How To Clean Retainers: The Complete Guide

Table of Contents

A retainer is a device worn in the mouth to keep teeth from shifting out of position after orthodontic treatment. Retainers are custom-made for each patient and are worn all day or throughout the night to prevent tooth movement.he purpose of a retainer is to maintain the alignment of your teeth if you have had orthodontic treatment. It can also prevent tooth shifting after orthodontic treatment has been completed. For example, if you have braces removed and wish to keep your new smile for life, a retainer can help keep your teeth in place. In this post, we’ll cover informative content about how to clean retainers and how to take care of them.


How to Clean Your Retainer

There are many different types of retainers that you can use to help keep your teeth in place. The most common types are Hawley and Clear plastic retainers. Hawley, clear plastic and bonded retainers all require special cleaning techniques. Here we’ll discuss how to clean various types of retainers.


Hawley Retainers

The following steps explain how to clean Hawley retainers:


  • Soak: Soak the retainers for 10 minutes, and then use a toothbrush or soft-bristled toothpick to scrub off any food particles or plaque from your retainers.
  • Rinse: Rinse off with warm water, and let air dry on a clean paper towel. Wait to place them back in your mouth until they are completely dry.
  • Hydrogen peroxide: If you have a Hawley retainer, you can also soak it in a diluted solution of hydrogen peroxide and water (1:10 ratio). This will help kill any bacteria present on the retainer, disinfect it, and remove stains caused by plaque buildup around your teeth.


Fixed or Bonded Retainers

Since a fixed retainer is cemented to the back of your teeth, you are not able to remove it and soak it as you would a removable retainer. Instead, you should brush regularly and use a water flosser or floss threaders to keep it clean between your teeth. When you go for your professional cleanings, ask your dental professional how your oral care is and if there is anything else you need to do to keep your retainer area clean. 


Here are steps for cleaning fixed or bonded retainers:

  • Remove: To clean your retainer, you first need to remove it from your mouth. Ensure you refrain from removing it while it is still attached to your teeth. This can damage the cement that holds it in place and make it easier for food particles and plaque buildup to accumulate on the retainer.
  • Soak: Soak your retainer in warm water for at least 10 minutes before scrubbing off any food particles or plaque buildup. The warm water helps loosen these unwanted substances so they can be removed more easily with a toothbrush or soft-bristled toothpick.
  • Scrub: Use a toothbrush or soft-bristled toothpick to scrub away any food particles or plaque from your retainers, paying special attention to areas where they may have collected over time, such as under the wire arch and around the edges of the plastic portion of the retainer itself.
  • Rinse: Rinse off all debris using warm


How Often Should Retainers Be Cleaned?

You will need to clean your retainer regularly so that bacteria don’t grow inside and cause an infection in your mouth or gums. Besides, if you don’t clean your retainer regularly, it will become discolored over time, affecting how well it functions as an orthodontic device. Clean it when you take it out in the morning with cold water. Furthermore, ensure you give the retainer a deep clean every week.

The frequency of retainer cleanings depends on several factors, as outlined below:


  • How long the retainer has been in your mouth: The longer it has been there, the more likely it is to become coated in bacteria and need cleaning.
  • The types of foods that are eaten while wearing the retainer: If you eat lots of sticky foods, such as candy or caramel, your teeth will be more likely to stick together. This can cause plaque buildup and increase the need for frequent cleaning appointments.
  • How well you care for your teeth while wearing the retainer: If you don’t brush regularly or floss every day, then food particles can collect between your teeth and gums, creating a breeding ground for bacteria that can lead to infection and gum disease.


Retainer Cleaning Tips

When it comes to taking care of your retainer, the most important thing is to keep it clean. Here are some tips on how to clean your retainer.


Clean Your Case

The case holds your teeth in place while the wire or elastics work their magic. You should be able to see through the case, so make sure there aren’t any food particles or debris inside that could scratch or damage your teeth while they’re being moved into place.

To clean your retainer case, start by removing all of the contents from the case. You can open the lid and remove any pellets or o-rings inside. Then, rinse out the inside with hot water and put it on the bottom rack of your dishwasher, or wash it with soap and warm water by hand.

You can also soak it in a solution of baking soda and water for 10 minutes before rinsing it off well with fresh water and air-drying it on a towel until completely dry before returning it to the case if you don’t have time to wash your retainer case right away, store it in an airtight container until you have time to clean it later on.


Don’t Soak for Too Long

When cleaning your retainers, the best way to keep them sparkling white is by brushing them daily with a toothbrush and toothpaste. If you need extra help, use mouthwash or a special retainer cleaner.

You should only soak your retainers in water for 15 minutes because they can warp or discolor if wet for too long. It could warp or crack if you leave your retainer soaking overnight or for more than a few hours. This will compromise its effectiveness as an orthodontic device and could lead to tooth damage or other problems.


Drink More Water

Drinking plenty of water is one of the best things you can do for your oral health, and it also helps clean off any plaque buildup on your teeth and gums that could be causing an odor from your retainers.

Water flushes out harmful bacteria from your mouth, so it’s important to drink at least eight glasses of water each day (or more if possible). Drinking water also keeps your mouth hydrated, which helps prevent dryness and cracking of the plastic material used in retainers.


Things to Avoid for Cleaning Retainers

There are some mistakes you must avoid when cleaning your retainer. Here are some of the things to avoid for cleaning retainers.


Avoid Hot Water

Hot water can cause the acrylic to melt and warp, making it difficult for you to wear your retainer comfortably. Furthermore, hot water can damage the plastic parts of your retainer and warp it, causing it not to fit properly in your mouth. It may also cause heat-sensitive adhesives to become less sticky, which could result in loss of retention. Therefore, it’s best to use something other than hot water when cleaning it. Use warm water or cold water instead.


Don’t Use Mouthwash as a Cleaner

Although mouthwashes contain antibacterial agents, they are not designed for use on dental appliances like retainers. These products are usually harsh and acidic and can cause staining or corrosion on metal components like hinges or clasps. Also, some mouthwashes contain alcohol or other potentially harmful ingredients that could damage plastic components on your retainer (such as wires).


Don’t Brush Your Retainer With Toothpaste

Brushing your retainer with toothpaste can damage the material and make it more prone to breaking since toothpaste is an abrasive agent and can lead to scratching and damage of your retainers.. You should only use a toothbrush and water to clean your retainer.

The abrasives will also leave a film on the plastic’s surface, making it more difficult to remove plaque and other debris from between your teeth after you eat or drink something.

If you have already brushed your retainer with toothpaste, don’t worry! You can still clean it properly by thoroughly rinsing it in lukewarm water and letting it air dry before putting it back into your mouth.


What Can I Soak My Retainer to Clean It?

You can clean your retainers in several ways to look as good as new. Here are some things you can soak the retainer to help keep it sparkling clean.


Water and Hydrogen Peroxide Solution

A small amount of hydrogen peroxide will help remove stains from your retainer and whiten it. For an easy, at-home cleaning solution, you can also clean your retainer in the sink with water and hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide solution has a slightly acidic pH of 4 and can help remove stains from your retainer. However, the pH level will change if you add more than one tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide solution per cup of water. If you want to ensure that the solution doesn’t have too much hydrogen peroxide, test it with an acidity testing kit or a pH test strip before using it as a cleaner!


Water and Vinegar Solution

If you want to clean your retainer without chemicals, try soaking it in water and vinegar instead. The acetic acid in vinegar is a great disinfectant, plus it dissolves calcium deposits that can form around your retainers. This method works best if you have a metal retainer you want to clean, because this type of cleaning solution may damage plastic or acrylic retainers over time.


Premade Retainer Cleaner

The easiest way to clean your retainers is by purchasing pre-made retainer cleaner from your local pharmacy or medical supply store. These cleaners are made specifically for cleaning dental appliances like retainers and can be found online or in stores near you.


What Happens If You Don’t Clean Your Retainer

If you’ve ever worn a retainer, you’re probably familiar with cleaning it. You know that you need to do this regularly to keep it clean and working properly.

But what happens if you don’t clean your retainer? If you don’t clean your retainer, several issues can occur. These include:


  • Bad breath: When plaque builds up on your teeth, it can cause bad breath. This also applies to retainers that need to be cleaned regularly. As bacteria build up on the surface of your teeth, it causes sulfuric compounds that have a very unpleasant odor. This smell can come from inside your mouth and outside of it, which means other people may notice before you do!
  • Plaque buildup: Plaque is sticky and rough in texture, so it sticks easily to surfaces like retainers and other dental appliances. Over time, plaque will build up around the edges of your retainer and become harder to remove with water alone. This can lead to severe gum inflammation if left untreated over time.
  • Discomfort: The longer you wait to clean your retainer, the harder it will be for you to remove the plaque from its surface. As you become more familiar with how to clean your retainer, this will become easier, but it must be challenging at first. If you have difficulty removing plaque from your retainer, it could also cause discomfort in your mouth.
  • Increased risk of cavities: Plaque can also lead to tooth decay over time, as well as other dental problems like gum disease and periodontitis (inflammation of the gums). By cleaning your retainers regularly, you can reduce your risk of these issues developing by keeping plaque levels low on their surfaces.



How Do I Remove Heavy Plaque From My Retainer

Plaque that sits for too long can harden and cement itself to your retainer. If you have a retainer, it’s important to clean and brush it regularly to avoid heavy plaque buildup. If you notice that your retainer is starting to feel rough or sticky, it may be time to clean it.


Brushing with a toothbrush or using dental floss can help remove some of the plaque, but if your retainer has hardened plaque on it, you’ll need to soak it in a retainer solution. This will soften the plaque and dissolve it so you can brush it off.


The most effective way to remove heavy plaque from your retainer is by soaking it in an acidic solution. The acidity will dissolve the hardened plaque and make it easier for you to brush away later. For best results, mix half a cup of water with one tablespoon of vinegar and soak your retainer for five minutes before brushing it with an old toothbrush or dental floss.


How Long Do Retainers Last?

Most retainers last about two to five years. If you wear your retainer every night, it can last longer than ten years. If you only wear it occasionally or sometimes forget to put it in after meals, it may only last for a while.

However, the lifespan of a retainer can vary greatly. The main factor determining how long it will last is how well you take care of it.

The lifespan of a retainer depends on several factors:

  • The materials used to make the retainer
  • The quality of the workmanship
  • How well do you care for the retainer
  • How often do you wear it
  • How often do you clean it




Many effective products can be used to keep your retainers clean. The active ingredients in each cleaning product target specific stains and help prevent bacteria growth; this article has covered some of the best ones. Furthermore, there are many ways to clean retainers, so after reading this article, you should be able to decide which ones will work best for you and the best plan on how to clean retainers.


Author and Medical Reviewer

Erica Anand is a certified dental expert. She holds a BA in Chemistry and a Doctorate of Dental Surgery from Stony Brook University. After completing a two-year pediatric dentistry program, she now runs a private practice focusing on preventive dentistry and is a member of the American Association of Dental Consultants.

Editorial Director

Marcus Ramsey has been a professional writer for over seven years. He has talked about and produced content for industries like Dentistry, Healthcare, and more.

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