5 Easy Ways to Clean Your Retainer or Aligners

A clean mouth starts with a clean appliance.

Photo: Getty Images

If you've ever embarked on any orthodontic journey (or are in the middle of one), then you'll be all too familiar with the removable appliance that helps set your teeth to perfection. Wearing your retainer or aligners may be the last step in your teeth routine—but it's a very important one. And since the last thing you want to do is stick a germy clump of plastic into your mouth after you just finished cleaning it, sanitizing your aligner or retainer is a non-negligible step. Skipping it can lead to your appliance breaking or cracking (bacteria damages a retainer just like it damages your teeth), give you bad breath, and leave you prone to cavities.

So how can you tell if you need to disinfect your retainer? Your senses are your most reliable judge. If your retainer smells or tastes bad, you see a cloudy film and/or white spots on the surface, or it's been more than a week since it was last sanitized, it's probably time to give your appliance a good cleaning.

Here are some tips for keeping your retainer or aligner in good shape:

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Brush it with a soft-bristled toothbrush.

Start your retainer/aligner cleaning the same way you would your teeth—by brushing them. Ideally, you should clean your retainer every time you brush your teeth. Use a soft-bristled brush or denture brush to gently scrub away plaque and other debris. If necessary, you can use a cotton swab to get into the deepest grooves and ridges. Try to choose a non-whitening toothpaste for your aligners/retainers as the bleaching agents in whitening pastes can cause damage over time.

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Dunk it in mouthwash.

Aside from brushing, a more extensive cleaning should be done once a week. This can be done easily with the mouthwash sitting on your bathroom counter. The process couldn't be simpler—just dip your appliance in non-alcoholic mouthwash for 2 to 3 minutes and rinse with cold water. Opt for a colorless formula, like the Listerine Naturals Fluoride-Free Mint Antiseptic Mouthwash ($16; amazon.com), to prevent any staining from happening.

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Apply an anti-bacterial spray.

If you're in a time bind or need to clean your aligner after a meal in a public setting where you can't rinse, sanitizing sprays are a great alternative. Try something like the EverSmile AlignerFresh Portable Spray ($6; amazon.com), which uses a hydrogen peroxide-based formula proven to kill 99.9 percent of common oral bacteria within 60 seconds. These sprays can be applied up to six times per day and takes less than 6 seconds to do, so you have no excuse for not giving your aligner a quick spritz before popping it back into your mouth.

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Use baking soda.

Baking soda is the go-to hero ingredient for all things deodorizing, and your teeth are no exception. In addition to combating the stink factor, the handy white powder can stabilize pH levels of the mouth naturally and rebalance your oral microbiome, keeping cavity-causing bacteria at bay. Likewise, baking soda can disinfect your retainer without using harsh chemicals by preventing it from developing pH imbalances that harm your mouth.

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Look for retainer cleaners.

Common aligner brands often make their own disinfecting solution. Invisalign's special cleaning pack ($40; amazon.com) comes with 50 individually-wrapped packs of cleaning crystals (which totals up to a 50-week supply) to remove any lingering plaque buildup. Simply drop one crystal into a cup of warm water and submerge your aligners for 15 minutes. When you take them out, it will look as if you've just opened a new set for the first time.

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