How to Clean Retainers: The Experts’ Step-By-Step Guide

Cleaning Retainer

If you’ve got a retainer, you know it’s a big part of keeping your smile looking its best, especially after braces or any other teeth straightening treatment. But here’s something you might not think about much: keeping that retainer clean is just as important as wearing it. Why? Because a clean retainer means a healthy mouth and a retainer that lasts longer. We’re here to show you how to clean your retainer the right way, with tips straight from dental experts.

Understanding Retainers

Before we go into the cleaning part, let’s talk a bit about retainers and why keeping them clean is a big deal. Retainers come in a few different styles, and each type needs a bit of special care:

“It’s essential to follow your orthodontist’s guidance on retainer wear to maintain your straightened teeth and protect your investment. If you fail to wear your retainer as instructed it could lead to the gradual shifting of your teeth.” -Dr. Athar

Hawley Retainers

Hawley retainers consist of a metal wire that surrounds the front teeth, attached to a plastic base molded to fit the roof of the mouth. This design combines durability with adjustability, ensuring a secure fit and effective teeth alignment maintenance.

Key Features:

  • Adjustable for improved fit.
  • Durable design.
  • Allows for minor teeth movement if necessary.

Clear Plastic Retainers

Clear plastic retainers are virtually invisible, making them a popular choice for those seeking a discreet option. They fit snugly over the teeth, holding them in place without the visibility of metal parts.

Key Features:

  • Almost invisible, offering an aesthetic advantage.
  • Snug fit maintains teeth alignment.
  • Popular among adults and teens for their nearly invisible nature.

Fixed Retainers

Fixed retainers involve a wire permanently bonded to the back side of the front teeth. Since they cannot be removed by the wearer, they offer continuous support without the need for daily management.

Key Features:

  • Permanent solution for teeth alignment.
  • Invisible from the front, offering a cosmetic benefit.
  • Eliminates the need for daily removal and maintenance.

No matter which type you have, all retainers have something in common: they need to be clean. If not, bacteria and plaque which can cause tooth decay and gum disease, can build up on them. This doesn’t just mean bad breath; it can also lead to health problems down the road. Plus, a dirty retainer can get stained or even start to smell bad, and nobody wants that. You can also read in detail about different types of retainers from our blog on Dental Retainers: The Definitive Guide (2024)

Soaking Clear Retainer
Soaking Clear Retainer

Additional Benefits

Cleaning your retainer doesn’t just keep your mouth healthy; it also makes sure your retainer lasts as long as it should. Imagine having to replace it because it got too dirty to use. That can be expensive in the long run when you constantly have to replace your retainer.

Therefore, keeping your retainer clean is key to making sure your teeth stay straight, your mouth stays healthy, and your retainer stays in good shape. With just a few simple steps, you can keep your retainer looking and smelling like new. Let’s get into how to make that happen, step by step, without making it a boring chore.. Whether you’re new to wearing a retainer or just looking for a better way to clean yours, we’ve got you covered. Stick with us, and you’ll be a retainer-cleaning pro in no time. Plus, your mouth will thank you for it, and that’s something to smile about.

Preparing to Clean Your Retainer

Retainer Cleaning
Retainer Cleaning

Alright, getting ready to clean your retainer is pretty straightforward. You don’t need any fancy tools or expensive cleaners. Just some basic things you probably already have at home. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A soft-bristled toothbrush. This is for gently scrubbing your retainer. Don’t use the same one you brush your teeth with, though. It’s good to have a separate one just for your retainer.
  • Mild dish soap. The same kind you use to clean your dishes can help get your retainer clean. Just make sure it doesn’t have any strong scents or added moisturizers because you don’t want that stuff in your mouth.
  • Lukewarm water. Not too hot, not too cold. Hot water can warp your retainer, and cold water might not clean as effectively.
  • A clean towel or dishcloth. You’ll use this to dry your retainer after washing it.

You should clean your retainer every day. Yes, every single day. Just like you brush your teeth daily (hopefully), cleaning your retainer is part of good oral hygiene. It keeps those nasty germs and buildup away and makes sure your retainer is always ready to use.

“It is advised to follow your orthodontist’s recommendations for retainer. As it is vital in preserving the alignment of your teeth and safeguarding the investment you’ve made in your smile” -Dr. Athar

The Step-By-Step Cleaning Process

Keeping your retainer clean is key to your oral health after completing your teeth straightening treatment. Here’s a detailed guide on how to clean retainers at home, covering everything from daily care to dealing with tough plaque.

  • Daily Care: Knowing how to clean retainers daily is essential. Start by rinsing your retainer under lukewarm water each day. For both plastic and metal retainers, use a soft toothbrush and mild dish soap to gently brush away any buildup. This routine helps prevent plaque and keeps your retainer fresh.
  • Baking Soda for a Natural Clean: Wondering how to clean retainers naturally? Baking soda is a safe and effective option. Create a paste with baking soda and water, then apply it to the retainer with a soft brush. It’s great for removing plaque and is gentle on both plastic and metal retainers.
  • Vinegar Soak: If you’re looking for ways on how to clean retainers with vinegar, here’s a simple method. Mix equal parts white vinegar and water, and soak your retainer for about 20 minutes. This can help eliminate bacteria and odors, making it ideal for a thorough clean.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide: To deep clean, especially how to clean retainers after strep or any illness, hydrogen peroxide is effective. A soak in a solution of half water and half hydrogen peroxide for a short time can kill germs and brighten your retainer.
  • Mouthwash Soak: For an extra fresh feel, you can learn how to clean retainers with mouthwash. Just make sure to dilute the mouthwash with water to avoid any harsh effects on the retainer material.
  • Cleaning Tablets: If you’re curious about how to clean retainers with tablets, it’s quite straightforward. These tablets are designed for retainers and can provide a deep clean without much effort on your part. Drop a tablet into a glass of water with your retainer and let it remove the grime.

By following these simple steps, you can ensure your retainer remains clean and safe to use. Whether it’s daily upkeep or a deeper clean, these methods cover all the bases for both plastic and metal retainers. Remember, a clean retainer is part of a healthy oral hygiene routine, so take the time to care for it properly.

 Retainer Cleaning Process
Retainer Cleaning Process

Dealing with Common Retainer Problems

Even with great care, sometimes retainers can run into problems. Here’s how to tackle common issues you might face, ensuring your retainer stays in top shape:

Addressing Odors and Discoloration

If your retainer starts to smell or shows signs of discoloration, don’t worry as there are simple solutions. Soaking your retainer in a vinegar and water solution can help eliminate odors. For discoloration, a gentle scrub with baking soda can help restore its appearance. These methods are safe for both plastic and metal retainers and are great for keeping your retainer looking and smelling fresh.

When to Replace

Retainers like anything else, have a lifespan. If you notice cracks and significant wear, or if it doesn’t fit as well as it used to, it might be time for a new one. Regular check-ups with your orthodontist will help ensure your retainer is still doing its job correctly

Final Thoughts

Keeping your retainer clean is an essential part of your dental hygiene routine. From daily rinses to deep cleaning with household items like baking soda, vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide, there are plenty of ways to ensure your retainer remains in pristine condition. Remember, a clean retainer leads to a healthier mouth and a happier you. Don’t overlook the importance of addressing any smells, discoloration, or damage promptly, and always consult your orthodontist if you’re unsure about the condition of your retainer or if it’s time for a replacement. By following these simple steps and tips, you can maintain your retainer effectively at home, ensuring it continues to serve its purpose for as long as you need it.


1. Can I just use toothpaste to clean my retainer?

It’s best to avoid using toothpaste to clean your retainer. Many toothpastes contain abrasive ingredients that can scratch the surface of your retainer, making it easier for bacteria to build up. Instead, use mild dish soap and a soft-bristled toothbrush for daily cleaning.

2. How often should I replace my retainer?

The lifespan of a retainer varies depending on several factors, including how well it’s cared for and the material it’s made from. On average, retainers can last several years. However, if you notice it’s becoming loose, cracked, or causing discomfort, it’s time to consult your orthodontist about getting a replacement.

3. Is it okay to soak my retainer in mouthwash?

Soaking your retainer in diluted mouthwash can freshen it up but should not be your primary cleaning method. Some mouthwashes contain alcohol and other chemicals that could potentially damage the retainer over time. If you choose to use mouthwash, ensure it’s diluted and don’t soak the retainer for too long.

4. What’s the best way to remove plaque from my retainer?

For removing plaque, a mixture of baking soda and water can be very effective. Create a paste and use a soft-bristled brush to gently scrub your retainer. The baking soda is mildly abrasive, enough to help remove plaque without damaging the retainer. For a deeper clean, soaking in a vinegar and water solution can help dissolve stubborn plaque build-up.


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