How To Clean A Toothbrush

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How To Clean A Toothbrush
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Wash your hands. Wash your hands before you brush your teeth to help to lower your risk of contamination. You should also wash your hands after you brush your teeth. This will help reduce the spread of bacteria and viruses after touching your mouth and lips.

How to Clean Your Toothbrush

You probably brush your teeth every day to keep them clean. You should clean your toothbrush regularly, too. Read on to learn how to disinfect your toothbrush and keep it clean.

Toothbrushes and Bacteria

Your mouth is home to many different types of germs and bacteria. When you brush your teeth and tongue, the bacteria, saliva, toothpaste, food debris, and blood stay on your toothbrush. Studies have found that even after rinsing a toothbrush with water, it can still be contaminated with microorganisms.

Experts say that thousands of different types of microorganisms can grow on toothbrush handles and bristles. Many of these are harmless and are naturally found in your mouth. But some can cause illnesses, like the flu.

Scientists say that there’s no evidence that using a toothbrush with normal bacteria on it will lead to oral infections or other health problems. But it’s a good idea to keep your toothbrush clean just in case.

How to Disinfect a Toothbrush

If you’re looking for the best way to disinfect a toothbrush, you have several options. But first, you should note that experts don’t recommend putting your toothbrush in the dishwasher or microwave because the heat may damage it.

UV sanitizer. A study found that an ultraviolet toothbrush sanitizer is more effective than saline and antiseptic mouthwash (chlorhexidine gluconate) for toothbrush disinfection. Other experts say that using a UV sanitizer is not necessary and may damage your toothbrush.

Disinfecting solutions. Some studies have found that soaking your toothbrush in a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution or antibacterial mouthwash can help kill any bacteria that may be on it.

To make and use this solution:

  1. Mix 1 teaspoon of peroxide in 1 cup of water
  2. Swish the bristles of your toothbrush in the solution or soak for 15 minutes
  3. Rinse your toothbrush with water before brushing
  4. If you decide to soak your toothbrush in the solution, change the solution every day

You can also disinfect your toothbrush by swishing it in an antibacterial mouthwash for 30 seconds. If you don’t have mouthwash, you can use 2 teaspoons of baking soda mixed into 1 cup of water instead. Soaking your toothbrush in white vinegar once a week may also help disinfect it.

Some experts warn that soaking toothbrushes in mouthwash or disinfecting solutions may spread germs under the right conditions.

Denture cleaners. Denture cleaning solutions can be used to disinfect your toothbrush. Denture cleaners have enzymes and detergents that help break down food proteins. The citric acid and sodium bicarbonate in denture cleaners can also help loosen food stuck between toothbrush bristles. Rinse your toothbrush well after using a dental cleanser.

How to Keep a Toothbrush Clean

Rinse with hot water. For most people, using hot running water to rinse your toothbrush is usually enough to keep it clean.

Wash your toothbrush before and after you use it. Hot water will help soften the bristles and release toothpaste and food particles. Rub your thumb over the bristles under the hot water, and rinse it again with cold water to make the bristles firm up.

Air dry. A moist environment promotes the growth of bacteria or mold. Studies have found that toothbrushes kept in closed containers, travel cases, and toothbrush covers have more bacteria than those left to air dry.

After you’ve finished brushing, rinse your toothbrush and shake off the excess water. Run a finger or thumb across the bristles to help remove the water. If you choose to cover your toothbrush with a holder or container, air dry your toothbrush first in an upright position.

You may want to have two toothbrushes. This lets you use one while the other air dries.

How to Clean an Electric Toothbrush

An electric toothbrush head can be cleaned in the same way as a regular toothbrush. Remove the toothbrush head from the base before cleaning it. Like with manual toothbrushes, electric toothbrush heads should be replaced every 3 months or whenever the bristles are fading or worn.

Toothbrush Tips

Keep toothbrushes away from the toilet. Every time you flush the toilet, fine droplets of toilet water are propelled into the air. These droplets can remain in the air for up to 2 hours. They then settle onto different surfaces, which can include your toothbrush. Try to flush the toilet with the lid closed and store your toothbrushes as far from your toilet as possible.

Keep the area clean. Regularly clean your toothbrush holder and cover with soap and water. Use disposable wipes to wipe down wall-mounted toothbrush holders, cups, and stands. Regularly wipe down your bathroom countertop and sink. This will remove any saliva droplets and excess toothpaste.

Don’t share a toothbrush. You might regularly share utensils and food with your family members, but you shouldn’t share a toothbrush. Experts say this is because brushing may sometimes cause gums to bleed. This means that sharing a toothbrush could expose you to diseases spread through contact with blood.

Every member of your household should have a different-colored toothbrush that’s easily identifiable. This will keep you from accidentally using someone else’s.

Socially distance your toothbrushes. If you share a bathroom with others in your household, don’t put your toothbrushes together in a common toothbrush holder or drawer. It’s best to keep toothbrushes several inches apart.

Wash your hands. Wash your hands before you brush your teeth to help to lower your risk of contamination. You should also wash your hands after you brush your teeth. This will help reduce the spread of bacteria and viruses after touching your mouth and lips.

How Long to Keep a Toothbrush

Sometimes, it might be better to replace your toothbrush rather than clean it. In general, you should change your toothbrush about every 3 months. When the bristles are worn, your toothbrush may not clean your teeth as well.

Check your toothbrush for buildup, frayed bristles, or discoloration. If you see any of these, it’s probably time to throw it out. You should also replace your toothbrush after you’ve been sick. This will help to prevent reinfection or passing the infection on to a member of your household.

Viruses, like the flu, can survive on moist surfaces. When you’re sick, don’t share a toothbrush holder with anyone else. Viruses can spread through physical contact, such as when your toothbrush touches another.

Show Sources

American Dental Association: “Toothbrushes.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Use & Handling of Toothbrushes.”

Cleveland Clinic: “4 Tips for a Clean Toothbrush,” “Should You Throw Away Your Toothbrush After Being Sick?”

Contemporary Clinical Dentistry: “Efficacy of various disinfectants on microbially contaminated toothbrushes due to brushing.”

Journal of Basic and Clinical Pharmacy: “Evaluating sanitization of toothbrushes using ultra violet rays and 0.2% chlorhexidine solution: A comparative clinical study.”

The Maryland Children’s Oral Health Institute: “A Clean Toothbrush May Help Protect You From The Flu.”

Oral Health: “Toothbrush Contamination: A Review of the Literature.”

Oral Health Foundation: “When sharing isn’t caring: Why sharing your toothbrush is a very bad idea.”

The University of Alabama at Birmingham: “Clean before you clean — what’s on your toothbrush just might surprise you.”

The University of Mississippi Medical Center: “For much cleaner teeth, electric toothbrushes can’t be beat.”

How To Clean Your Toothbrush

A person in a bathrobe running water over their toothbrush in a sink

Over the years, people have tried all sorts of ways to clean their toothbrushes. Some run it through the dishwasher. Others soak the head in mouthwash or effervescent denture cleaner. Others freeze it, boil it or invest in a pricey ultraviolet toothbrush sanitizer.

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But are these the best ways to disinfect your toothbrush? And do these methods even work?

“The bottom line is, that none of that is necessary,” says dentist Karyn Kahn, DDS. Read on as she shares what actually works to keep your brush in tip-top shape.

How to clean your toothbrush

Cleaning a toothbrush is simpler than you might think. In fact, you don’t need to purchase any fancy bathroom accessories or toiletries.

Use hot water

Forget soaking a toothbrush in mouthwash or denture cleaner or using UV light cleaners. “I suggest just rinsing your toothbrush in good, hot water,” says Dr. Kahn. If you see any chunks of toothpaste or food on your toothbrush, be sure to also rinse it well to dislodge them.

The reason you use hot water is that you have a natural flora of bacteria living in your mouth that’s necessary for a healthy environment. It’s not important to try to completely remove this bacteria from your toothbrush.

How to keep your toothbrush clean and bacteria-free

Believe it or not, you don’t want your toothbrush to be free of bacteria. “If you don’t have that bacteria, that’s when opportunist microorganisms like yeast and fungi take over,” explains Dr. Kahn. “You want a certain amount of natural bacteria in your mouth, just not around the teeth or gum tissue.”

In its recommendation about toothbrush care, the American Dental Association (ADA) cites studies that have found no evidence of negative oral health effects from normal bacteria on a toothbrush.

However, Dr. Kahn does have tips for keeping a clean and effective toothbrush.

  1. Let it dry completely. The bacteria that live on a toothbrush after you use it are considered anaerobic — meaning they will die in the presence of oxygen. So, if you let your toothbrush air dry, it will take care of most bacteria.
  2. Store your toothbrush properly. Remember to store your toothbrush in an open-air holder, not in a dirty cup, drawer or travel case. Storing your toothbrush in those places can promote the growth of mold or bacteria that isn’t natural to your mouth, leading to mouth diseases like gingivitis. The ADA also recommends not routinely covering your toothbrush, either, for the risk of unwanted bacteria
  3. Replace your toothbrush after being sick. Pitching your toothbrush is crucial if you’re sick or have a fungal, yeast or viral infection in your mouth. Replace your brush at the beginning of treatment and again at the end. “However, after you are sick, my general recommendation is to replace your toothbrush,” she adds. “It’s an easy fix to make sure lingering bacteria doesn’t lead to reinfection or get passed on to family members. This makes a lot more sense than trying to clean your toothbrush by boiling it or by using hydrogen peroxide or vinegar.”
  4. Don’t share toothbrushes. Your mouth needs a healthy flora of its own bacteria, but it’s not good to introduce bacteria from someone else. “You should never share a toothbrush, especially with your children, since that’s when they are acquiring their normal flora,” cautions Dr. Kahn. Also, avoid storing multiple brushes, such as those of family members, in the same holder or in a drawer together. It’s best if they don’t contact each other.
  5. Replace it. Instead of trying to sterilize your toothbrush, make a habit of replacing it regularly. Your toothbrush should look clean and straight. Be on the lookout for discoloration, buildup or any matted bristles. If you see any of this, it’s time to change your toothbrush. The suggestions on when to replace your toothbrush vary according to the manufacturer. “Keep it easy and follow the ADA guidelines,” says Dr. Kahn. “Replace it every three to four months. If you see the bristles are frayed, replace it sooner.”

At any time, if you have any questions about the effectiveness of your toothbrush, a good rule of thumb is to get a new one. Some experts even recommend having two toothbrushes and alternating while one dries.

How to Clean Your Toothbrush

Mary Marlowe Leverette 2018

Mary Marlowe Leverette is one of the industry’s most highly-regarded housekeeping and fabric care experts, sharing her knowledge on efficient housekeeping, laundry, and textile conservation. She is also a Master Gardener with over 40 years’ experience; writing for over 20 years.

Updated on 07/05/22
Fact checked by

Emily Estep

Emily Estep is a plant biologist and journalist who has worked for a variety of online news and media outlets, writing about and editing topics including environmental science and houseplants.

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Other than picking the right color, how much attention do you pay to your toothbrush? Your toothbrush, whether manual or powered, should be one of the hardest working tools in your home. It gets used at least twice a day to remove food bits, plaque, and bacteria from your teeth, gums, and tongue. Does a quick rinse with cold water after each use keep it clean? Not really!

Toothbrush bristles can harbor traces of toothpaste and bacteria from your mouth, bacteria from your hands, and if left exposed to the open air of the bathroom, fecal coliform from airborne particles from the toilet. Fortunately, with just some products you probably already have on hand in your medicine cabinet, your toothbrush can be easily sanitized.

Fun Facts

  • The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends replacing your manual toothbrush or powered toothbrush head approximately every three to four months or more often if the bristles become matted or frayed. The effectiveness of the brush actually decreases as the bristles become worn.
  • While toothbrushes are sold with hard, medium, and soft bristles, the ADA recommends using a toothbrush with soft bristles because they minimize the risk of gingival abrasion.

How Often to Clean Your Toothbrush

Every time you brush your teeth take a moment to clean your toothbrush, getting out any food particles hanging in the bristles. Then let your toothbrush air dry.

What You’ll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Small cup
  • Toothbrush storage tube (optional)
  • UV-C sanitizer (optional)

Materials

  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Alcohol-based antibacterial mouthwash
  • Denture cleaning tablets
  • Disinfecting wipes
  • Cotton ball

Instructions

items for cleansing a toothbrush

How to Clean a Manual Toothbrush or Powered Toothbrush Head

Rinse With Hot Water

rinsing your toothbrush with hot water

While most of us use cold water when brushing our teeth, hot water is much more effective in cleaning a toothbrush. Before and after each use, rinse the toothbrush head with the hottest water available from your tap.

Warning

Do not attempt to boil your toothbrush. place it in the microwave, or run it through the dishwasher. The extreme heat will begin to melt the bristles and the plastic of the toothbrush handle.

Soak in Antibacterial Mouthwash

soaking the toothbrush in mouth wash

Pour enough antibacterial mouthwash (most are alcohol-based) into a small cup to cover the head of the toothbrush. Allow the toothbrush head to soak for at least two minutes before storing it. Dispose of the mouthwash properly.

Warning

Before soaking or cleaning, always make sure your toothbrush is disconnected from a power source if it’s electronic.

Soak in Denture Cleanser

soaking a toothbrush in denture cleanser

Most denture cleansers contain disinfecting ingredients and come in an easy-to-use dissolving tablet form. Dissolve one-half of a tablet in one cup of cool water. When the effervescing stops, allow the toothbrush head to soak for one minute. Rinse well with cool water before storing or using the toothbrush. Dispose of the denture cleanser.

Soak in Hydrogen Peroxide

soaking a toothbrush in hydrogen peroxide

Pour enough fresh three-percent concentration hydrogen peroxide into a small cup to completely cover the head of the toothbrush. If the hydrogen peroxide is fresh, you should see tiny bubbles form as it goes to work sanitizing the toothbrush head. Dispose of the hydrogen peroxide and use fresh peroxide for the next cleaning.

Use a UV-C Sanitizing Device

Using an ultraviolet light to sanitize water

UV-C a germicidal short wavelength, ultraviolet light that sanitizes by breaking apart the DNA of bacteria and viruses leaving the DNA unable to harm or reproduce. UV-C devices are available in various sizes to clean electronic equipment like phones and laptops but can also be used to clean toothbrushes, teething rings, car keys, and dog toys. Follow the manufacturer’s recommended instructions for use.

How to Clean an Electric Toothbrush

The brush head of a powered toothbrush is cleaned just like a manual toothbrush after disconnecting it from the power source. Use a disinfecting wipe or a cotton ball dampened with hydrogen peroxide to clean the handle daily. The handle should be cleaned after every use if it is shared by multiple family members.

Disconnect the recharging base from the electrical source and clean it at least weekly with a disinfecting wipe. Allow it to dry completely before plugging it back into the electrical socket.

Tips to Keep Your Toothbrush Clean Longer

  • Never share a toothbrush with others.
  • Do not store a toothbrush in a shared toothbrush holder where it can touch other toothbrushes.
  • Store toothbrushes in a covered area like a medicine cabinet or drawer.
  • If storing in an enclosed case, allow the toothbrush to dry completely before storing to prevent the growth of microbes.
  • Store toothbrushes as far away from toilets as possible.
  • Use a toothpaste dispenser with a pump to prevent cross-contamination from the opening of the toothpaste tube.

Article Sources

The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Toothbrushes. American Dental Association.