A woman takes out her clear plastic retainer

How to clean retainers

As you can imagine, retainers pick up a lot of food and bacteria while they’re in your mouth, and so they need cleaning just as your teeth do. Keeping your retainer clean is a vital part of your dental hygiene routine – but doing it wrong can prevent your teeth from getting the best results from the treatment.[1] 

Keep reading to find out how often you should clean your retainer, what happens if you don’t clean it and how to clean different types of retainer.

Do I have to clean my retainer every night? 

It’s common knowledge that we should clean our teeth twice a day, but what about retainers? Generally, the advice is to clean them every day to keep them fresh, hygienic and debris-free. However, you may wish to rinse your retainers with warm water more often than this if you find lots of debris builds up throughout the day.[1] 

What happens if you don’t clean retainers?

Like everything else in your mouth, your retainer is exposed to bacteria, food, plaque and tartar while you wear it. If you don’t clean it regularly, all of this will build up and can impact your dental health. Your retainer may start to smell or taste unpleasant as well. 

Additionally, the bacteria build up in your retainer could have more serious effects on your overall health – not just your teeth. Bacteria, including streptococcus, are found in your mouth all the time, but if the levels of these bacteria build up, they can cause infections. Cleaning your retainer regularly can help to prevent this.[1]

Cleaning different types of retainer

Different types of retainers interact with your mouth in different ways, so the way you clean them is different, too. Let’s take a look at the three common types of retainer.

  • Hawley retainers

This type of retainer is made of plastic and metal that’s moulded to the shape of your mouth. Hawley retainers are removable, so you can easily take them out to clean them. The most important thing to remember when cleaning your Hawley retainer is that you shouldn’t use hot water, as this can damage the materials. 

Instead, use a soft-bristled toothbrush to clean it under cool or lukewarm water to remove any debris. You may also wish to soak your retainer in a cleaning solution made for retainers. Always check with your orthodontist to make sure the solution is suitable for your retainer.[1]

  • Fixed or bonded retainers

Fixed or bonded retainers aren’t so simple to clean, as you can’t take them out of your mouth. However, you can clean them at the same time as you clean your teeth, making sure to be extra careful to clean all the nooks and crannies and remove any debris or plaque.[1]

  • Clear plastic retainers

Like Hawley retainers, clear plastic retainers can be taken out of the mouth for cleaning. Your orthodontist may tell you to wear your plastic retainer every night while you sleep, and even to wear it while eating as well. If this is the case, it’s best to lightly scrub your retainer with warm water and a soft-bristled toothbrush after meals.

If you wear it at night, rinse your retainer with lukewarm water before and after you sleep to keep it fresh. As with Hawley retainers, don’t use hot water as this may cause your retainer to lose its shape. Also, you may wish to soak your retainer in a special cleaning solution every couple of months to give it a deeper clean.[1]

How to clean your teeth when you’re wearing retainers

Cleaning your teeth while wearing your fixed retainer may take a bit of getting used to, but it’s not difficult. The key thing to remember is that you need to take extra care to clean between your teeth and your retainer to make sure plaque and tartar doesn’t build up in hard to reach places. Use interdental brushes or floss picks every day to keep both your teeth and your retainer clean and hygienic.[2]


[1] https://www.nuh.nhs.uk/orthodontics-retainers/

[2] https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-teeth-and-gums/how-to-keep-your-teeth-clean/

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