How to Clean Retainers | Vinegar and Peroxide or Top Shelf Cleaner?

Now that you finally got your braces taken off, it’s time to transition to a retainer. This is a big step in your life and one that probably felt like an eternity to get to. But now that you have your retainer, it is crucial that you don’t let yourself get lazy. You need to be sure you know how to clean retainers so that yours stays in good shape. 

Wearing and caring for your retainer is just as important as the care you gave to your braces. Without your retainer, you run the risk of losing all of that hard work that your braces did for your teeth. As such, you need to make sure that your retainer stays in the best shape possible. To help you with this, I’ve put together some helpful tips that will ensure your retainer stays clean and useful. Also, make sure to check out the best retainer cleaner reviews and take our advice on how long to wear a retainer and how to invest in a good retainer.

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How to Clean Retainers – 7 Useful Tips 

Wearing your retainer each and every day causes harmful bacteria to accumulate on your orthodontic appliance. This is a problem for several different reasons. Left unattended to, this bacteria can cause damage to not only your retainer but your teeth, as well. After everything you just went through to get straighter, healthier teeth, the last thing you want to do is damage those pearly whites. So, I’m going to show you how to clean your retainer so that this doesn’t become an issue. Moreover, you can look into this post to find out more specifically how to clean plastic retainers.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to clean your retainer and keep it in tip-top condition. Your retainer is incredibly critical to the health of your teeth. It is responsible for keeping your teeth straight and in line.

Without it, your teeth could very well shift out of place. There have been some people who have neglected to wear their retainers after having their braces removed, only to find that their teeth moved around so badly that they had to get braces all over again!

Surely, you don’t want to go through all of that again. While wearing your retainer as directed is a big deal and very important, it is also equally vital that you keep it clean. 

Clean retainers tend to last longer, too. These things aren’t invincible and will eventually get to the point where you need to get a replacement. But you should be doing everything in your power to prolong their life. Why?

For one thing, retainers aren’t cheap. Sure, they’re nowhere nearly as expensive as braces. But they will still put a dent in your bank account, so take my advice and always be actively working toward having a clean retainer.

So with that, follow me into the next section where I lay out the best way to clean retainer gunk so that yours keeps working as intended.

1. Never Let Your Retainer Dry Out

This is a common mistake that new retainer wearers make all the time. It’s also one that can lead to your retainer accumulating harmful bacteria, like tartar (hardened plaque). When it’s dry, this stuff clings to your retainer more easily, leading to the gradual degradation of your mouthpiece.

All retainers are designed to be moist at all times. If you don’t have it in your mouth, your retainer needs to be submerged in a liquid. I understand that it’s easy to forget and leave it on your bathroom sink.

But this is a habit you need to break immediately if you’re doing it. Develop a new habit of keeping your retainer wet when it’s not in use and you can look forward to it lasting you a lot longer.

Plus, who wants to wear a retainer that is covered in a biofilm of funk? I don’t need to explain what kind of harm this is doing to your teeth, as well as your personal hygiene. 

2. Avoid Denture Cleansers

I know, the two are completely different things. And yet, people still continue to use denture cleansers on their retainers. The best way to clean retainers is not using products like this.

Did you know that denture cleansers actually contain a chemical that is harmful to the soft tissue in your mouth? It’s true. What’s more, this chemical can absorb into retainers due to their porous nature, making it nigh impossible to clean off once it’s on. 

Do your mouth and retainer a favor and just stick to water when you need to clean your hardware.

3. Avoid Mouthwash

I’m often asked how to deep clean retainer types of all kinds. This is often after I’m told that the person used mouthwash in an attempt to clean their retainer of bacteria and debris. This, my friends, is a big no-no.

Why? Because there’s a good chance that your mouthwash contains chemicals or alcohol that only serve to dry out your retainer. And if you recall the first tip I shared with you, allowing your retainer to dry out is ill-advised.

Retainers need to be kept moist around the clock. If you aren’t wearing it, keep in something that allows it to submerge in water or other safe liquid. Never use mouthwash to try and clean your retainer for any reason.

The stuff is great for your teeth but harmful to your retainer.

4. Don't Use Heat on Your Retainer

You would think that heat is a great way to kill harmful bacteria. And many times, it is. But in the case of your retainer, this isn’t something you want to let happen. Retainers are very fragile pieces of equipment. 

Moreover, they are designed to fit specifically in your mouth and over your teeth. Heat can cause retainers to warp and lose their very specific shape. Once this happens, you’re in big trouble.

At this point, your retainer will no longer be able to serve its purpose. Instead, you will have to return to your orthodontist to have a new retainer made or have it repaired if it’s salvageable. Again, these things can be pricey, so the longer your retainer lasts, the better.

So, how can you avoid this? First of all, you never want to clean your retainer using boiling water. This is a sure-fire way of causing it to warp and bend. What’s the best way to clean retainers with water?

Make sure that you use only cool or lukewarm water. This is often enough to thoroughly rinse your device of any bacteria and buildup.

Everyone wants to know what to clean retainers with. I always stay to stick with water, as it’s the safest thing you can when cleaning your retainer.

I have also come across wearers who thought that sticking their retainer in the microwave was a good idea. It’s not. Depending on what your retainer is made out of, you could be in for a shocking surprise. 

Plus, you could easily melt and ruin it. If this happens, there’s no repairing it and you will have to shell out your hard-earned money for a completely new one. 

Dishwashers are another bad idea. Amazingly, I’ve known quite a few people who thought that they could add their retainer to their nightly load of dishes. It didn’t take them long to learn that this will warp the retainer in no time.

As a brief aside, you should get into the habit of making sure you never keep your retainer in your pocket, whether it’s in a protective case or not. 

If you regularly do this, you are bound to forget one of these days and end up tossing it with your dirty clothes. It goes without saying at this point, but washing machines and clothes dryers are a recipe for a retainer disaster.

Lastly, make sure you never leave your retainer in a hot vehicle. This is one of the most common issues people run into as it relates to warped retainers. The heat is enough to ruin the shape of your retainer, so get into the habit of taking it inside if you’re not wearing it.

5. Time Your Soak in a Chemical Cleaning Solution

Lots of people advise against using chemicals to clean retainers. While this is a good rule to follow, there are tablets that you can buy that are safe for use. In fact, retainer tablets are effective in eliminating the very bacteria that cause strep throat. 

How do you clean retainers with these tablets? The key is to time how long you are soaking your retainer. If you wear a Hawley retainer, for example, soaking it for too long can actually cause corrosion.

As such, you should only soak for however long it takes to thoroughly clean your retainer, and then take it out of the solution. Never let it soak overnight or for an extended period of time.

Now, I know I said to avoid mouthwash earlier. But it is safe to do a quick rinse with mouthwash while you’re wearing your retainer. Just don’t soak your retainer in mouthwash or try to clean it with it.

6. Don't Brush Your Retainer

One of the best things you can do to extend the life of your retainer is to avoid using a toothbrush on it. Lots of people think that keeping their retainers on while brushing is a quick and easy way to keep it clean.

However, the toothbrush actually causes damage to the retainer and cuts its life short. The bristles, regardless of whether they are soft, make small pits in the material of the retainer, causing it to gradually break down faster than what it’s designed.

You can make a single, gentle pass on your retainer using a toothbrush to check for plaque. But that is the extent of it.

How often should I clean my retainer with a toothbrush to check for plaque, you ask? I’d say once a week or so. This isn’t something you want to be doing every day, that’s for sure.

The less you keep your retainer from coming into contact with abrasive material, the longer you can look forward to it lasting.

7. Keep Your Case Clean

This is another big deal that people fail to do. Your retainer can easily collect bacteria if it isn’t properly protected at all times.

If it isn’t in your mouth, your retainer needs to be in its case. There are no two ways about it. Your case is your retainer’s life support system when it isn’t being worn. Failure to keep it protected is sure to lead to degradation.

It’s also important to keep your case clean. After all, you want your retainer to remain as clean as possible. Sticking it into a filthy case will only result in a dirty retainer. 

To ensure that your retainer case is clean, run it under really hot water for a few seconds. Follow this up by using dish soap to scrub your case with. It’s best to use a sponge or something similar that won’t cause wear and tear to your retainer case. 

It’s important not to let your retainer case air dry, as it can collect dust and microscopic bacteria as it is drying. Instead, gently pat it dry with a clean towel or cloth.

If your retainer case is made out of stainless steel, you can toss it into the dishwasher, as the heat and scrubbing action won’t cause damage to it.

Just make doubly sure that your retainer isn’t in the case when you do this, elsewise you’ll need to make an appointment with your orthodontist to have a new retainer made.

Cleaning Varies by Type of Retainer

Depending on the type of retainer that you wear, you will have to follow certain cleaning directions. You want to be sure that you check with your orthodontist to be sure that you are cleaning your retainer the correct way.

Fortunately, most retainers can be safely cleaned with baking soda or vinegar. If you want to know how to clean retainers with baking soda, simply create a thick paste using baking soda and water.

With this method, it’s OK to use a soft bristle toothbrush on your retainer. I prefer to use a cotton swab instead, but you can get away with very gently scrubbing your retainer with a toothbrush. 

This is a good fix for retainers that have become yellowed over time. When you have sufficiently cleaned your retainer with the baking soda solution, make sure that you thoroughly rinse your retainer clean using water.

If you’d like to know how to clean retainers with vinegar, you can use this method to eliminate any odors your retainer may have developed over the months. 

Make sure that you use white vinegar only, though. Simply mix equal parts vinegar and warm water in a small bowl. You want the mixture deep enough to where your retainer will be able to become completely submerged.

Let it soak in the vinegar and water solution for about 20 minutes. Sometimes, you will notice a slight film on your retainer after removing it. You may use a soft bristle toothbrush to gently remove any film residue.

Afterward, rinse off the retainer using cold water and allow it to soak for another 20 or so minutes. Just be aware that your retainer is likely to smell like vinegar for a few days after soaking. 

When to Clean a Retainer

Now that you know how to clean retainers, it’s important to understand when you should clean it. As with the methods mentioned above, this isn’t something you want to be doing on a daily basis. 

Soaking your retainer in vinegar, for example, should only be done with your retainer has developed an odor that you want to get rid of. Continuing to soak and scrub your retainer every day can lead to damage that will shorten its lifespan.

Aside from smelling bad, you should also clean your retainer if it has developed a film. This needs to be removed as soon as possible to avoid causing harm to your retainer. Furthermore, if your retainer has a cloudy look to it, you know that it needs to be cleaned off using one of the methods mentioned above.

If you start to see white spots on your retainer, you should use the cleaning solutions above to remove them. These spots are a sign that there is a tartar buildup on your retainer. Tartar can cause serious damage, so it’s important that you don’t let this happen.

If you notice small cracks or breaks in your retainer, this is a sign that you aren’t cleaning it enough. Maintaining a strict cleaning schedule will ensure the life and effectiveness of your retainer.

Another indication that something is wrong is if you start to get cavities or toothaches. Even though you might be brushing and flossing regularly, a dirty retainer can cause damage to your mouth and teeth.

If you haven’t cleaned your retainer in more than a week, you should take a moment to clean it thoroughly in order to remove harmful bacteria and debris.

To that point, you want to make sure that you are cleaning your retainer at least once a week but not every day.

woman with ice on her cheek

As mentioned, daily cleaning is too often and can result in gradual damage to your retainer. Instead, set a day of the week that you want to clean your retainer and stick to it. Getting into the habit of cleaning it on a certain day will go a long way in prolonging the life of your retainer.

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