, to warp and become brittle. Also, avoid:

  • Soaking retainers for long periods
  • Using abrasive cleaning materials
  • Scrubbing too hard with toothbrushes
When you’re cleaning your retainer, you should never use ordinary soap and water. You could use Castile soap because it’s less toxic.

Another method for water-cleaning is to keep the retaining in your mouth. Fill your mouth with lukewarm water. Let the retaining soak for a minute, then swish the water around and spit it out.

Using a syringe filled with water, squirt the water out and then blow it out using air pressure. This will help get rid of any food particles that are stuck between the wires.

After you’ve cleaned the retainer, remove it and let it dry naturally, or dry it with a clean cloth.

Toothpaste, Mouthwash and Dental Floss

Orthodontists recommend brushing your teeth with toothpaste and rinsing them with mouthwash before removing your retainer. Put the retainer on a soft cloth or towel and brush gently with a regular toothbrush to remove plaque and food particles.

You can use dental floss to clean the grooves of the retainer but not on the wire framework. Instead, use a tongue scraper, a U-shaped metal tool. These will easily get rid of the bacteria stuck on your tongue and under it, which will make brushing out the buildup on your retainer much easier.

To dry the retaining, use another soft cloth or towel and wipe it dry carefully. Rinse out all of the toothpaste and mouthwash residue from your retainer before reinserting it.

People should clean their retainer by lightly brushing using a soft-bristled toothbrush every time they brush their teeth and should do a more thorough cleaning once a week.

Baking Soda

You can clean your retainer by soaking it for at least 15 minutes in a pre-mixed solution of baking soda and lukewarm water. Remove and clean using a toothbrush and rinse thoroughly.

It would help if you also had a saline solution/salt water to rinse the baking soda grit. The salt in the saline solution will also help draw out any trapped food particles from inside the retainers. It does not matter what brand of saline solution you use.

Make sure you remove all the baking soda from your retainer before reinserting it.

Be careful with the baking soda. It can damage the soldered metal parts in Hawley, or fixed, lingual wire and bonded retainers. Use this method sparingly, and don’t soak the retainer in this solution daily.
However, this is a good method for cleaning polyurethane or plastic retainers. They don’t contain metal solder, and they’ll have no chemical reaction to the baking soda mix.

Retainer Cleaner

While some retainer manufacturers offer cleaners, you can purchase your own if you don’t trust your saline solution-making skills.

Like any other product, follow the instructions to the tee since some will require overnight retainer soaking or sonic cleaning to complement the cleaner. Further, some cleaners may not be suitable for people with gum disease or sensitive teeth.

White Vinegar

It’s a gentle disinfectant with the added advantage of clearing residues and odors. Create a solution of equal part water and white vinegar and soak the retainer for 20 minutes. Use a soft brush to scrub away any mineral deposits.

Caution: vinegar has a strong smell, so you should consider using a disposable dish if the lingering odor bothers you. Clean the retainer in a well-ventilated room.

Denture Cleaner

Finally, you can safely use denture cleaner, especially if you are freshly out of other options. However, this should only be a temporary solution, as repeated use will turn the retainer yellow.

Rinse the retainer in plain water, then soak it in the denture solution for approximately 20 minutes. Take it out and use a soft toothbrush to scrub gently. Rinse until you can’t taste the denture cleaner.

How Often You Should Get a New Retainer

The average lifespan of a retaining is two to three years, although it’s not uncommon for them to last longer. Prevention and proper care can keep them from breaking down prematurely.

What Happens if You Don’t Clean Your Retainer?

If you develop bad cleaning habits with your retaining – or, worse, don’t clean it at all – its lifespan will be short and you are likely to enjoy the experience of wearing one even less than you already might.

Food and bacteria will accumulate in the grooves of the retainer bands, irritating or cutting the gums and causing recession. Retainers that are not cleaned regularly become more difficult to clean each time because eventually everything gets stuck on there, including hardened plaque.


Cleaning Your Retainers. California Association of Orthodontists. Date fetched: August 26, 2021.

How Long Do You Have to Wear a Retainer After Your Braces Come Off? Colgate. Date fetched: August 26, 2021.

Orthodontic researchers ask: Where's your retainer? ScienceDaily. Date fetched: August 26, 2021.

Retainers Keep Teeth from Shifting. Stanford Children’s Health. Date fetched: August 25, 2021.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.