How to Clean Plastic Retainers | Learn How to Protect Your Orthodontic Investment and Keep Pristine Teeth Hygiene

Retainers often collect plaque, bacteria, and even tartar and that’s why it is crucial to clean them.

How to clean plastic retainers? There are a variety of ways to clean your retainer which I will discuss in this guide.  You can use vinegar-water solution, baking soda, soft toothbrush, castile soap, to just name a few. To cut a long story short, click here to find the best retainer cleaner, as well as the retainer cleaning tips. And before you proceed, make sure to get the answers to questions like what is the purpose of a retainer or how long to wear a retainer. In addition, you can check out some other ways to straighten your teeth here.


When Should You Clean Your Retainer?

Just as it’s crucial to keep your teeth clean during braces, it is equally important that you keep your retainers clean. Looking after your retainer by cleaning it every day will make it last for a long time and also prevent plaque, bacteria, and tartar from accumulating and prevents you from visiting an orthodontics clinic.

 A poorly cleaned retainer can lead to serious teeth, dental or mouth problems like bad breath, tooth sensitivity, cavities, and other oral health problems.

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It’s easy for some people to forget to clean retainers since they are always inside their mouth or in their retainer case. So, here are signs to help you know when to clean your retainer.

  • If your retainer has a bad smell
  • When there is a film along with the retainer
  • If your retainer looks cloudy
  • If you haven’t cleaned it for a week
  • It has visible white spots
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Tips of What not to do When Cleaning your Retainer

1. Don’t use Hot or Boiling Water to clean Retainers

Make sure not to use hot or boiling water as this can distort or change the shape of the retainers. It may not fit your teeth well anymore.

2. Avoid Cleaning Clear Aligners with a Toothpaste

Also, don’t use toothpaste as a retainer cleaning product because it contains abrasive particles that can scratch the retainer’s surface making it easy for bacteria and plaque to build up. The Toothpaste should be non-whitening.

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3. Avoid Soaking Metal Retainers for too Long

Don’t soak a Hawley retainer for too long in a retainer cleaner because it can corrode its metal components. Follow the specified time on the orthodontic cleaning agent instructions when soaking Hawley retainers.

4. Try More Natural Cleaning Agents

Retainers are made of porous material and if you use cleaning solutions containing harsh chemicals on them, they will be absorbed. These chemicals may end up in your mouth.

Most people use chemical compounds like hydrogen peroxide for cleaning retainers but they are not recommended especially after orthodontic treatment. While it cleans your retainer well, this chemical might affect your health.

eco toothbrush

The agency for toxic substances and disease registry states that cleaning products such as hydrogen peroxides are toxic if consumed by mouth, inhaled or if it makes contact with your skin or eyes. Use natural cleaning agents that will not cause allergic reactions and other symptoms.

The chemicals can cause;

  • respiratory irritation
  • concentrated solutions may cause severe pulmonary irritation
  • vomiting and mild gastrointestinal irritation

I would recommend using orthodontic prescribed solutions to clean your retainers but first talk to your dentist. Tell your dentist or orthodontist that your retainer has more build-up than normal.

They have special cleaning solutions to keep your retainer clean without using harsh chemicals.

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5. Use a Separate Brush to Clean Retainers

A soft brush will gently scrub away plaque and other debris. Get a new soft toothbrush for cleaning your retainers, not necessarily the one you brush your teeth with. Make sure that it has soft bristles so as not to gouge into the surface of the retainer.

Use a smaller pediatric brush and scrub thoroughly for about one minute for each retainer. If the stain is really nasty, spend a little bit more time scrubbing.

How to Clean Plastic Retainers?

Retainer cleaning varies by its type. There are 3 types of retainers and include clear plastic retainers, Hawley retainers, and fixed or bonded retainers.

Some materials of some retainers such as plastic are susceptible to heat distortion so it's important to handle them with care.  Have the following tools;

  • You need cold or warm distilled water
  • Your choice of cleaning agents like baking soda, mouthwash, or liquid hand soap
  • Use a soft tooth brush plus a cotton swab
  • A lot of cold or warm water for rinsing, preferably running water

Here are simple solutions for cleaning each type of retainer from plaque, bacteria, and tartar.

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1. Using Mouthwash to Clean Plastic Retainer

Mouthwash contains components that protect the teeth from bacteria and other oral health problems.

To clean your retainer, dip your toothbrush in alcohol-free mouthwash then perform thoroughly brushing it inside and outside. Once you are done, rinse your retainer and brush with cold running water then let them dry.

2. Cleaning your Clear Plastic Retainers Using Liquid Hand Soap

If you are wondering what to use to clean your retainer, you may use non-alcoholic liquid hand soap. Take a separate tooth brush instead of the regular one you use to scrub off plaque, tartar from the retainer.

Dip the toothbrush into a small amount of liquid soap and brush the retainer thoroughly. Once you are done, rinse it well with cold running water because soap is irritating to your stomach.

hand sanitizer

3. Can I Soak my Retainer in Vinegar?

If you don’t regularly clean your retainers, you will notice a brown or yellow stain on the retainers. Even with a good retainer, hygiene tartar may develop overtime on your retainers due to calcium deposits.

Cleaning your retainer with a brush is not enough to remove the mineral deposits; you need to first soak your retainer in diluted vinegar to soften the deposits.  Take a cup and mix it with half white vinegar and half water; in equal parts. You can ask your orthodontist for the measurement if you are not sure.

Soak the retainer for about half an hour then take it out and brush the deposits off. Proceed to rinse the retainer with cold running water until all the white vinegar is washed out.

4. Using a Toothbrush with Warm Water

Like I mentioned before, you can clean your retainer with a toothbrush, every time you brush your teeth.  Use it with warm water to gently brush the inside of your retainer and liners to remove any plaque and tartar that might be developing.

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5. Using Denture Cleaner to Keep Your Retainer Clean

Good oral cleaning and regular retainer washing will keep bacteria, tartar, and plaque away.  But no matter how well you keep your oral hygiene, some of these minerals may still get deposited on your retainer.

Luckily, there’re a variety of products available on the market that can help to soften the hard calcium deposits for easy cleaning. A denture solution can remove any brown or yellow deposits on your retainer.

You can get it at your local convenience store. It comes with individual tablets. Fill a cup with warm water with your retainers in it and drop one tablet of the denture cleaner. Leave it for 20 minutes.

You will notice that the hardened calcium deposits will soften and you can now easily scrub them off. After you’re done brushing, proceed to rinse your retainers with cold running water until all the solution is washed off.

Dispose of the denture solution once you're finished because you can only use it one time only.

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6. How to Clean your Retainer with Baking Soda

Baking soda is an all-purpose, safe cleaning agent. It can whiten discolored retainers plus will keep bacteria at bay that cause problems in the mouth.

Both Hawley and Essix retainers can be removed from your mouth for cleaning with baking soda.  

To begin, use water and baking soda to create a paste. Scoop some paste using a cleaning toothbrush and gently scrub all surfaces of your retainer then rinse it thoroughly to remove any paste.

7. How to Clean your Retainers with Castile Soap

Castile soap cleans almost anything in your home. If you prefer to give your retainer a natural deep clean; castile soap or dish soap is a great choice because it is less toxic, unlike some cleaning solutions that have harsh chemicals.

Castile soap is also available in many retail stores or you can make your own using olive oil and other ingredients.

Use a little castile soap plus your tooth brush to scrub your retainer gently on all the surfaces.  After you have cleaned thoroughly, rinse the retainer with cold running water.

You can as well soak your retainers in Castile solution for 2-3 minutes before you scrub and rinse them.

castile soap

What can you Soak your Retainer in?

Learning how to keep your retainer clean and odor-free is crucial for your oral health.  If you find it difficult to scrub them, you can always soak them in solutions like retainer tablets, vinegar, baking soda, and many more.

If you are not sure what to use, ask your orthodontist or a dentist. They have special solutions that can get rid of tartar and other build-ups.

How Often Should You Clean Plastic Retainers?

Your retainer collects bacteria, plaque, and tartar from your teeth every time you wear it. Over time your retainer will start to smell when you don't maintain good oral hygiene, and this can lead to more extreme oral health problems.

For this reason, you should clean your retainer every week, remove it from your teeth and keep it in a retainer case whenever it is not in use.

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