How to Disinfect a Toothbrush (and When to Replace It)

See how easy it is to clean your toothbrush and why it's time to ditch the toothbrush cover.

We show you how to disinfect a toothbrush properly with a few quick steps. Keeping toothbrushes on the counter (or tucked away in a medicine cabinet or drawer) exposes them to germs lurking in your bathroom. Plus, food debris, saliva, bacteria, and even blood can remain on your toothbrush after brushing your teeth and tongue. (Yet, your toothbrush's primary job is to remove the bacteria in your mouth.)

Now that you're sufficiently disgusted, there is hope—with a little care and consideration, you can feel confident about your oral care tools. Avoid using a bacteria-ridden toothbrush with these tips for cleaning your toothbrush.

How Often to Disinfect a Toothbrush

Disinfect your toothbrush at least once a week. But, clean and rinse it every day, after each use. This will help prevent buildup on the bristles and handle.

Considerations Before You Get Started

You might think that using a cover for the top of your brush helps keep it cleaner, but the lack of airflow can create the ideal breeding ground for bacteria. That's why it's best to keep your toothbrush ventilated and upright.

While some sources recommend putting your toothbrush in the dishwasher, boiling it in water, and using a UV sanitizing light, these methods can damage the bristles or the entire brush. Using the microwave to disinfect a toothbrush is also not recommended. The heat can actually damage the toothbrush.

What You Need:

  • Small bow or cup
  • Antibacterial mouthwash
  • Disinfecting wipes or clean cloth

How to Disinfect a Toothbrush With Mouthwash

The following steps work for disinfecting traditional and electric toothbrushes. Just be sure to remove the head from an electric toothbrush before soaking it.

Step 1: Fill Bowl

Grab a small, clean bowl or cup. Add antibacterial mouthwash to the bowl—enough to fully immerse the head of your toothbrush.

Step 2: Soak Toothbrush

Soak the toothbrush head in the mouthwash for no more than 15 minutes. (Overexposure to mouthwash can damage the bristles, so don't leave it any longer.)

Step 3: Rinse and Dry

Rinse your toothbrush with warm water. Then, let it completely air-dry. (For electric toothbrushes, let the head dry completely before reassembling.)

How to Clean Electric Toothbrushes

Electric toothbrushes may need a bit more extra attention to keep them clean. Remember that any gaps in your electric toothbrush (e.g., between the head and handle) are perfect for mold to grow. Follow these steps to clean your electric toothbrush each day.

Step 1: Remove the Head

Remove the head from your electric toothbrush. (Follow the manufacturer's instructions for doing this.) Rinse the bristles with warm water.

Step 2: Wipe the Base

Wipe the base with a disinfecting wipe or clean cloth after each use. It's important to do this after every use to prevent mold from growing in the gap.

Step 3: Dry and Assemble

Keep pieces separate to let them dry completely. After all the parts are dry, reassemble your electric toothbrush.

How to Keep Your Toothbrush Clean Longer

These tips will help you keep your toothbrush clean between weekly disinfecting.

  • Before and after each use, rinse the bristles thoroughly with warm water to remove debris.
  • Clean the brush's handle daily by wiping it with a clean cloth or disinfecting wipe. Besides removing food particles, this also helps keep the handle free from toothpaste residue.
  • Properly dry and store your toothbrush.
  • Avoid sharing toothbrushes, which can spread bacteria.
  • Store your toothbrush far from the toilet to avoid toilet water and fecal matter from landing on it. Also, flush the toilet with the lid closed.
  • Avoid covering your toothbrush (traditional or electric); only do so when traveling, or look for a cover with holes to allow airflow.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How should I store my toothbrush?

    How you store your toothbrush has everything to do with its potential to harbor bacteria. Warm, moist environments help germs thrive. This is why you shouldn't use a toothbrush cover or place your toothbrush in a drawer or medicine cabinet. Instead, air-dry your toothbrush.

    The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends letting your brush air-dry completely, upright, without touching other toothbrush heads. After rinsing, shake off the extra water and run your finger along the bristles to remove water sitting on the head. Then, place it upright in a cup or toothbrush holder to completely dry, being careful it doesn't come into contact with other brushes.

  • How often should I replace my toothbrush?

    Despite caring for and cleaning your toothbrush regularly, replace your toothbrush every three to four months (or sooner if the bristles are noticeably frayed). If you notice discoloration or buildup or have been sick, it's also time to replace your toothbrush.

  • Can I still use my toothbrush if I dropped it?

    Opinions differ on whether it's OK to use a toothbrush after dropping it. Some say to immediately throw a toothbrush away if it falls (anywhere). Others recommend cleaning and disinfecting it following the instructions above.

    A major factor may be where the toothbrush fell. If it dropped in your bathroom sink for a few seconds, try running it under warm water and then disinfecting it. If it fell on the floor (especially in a public restroom) or in a toilet, it's probably best to toss the toothbrush.

  • Is it OK to use someone else's toothbrush?

    Per the ADA, you should not share your toothbrush since toothbrushes can harbor bacteria. Sharing a toothbrush can result in exchanging bodily fluids, bacteria, and viruses.

    While couples that kiss on the mouth may think it's similar to sharing a toothbrush, it's still best not to share. This becomes especially important if one of you is sick to avoid the spread of disease.

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