Updated on February 7, 2024
8 min read

How to Clean Retainers with Popular Methods and Products

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If you’ve recently had braces or another orthodontic treatment, you’re probably aware of the importance of wearing your retainer. But did you know that cleaning your retainer regularly is just as crucial?

Retainers are in your mouth for a large portion of the day, which is plenty of time to accumulate bacteria and plaque. Cleaning your retainer will help you avoid tooth decay and other oral health problems. It’ll also keep your mouth healthy and contribute to a beautiful smile.

In this article, we’ll explain popular cleaning methods and products for your retainer. You can also consult your dentist if you have any questions about cleaning them.

How to Clean Retainers (By Type)

The type of retainer will affect the way you care for it. Some dentists recommend retainers that are fixed into place. However, removable options are also available.

Regardless of what retainer you use, you should speak to your doctor about how to take care of it properly. This can help you keep the retainer in good condition and avoid getting it damaged.

Here are the different types of retainers and how you should clean them:

1. Permanent Retainers

Permanent retainers, also known as fixed or bonded retainers, get cemented to your teeth. They’re great for people who have trouble wearing removable retainers. 

Here’s how to clean a permanent retainer:

  1. Gently brush your teeth with a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste
  2. Use a long piece of floss with a floss threader to clean between the teeth
  3. Hold the floss between the teeth and under the retainer wire below your gum to remove any debris
  4. Slide the floss to the next tooth you want to clean
  5. Repeat

You can also use a water flosser (oral irrigator) as an adjunct tool to help keep your permanent retainer clean. 

2. Clear Plastic Retainers (Essix Retainers)

Clear plastic retainers, also called Essix retainers, look like clear aligners but are usually thicker. They’re discreet and removable.

To clean a clear plastic retainer:

  1. Remove your clear retainer before each meal and brush your teeth after
  2. Soak your plastic retainer in lukewarm water and mild dish soap
  3. Avoid using toothpaste or any abrasive cleaning product that can damage it
  4. Gently scrub the retainer with a denture brush or soft toothbrush you don’t use for your teeth

Because clear plastic retainers don’t have metal parts, you can soak them in a denture cleaner or other soaking solutions like baking soda. However, you should speak to your dentist about soaking your retainers to avoid damaging them.

3. Hawley Retainers

A Hawley retainer is a removable appliance that’s custom-made to fit your mouth. It’s made with acrylic and metal to help prevent your teeth from shifting. 

Hawley retainers often accumulate hardened plaque and food particles on the acrylic palate portion of the retainer. Keeping the retainer clean is important to avoid damage over time and prevent bad breath. 

To keep a Hawley retainer clean:

  1. Remove your retainer before eating
  2. Brush the Hawley retainer with a soft-bristled toothbrush (a separate brush from the one you use for your teeth)
  3. Carefully use a retainer cleaner or a mild baking soda mix to clean it
  4. Keep the retainer in its retainer case when it is out of your mouth
  5. Soak your Hawley retainer in denture cleaner overnight if you need a deeper clean

4. Clear Aligner Trays

Clear aligner trays are similar to clear plastic retainers. They’re designed to fit around your teeth and are removable appliances.

To keep your clear aligner trays clean:

  1. Remove your clear aligner trays when eating
  2. Rinse them thoroughly with lukewarm water
  3. Clean them daily with a soft-bristled toothbrush and mild soap detergent
  4. You may soak them for a short period in a denture cleaner or retainer soak
  5. Rinse again with water and insert aligners

It’s essential to keep your aligners clean so they can keep your teeth in the correct position while looking nearly invisible. Unsanitary aligner trays will make your teeth look dirty and can affect the quality of your oral health.

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The Best Ways To Clean Your Retainers
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Best Retainer Cleaner Products

While some great retainer cleaners are out there, other products can cause significant damage. The best retainer cleaning products are ones that are mild and non-abrasive.

Recommended cleaning products include:

1. Toothbrush and Toothpaste

When you brush your teeth, you should also brush your retainer. Use a separate toothbrush with soft bristles and non-whitening toothpaste. Hard-bristled toothbrushes and toothpaste with abrasive ingredients can scratch a retainer’s plastic.

2. Baking Soda

Baking soda is a good product to use when cleaning your retainer. Not only does baking soda curb bacteria without harsh chemicals, but it can also help whiten retainers that become discolored. 

Mix a paste of half water and half baking soda. Apply the baking soda paste to your retainer and gently scrub it with a soft-bristled toothbrush.

3. Vinegar

You can also clean your retainer with white vinegar. It’s a gentle disinfectant that can help remove odors and stains.

Mix half white vinegar and half water, then soak your retainer for at least 20 minutes. After you remove it, rinse and brush your retainer with cool water. 

4. Castile Soap

Castile soap is a safe and non-toxic way to keep retainers clean. It’s possible to make your own castile soap with olive oil and coconut soap. However, premade castile soap is available in most grocery and drug stores.

To clean your retainer with castile soap, simply squeeze a drop into a container of warm water. Then, immerse the retainer in the water and clean it with a brush.

5. Retainer Cleaner

Retainer cleaners are special cleaning solutions made specifically for retainers. This is a good option for people who don’t want to make their own cleaning solution.

Talk to your dentist before using a premade retainer cleaner, and always follow the instructions on the packaging. Retainer cleaner may not be right for you if you have gum disease or sensitive teeth.

6. Denture Cleaner

Occasionally, soaking retainers in denture cleaner may help remove hardened mineral deposits. However, you should talk to your dentist or orthodontist about whether a denture solution is right for your particular retainer.

Some denture cleaners are too harsh for certain retainers. Soak your retainer in a denture cleaner for the time indicated on the product’s packaging or as directed by your dentist. 

Signs it’s Time to Clean Your Retainer

If you notice your retainer looks slightly different than when you first got it, this is a sign to give it a good clean. Here are some other signs: 

  • A bad smell from your retainer
  • A sour or bad taste when the retainer is in your mouth
  • The retainer looks cloudy or has a film of bacteria
  • You haven’t cleaned your retainer in several days

How Often Should You Clean a Retainer?

You should be cleaning your retainer daily. If you brush your teeth twice daily, try to clean your retainer simultaneously. This makes the process more convenient.

Myths About Cleaning Retainers and What to Avoid 

Speak with your dentist to learn how to clean your retainer and what products are safe. Aside from that, here’s what you should keep in mind when cleaning your retainers:

  • Microwaves, dishwashers, and hot or boiling water can cause your retainer to warp
  • Soaking your retainer in solution for too long can damage the metal in a Hawley retainer
  • When soaking your retainer in mouthwash, opt for an alcohol-free mouthrinse

There are some common misconceptions about retainers, and you want to avoid them to prevent damage. Some myths include:

1. Only Use Water to Clean Retainers

Water is great, but it’s not effective on its own. You need to disinfect retainers to remove harmful bacteria and food particles.

2. You Don’t Need to Clean Retainers Daily

Food and plaque can build up on your retainers within a day. Leaving them to develop is harmful to your retainer and your oral health. It can result in harmful bacteria build-up, leading to bacterial and fungal infections.

3. Retainer Cleaner Products are Damaging

Retainer-made products are deemed safe if they’re non-abrasive and designed for oral appliances. Speak with your dentist if one is good for your retainer type.

Why Should You Clean Your Retainer?

Cleaning your teeth is crucial for good oral hygiene. The same goes for any appliance for your mouth, such as a retainer.

Orthodontic appliances like retainers can easily collect bacteria and become a magnet for plaque and food debris. When this happens, it can cause bad breath and discomfort in your mouth. 

What Happens if Your Retainers Are Too Dirty?

If you clean your retainer daily, it should be easy to maintain. However, if you can’t remove buildup after a thorough cleaning, it might be time for a new retainer.

After prolonged use, your retainer may start to develop a stubborn buildup of plaque and other bacteria. The buildup is more likely to occur if you live in an area with hard water because calcium can leave mineral deposits on the surface.

Summary

  • Clean your retainer daily to prevent bacteria buildup on your oral appliance
  • The proper cleaning method will depend on the type of retainer you have
  • The best cleaning products are always mild and non-abrasive
  • Consult your dentist for retainer cleaning product recommendations and advice on properly caring for your retainers

Last updated on February 7, 2024
7 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 7, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
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