How To Clean Your Plastic Retainer: The Ultimate Guide

Maintaining a straight and healthy smile requires proper care of your orthodontic retainer. Cleaning your retainer is essential for maintaining not only the retainer itself but also the health of your teeth and gums. I

n this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about how to clean your plastic retainer, the importance of doing so, and the dos and don’ts of retainer care.

How to Clean your Plastic Retainer

To clean your plastic retainer:

  1. Rinse with lukewarm water.
  2. Brush gently with a soft toothbrush and non-abrasive toothpaste.
  3. Rinse thoroughly to remove any residue.
  4. Optionally, soak in a retainer cleaner or vinegar solution.
  5. Avoid hot water and harsh chemicals.
  6. Store in a clean, ventilated container.
  7. Clean daily to maintain oral hygiene.

Why Retainer Care Matters

Orthodontic retainers play a crucial role in maintaining your teeth’s alignment after braces or clear aligners have done their job. However, because retainers are in constant contact with your teeth, they can harbor bacteria, plaque, and food debris.

If left uncleaned, your retainer can contribute to oral health problems such as tooth decay, cavities, and gum disease.

Furthermore, a dirty retainer can become less effective at holding your teeth in place, leading to the need for additional orthodontic treatment.

The Importance of Cleaning Your Plastic Retainer

Cleaning your plastic retainer is essential for maintaining good oral hygiene and preserving the quality and effectiveness of the retainer. Here are some key reasons why cleaning your plastic retainer is important:

Preventing bacterial growth

Your mouth is home to millions of bacteria, some of which can adhere to your retainer and multiply rapidly. If not cleaned regularly, the retainer can become a breeding ground for bacteria, leading to oral health issues such as bad breath, gum disease, and tooth decay.

Cleaning your retainer helps remove bacteria and prevent their growth.

Removing plaque and tartar

Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that forms on teeth and oral appliances. Over time, plaque can harden and turn into tartar, which is much more difficult to remove.

If plaque and tartar build-up on your retainer, they can contribute to oral health problems and may even compromise the alignment of your teeth.

Regular cleaning helps remove plaque and prevent tartar formation.

Maintaining freshness and odor control

When not properly cleaned, a plastic retainer can develop an unpleasant odor. This is often caused by bacteria and food particles trapped on the retainer’s surface.

Cleaning your retainer regularly can eliminate odor-causing bacteria and keep your retainer smelling fresh.

Preserving the retainer’s appearance

A dirty retainer can become discolored and stained over time. This can be unsightly and may affect your confidence when wearing the retainer.

Regular cleaning helps remove stains and keeps your retainer looking clean and transparent.

Prolonging the lifespan of the retainer

Proper cleaning and maintenance can help extend the lifespan of your plastic retainer. By removing debris, bacteria, and plaque, you can prevent damage to the retainer and avoid the need for frequent replacements.

The Types of Orthodontic Retainers

Before diving into cleaning methods, it’s essential to understand the different types of orthodontic retainers. The three most common types of retainers are:

Clear plastic retainers: Also known as Essix retainers, these are removable, transparent trays that fit snugly over your teeth. They are discreet and often used after clear aligner treatment.

Hawley retainers: These retainers consist of a plastic base that fits against the roof of your mouth and wires that wrap around your teeth to hold them in place. Hawley retainers are removable and more noticeable than clear plastic retainers but are known for their durability.

Permanent retainers: These are fixed retainers that are bonded to the back of your teeth, typically the lower front teeth. Permanent retainers are not removable and are recommended for patients at high risk of tooth shifting after orthodontic treatment.

Each type of retainer requires specific cleaning methods to ensure it remains clean and functional.

Cleaning Your Retainer: The Essential Supplies

To properly clean your retainer, you’ll need some basic supplies, many of which you may already have at home:

  • Soft-bristled toothbrush
  • Baking soda
  • White vinegar
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Mild dish soap
  • Cotton swabs
  • Stainless steel container

With these items on hand, you’ll be well-equipped to keep your retainer in pristine condition.

Daily Cleaning Routine for Plastic Retainers

Establishing a daily cleaning routine is crucial for keeping your plastic retainer free of bacteria and plaque. Follow these five steps to ensure your retainer stays clean and functional:

Rinse with cool or lukewarm water

After removing your retainer, rinse it under cool or lukewarm water to remove any loose debris.

Brush with a soft-bristled toothbrush

Gently brush your retainer using a soft-bristled toothbrush designated specifically for retainer cleaning. This will help remove any remaining food particles and plaque.

Use a baking soda paste:

Cleaning a plastic retainer with a baking soda paste can be an effective and safe method. Baking soda is known for its mild abrasive properties and can help remove stains and odors from various surfaces, including plastic.

Here’s how you can clean your plastic retainer with a baking soda paste:

Gather the necessary materials: Baking soda, a small bowl, a soft toothbrush or retainer brush, and water.

Create a baking soda paste: Mix baking soda with a small amount of water to form a paste in the small bowl. The consistency should be thick enough to adhere to the retainer.

Apply the paste to the retainer: Use the toothbrush or brush to apply the baking soda paste. Make sure to cover all surfaces.

Scrub gently: Gently scrub the retainer using the brush and the baking soda paste. Focus on any stained or dirty areas. Be careful not to scrub too vigorously, as it may damage the retainer.

Rinse thoroughly: After scrubbing, rinse the retainer thoroughly with lukewarm water. Make sure to remove all traces of the baking soda paste.

Inspect and repeat if necessary: Check the retainer to see if any stains or odor remain. You can repeat the process by applying a fresh baking soda paste and gently scrubbing again if needed.

Dry the retainer: Once it is clean, pat it dry with a clean towel or allow it to air dry before placing it back in your mouth.

Use hydrogen peroxide

Cleaning a plastic retainer with hydrogen peroxide can be an effective method for disinfection.

Here’s how you can do it:

Prepare the hydrogen peroxide solution: Use a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution commonly available at drugstores. You can use it as is, without diluting it further.

Submerge the retainer: Pour enough hydrogen peroxide into a container to fully submerge your retainer.

Soak the retainer: Place the retainer in the hydrogen peroxide solution and let it soak for about 15 to 30 minutes. This allows the hydrogen peroxide to kill bacteria and disinfect the retainer effectively.

Rinse thoroughly: After soaking, remove the retainer from the hydrogen peroxide solution and rinse it thoroughly with water. Make sure to rinse it well to remove any residual hydrogen peroxide.

Allow to air dry: Place the retainer on a clean surface or in a designated retainer case to air dry completely. Ensure that it is fully dry before storing or using it again.

Using white vinegar

White vinegar contains acetic acid, a natural disinfectant that helps break down and dissolve stains, bacteria, and other buildup on the retainer’s surface. The acid reacts with the contaminants, making them easier to remove during cleaning.

Cleaning a plastic retainer with white vinegar is a simple and effective method. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do it:

Prepare a cleaning solution: Mix equal parts of white vinegar and warm water in a bowl or cup. Ensure there’s enough solution to submerge the plastic retainer fully.

Remove any loose debris: Take the plastic retainer and gently brush off any visible food particles or other debris using a soft toothbrush. Rinse it with lukewarm water afterward.

Submerge the retainer: Place the retainer in the bowl or cup containing the vinegar and water solution. Ensure it’s fully submerged and allow it to soak for approximately 15 to 30 minutes. This soaking time will help loosen and dissolve any stubborn stains or residue.

Scrub gently: After soaking, take the retainer out of the solution and use a soft toothbrush to scrub it gently. Focus on areas with noticeable discoloration or buildup. The vinegar will help break down the stains while brushing removes them.

Rinse thoroughly: After scrubbing, rinse the retainer under running water to remove any remaining vinegar and debris. Ensure there’s no vinegar residue left, as it can have an unpleasant taste.

Inspect and repeat if necessary: After rinsing, inspect the retainer to see if it’s clean. If there are still stains or residue present, you can repeat the soaking and scrubbing process. For tougher stains, you may need to soak the retainer longer or use a stronger cleaning solution.

Dry and store properly: Once the retainer is clean, pat it dry using a clean towel or allow it to air dry. It’s essential to store the retainer in a clean, dry case to prevent bacteria growth.

Cleaning Permanent Retainers

Permanent retainers present a unique challenge, as they cannot be removed for cleaning like removable retainers.

To clean a permanent retainer, diligently brush and floss the area around the retainer. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and toothpaste containing baking soda to scrub the retainer and surrounding teeth gently.

A gum brush or interdental brush can be used to clean hard-to-reach areas between the retainer and teeth.

Additional Tips for Keeping Your Retainer Clean

In addition to the daily cleaning routine, consider the following tips to help keep your retainer in top condition:

  • Use a retainer-specific cleaning product, such as WhiteFoam by EverSmile, for added convenience and effectiveness.
  • Keep your retainer submerged in water or a water and baking soda solution when not in use to prevent drying and bacteria buildup.
  • Rinse your retainer under lukewarm water throughout the day to remove any accumulating debris.
  • Bring your retainer to your dentist for professional cleaning and inspection as needed.

What to Avoid When Cleaning Your Retainer

Certain cleaning methods can potentially damage your retainer, so be sure to avoid the following:

  • Hot water: Hot or boiling water can warp or even melt the plastic of your retainer, resulting in an improper fit and potential tooth movement.
  • Toothbrushes and toothpaste: Toothbrush bristles can scratch your retainer, while the abrasive particles in toothpaste can cause damage. This can create areas for plaque and bacteria to accumulate.
  • Mouthwash: The alcohol content in mouthwash can dry out your retainer, making it more susceptible to bacterial growth and staining.


How do you clean plastic retainers naturally?

Fortunately, white vinegar is an effective deodorizer and a mild disinfectant. Use a solution of one part vinegar and one-part warm water to wash your retainer. After letting the plastic retainer sit in the solution for around 20 minutes, properly rinse it.

What should I clean my retainer with?

To keep your retainer fresh, it’s recommended that you soak it in a solution of water and either baking soda or castile soap once a week. You can also try soaking your plastic retainer in white vinegar once a week to maintain its freshness. Remember to rinse it thoroughly after washing or soaking. Don’t forget to schedule regular visits to your dentist for check-ups to ensure your oral health is in good condition.

How often should you clean your plastic retainer?

To maintain proper oral hygiene and prevent the buildup of bacteria and plaque, cleaning a plastic retainer daily is generally recommended. Specifically, it is advised to clean the retainer every time you remove it from your mouth. This helps to remove any food particles, saliva, and bacteria that may have accumulated on the retainer during wear. Regular cleaning helps to ensure that your retainer remains fresh and free from odors.

Bottom Line

Proper retainer care is essential for maintaining your orthodontic results and oral health. By following the cleaning methods and tips provided in this guide, you can keep your retainer clean and functional for years to come.

Remember to consult with your orthodontist or dentist if you have any concerns or questions about retainer care. They can provide personalized advice and recommendations to help you maintain a healthy, straight smile.