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Last Updated on February 26, 2023

How To Clean a Retainer?


Finally, the braces have come off, and you are ready to dazzle the world with your new smile. But then your orthodontist mentions the word “Retainers,” and you suddenly realize your treatment is far from over.

Yes, the braces have done the heavy-lifting, you have turned up diligently for appointments, and your orthodontist has applied their skill to your misaligned teeth. You should be ready to go and deliver beaming smiles to the world. Instead, you have to have another layer of material fitted to your teeth.

What type of retainer will I get?

How you clean your retainer depends on the type of retainer you have. The two very different types of retainer are:

  1. Bonded retainer: One type is called a bonded retainer that fits snugly to your teeth’ backs and is irremovable. Wires attach the retainer to the teeth.
  2. Removable retainer: The other retainer acts as a layer over your teeth and is removable.

Your orthodontist will decide on the best retainer for the treatment you have had. Complex work and jaw alignment could see you fitted with a permanent retainer, whereas less complex issues will generally mean a removable retainer.

Cleaning your retainer – bonded and removable

Here’s how to keep your retainer fresh, whichever type you wear.

Cleaning a removable retainer

There are two very different methods for cleaning a removable retainer.

  • Use a toothbrush
  • Soak the retainer

1. Use a toothbrush

Some dentists advise using a soft toothbrush and a small amount of toothpaste and washing the retainer in lukewarm water. If you are concerned about bacterial infection, it is advisable to use distilled water.

Use the brush in circular motions ensuring you reach all parts of the retainer. Pay particular attention to the part that fits over the gumline. Rinse thoroughly, ensuring all residue is removed. Return your retainer to its case if not wearing it immediately.

2. Soak the retainer

Another school of thought advises against the use of a toothbrush as too strong brushing may give rise to scratches on the retainer’s surface. The scratches, in turn, provide a breeding ground for bacteria that can damage your own teeth.

If this is also your dentist’s concern, it may be advisable to skip the toothbrush routine and instead soak the retainer in a bacteria combating solution. However, when doing this, you may need to consider the material used to make your retainer.

The once a week deep clean

Whatever cleaning method you use, it is recommended you treat your retainer to a once-a-week deep clean. Your retainer should be soaked in a bowl of vinegar weekly to maintain its freshness and to make sure it is disinfected. Make sure you rinse the retainer thoroughly after its vinegar bath.

Things that are not recommended

Given the proliferation of cleaning agents and devices, it is recommended you stick to the tried and trusted ways outlined above when cleaning your retainer.

  • Avoid toxic ingredients: Many products contain abrasive ingredients or toxic chemicals. Rather than scouring the supermarket and reading the lists of ingredients on products, it is safer and easier to use products that have stood the test of time.
  • Avoid electric toothbrushes: Likewise, avoid battery-operated or electric toothbrushes for cleaning your retainer. They will cause the scratches that will send you in search of a new retainer or, even worse, further dental treatment.

Cleaning a permanent retainer

Doctor Cleaning Kids teeth

If you have a permanent retainer, you can expect to have to work a little harder at keeping it clean. Not being able to remove it means that you will have to incorporate cleaning the retainer into your regular toothbrushing routine.

Because your permanent retainer is fixed in a position close to your teeth, plaque has an ideal location to accumulate. Even a little oversight can very quickly lead to a build-up of tartar and plaque. As your dentist will have warned you, plaque build-up can lead to tooth decay which is something you do not want after investing heavily in your tooth treatment.

Here’s how to keep your permanent retainer and mouth clean.

  • Regular brushing and flossing: This can combat plaque, as can six-monthly visits to your dentist.
  • The right toothpaste brand: You may want to carefully consider the brand of toothpaste you use and think about adding a mouthwash to your regular cleansing routine to prevent the build-up of plaque.
  • Electric toothbrush: Many dentists recommend using electric toothbrushes as the rotating speed of the bristles may be more effective at removing plaque than a regular toothbrush. But before investing in an electric toothbrush, consult with your dentist.


Another problem you may encounter with your permanent retainer is how easily food particles get stuck behind the wires that hold the teeth in place. Thorough flossing can combat this problem.

You need to be sure you work the floss behind and between the teeth and under the wires to ensure all offending particles are removed. To make flossing easier when you have a permanent retainer, consider getting a floss threader that will make it easier to deal with each tooth individually. A Waterpik is another useful, albeit expensive device, for flossing. It will dash away food debris with the water jet making you feel you have really cleaned.

A permanent retainer makes it essential to build flossing into your daily routine. A build-up of plaque can cause hard calculus, a layer of hardened plaque, that can lead to more severe dental problems later on.

Materials used in removable retainers

Some materials used to make retainers can be porous and are best suited to damp environments. Their porous nature also allows them to absorb fluids, so you may want to be careful of the type of cleaner you use.

If toothpaste is your favorite cleaning agent, make sure the toothpaste you use does not contain ingredients that will soak through the porous material. If you are worried about this happening, it may be best to search your kitchen cupboard for a safer cleaning agent. Humble bread soda is considered one of the safest cleaners to use on your retainer.

Bacteria thrive in an acidic environment, but the Ph levels of bread soda neutralize the bacteria in your mouth. With its high Ph level, bread soda will counteract any bacteria wanting to take up residence in your mouth.

Try making up a paste of bread soda and distilled water to wash your retainer in. This will guarantee you a refreshing clean, odor-free breath, and a bacteria-free retainer.

Don’t forget your retainer case

Your orthodontist will have presented you with a little box to keep your retainers in when not wearing them. It is more than a simple little storage box. Fitting in a pocket or bag, the box will keep your retainer safe when not in your mouth. It will also protect them from picking up germs when being left less than securely on not-so-clean surfaces.

Training yourself to use the box will prevent you from making the mistakes made by so many of leaving a retainer wrapped in a dining room napkin to be whisked away to a kitchen waste bin or leaving it on a hotel bedside table.

All of these mistakes and many more like them will leave you with having to give your dentist a plausible explanation and suffer the cost of a new set of retainers.

Why clean a retainer?


Both types of retainer have one thing in common — they get dirty.

They retain food particles that can encourage bacteria and tooth decay if not removed. This damages the expensive work you’ve had done on your smile. And even more embarrassing, retainers that are not maintained in pristine condition can give rise to that most offensive of conversation stoppers, foul-smelling breath.

You know the teeth that lie beneath the retainer are gleaming, but you do not want to show the world a tarnished retainer while you wait to reveal your new smile. And remember, you have invested in that smile. To get a return on your investment, you need to care for those retainers.

But are what causes of a dirty mouth and retainer?

Consider what you put into your mouth on a daily basis.

  1. Fizzy drinks? We know they stain our pearly whites, consider what discoloration they can cause to your retainers. Coffee, too, can have the same effect, and of course, smoking if you indulge.
  2. Then consider the food particles that get stuck between the wires of the permanent retainers or beneath the removable ones.
  3. Most of us enjoy garlic but exuding the scent of stale garlic is a no-no for most of us.
  4. And then there is the early morning breath which the vast majority of us need to dispose of before meeting the world.

Retainer cleaning tips

Washing and flossing are all good antidotes to these problems and leave our still to be revealed pearly whites in their covering.

But before rushing to the bathroom, it is important to remind ourselves of the things we need to know about cleaning our retainers.

  1. Your retainer is made of malleable material and shaped to fit your teeth. Treating it badly can warp its shape.
  2. Using hot/boiling water to clean your retainer will cause them to lose shape and thereby fail to carry out the job they are designed to do.
  3. Using an abrasive cleaner may remove staining but will leave you with scratched, unsightly surfaces, which can harbor bacteria.

Your dentist may advise you on the toothbrush and toothpaste to use if he approves of you using a toothbrush to clean your retainer. He will recommend a soft-bristled toothbrush and perhaps even a specific toothpaste.

Brushing your teeth

When you have a permanent retainer, brushing twice daily becomes more important than ever before. It is no longer a matter of daily hygiene but a means of safeguarding your smile.

Without taking adequate care, you can get cavities in the teeth the retainers are bonded to, and that, of course, will mean undoing all the expensive work you have had done already.

Set aside three minutes morning and evening for your toothbrushing routine. It is important to keep reminding yourself you have a metal attachment in your mouth and to brush the attachment itself and around it twice daily.

Smile brighter, smile longer

You have made a sizeable investment in your appearance and confidence. That is a once-in-a-lifetime investment and one that you do not want to repeat. Wearing your retainers for the time laid down by your dentist guarantees the lastingness of your smile. However, the care you take of the retainers contributes a great deal to the success of your treatment.

And caring for the retainers is your job, not your dentist’s. Wearing retainers and hiding that marvelous smile, if you are wearing removable retainers, can be tedious. But it needn’t be unpleasant or off-putting.

Careful washing and flossing, using that little box will all ensure you sail through that period when you have to put your retainers on daily display.

The day will come when the dentist eventually informs you that you can restrict wearing the retainer to bedtime. He will advise you that cleaning and flossing must continue, but the little box will spend longer on the bedside table.

And for the permanent retainer wearer? As soon as your retainer has been fitted, you are free to go smile at all and sundry. But remember that piece of metal is going to become part of your life. Remember to take care of it!

And for all who have undergone their orthodontic treatment? Congratulations. You have achieved a well-deserved goal. Keep it safe by caring for the retainers that protect it.

Also Read:

Vivera Retainers: Brutally Honest Review

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