retainer disinfect clean

How to clean and disinfect retainers or mouthguards

After recovering from an illness and many patients wonder about the best way to clean and disinfect their retainer after being sick. Retainers or mouthguards also often tend to find themselves in “gross” locations like a pet’s mouth, the bathroom floor, or worst case scenario, the toilet! Some situations require a little more disinfecting before you’re comfortable putting that retainer back in your mouth.


Normal Daily Cleaning

For general daily cleaning of retainers immediately after removal from the mouth, we recommend gentle brushing with soft bristled toothbrush and an unscented soap or dish soap. Rinse with cool or lukewarm water. The goal is to remove as much plaque and saliva from the device before it has a chance to harden and cause tarter. This method greatly reduces the bacteria on the retainer and is enough for normal cleaning.

Can I Sterilize My Retainer?

It is actually not possible to sterilize your retainer. That means to remove ALL microorganisms.  The plastic that is is made of does not tolerate heat-sterilization methods like the autoclave we use for dental instruments because it could cause your retainer to warp. It is also not acceptable for us to us a full-strength chemical sterilization solution because the plastic is slightly porous and it could be toxic for you to put back in your mouth.

The best that we can achieve is disinfection (killing most of the bacteria) on your retainer so it will not make you sick again. The methods talked about in this article help to achieve disinfection.


How To Disinfect a Retainer At Home

We recommend that you only do this occasionally when needed, such as after an illness or if your retainer touches a very dirty surface. The research (1,2,3) shows this method decreases the bacterial amount on the retainer or denture which is made from a similar type of plastic. However, long-term use (years) has not been studied for the effect on people’s mouths or the shape, surface, or color of the plastic of the retainer, which is why it should be done sparingly.


  1. Be sure to use cool or lukewarm water, not too hot.
  2. First, brush off the retainer with a soft bristled brush and unscented soap and rinse. This step is important to remove the plaque, saliva, or other contaminants which can prevent the disinfectant from working
  3. Prepare a 0.5% disinfecting solution by mixing 1 part of 5% household bleach with 9 parts water (this would be like adding 1 TBSP bleach to 1/2 cup and 1 TBSP of water)
  4. Soak the cleaned retainer for 3 minutes in the disinfecting solution
  5. Thoroughly rinse the retainer with tap water for 1 minute

What NOT To Do

  • Never soak or pour boiling water on your retainers, it will cause their shape to change and they will not fit or they will cause your teeth to move in an undesirable way
  • Do not use abrasive cleaners like whitening toothpaste or gritty soap, this increases the amount of plastic scratching and creates more crevices for the bacteria
  • Do not use mouthwashes that have alcohol or straight alcohol as it can degrade the plastic of your retainer
  • Do not use denture tablets as they can corrode the metal that is incorporated into certain retainers
  • Do not use a microwave, dishwasher, washer or dryer, again this will cause warping of your retainer

How To Remove Hard Tarter from Retainers

We recommend that you bring any removable retainers to your cleaning appointments and we will put them in a solution that removes these hard deposits for you. We do not recommend that you scrape off the material yourself as it can result in changing the shape of your retainer or scratching the material.


If you have any questions on this topic we hope you’ll leave them in the comments below. If you have any thoughts or questions that you would like us to answer with a new blog post, please leave your thoughts here.

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