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How To Clean Retainers: Simple Ways To Keep Them Clean

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Knowing how to clean retainers is essential to maintaining good oral hygiene!

A woman with a bright smile holding a retainer, with text title "How to Clean Retainers".

Who doesn’t dream of having the perfect smile? Retainers are helpful in making that happen!

That’s why regularly keeping them free from plaque and bacteria is important for oral health. Just as you wouldn’t want to go a day without brushing your teeth, cleaning your retainer is something you must do daily. 

So, if you’re new to wearing them or you have kids wearing them, keep reading! We’re listing several ways how to keep your retainers clean after using them.  

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What Are Retainers?

When braces come off, the next step involves wearing retainers. These custom-made devices help keep your teeth in perfect alignment.

A woman smiles with a retainer on her teeth.

They are necessary to prevent your teeth from returning to their previous misaligned positions. When you wear retainers, they help your teeth maintain their new, straight position. 

There are two different types of retainers, which are:

  • Fixed or Permanent Retainers are glued to your teeth and stay inside your mouth. They are often placed on your lower or upper teeth. 
  • Removable Retainers, which you can remove from your mouth anytime. The more popular choices are the Hawley and Essix retainers.

Hawley Retainers have metal wires attached to acrylic or plastic material, while Essix Retainers are clear retainers made of plastic but don’t have any wires. According to a study, those who wore Essix retainers had more plaque, gingival, and calculus indexes but they were more comfortable to wear.

A woman holding a pair of retainers.

Why Should You Clean Your Retainers?

Typically, you’ll be wearing your retainers for quite some time. For example, your orthodontist might advise you that you need to wear a retainer for up to 22 hours a day for the first 6 months, then you only need to wear them overnight for the succeeding 2 years. 

Since these devices stay in your mouth for a long time, they collect food debris, tartar, and plaque – just like your teeth. If you don’t clean your retainers, what’s on them may eventually find its way to your teeth, leading to tooth decay, cavities, and even gum disease.

How do you know if your retainer is dirty? Here are some classic signs:

  • A cloudy, whitish film on your retainer, indicating a buildup of bacteria, food debris, and plaque
  • Has an unpleasant odor due to bacteria buildup
  • Shows discoloration, which can be from plaque or tartar stains
  • Causes gum irritation

To prevent any of these from happening, you need to know how to care for your retainer properly. 

How Do You Clean Different Types of Retainers?

Since there are different types of retainers, the ways to clean them vary. Here are the steps for keeping your retainers spotless at all times: 

How to Clean Removable Retainers

There are several methods to clean removable retainers. Try these methods and see what works best for you.

1. Cleaning with Unscented Dish Soap

To keep this type of retainer free of tartar and plaque, you need:

Here’s how to clean your retainer with unscented dish soap:

  1. Remove the retainer from your mouth. Cleaning it while still wet will make removing any debris trapped in it easier before it hardens. 
  2. Mix lukewarm water with unscented dish soap.
  3. Dip your soft-bristled toothbrush in the cleaning solution and gently brush your retainer. Use a different toothbrush for retainer cleaning from the one you use for brushing your teeth.  
  4. Rinse your retainer with cool or lukewarm water. 

2. Using Baking Soda

Baking soda is fantastic in helping you maintain your oral health! Not only can it help whiten your teeth, but it’s also fantastic to use to take care of your retainer by killing both bacteria and foul odor safely and naturally.  

You will need:

Baking soda in a bowl with a toothbrush.

Here are the ways to clean your retainer using baking soda:

  1. In a small dish, make a paste by mixing 50% water with 50% baking soda.
  2. Remove your retainer.
  3. Dip your soft-bristled toothbrush in the paste and use it to scrub the retainer. 
  4. Rinse it with cool or lukewarm water. 

3. Clean Retainer with Vinegar

Another household staple that packs a ton of cleaning power is good old white vinegar. It’s safe to use as a gentle and all-natural disinfectant in any part of your home.

It also works well to remove any food residues that may lurk on your retainer, leaving it clean and odor-free.

To do this, you need:

A toothbrush next to a bottle of vinegar, perfect for cleaning retainers.

To use vinegar to clean your retainer properly, you need to:

  1. Mix 50% warm water with 50% white vinegar in a small bowl. 
  2. Soak your retainer in white vinegar and water solution for about 20 minutes. 
  3. If your retainer already has a whitish film covering it, use a soft toothbrush to scrub its surface gently. Rinse it with cold water, then soak it in the water and vinegar solution.
  4. Afterward, rinse the retainer with cold water before putting it back in your mouth so you won’t have to taste the vinegar.

4. Try Castile Soap

Cleaning your retainer with castile soap also works well. This soap is made with organic materials that can do a fantastic job of cleaning and even moisturizing your retainer.

You will need:

A bottle of pure castile soap on a white background, perfect for cleaning retainers.

To use castile soap for cleaning, you need to:

  1. Add a few drops of castile soap to a small bowl with warm water.
  2. Dip the retainer in the mixture.
  3. Use a soft toothbrush to scrub the surface clean. 
  4. Soak the retainer for about 3 minutes.
  5. Rinse well with cool water. 

5. Go for Retainer Cleaners

Lastly, there are many retainer cleaners you can buy in the market. Some come in tablet form, while others use high-frequency soundwave technology to remove surface particles and dirt from your retainer. 

Simply follow the instructions indicated on the product, and you’re well on your way to enjoying a clean retainer. 

How to Clean Permanent Retainers

Since permanent retainers are glued to your teeth, cleaning them may seem trickier. The key to keeping tartar and plaque from building up on them, however, is by using floss and a floss threader!

Here’s how to clean your fixed retainers: 

  1. First, brush around them, focusing on one area at a time before moving to the next. 
  2. Next, take a 6-inch piece of floss and loop it through your floss threader. 
  3. Thread the floss in between your teeth, just under the retainer wire. Move it up and down to your gum lines, and floss the sides of your teeth.  
  4. Repeat until you’ve cleaned all the teeth attached to your fixed retainer. 

Alternatively, you can use a water dental flosser to make cleaning your permanent retainer easy and comfortable.

Retainer Maintenance Tips 

To help you keep your retainer at its best, here are more tips that you can follow:

  • Drink plenty of water. Doing this will help your body produce enough saliva to keep your mouth moist and prevent bacteria overgrowth. 
  • Store your retainers in their case when you’re not using them. This will help keep your retainers free from dust, dirt, and other particles. Plus, it will reduce the chances of it getting thrown out or damaged accidentally.
  • Keep your retainer case clean. Like your retainer, keeping its case clean is imperative, considering bacteria can easily thrive in it otherwise. Make sure to clean it regularly using mild dish soap, rinse, and dry it with a clean cloth or paper towel. 
  • Make sure your retainers are clean and moist. Keep the retainers in distilled water or specialty liquids whenever you’re not using them and/or they’re not in their case.
  • Take your removable retainers out before drinking sugary drinks or eating. Thanks to their acid content, soft drinks and sodas may hurt your retainers, whereas eating with them on might lead to cracking or even breaking them.   
  • Avoid eating food with artificial colors. The artificial colors will easily stain your retainers, making them harder to clean. 
  • Schedule a visit to your orthodontist. If you’re experiencing any issues or problems with your retainers or need them fixed or replaced, go to your dentist or orthodontist for proper guidance.


How Often Should You Clean Your Retainers?

As much as possible, clean it daily, preferably after meals. This will help keep any food debris from getting stuck to it and cause damage to your teeth and gums.

Can You Use Boiling Water to Clean Your Retainers?

Do not use boiling or hot water to soak or clean your retainers. This may damage your retainers, causing them to melt, distort, and lose shape. 

If this happens, it will also lose its ability to keep your teeth in its proper place. That’s why using cool or lukewarm water is better when cleaning your retainers. 

Can You Clean Your Retainers with Toothpaste?

While it’s good for brushing and caring for your teeth, cleaning your retainers with toothpaste is generally not advisable.

Unfortunately, toothpaste may be too abrasive and harsh to be used on retainers. Using it may lead to the acrylic material in your retainer getting potentially scratched and damaged over time, decreasing the quality and even allowing for bacterial growth.

Use These Tips and Tricks on How To Clean A Retainer Regularly

So there you have it—easy tips to keep your retainers in top-notch shape!

A woman is holding a pair of retainers.

Remember, a little cleaning goes a long way in keeping things fresh and comfy. Make it part of your routine, and your retainer will thank you with a big, bright smile. Happy cleaning!

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