Updated on

How to Clean Retainers in the Most Effective Way

Disclosure: Links on this site may receive a commission, this does not affect the price you pay and help us cover the costs of running this website.

When wearing any alignment system, germs and bacteria can easily accumulate on the surfaces, especially on the undersides where the devices rest on the gums or teeth. That’s why cleaning your teeth aligners is something that should be done daily.

With that in mind, you are probably wondering how to clean a retainer properly. Well, there are many different ways to clean them, and here are some great ideas that help keep your smile looking great and, of course, how to keep retainers clean!

Best Way to Clean Retainers

There are several products and ways to clean your retainers, but we have selected the best ones. Here’s all the info you need before deciding which one to choose:

The first and most obvious way to clean your retainers is by using retainer cleaners. There are many brands of clear braces cleaners available, even aligners’ brands that sell their own cleaners like Invisalign or Byte (don’t worry, we will talk about how to clean Byte aligners and Invisalign aligners later in the article). The most common retainer cleaners are tablets that you have to mix with water and then soak the aligner there, however, there are also special toothbrushes or cleaning foams available if you don’t like the results given by using at home retainer cleaner. When asking about how to clean retainers at home, this is the preferred method for most of the people as it is convenient and affordable.

Although the products may vary in form (tablet, foam, or toothbrushes), all of them are very easy to use and with few or any cons as they are products specifically and optimally designed to clean retainers.

But, you are probably wondering how to clean plastic retainers with these products?


You start by filling a cup with lukewarm water then drop a tablet in. After that, you place the trays in the glass or cup and watch the bubbly fizzing action do its job. Since the soaking times vary, you need to read the manufacturer’s directions to ensure you use the recommended steps correctly. Some claim that you can soak them overnight if needed, but they also set the general soak time to 15-30 max. Once they are clean, rinse them off thoroughly to remove any residual chemicals and place them back in your mouth or store them in water to keep them moist.


However, the best way to clean retainers is this one: using a toothbrush specially made to clean retainers (you will notice that they have a circular shape to fit in the aligner easily). To clean the retainers properly, you mustn’t use toothpaste as it can damage the retainer, the only thing you have to do is water the aligner and the brush with warm water and brush it as you do with your teeth, then rinse the aligner.

The second way to clean your retainers is using denture cleaners. It has sense as they are very similar to the retainer cleaner tablets, but it is not as safe for your aligners as the products specifically manufactured to clean them. For example, Invisalign® cannot soak in denture cleaners as the aligners can be damaged, although most work just fine in the solution. If you have spent your money on one of the best teeth aligners you won’t probably want to search one morning on the Internet “how to fix a cracked retainer” because you check with the manufacturer or read the labels to determine if your aligners were safe when using denture cleaners.

It is true that other aligners will not be damaged by denture cleaners, but some plastics can turn yellow over time when using these types of products. However, if after checking with the brand and reading the labels you find that you can use denture cleaners without damaging the aligners, the process of cleaning is very similar to the one used with retainer cleaner tablets: fill a glass with water, put the denture tablet and soak the aligners in the bubbling solution for 15-20 minutes depending on the manufacturer-s instructions.

There are more ways to clean retainers, for example using natural ingredients like baking soda, but we will talk about that later in the article. So, keep reading to find more tips on how to clean plastic retainers.

Top 4 Best Retainer Cleaners in 2023

In case you have decided to use retainer cleaners, we have compiled a list of the best retainer cleaners and made a comparison table to make your final decision easier:

Retainer Brite

Retainer Brite is a type of retainer cleaner that comes as tablets. It’s very easy to use as it works similarly to denture cleaners. You only have to put the tablet on water, let the tablet dissolve, and put your retainer trays there soaking for 25 minutes and, then, rinse the trays with cold water. If your mouth appliance has wires (for example, if you have an active retainer), it cannot be soaked for more than 15 minutes.

SmileDirectClub cleaning tablets

SmileDirectClub’s tablets are very similar to Retainer Brite: same system but different process and ingredients. These tablets designed by SmileDirectClub have a shorter soaking time (only three minutes) and can also be used for dentures.

SmileDirectClub aligner brush

Besides the cleaning tablets, SmileDirectClub also sells other products that can help clean your aligners (and teeth) better. So, in case you want a deeper cleaning, you can also get the SmileDirectClub brush, which includes an aligner brush head specially designed to clean your aligners. It’s a soft bristle brush that perfectly fits the trays and should be used without toothpaste, only with warm water.

Besides, using electric toothbrushes like this one can help you clean better your teeth compared to regular toothbrushes which can’t make as a deep clean, for example, to crooked bottom teeth due to the fact that they don’t have the shape and power to clean more difficult areas if the teeth are misaligned.


If you are wondering hot to clean Byte aligners, the brand has its onwn product to do it. BrightByte is a 3 in 1 product: keeps your breath fresh, cleans your retainer, and whitens your teeth. Designed by Byte still, it can be used with any plastic retainer, no matter the brand. It has a foam texture, and it’s very easy to use: you only have to brush your teeth, put the foam in every corner of your trays, and put the trays in your teeth again.

Retainer Brite 120SmileDirectClub cleaning tabletsSmiledirectclub aligner brushbrightbyte
Amount120 tablets32 tablets1 tootbrush, 2 heads50ml

All these products need to be used daily to ensure they produce good cleaning results, so if you are wondering how to clean old retainers that haven’t been cleaned daily, probably these products won’t give you the results you are looking for. If that’s your case, what you should be looking for is ‘how to deep clean retainers’, and that can only be done in a couple as harsh cleaning products can break your aligners.

Pros and Cons of Cleaning Your Retainer

After reading all the steps on how to clean clear retainers, maybe you are wondering if it’s worth it to clean them every day. It might seem not as important as it feels, but oral health is key, and putting something dirty every day in your mouth during 20 hours can lead to serious problems that can affect your overall health. Let’s go through some of the pros and cons:

  • Prevents oral health issues
  • Prevents the aligners from breaking
  • It avoids the aligner to smell bad
  • It's crutial to keep the 'clear' look of the aligners
  • It takes time as you have to do it everyday
  • Sometimes it can cost money as some people prefer buying products to clean them

Other Ways to Clean Teeth Aligner Trays

We’ve just gone over a couple of techniques you can use, but there are plenty of other options as well. Whether you’re looking to remove bacteria, food particles, or stains, you’re bound to find the best option for you.

Baking Soda
Baking Soda

Baking soda is the king of versatility; it cleans, it whitens, it freshens, it makes bread rise...really what can’t baking soda do? Well, it just so turns out that baking soda also makes a great cleaning solution. Make a paste out of baking soda and water and gently apply it to your trays before brushing or rinsing. Since baking soda is not very abrasive, it shouldn’t do any damage but be careful.

Hydrogen Peroxide
Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is another handy must-have to keep around your home. You simply mix equal parts water and peroxide and let your braces soak for 30 minutes. This solution kills bacteria, removes food particles, and can even help eliminate stains.


Vinegar isn’t quite as effective as the alternatives mentioned above, but it still sanitizes and kills bacteria and germs. To use vinegar, soak the clear braces in one part vinegar and three parts water and gently scrub away food particles. For more cleaning power you can use a 1:1 ratio as well. You can soak your retainers in this solution for 15 to 30 minutes, and you can use a soft brush dipped in the vinegar to remove stains and food particles.

Using Mouthwash
Using Mouthwash

Mouthwash that contains alcohol isn’t as effective as the other options mentioned in this guide. In fact, alcohol can cause your retainer to dry out and break. That being said, mouthwash can be used once in a while as a quick freshener to get rid of any lingering odors or bacterial concerns. The best mouthwash will be any that don’t contain alcohol or other harsh chemicals. If you are tempted to use mouthwash with alcohol, make sure you only do it once in a while and for no more than a few minutes at a time.

You can also check this video to see how to clean plastic retainers with the methods mentioned above:

Retainer Cleaning Myths

On the internet, you can find great information about how to clean plastic retainers, but you must be careful because there are some myths online that can affect your cleaning routine. That’s why we have made this list of the most common myths about how to clean retainers at home:

How to Clean Retainers by Type

Before starting to clean your retainer, you must take into account that there are different types of retainers and, depending on which one you have, the way of cleaning it will vary. For example, if you have a Hawley retainer you should not leave it soaking for more than 15 minutes as it has wires; if you have a plastic retainer replacement or clear aligners, you must know that using denture cleaners can turn the plastic yellow over time, and if you have a fixed bonded retainer (also called permanent retainer) the best way to clean it is using a toothbrush.

types of retainers

That’s why your first step must be to identify what retainer you have and which are the recommended ways to clean each retainer. This is crucial not only to don’t damage the alignment system you are using but also because you will avoid additional costs related to those damages.

Keep reading to learn how to clean retainers at home depending on the type of retainer you have:

How to Clean Clear Retainers

Wondering how to clean plastic braces? Clear retainers include Essix and Vivera retainers, and can also include clear aligners that are used to straighten teeth. As the name suggests, they are clear, slip over your teeth, and are easy to remove. You can follow these general guidelines if you are wondering how to clean retainers at home:

how to clean invisible retainers

How to Clean Hawley Retainers

Cleaning your Hawley retainer, whether it’s a passive or active retainer, will be very similar to cleaning clear braces , but here are some general guidelines you can follow:

Fixed Retainers

The best cleaning practices for fixed retainers are a bit different than they are for either Hawley or clear braces. This type of braces are also more difficult to clean, so they will require extra effort on your part. This extra effort involves careful and diligent brushing, making sure to get under the bonded metal strip every time. It also means continuing to floss twice a day, even though this will now present more of a challenge (you can watch the video below to know how to do it properly.)

Tips for The Best Teeth Aligner Cleaning

By now you’re pretty much an expert when it comes to how to clean your retainer, but there are always opportunities to improve, so we’ve included some more useful tips and tricks below.

Stop Brush
Stop Brush
Sometimes a simple soaking isn’t enough to remove food particles, debris, plaque, or stains. In this case, you can use a soft-bristled brush to help get between those tight cracks and gaps, and remove that stubborn debris. It’s always a good idea to check with your dentist before using a brush since some plastics can be harmed by the abrasiveness. If you do scratch it from cleaning with a brush, this leaves room for bacteria to meet, greet, and spread, causing foul odors and unappealing stains.
Wash Your Hands
Wash Your Hands

It's ALWAYS a good idea to wash your hands any chance you get. You should also make sure to wash your hands before you clean your retainers.

Washing your hands before cleaning your retainers and before removing them from their soaking solution helps prevent bacterial growth on your retainer. You should wash your hands again once you are finished cleaning so that before storing them or putting them back in your mouth, you can be sure they are completely germ-free.

Look at Your Retainers
Look at Your Retainers

Yes, look at and inspect your retainers closely after soaking them to make sure that they are as clean as they can get. If upon further inspection it looks like they could use some more cleaning, you can extend the cleaning time, preferably with a fresh batch of cleaning solution, but don’t do this all the time as too much chemical exposure can harm your aligners.

Clean The Case
Clean The Case

Cases are often forgotten when it comes to cleaning, but it is imperative to keep them clean. You should clean your case at least once a day, preferably before putting your retainer away. To clean it, just scrub all of the surfaces with warm soapy water, rinse and pat dry.

Retainer Cleaning Methods You Should Avoid

We indeed mention many cleaning products, but it is also important to inform people about what methods to avoid.

No Harsh Chemicals
No Harsh Chemicals

Harsh chemicals don’t always mean a deeper clean, and in fact, chemicals aren’t always so effective in removing bacteria. If you’re determined to achieve institutional levels of sanitizing with your retainer cleaner, ask your dentist first before giving your retainers a soak in an acid bath. In most cases, generic cleaners and natural products should be fine, anything stronger you can leave to the professionals.

No Hot Water
No Hot Water

It may seem counter-intuitive since hot water is associated with killing bacteria and general cleanliness. But, hot water can soften the plastic and reshape the trays and it will make that your retainer doesn't fit anymore! The softening also makes them more susceptible to scratches and dents during brushing. You should either use lukewarm water to clean your retainers, or cold water if specified by your specific cleaner you use.

In addition to not using hot water, keep it away from high heat in general when it comes to how to clean retainers at home properly. This includes staying away from:

Also if you have a lost retainer that you find, when it turns up make sure to inspect it for any signs of heat damage.

Infographic on how to not clean your retainers.


Why wear a retainer?

Wearing a retainer is mandatory after your alignment plan has ended as it will prevent your teeth from relapsing, in other ways, come back to their previous position. As retainers have to be worn full-time for at least 3 to 6 months, its maintenance is crucial to avoid oral health issues related to poor oral cleaning.

What happens if you don't clean your retainer?

As mentioned before, not cleaning your retainers can cause a lot of oral health issues as a good oral cleaning is vital to keep bacteria under control. If you don’t clean your retainers (an attachment that you’ll have to wear for at least 20 hours a day) bacteria can reach levels that can lead to infections, causing root decay and gum diseases.

What is the white buildup on my retainer?

If there are white stains it can be mineral buildup (calcium deposits, known as tartar), plaque, or a combination of both.

How do I get plaque off retainers?

To get the plaque off your retainer, you have to soak it in distilled water (don’t use tap water as it will damage the trays) or distilled water with baking soda in case it has a lot of plaque. Let it sit and then, use a soft bristle toothbrush to remove the plaque. However, if you clean your retainer every day, the plaque won’t build up on your retainer.

How do I sterilize a retainer at home?

To sterilize your aligner properly, you have to clean it as mentioned above: using a retainer cleaner and brush it with warm water and a toothbrush.

Can you clean retainers with toothpaste?

You can use toothpaste if you have fixed bonded retainers. However, if you have clear aligners some of the toothpaste’s ingredients might be abrasive and damage your retainer.

How long can I leave my retainer in the cleaner?

You mustn’t soak them in the cleaner more than 15-20 min.

Get our best Deals

Subscribe to our email list to get the lastest updates for your smile

(*) We promise we will never spam you

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.