How to Clean a Retainer (Guide)

Retainers are essential for maintaining an aligned smile after orthodontic treatment. To ensure their effectiveness and longevity, proper cleaning is crucial.

Cleaning your retainer regularly helps prevent the buildup of plaque and bacteria, keeping your teeth healthy and preventing them from shifting.

In this guide, we will provide you with step-by-step instructions on how to clean different types of retainers and share some valuable tips to maintain retainer hygiene.

how to clean a retainer

Key Takeaways:

  • Properly cleaning your retainer is essential for maintaining oral hygiene and preventing the buildup of bacteria.
  • There are three main types of retainers: Hawley, Essix, and bonded retainers, each with its own cleaning requirements.
  • For removable retainers, brushing with a clean toothbrush and using mild cleaning solutions like vinegar or soap can effectively remove bacteria.
  • Permanent retainers require regular dental visits and specialized tools to clean around and maintain their integrity.
  • Avoid using toothpaste, mouthwash, and harsh chemicals on your retainer, as they can cause damage.

Types of Retainers

When it comes to maintaining a straight smile after orthodontic treatment, retainers play a crucial role.

There are different types of retainers available, each with its own unique features and benefits.

Understanding the different types of retainers can help you make an informed decision about which one is best suited for your needs.

Hawley Retainers

Hawley retainers are one of the most common types of removable retainers. They are made of a combination of orthodontic wire and hard acrylic material.

The wire holds the teeth in place, while the acrylic portion rests against the roof of the mouth or the tongue side of the lower teeth. Hawley retainers are adjustable and can be customized for individual patients.

Essix Retainers

Essix retainers are another popular type of removable retainer. They are made of thin, clear plastic that covers the entire shape of the teeth.

Essix retainers are virtually invisible and are more aesthetically pleasing compared to other types of retainers. They are also easy to clean and maintain.

Bonded Retainers

Bonded retainers, also known as permanent or fixed retainers, are small wires that are permanently attached to the back of the front teeth.

These retainers are not removable and provide continuous support to keep the teeth in place.

Bonded retainers are a popular choice for those who want a retainer that requires minimal maintenance.

Retainer Type Advantages Disadvantages
Hawley Retainers Adjustable, durable, and customizable More noticeable and may affect speech
Essix Retainers Clear and virtually invisible, easy to clean Less durable and may need to be replaced more frequently
Bonded Retainers Permanent and low maintenance Can be difficult to clean and may cause difficulty in flossing

Choosing the right type of retainer depends on various factors, including your orthodontist’s recommendation, personal preferences, and specific dental needs. Consult with your orthodontist to determine which type of retainer is best for you.

How to Clean a Removable Retainer

Cleaning a removable retainer is an essential part of maintaining its hygiene and prolonging its lifespan.

By following a regular cleaning routine, you can prevent the buildup of plaque and bacteria, ensuring that your retainer remains clean and fresh.

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to clean a removable retainer:

  1. Brush with Water: Start by brushing your retainer with a clean toothbrush using room-temperature water. This will help remove any food particles or debris.
  2. Disinfect with Vinegar and Soap: For a deeper clean, you can use a mixture of vinegar and water or a small drop of mild dish soap. Gently brush the retainer using this solution to disinfect it. However, be cautious as vinegar should not be soaked for too long to avoid damaging the retainer.
  3. Rinse and Pat Dry: After cleaning, rinse the retainer thoroughly with water and pat it dry using a clean towel. Make sure to remove any remaining cleaning solution or residue.
  4. Store Properly: Finally, store the retainer in a dedicated case or container to protect it from damage and keep it away from pets.

By incorporating these cleaning steps into your daily routine, you can maintain a clean and fresh removable retainer, promoting better oral hygiene and preventing any potential issues that may arise from the buildup of bacteria or plaque.

Remember, proper oral care goes hand in hand with retainer hygiene. Make sure to brush your teeth and floss regularly to prevent plaque and bacteria from accumulating around the retainer.

Additionally, avoid using harsh chemicals or toothpaste when cleaning your retainer as they can cause damage.

How to Clean a Permanent Retainer

Cleaning a permanent retainer requires a slightly different approach compared to removable retainers.

Since permanent retainers are bonded to the back of the front teeth, they can easily accumulate plaque and bacteria if not properly maintained.

Here are some cleaning tips to ensure the longevity and hygiene of your permanent retainer:

  1. Brush regularly: Brush your teeth thoroughly twice a day, paying special attention to the area around the retainer. Use a soft toothbrush and gentle circular motions to remove any debris or plaque.
  2. Floss with care: Flossing around a permanent retainer can be tricky, but it’s essential for proper cleaning. Use a floss threader or interdental brush to carefully clean between the teeth and the wire of the retainer. This will help remove any food particles or plaque that may have accumulated.
  3. Attend regular dental visits: Schedule regular dental visits to have your retainer assessed and professionally cleaned. Your dentist will check the condition of the retainer and make any necessary adjustments. They can also provide a deep clean to remove any stubborn plaque or tartar.

By following these cleaning tips, you can maintain a clean and healthy permanent retainer, reducing the risk of plaque buildup and potential oral health issues.

Effective Retainer Cleaning Methods

Properly cleaning your retainer is essential for maintaining its hygiene and ensuring its longevity.

In this section, we will explore effective retainer cleaning methods and natural cleaning solutions that you can incorporate into your daily routine.

Vinegar and Soap: One effective method for cleaning your retainer is to use a mixture of white vinegar and water.

Simply soak your retainer in this solution for a few minutes, then brush it gently with a soft toothbrush.

Rinse thoroughly with water before storing it. Additionally, a small drop of mild dish soap can be used to remove any stubborn residue from your retainer.

Dedicated Retainer Cleaning Tablets: Another option is to use specially formulated retainer cleaning tablets, such as Retainer Brite.

These tablets are designed to remove stains, odors, and bacteria from your retainer, leaving it fresh and clean.

Simply follow the instructions on the packaging for the recommended soaking time and frequency.

Ultrasonic UV Devices: If you’re looking for a more advanced cleaning method, ultrasonic UV devices can be a great option.

These devices use ultrasonic waves and UV light to effectively disinfect and clean your retainer. They are easy to use and can provide a thorough cleaning in just a few minutes.

By incorporating these effective cleaning methods into your retainer care routine, you can ensure that your retainer remains clean, odor-free, and in good condition for years to come.

Retainer Cleaning Methods to Avoid

When it comes to cleaning your retainer, it’s important to know which methods to avoid to prevent any damage. Here are some cleaning methods that should be avoided:

Using toothpaste on your retainer:

While toothpaste is great for cleaning your teeth, it should not be used on your retainer.

Toothpaste can leave a white residue on the retainer surface, making it less hygienic and more difficult to clean. Instead, opt for gentle cleaning solutions specifically designed for retainers.

Soaking your retainer in mouthwash:

Although mouthwash can leave your mouth feeling fresh, it is not suitable for soaking your retainer.

Mouthwash contains alcohol and other chemicals that can stain and degrade the retainer over time. To keep your retainer clean, it’s best to stick to recommended cleaning methods and solutions.

Using harsh chemicals or bleach:

Harsh chemicals like bleach should never be used to clean your retainer. These can damage the retainer’s materials and compromise its effectiveness.

Stick to gentle cleaning methods and avoid any substances that could harm your retainer.

By avoiding these cleaning methods and following proper cleaning techniques, you can ensure that your retainer remains clean, hygienic, and in good condition for long-term use.

Daily Retainer Cleaning Tips

Properly cleaning your retainer on a daily basis is essential for maintaining its hygiene and ensuring the longevity of your orthodontic treatment.

By incorporating simple cleaning habits into your routine, you can keep your retainer free from bacteria and residue, promoting optimal oral health. Here are some daily retainer cleaning tips to follow:

1. Brush and Rinse

After removing your retainer from your mouth, gently brush it with a soft toothbrush and lukewarm water.

This helps remove any food particles or plaque that may have accumulated during wear. Make sure to brush all surfaces of the retainer, paying close attention to hard-to-reach areas.

2. Use a Separate Soft Toothbrush

It’s important to use a separate toothbrush dedicated solely to cleaning your retainer.

This prevents the transfer of bacteria from your mouth onto your retainer, ensuring optimal hygiene. Choose a soft-bristled toothbrush to avoid scratching or damaging the retainer.

3. Store in a Dedicated Case

After cleaning your retainer, always store it in a dedicated case to protect it from dirt, bacteria, and accidental damage.

Avoid leaving your retainer exposed or wrapping it in a tissue, as this can lead to contamination or misplacement. A dedicated case helps maintain the cleanliness and integrity of your retainer.

By following these daily retainer cleaning tips, you can enjoy a fresh and hygienic retainer that will continue to support your orthodontic treatment effectively.

Remember to maintain consistency in your cleaning routine and seek advice from your orthodontist if you have any concerns or questions regarding proper retainer care.

Deep Cleaning Retainers

Proper cleaning and maintenance are essential for keeping retainers free from bacteria and ensuring their longevity.

In addition to daily cleaning, periodically deep cleaning retainers can help remove stubborn buildup and maintain their effectiveness. Here are some effective methods for deep cleaning retainers:

  1. Soaking in Baking Soda Water: Create a solution by mixing one teaspoon of baking soda with a cup of lukewarm water. Soak the retainer in this solution for about 15 minutes to loosen and remove stains and odors. Rinse thoroughly with water afterward.
  2. Using Denture Cleaners: Denture cleaning tablets or solutions can also be used to deep clean retainers. Follow the product instructions and soak the retainer for the recommended duration. Rinse thoroughly afterward to remove any residue.

It’s important to note that deep cleaning methods may vary depending on the type of retainer.

For Hawley retainers with metal parts, avoid using baking soda solutions as they may corrode the metal.

Always consult your orthodontist or refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for specific cleaning recommendations.

Additional Tips for Retainer Care

While deep cleaning is important, regular daily cleaning and proper care are crucial for maintaining the overall hygiene and effectiveness of retainers. Here are a few additional tips:

  • Brush your retainer gently with a soft toothbrush and mild soap or non-abrasive toothpaste after each use.
  • Rinse the retainer thoroughly with lukewarm water to remove any residue.
  • Store the retainer in a clean, dedicated case when not in use to protect it from damage and bacteria.
  • Avoid exposing the retainer to extreme heat, as it can warp or damage the material.
  • Follow your orthodontist’s instructions regarding wearing schedules and maintenance appointments.

By incorporating a regular cleaning routine and taking extra care when deep cleaning, you can ensure that your retainer remains clean, comfortable, and effective in maintaining your beautiful smile.

Retainer Care and Maintenance Tips

Proper care and maintenance are essential for prolonging the life of your retainer and ensuring optimal oral hygiene.

By following these tips, you can keep your retainer clean and in good condition.

1. Wear and store your retainer correctly

One of the most important aspects of retainer care is wearing and storing it correctly. Always wear your retainer as instructed by your orthodontist, whether it’s during the day or at night.

When not in use, store your retainer in a dedicated case to protect it from damage and keep it free from dust and bacteria.

2. Clean your retainer regularly

Regular cleaning is crucial for maintaining good retainer hygiene. After removing your retainer from your mouth, gently brush it using a soft toothbrush and mild soap or denture cleaner.

Thoroughly rinse it with lukewarm water to remove any residue. Avoid using hot water, as it can distort the shape of the retainer.

Remember to clean your teeth before inserting your retainer to prevent the transfer of bacteria and plaque.

3. Schedule regular dental visits

Don’t forget to include regular dental visits in your retainer care routine. Your dentist or orthodontist will assess your retainer’s condition, make any necessary adjustments, and deep clean the area around the retainer to remove any buildup.

These visits are essential for maintaining the health and longevity of your retainer.

By following these retainer care and maintenance tips, you can prolong the life of your retainer and ensure its effectiveness in maintaining your beautiful smile.


How often should I clean my retainer?

It is recommended to clean your retainer daily to prevent the buildup of plaque and bacteria.

How should I clean a removable retainer?

You can clean a removable retainer by brushing it with a clean toothbrush using room-temperature water. Vinegar and soap can also be used for disinfecting and cleaning the retainer.

How should I clean a permanent retainer?

To clean a permanent retainer, brush your teeth and use a flossing tool, interdental brush, or floss threader to clean around the retainer.

Regular dental visits are recommended for deep cleaning and assessment.

What are some effective retainer cleaning methods?

Effective retainer cleaning methods include using vinegar, soap, and a soft toothbrush. Dedicated retainer cleaning tablets, such as Retainer Brite, can also help keep retainers looking like new.

What cleaning methods should I avoid when cleaning a retainer?

It is best to avoid using toothpaste, soaking in mouthwash, denture cleaning solutions, and harsh chemicals like bleach when cleaning a retainer as they can damage the retainer.

What are some daily retainer cleaning tips?

Daily retainer cleaning tips include brushing and rinsing the retainer with lukewarm water after each meal, using a separate soft toothbrush for cleaning, and avoiding hard-bristled toothbrushes that can scratch the retainer.

How can I deep clean my retainer?

Deep cleaning methods for retainers include soaking them in a mixture of baking soda and water or using denture cleaners. However, caution should be taken with certain types of retainers to avoid damage.

How can I prolong the life of my retainer?

Proper retainer care and maintenance, including wearing and storing the retainer correctly, cleaning it regularly, and bringing it to dental visits for assessment and cleaning, can help prolong the life of a retainer.

Can I use denture cleaning tablets on my retainer?

Yes, denture cleaning tablets can be used to clean retainers. The retainer should be soaked in the solution for a set time and then rinsed thoroughly.

Why is retainer cleaning important?

Cleaning a retainer is important for maintaining oral hygiene, preventing the buildup of bacteria and residue, and prolonging the life of the retainer.


In conclusion, proper care and maintenance of your retainer are essential for maintaining good oral hygiene and ensuring the longevity of your retainer.

By following the recommended cleaning methods and incorporating good oral hygiene practices into your daily routine, you can prevent the buildup of bacteria and residue on your retainer.

Retainer care involves brushing your retainer with a clean toothbrush using room-temperature water, patting it dry, and storing it in a safe place.

Regular dental visits are also important for assessing your retainer and deep cleaning the area around it.

By taking the necessary steps to care for your retainer, you can keep your teeth straight and healthy for years to come.

Remember, retainer hygiene is just as important as dental hygiene, so make sure to prioritize both to maintain a beautiful smile.

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