Let's talk about how to clean retainers! Once you have completed your orthodontic work, retainers are the key to keeping your teeth in their new position. But your work isn't over; you need to care for your retainers if you want them to last as long as possible.
Just like with any dental devices you use, cleaning retainers is really important. Otherwise, they can develop a white buildup or an unpleasant smell, affecting your oral health.
Whether you have clear plastic Essix or Invisalign retainers, or wire and plastic Hawley ones, you need to know the proper way to care for them and make them last in order to keep your teeth aligned and healthy.
So in this article, we'll go over:
- How often to clean your retainers
- The correct technique to use
- The best retainer cleaner products in the UK (including Retainer Brite)
- How to get rid of calcium buildup
- How to clean retainers with baking soda and other natural products
Armed with this information, you should be able to prolong the life of your retainer and avoid those bad smells!
Table of contents
What's the white stuff on my retainer?
Have you noticed the presence of white spots on your orthodontic retainers? Even when you brush your teeth regularly, it seems as though they just won’t come off! Or perhaps the plastic has become yellow or stained over the months and years you've been using it?
Those white spots are actually calcium left behind from your saliva and can be deposited on your retainers over time. Note also that your retainers, like your teeth, can experience a build-up of dental plaque and tartar. Leave the buildup there for long and you put your teeth at risk of decay.
If you are diligent enough to brush your teeth and to clean your retainer regularly, then these white deposits will be a minor problem. Keep reading to find out the most effective ways to clean your retainers and get rid of any buildup that does occur.
Caring for different types of retainer
The best way to clean your retainer will depend on the type you have. If you have a fixed bonded retainer then you can get some tips for cleaning below the wire in our orthodontic flossing guide.
Otherwise, cleaning your retainer will involve removing and brushing it, as well as perhaps soaking it in some kind of cleaning solution like Retainer Brite. Your dentist or orthodontist will give you care instructions that you should follow, but here are some general considerations. These should all be done alongside regular flossing and proper teeth brushing so that your lovely clean retainer is not simply trapping bacteria between your teeth.
How do you clean plastic retainers?
Most retainers contain some amount of plastic, which can be clear or coloured. Use a mild soap or cleaning product and use a soft-bristled brush to remove dirt and buildup off of plastic retainers. Take your time to be thorough yet gentle, to avoid breakage.
How do you clean clear retainers?
Do not use toothpaste, mouthwash, or other cleaning agents that may discolour clear retainers. Soaking them in cool water is a better idea, or buy retainer cleaners designed for clear devices. We have some recommendations below.
How to clean Invisalign retainers
Cleaning Invisalign retainers, called Vivera retainers, should be done according to the Invisalign retainer cleaning methods prescribed by the manufacturer. You can purchase special Invisalign cleaning kits designed for the aligners and retainers.
Cleaning wire (Hawley) retainers
If you use a product like Retainer Brite to clean Hawley retainers, which are made from wire and plastic, you should soak them for a maximum of 15 minutes to avoid damaging them over time.
How often should you clean retainers?
Cleaning your retainer is something that should be done regularly. Experts suggest that you should clean your retainer at least once a day, ideally right before you insert it into your mouth. This is in addition to rinsing it with water whenever you remove it.
If you only wear your retainers at nighttime then a once-daily cleaning should be enough. If you wear them for longer, clean them whenever you brush your teeth, using a soft-bristled brush to eliminate any buildup.
For a more thorough cleaning, you can use a special retainer cleaner at least once a week or as often as needed. How do you know it’s time to clean your retainers? Look out for the following signs:
- The retainer tastes or smells bad
- You see a film on the retainer
- It feels uncomfortable
- It has been over a week since you last cleaned your retainer
- There are white spots or deposits on the retainers
- The retainer is cloudy in appearance
- You notice that the retainer is starting to crack or break
On top of these signs, certain oral health problems can develop when you don't keep your retainers clean. Cavities, tooth sensitivity and bleeding gums can be major signs that a retainer needs cleaning.
If you do notice that your retainer is starting to crack or break, cleaning might not be enough and you may need to replace it.
The best products for cleaning retainers in the UK
There are many over-the-counter products you can buy to clean your retainer, as well as some effective at-home solutions like baking soda and vinegar. You can even use a UV steriliser to keep your retainers free from bacteria. Let's look at some of the best retainer cleaning tablets first.
Retainer Brite cleaning tablets
Retainer Brite is one of the best retainer cleaners available in the UK, and it's designed specifically for the purpose of cleaning retainers of all kinds. They can be used for Invisalign trays, too, as well as other dental appliances like dentures and mouthguards. This product comes in a tablet form that is easy to use and highly efficient.
Retainer Brite cleaning tablets contain sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and citric acid, which are both effective natural cleaning ingredients. They also contain sodium percarbonate, a bleaching agent used in some teeth whitening products.
Using this product to clean your retainers regularly will help eliminate odours, remove plaque and tartar, and keep them looking like new.
How to use Retainer Brite
It's very simple to use Retainer Brite to clean your retainers or aligners:
- Fill a glass or other container with enough water to cover the retainers
- Add one Retainer Brite tablet
- Put the retainer into the blue solution as it's bubbling
- Leave it for 15 minutes, then rinse under running water
Note that Retainer Brite used to change colour from blue to clear, but now uses a new formula that stays blue. In the video below you can see Roxanne using it for the first time to clean her clear plastic retainers. You can see what a difference it makes when she compares the clean one side-by-side with the other!
Where to buy Retainer Brite in the UK
You can usually find Retainer Brite in Boots, supermarkets and other high-street chemists. However, the selection of box sizes may be limited. If you're going to be using it long-term, it's more economical to buy a large box, like this pack of 96 tablets available on Amazon. This will last three months if you use it daily; or much longer if you only use it once or twice per week.
Another popular retainer cleaning tablet is Retainer Fresh. These tablets work in much the same way to Retainer Brite but come in a box of 120, which is enough for 4 months with daily use. The retail price on Amazon fluctuates but it may work out more cost-effective to buy a product like this in a large pack size – you're in this for the long haul, after all!
Some people comment that Retainer Fresh smells more medicinal than other products they've tried, which you may or may not see as a good thing! It's designed to have a “refreshing mint flavour”.
Other benefits of using Retainer Fresh to clean retainers are that they're a British company and use sustainable natural ingredients for their tablets. Plus, they have a 60-day money-back guarantee if you're not satisfied for any reason.
Invisalign Cleaning Crystals for Aligners and Retainers
As mentioned earlier in the article, Invisalign has its own cleaning crystals for cleaning both its aligners and Vivera retainers. When you buy these cleaning crystals you get a 50 week supply (50 packets). These crystals are specially designed to remove plaque from plastic clear aligners and retainers in just 15 minutes.
You can easily use them anywhere, at home, when travelling or in the work office. To use them just follow these instructions:
- Rinse off your retainer and place it in a cleaning container and fill it with 100ml warm water so that your retainer is fully immersed.
- Add one packet of Invisalign's cleaning crystals
- Gently agitate to help dissolve the crystals for 20 seconds
- Leave to soak for 15 minutes, or longer
- Gently agitate again for 20 seconds before removing them from the solution
- Rinse your retainer and the cleaning container thoroughly with warm water
Invisalign recommends that you use their particular cleaning crystals to clean your aligners or retainer. This is because they have been specially designed to remove plaque from their aligners and retainers.
Can you use Steradent to clean retainers?
It's not advisable to use denture cleaning tablets like Steradent to clean retainers. They are effective at removing bacteria but they may stain clear plastic over time. That said, if you're stuck with nothing else to hand, it won't hurt to use a denture tablet from time to time, even though they are not designed for cleaning clear retainers.
Using a UV sanitiser to sterilise retainers
If you're concerned about bacteria building up on your retainers, consider buying a UV steriliser like this one from DentaDenta. This takes AA batteries so is completely portable; ideal if you want a way to clean your appliance when you're at work or school or on holiday. It works for clear aligners, electric toothbrush heads and many other products too.
All you do is insert the object into the sanitiser and switch it on for 10 minutes. It kills 99.9% of bacteria without the use of any chemicals. This should keep bad smells and plaque at bay, although it may not completely stop staining.
“This is exactly what I've been looking for. My retainer is impossible to keep clean and I've got no idea where to store it… until now. Super product, well priced, would recommend” is the feedback from one reviewer on Amazon.
How to clean retainers with natural products
Cleaning your retainers does not necessarily require you to purchase dental cleaning products. While you can find plenty of them sold on the market today, there are a wide variety of natural retainer cleaner solutions. These are some of the best options available to clean your retainer:
Rinsing with water
The use of cold or warm water to clean your retainer is one of the most basic natural solutions there is. Rinse your retainer after removing it to clean any saliva off before storing it. You can also rinse it again before you put it back into your mouth.
Can you use toothpaste to clean a retainer?
Toothpaste is another cost-effective way to clean your retainer. When you brush your teeth, you can also brush your retainer. Make sure you use a soft-bristled brush to prevent any damage. Be aware that strong colours may stain clear plastic, and abrasive toothpastes are best avoided.
It is also best that you use non-whitening toothpaste when brushing because any abrasiveness could damage the retainer. Rinse it thoroughly once you are done.
How to clean retainers with baking soda
Baking soda is one of the most versatile items to have in your home. Not only can it help with whitening yellow teeth, but it can also clean yellow retainers that have developed stains over time. Baking soda is an all-natural disinfectant so it will help remove bacteria as well as discolouration.
By soaking your trays in a baking soda and water solution, you can get rid of bacteria and maintain the pH balance in your mouth. Follow these steps to clean your retainer with baking soda:
- Mix equal amounts of water with baking soda to form a paste. The paste should be thick enough in consistency so that it will stick to your retainer.
- Scrub the paste mixture directly onto the retainer. Use a soft toothbrush and apply the paste onto the retainer as you would when brushing your teeth.
- Remove any residue by rinsing thoroughly with water.
Because this paste can be quite abrasive, it's best to limit this cleaning method to a maximum of once a week, to prolong the life of your retainer.
Cleaning retainers with castile soap
Castile soap is an effective cleaning product that is not as harsh as other cleaning chemicals. Therefore, it is a good option for cleaning retainers naturally at home. You can make your own castile soap solution by mixing coconut oil with olive oil, or you can buy it in health stores or on Amazon.
To use, add a small amount of the castile soap to warm water. Dip the retainer into that mixture and then use a toothbrush to scrub it clean. Repeat the process as often as necessary. But make sure to rinse your retainer with cool water before putting it back into your mouth.
How to clean plastic retainers with vinegar
Aside from baking soda, vinegar is another highly recommended natural product to use for keeping your retainer clean. White vinegar is a natural disinfectant. So, how do you clean retainers with vinegar?
By soaking your retainers in a vinegar and water solution, you can eliminate odours and bacteria from your device.
To use this cleaning solution, combine equal parts of water and vinegar in a dish. Soak your retainer in that solution for at least 20 minutes. This is a great way to remove mineral or calcium deposits from your retainer.
Can you soak retainers in mouthwash?
Be careful when it comes to using mouthwash as a cleaning solution for retainers. A quick soak in antibacterial mouthwash is a good way to kill bacteria on your retainer. It can also give it a fresh smell.
However, you need to be cautious about alcohol-based mouthwashes. Make sure to limit the frequency of use as it can damage your device, especially if it is made of plastic.
When using a mouthwash soak, combine equal parts of the mouthwash rinse with lukewarm water, soak for just a few minutes, and rinse thoroughly.
Does boiling your retainer do anything?
Don't use boiling water for retainer cleaning purposes. Exposing the retainer to high heat can damage it. In fact, even hot water should be avoided.
Knowing how to properly clean your retainers is very important. Your retainer sits inside your mouth and comes into direct contact with your teeth. If not cared for, retainers can facilitate the buildup of tartar, plaque, and bacteria. These not only harm your tooth enamel but can cause nasty smells.
Cleaning your retainer is something that should be a priority, whether you use natural or store-bought products. You may choose to combine a light daily clean with a more thorough weekly soak using a product like Retainer Brite, which is specially designed for keeping retainers clean.
In any case, you must wear your retainers as instructed to keep your teeth straight after orthodontic treatment. Taking good care of them will help prolong their life so that you don't need to fork out for a new set quite as often.
How do I get the white stuff off my retainer?
The presence of ‘white stuff' on your retainer is caused by calcium buildup from your saliva. The best way to get this off is to clean your retainer regularly with one of the solutions mentioned above.
What's the best way to clean retainers at home?
You can use natural products like baking soda or vinegar to clean your retainers at home. Toothpaste can also be effective, but choose one with low abrasivity. If you find your retainers still smell or look dirty, try cleaning them weekly in a stronger solution with a retainer cleaning tablet.
Medical News Today: 8 tips for cleaning a retainer. Consulted 8th February 2020.
Total Orthodontics: How to look after braces and retainers. Consulted 25th May 2020.