How to Properly Clean Your Retainer

Cleaning your retainers is crucial for oral hygiene. How are you maintaining it?

Is it Necessary to Wash Your Retainer?

Properly using your corrective mouthpiece is vital in maintaining the orthodontic work you have already received. But there can be many questions that arise for those who have just received their new retainer, like ‘how often should I wash it or should I attempt to watch it at all?’ 

Since a mouthpiece is worn inside of your mouth and is in close contact with your teeth and gums, it is susceptible to accumulating the same bacteria and plaque that tends to form there. For this reason, good hygiene is essential to avoid cavities and other dental issues. 

As your teeth tend to move back to their former orientation after braces are removed, alignment aids may need to be worn daily at first and then at night only to ensure that your smile remains straight. So, developing a habit of washing your dental equipment is essential for dental health. 

Different Varieties 

A few separate forms of dental alignment aids exist, and understanding the type that you possess can be an important step in learning the proper cleaning procedure. 

1.) Hawley – This variety is fitted to the user’s mouth and is formed out of acrylic material with a wire, which keeps the device in proper alignment. It is easily removable and, for this reason, is one of the simplest varieties to wash effectively.  

2.) Clear plastic – This type is invisible and slides over the teeth to keep them properly aligned. A particular downside of this design is that they tend to be a bit more fragile than the traditional Hawley variety but still are easily removed.

3.) Fixed – This retainer style is typically used in individuals who have a high risk of their teeth shifting back into their pre-treatment position. As a result, this alignment aid is often fitted to the back of the user’s teeth and then removed after the proper amount of time has elapsed. 

Cleaning Method for Hawley Retainers

4 colorful dental retainers.

Hawley-style mouthpieces are easily removed and should be cleaned regularly to maintain them properly. It is important to wash the retainer shortly after it is removed from your mouth so that any collected food particles or plaque do not get a chance to dry.  

You should use a soft-bristled toothbrush and rinse under cool to lukewarm water to carefully remove any accumulation. It may be a good idea to select a specific gentle toothbrush that you only use for this purpose. 

If your mouthpiece has become quite dirty, and you do not plan to put it back in your mouth for some time, you can brush it with a mixture of water and a small amount of dish soap for a deep and thorough cleanse. 

Instead of dish soap, an alternative natural disinfectant is white vinegar. Simply mix a small amount into the water and use it just as you would a soap mixture. 

It is vital never to use toothpaste on a Hawley retainer, as it tends to scratch and damage the delicate acrylic material. 

Be sure to pay close attention to any crevices or indentations, and consider using a denture brush or cotton swab to access hard-to-reach areas. 

Soaking can be a great way to get a very comprehensive clean. Be sure to speak with your dental health professional to discover which variety of dedicated cleaning solutions will provide you with the best results. 

Cleaning Method for the Clear Plastic Variety

Clean clear retainers in a red holder

This type is also simple to remove, so remove your clear plastic mouthpiece before eating foods that may scratch, discolor, or otherwise damage it. This is a helpful, proactive step for maintenance and is very important to keep in mind. 

When washing it,  be sure to place it under cold water only and completely avoid a warm water rinse, which may cause this style to deform and lose shape. 

Brush your teeth after removal, and gently scrub the inside with a soft toothbrush to remove any plaque, mineral deposits, or other debris. Avoid the use of toothpaste as this abrasive substance can lead to scratching. 

Harsh chemical compounds like soap can also lead to the deformation of your custom molded corrective equipment or, in some cases, even soak into the plastic, which could be disastrous. 

Speak with your dentist or orthodontist to learn about which specific soaking compound will be best for you, and utilize a retainer cleaner as frequently as they recommend. Sometimes even a denture cleaner may be recommended. 

Cleaning Method for Fixed Retainers 

A woman inspecting internal braces using a purple mouth mirror.

As this style is uniquely connected to your teeth, it is vital to keep the area hygienic to prevent plaque buildup, tooth damage, or decay. 

Maintaining your standard dental health regimen, including carefully brushing your teeth, is always recommended, but even more important when attempting to keep this orthodontic installation in proper condition.   

A daily flossing regime, coupled with the use of a floss threader, is essential. Simply place a six-inch section of dental floss on the floss threader, and hold the other end with your free hand. 

Once the floss is beneath the retaining wire, move it vertically down to the gum line, or even slightly below if possible, and repeat the process with each tooth that is connected to the central wire. 

This flossing method can be a bit tricky at first, so do not hesitate to ask your orthodontist or dentist for help in clarifying the proper technique so you can perform it with confidence. 

How Often Should You Wash Your Removable Retainer? 

Proper, consistent washing is essential for maintaining your retainer and, as an extension, ensuring your overall dental health. Depending on your individual needs, it can be washed as often as after every meal or as rarely as only once a day. 

It is important to stay vigilant and be sure that the washing frequency you decide upon is sufficient and that your mouthpiece is free of debris and any offensive odors. 

If you change your eating habits or begin to notice a strange taste when inserting your mouthpiece, increase your washing frequency appropriately. 

Soaking with cleaning tablets is a great way to get a thorough cleanse, and it is recommended that this is carried out at least once every two weeks for optimal results.

Cleaning a pair of retainers with a running water.

Keeping it Clean Throughout the Day

When it comes to maintaining the cleanliness of your retainer when you do not have access to standard cleaning methods, proactive prevention is key. 

1.)  Drink Plenty of Water – By continually ingesting water, you are essentially rinsing your entire mouth and helping to remove any food debris passively. Avoiding sugary drinks will also help stifle bacteria growth and improve your overall dental health by diminishing tooth decay. 

 2.) Remove when Necessary – Remain aware of how or what you are eating may affect your mouthpiece. Certain drinks may stain it, and certain foods can create quite a difficult-to-remove buildup. Speak with your dentist to understand when removal is necessary and appropriate. 

3.) Keep it Moist – Try your best not to allow your mouthpiece to dry out, as this will make it more fragile and difficult to wash. Soak it in water overnight, or if your container is dirty or missing, wrapping it in a wet paper towel will serve just fine. 

4.) Keep Your Case Spotless – Regularly checking that your case is in good condition is another great proactive step toward keeping your mouthpiece sanitary and free from debris. 

Cleaning Methods to Avoid

1.)  Hot Water – Some may feel that hot water seems like a good way to kill bacteria without the use of unpleasant chemicals. However, due to retainers’ fairly fragile nature, exposure to excessive heat or attempting to boil them can cause deformation and destruction. 

A pan of boiling water in the kitchen.

2.) Harsh Chemicals – Typical disinfecting solutions like isopropyl alcohol, peroxide, and bleach are never necessary, and depending on the compound, choosing to do so could be both dangerous and destructive. 

Instead, try castile soap or a baking soda solution when washing to get a great, non-harmful result. 

Be sure not to expose your mouthpiece to standard mouthwash too frequently, instead use alcohol-free varieties to avoid damage. 

A closeup of the bottle label of an isopropyl alcohol.

 3.) Very Long Soaks – While soaking your mouthpiece in a cleaning solution is a typical part of maintenance, be sure that you carefully follow timing instructions when doing so. Soaking for too long may result in deformation and discoloration.

With the detailed information that has been shared, you will be able to wash your retainer with ease and have peace of mind that you will not damage your valuable dental equipment. 

Keeping your mouthpiece clean will help ensure the overall hygiene of your teeth and mouth.

Mary Bishop
Mary Bishop has been working in the cleaning industry for over 5 years. She has experience with both residential and commercial cleaning, and is now trying to start her own company.
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