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How to Clean Retainers: Tips You Need To Know

Updated: Feb 20

Retainers are essential dental appliances that help keep teeth in their new position after braces. But like anything you use every day, they need regular care to keep working their best. A dirty retainer can cause problems like bad breath, infections, and can even stop fitting properly. 


Don't worry, learning how to clean your retainer is easy! In this guide, I'll share seven simple tips to keep your retainer fresh, your smile healthy, and make sure it lasts for the long haul.



Table Of Contents




Woman holding retainer after learning how to clean retainer
How to Clean Your Retainer


1. How to Clean Retainer with a Toothbrush

Your retainer lives in your mouth, so bacteria builds up fast. This makes daily cleaning an absolute necessity! It's how you avoid bad breath, infections, and keep your retainer fitting comfortably.


Just take a few minutes each day to:

  • Gently scrub your retainer with a soft toothbrush and mild soap.

  • Rinse thoroughly with cool or lukewarm water.

  • DO NOT use hot water as it may damage your aligner.



2. How to Clean Your Retainer With Smilesaver


While daily brushing is still essential, you can ditch those long, messy soaks with Smilesaver! It's a fast, effective way to blast away bacteria and freshen up your retainer between brushings. 


Here's what makes Smilesaver different:

  • Formulated for Retainers: Smilesaver is made specifically for the materials in your retainer, so you won't risk any damage.

  • Bacteria Buster: Eliminates 99.9% of germs. This helps stop bad breath and keeps your retainer hygienic.

  • Ultra-Convenient: Just remove your retainer, give it a quick spray, wait 30 seconds, and you're done! No soaking, no rinsing. Perfect for on-the-go cleaning.

  • All-Natural Goodness: No harsh chemicals to worry about.


How to Use Smilesaver:

  1. Take off your retainers

  2. Spray both sides of your retainer with Smilesaver.

  3. Wait 30 seconds.

  4. Put your retainer back in.


3. How to Clean Retainers with Baking Soda


Baking soda is a handy cleaning agent for many things – including your retainer! It's gentle yet effective at removing buildup and neutralizing odors. 


Here's how to do it:


What You'll Need:

  • Baking soda

  • Lukewarm water

  • Soft-bristled toothbrush

  • Clean container

Instructions:

  1. Mix Your Solution: Add 1 teaspoon of baking soda with about 1/2 cup of lukewarm water. Mix until the baking soda dissolves.

  2. Soak Your Retainer: leave your retainer in the baking soda solution and let it soak for 15-20 minutes.

  3. Gentle Scrub: After soaking, use a soft-bristled toothbrush to gently scrub away any remaining residue. Pay attention to nooks and crannies.

  4. Rinse Thoroughly: Rinse your retainer well under cool or lukewarm water to remove all traces of baking soda.

Important Notes

  • Not a Daily Staple: While baking soda is great, overuse can make some retainers cloudy. Stick to using it 1-2 times a week for a deep clean.

  • Talk to Your Orthodontist: Always check with your orthodontist before using any new cleaning method – they can make sure it's safe for your specific retainer type.



4. How to Clean Your Retainers with Vinegar


Vinegar is a natural cleaner known for its antibacterial properties. Here's how it can give your retainer a fresh, deep clean – but caution is needed!


What You'll Need:

  • White vinegar

  • Lukewarm water

  • Soft-bristled toothbrush

  • Clean container

Instructions:

  1. Dilute the Vinegar: Create a solution of equal parts white distilled vinegar and lukewarm water. Avoid using hot water, as this can damage some retainer materials.

  2. Soak Time: Submerge your retainer in the vinegar solution and let it sit for 15-30 minutes. Do not soak for longer.

  3. Brush Lightly: If any buildup persists after soaking, very gently brush with a soft-bristled toothbrush.

  4. Rinse, Rinse, Rinse: Thoroughly rinse your retainer with cool or lukewarm water multiple times to remove any remaining vinegar taste or residue.

Important Notes

  • Occasional Use Only: Prolonged or frequent vinegar soaks can weaken certain retainers. It's best for occasional deep cleaning, rather than routine maintenance.

  • Not for Everyone: Always consult your orthodontist before using vinegar to ensure it's appropriate for the material of your retainer.


5. How to Clean Retainer with Hydrogen Peroxide


Hydrogen peroxide has cleaning and disinfecting properties, but it's important to use it carefully on retainers.  Here's a breakdown, with safety notes:


What You'll Need:

  • 3% Hydrogen peroxide (standard household strength)

  • Lukewarm water

  • Soft-bristled toothbrush

  • Clean container

Instructions:

  1. Dilute Thoroughly: Create a solution with equal parts 3% hydrogen peroxide and lukewarm water. Never use undiluted hydrogen peroxide.

  2. Short Soak: Submerge your retainer in the solution for no more than 10 minutes. Extended soaking can cause damage.

  3. Brush Gently: If needed, use a soft-bristled toothbrush to lightly remove any remaining buildup. Avoid harsh scrubbing.

  4. Rinse Well: Rinse your retainer multiple times with cool or lukewarm water to remove all traces of hydrogen peroxide.

Important Notes

  • EXTREME CAUTION: Many orthodontic experts strongly advise against using hydrogen peroxide on retainers at all. The risks of material discoloration, weakening, and even changes to fit outweigh the potential benefits.


6. How to Clean Retainer with an Ultrasonic Cleaner


Ultrasonic cleaners are small devices that use ultrasonic waves to quickly and deeply clean items like jewelry and now, retainers! Here's how to use one for a sparkling clean retainer:


What You'll Need:

  • Ultrasonic cleaner

  • Water (Distilled is best, but tap can work depending on your cleaner's instructions)

  • Mild soap or an orthodontic-approved retainer cleaner

  • Soft-bristled toothbrush

Instructions:

  1. Fill the Tank: Fill the ultrasonic cleaner tank with water according to the manufacturer's instructions.

  2. Add Cleaner: Add a small amount of mild soap or a specialized retainer cleaner solution to the water.

  3. Submerge Your Retainer: Gently place your retainer in the tank, ensuring it's fully submerged.

  4. Set the Timer: Run the ultrasonic cleaner for the recommended time (usually 3-5 minutes).

  5. Brush and Rinse: For extra cleaning, gently brush your retainer with a soft-bristled toothbrush after the ultrasonic cycle. Rinse well with cool or lukewarm water.

Important Note:

  • Cleaner Compatibility: Make sure your ultrasonic cleaner is safe for use with retainers. Most are, but double-checking is wise.



7. How to Clean Retainer with Mouthwash


Mouthwash seems convenient for your retainer too, right?  While it can freshen in a pinch, there are reasons to be cautious.


What You'll Need:

  • Alcohol-free mouthwash

  • Lukewarm water

  • Clean container

Instructions:

  1. Dilute, Dilute! Create a solution of equal parts mouthwash and lukewarm water. Alcohol-free is crucial, as alcohol can damage retainers.

  2. Quick Soak: Soak your retainer for no more than 5-10 minutes. Prolonged soaking may cause staining or weaken the material.

  3. Rinse Thoroughly: Rinse your retainer multiple times under cool or lukewarm water to ensure all mouthwash residue is removed.

Important Notes:

  • Not For Daily Use: Mouthwash isn't designed for retainer materials and can impact color or durability over time.

  • Freshness Only: It can temporarily reduce odor, but won't remove significant buildup or tackle bacteria the way specialized cleansers do.


Retainer Care: Crucial Things to Avoid


To keep your retainer in top shape and working perfectly, here are some key things to avoid:

  • Hot Water: Never use hot or boiling water for cleaning or rinsing your retainer. This can warp and damage the material, ruining the fit.

  • Household Cleaners: Harsh chemicals like bleach, abrasive cleaners, or even standard toothpaste can be detrimental to your retainer. Stick to gentler options.

  • Alcohol-Based Products: Avoid using mouthwash with alcohol, hand sanitizer, or similar products – they can discolor and degrade the retainer.

  • Putting it Directly in Your Pocket/Purse: This may seem quick, but your retainer will collect lint, dirt, and can break easily. Always use an aligner protective case.

  • Letting it Dry Out A dried-out retainer becomes brittle and may crack. If not in use, keep it moist inside its case.



Conclusion


Hopefully, by now, you have a better understanding of how to clean your retainer!

Remember, retainer care isn't just about having a fresh smile. It's an investment in your long-term dental health! With these simple tips, you'll keep your retainer (and your smile) in top form for years to come. 


If you ever have questions or notice changes in your retainer, your orthodontist is always there to help. With the right care, your retainer will return the favor by keeping your teeth straight and perfect!

FAQ


Q: How often should I use a retainer cleaner?

A: It is recommended to clean your retainer daily to maintain good oral hygiene using a device like an ultrasonic retainer cleaner combined with a proven effective disinfecting spray, like Smilesaver.


Q: Can I use toothpaste as a retainer cleaner?


A: No, it is not advisable to use toothpaste as a retainer cleaner. Toothpaste can be abrasive and may damage your retainer. It is best to use a non-abrasive retainer cleaner that is recommended by your orthodontist for proper care and maintenance of your retainer.



Q: How should I store my retainer when not in use?


A: Store your retainer in a clean case when not in use. This case helps protect your retainer from dirt and potential damage. Keep it away from heat and direct sunlight. Proper storage ensures that your retainer remains in good condition and continues to serve its purpose effectively.



Q: How long should I wear my retainer each day?


A: Adhering to your orthodontist's guidance is essential when it comes to the duration of wearing your retainer. Typically, it is recommended to wear your retainer for at least 12-22 hours per day. This ensures that your teeth remain properly aligned and that the results of your orthodontic treatment are maintained.


Q: What do I do if my retainer feels uncomfortable?


A: If your retainer feels uncomfortable, contact your orthodontist. They have the expertise to make necessary adjustments to your retainer or provide you with guidance on how to alleviate the discomfort. Prompt communication with your orthodontist ensures that your retainer remains comfortable to wear while still effectively maintaining your teeth's alignment.


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