You probably do a great job brushing all the food, plaque, and bacteria off your teeth. But if you don’t clean your actual toothbrush, all that gunk likely hides in the bristles. Ewwww!
To clean your secretly grody toothbrush, take a beat to thoroughly rinse your toothbrush after each use. To zap more germs, you can also go a step further by sanitizing your toothbrush with things like mouthwash or hydrogen peroxide. But most experts agree, you don’t really need to regularly disinfect your toothbrush.
Here’s how to clean your toothbrush and keep those extra nasties out of your mouth.
Keeping your toothbrush clean is pretty simple. To clean a toothbrush, the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that you:
- Rinse your toothbrush thoroughly with water after you brush your teeth. This will remove any leftover toothpaste and food debris.
- Store your brush upright in a ventilated space so it can air-dry, away from other toothbrushes.
“According to research, storing a moist toothbrush in a closed container increases microbial growth by 70 percent versus leaving it exposed to the open air,” says Fremont, California, dentist Ruchi Sahota, DDS.
Storing all your household’s toothbrushes in one cup is a no-no, too. Keep toothbrushes separated to avoid spreading germs.
Water temperature may also make a difference. Hot water will soften bristles and make it easier to loosen gunk in the brush head. But warm water can clean surfaces and help kill bacteria, too.
Giving your toothbrush a good rinse and a shake to remove extra moisture also goes a long way toward inhibiting germ growth.
The pros generally agree sanitizing your toothbrush on the reg probably isn’t necessary. And if you’re sick, no sanitizing method is 💯, so it’s a good idea to just replace your toothbrush once you feel better.
Rinsing your toothbrush, air-drying upright, and replacing it regularly should be enough to keep it clean.
But TBH, it’s hard to stop thinking about germs nesting in that little forest of bristles! 🦠 You might have even heard that every toilet flush sends a plume of potty germs circulating around your bathroom. Bleck!
But while toothbrushes can harbor bacteria, there’s not enough evidence that these bacteria can actually hurt you.
If you’re still not convinced, here are some methods for sanitizing your toothbrush for a more serious clean.
Soaking your toothbrush in a 3 percent hydrogen peroxide solution is likely the most effective and affordable way to sanitize your toothbrush.
A 2022 study found that soaking used toothbrushes in a 3 percent hydrogen peroxide solution reduced 87 percent of bacteria. Rinsing in tap water only reduced about 18 percent of the bacteria.
You can also soak your toothbrush bristles in a mouthwash, to kill bacteria. Just swirl or soak your toothbrush in a small cup of mouthwash for about 30 seconds.
That same 2022 study above found that the mouthwash Listerine reduced bacteria count by 31 percent, and a germicidal mouthwash containing chlorhexidine gluconate reduced bacteria by 58 percent.
Take a tip from your granny and disinfect your toothbrush with denture cleanser. Just dissolve half a tablet in a cup of water and soak your toothbrush for about a minute.
While denture cleanser is obvi designed for faux chompers, it has antimicrobial ingredients that can help kill bacteria on your toothbrush, too.
UV toothbrush sanitizer
Toothbrush sanitizer devices use ultraviolet (UV) light to kill germs on your toothbrush.
In a 2014 study, researchers concluded that using a UV toothbrush sanitizer for 7 minutes was more effective than 12 hours in a 0.2 percent chlorhexidine solution (basically a mouthwash). In a 2022 study, a UV sanitizer reduced bacteria on toothbrushes by 77 percent.
“I encourage patients to look for a sanitizer that has been cleared by the FDA,” says Sahota. This can help you make sure you’re getting a safe and effective device.
It’s also worth noting that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says you don’t actually need a UV sanitizer to clean your toothbrush.
Just note that while older research shows baking soda has antibacterial properties, it’s not going to actually disinfect your toothbrush like hydrogen peroxide and kill more germs.
If you need another crunchy cleaning solution, you can soak your toothbrush in some white vinegar for a few minutes. Studies show that regular household white vinegar can kill microorganisms on toothbrushes, especially Streptococcus mutans and Staphylococcus aureus. But like baking soda, white vinegar is not a registered disinfectant, so it’s not going to kill viruses and other potent nasties.
Just like a manual toothbrush, rinse thoroughly, store upright, and let it air-dry. If you want to sanitize the bristles, remove the head and go for it.
“You can sanitize an electric toothbrush head the same way that you disinfect a regular toothbrush,” Sahota says.
Follow these tips for keeping your toothbrush clean and fresh:
- Wash your hands before you brush to prevent transferring germs to the handle.
- Rinse your toothbrush before adding toothpaste and after brushing until all toothpaste and debris wash away.
- Give your toothbrush a shake to remove extra water.
- Store it standing where air can circulate so it dries completely.
- Don’t let your toothbrush touch others’ toothbrushes, so germs do not transfer.
- Don’t store your toothbrush next to the toilet. 🚽
- If you need to store your brush for travel, make sure it is completely dry first.
- Replace brushes after 3 to 4 months or as soon as you see wear on the bristles.
- Sanitize or replace your toothbrush after you’re sick so you don’t get an infection again.
It’s not a good idea to boil your toothbrush or use any other high heat methods to clean it. Heat from the dishwasher, microwave, or hair dryer will also damage the bristles and make your toothbrush less effective.
So, even though some research shows microwaving a toothbrush for a minute can disinfect your toothbrush, dentists don’t recommend this method. Save the microwave for your mug cake. A melted, damaged toothbrush might not be effective at cleaning your teeth, even if it is germ-free.
“The ADA recommends replacing toothbrushes every 3 to 4 months, or more often if the bristles are visibly matted or frayed,” Sahota says.
So, if your toothbrush bristles are splayed out, their color is fading, or they look matted and clumpy, it’s time to retire your toothbrush and treat your teeth to a fresh one!
A 2019 study also found that decontaminating your toothbrush may cause it to break down more quickly. So, if you use any of the sanitizing techniques mentioned above, watch for signs of wear sooner.
“When purchasing a new toothbrush, look for the ADA Seal of Acceptance, which provides patients assurance that the product has been objectively evaluated for safety and efficacy by an independent body of scientific experts at the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs,” adds Sahota.
Letting paste and food gunk build up on your toothbrush could cause germs to flourish. Giving your brush a good rinse and storing it where it can dry completely is the easiest way to keep it clean.
If you want to do an extra bit of sanitation, try soaking it in diluted hydrogen peroxide or mouthwash. When in doubt, replace your toothbrush every 3 to 4 months and pitch it when it starts to wear out.