A toothbrush is your most essential tool in removing plaque and fighting gum disease. But when you remove bacteria from your mouth, it needs somewhere to go, and often, it nestles into the bristles of your toothbrush. That’s why keeping your toothbrush clean is just as important as daily brushing.
Equipped with a clean toothbrush, you can go about your oral hygiene routine without the risk of letting harmful bacteria re-settle in your mouth. Here’s a thorough guide for how to disinfect your toothbrush.
Table of Contents
Why Disinfect Your Toothbrush?
Your mouth contains millions of bacteria. Many of them are good, but some can cause oral and periodontal infections. Food particles and plaque can harbor these bacteria and promote additional bacteria growth, which is why it’s important to brush your teeth twice per day.
Your toothbrush removes plaque and particles, but if they get stuck in the bristles, they can let bad bacteria (and other microorganisms) thrive—and when you brush again, you’ll reintroduce them to your mouth. Many of these microorganisms are harmless, but some can cause infections or illnesses. Is it guaranteed? No. But it’s a good idea to keep your toothbrush clean anyway.
Methods for Disinfecting Your Toothbrush
You’ve got a few options for cleaning your toothbrush, and they’re all effective. Here are a few we recommend.
Rinsing With Hot Water
This is all most people need. After you’re done brushing, simply run hot water over your brush’s bristles while rubbing them with your thumb. This softens the bristles, making it easier for them to release bacteria and food particles.
When you’re done, switch to cold water so the bristles can firm up again. Then, let the brush air dry in an upright position, since damp conditions allow bacteria and mold to thrive.
A brief soak in antibacterial mouthwash can more fully disinfect your brush. Just put it head down in a cup of mouthwash after brushing and let it sit for 2–5 minutes. Then, remove it and let it air dry.
Just don’t leave it in for longer than 15 minutes, and know that this practice might decrease your brush’s longevity, since the ingredients in some mouthwashes can break down bristles faster.
Hydrogen Peroxide Solution
You can briefly soak your toothbrush in a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution the same way you would with mouthwash. Just make sure you get the right peroxide concentration. Add one teaspoon of peroxide to one cup of water and mix thoroughly.
Let your brush soak for 2–5 minutes (and no more than 15), then rinse it well and let it air dry. Just be sure to make a new solution every day.
These devices use ultraviolet light to eliminate bacteria. Just insert your toothbrush and let it run for a few minutes, then remove and store your brush like you normally would. They’re pricier than some of the other methods here, but they’re convenient and some studies have shown them to be effective at killing most bacteria.
Denture cleaners have antimicrobial properties that help break down food particles and eliminate bacteria and plaque. Just dissolve half a tablet in a cup of water and let your brush soak for a few minutes.
Methods to Avoid
You might see people online saying you can run your toothbrush through the dishwasher or microwave. However, experts say you shouldn’t, since these methods can damage the bristles or the entire brush.
Boiling water is another common suggestion, but you have to be careful how you do it. Don’t simply drop your entire toothbrush into a pot of boiling water, since that can melt or warp the handle. Instead, boil the water in a kettle and pour it over the toothbrush bristles, or boil the water in a pot and dip the head of the brush in for around 30 seconds.
How to Store Your Toothbrush
How you store your toothbrush is just as important as how you clean it. You wouldn’t want to go through the trouble of disinfecting your toothbrush, just to have bacteria accumulate again because you keep it in the wrong place.
Keep it upright in a toothbrush holder, out in the open air so it can dry completely. Don’t put it in a drawer, cabinet, or closed container, since it will stay damp, allowing bacteria to survive. You also shouldn’t keep it right next to the toilet, if possible. When you flush the toilet, it sends microscopic particles into the air, which can settle on your brush.
Traveling makes proper toothbrush storage trickier, but not impossible. When you’re on the road, place your brush in a case that keeps from touching other items in your bag. However, you don’t want to keep it in a small, enclosed case all the time—since it won’t allow your brush to dry, which can allow bacteria to build up.
How Often to Replace Your Toothbrush
The American Dental Association recommends replacing your toothbrush every 3–4 months. However, yours might wear out faster than that, depending on your brushing habits. Fortunately, certain signs are dead giveaways that it’s time to replace your brush.
The most common is frayed bristles. Your toothbrush’s bristles work hard to sweep away plaque and food particles, and over weeks and months, that hard work takes its toll. Eventually, they’ll fray and bend outward, which makes them significantly less effective. If you notice your brush’s bristles flaring to the sides, it’s time for a replacement.
You should also either disinfect or replace your toothbrush if it smells bad, since that could indicate an accumulation of bacteria. Do the same if you’ve been sick, since germs from the illness can nestle in the bristles.
Lastly, never let anyone use your toothbrush, even your partner. Each of us has a different composition of bacteria in our mouths, and you risk introducing their bad bacteria to your oral ecosystem. If someone uses your toothbrush by accident, it’s best to buy a new one.
Manual vs. Electric Toothbrushes
Some studies show that electric toothbrushes are better at removing plaque and preventing gingivitis. However, they’re also more expensive. Fortunately, with proper use, maintenance, and storage, manual and electric brushes are both effective.
Maintenance and cleaning are similar for both—whether you’re at home or on the road. Many electric toothbrushes have detachable heads, and you can use the same sanitation methods for those heads as you can for a manual brush. Just don’t soak the base in anything, including water.
There’s no avoiding bacteria. It’s constantly in our mouths, and while certain kinds are beneficial, others aren’t. Keeping that bacteria off your toothbrush is crucial for maintaining good oral hygiene, and fortunately, it’s a pretty simple task.
With the knowledge in this guide, you can maintain a clean toothbrush and a consistently healthy smile.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do toothbrushes really need to be disinfected?
Yes! Your toothbrush can harbor the bacteria it removes from your mouth. This bacteria isn’t all bad, and it doesn’t always cause infections or illnesses, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
What’s the best way to keep a toothbrush clean?
Rinsing it thoroughly with hot water and rubbing the bristles with your thumb after each cleaning, then letting it air dry, is effective for most people. But if you want to take it even further, you can use antiseptic mouthwash, denture cleaner, UV sanitizers, or a hydrogen peroxide solution (just make sure you’re using the correct ratio). Follow the directions carefully with any cleaner, and only soak it in mouthwash or the peroxide solution for 15 minutes.
How often should I disinfect my toothbrush?
You should rinse it thoroughly with hot water after every time you brush. If you also want to use other methods, try once per week.
Can I disinfect my toothbrush with boiling water?
Boiling water can disinfect your toothbrush, but you shouldn’t place your entire brush in a pot of boiling water, since it might melt or warp the plastic handle. Instead, dip the brush’s head in the boiling water—or pour water from a kettle over the head—for around 30 seconds.
What if I have an electric toothbrush?
You can clean the head of an electric toothbrush the same way you clean a manual one. Just remove the head from the base before putting it in anything besides warm water. If your toothbrush head doesn’t detach, just rinse it with hot water and, if you’d like, give it a quick mouthwash soak.
Where should I keep my toothbrush?
Whenever you’re not using your toothbrush, store it in an upright toothbrush holder away from other brushes. Place your holder out in the open, where your brush can air dry, and away from the toilet if possible.
Is it okay to leave my toothbrush in the bathroom?
Technically, it’s safe. But if possible, you shouldn’t keep it really close to your toilet, since flushing can spray a plume of microscopic particles into the air, which can settle on your brush. There’s not a ton of evidence that this can cause illnesses, but it’s possible.
How do you carry a toothbrush for travel?
When you’re traveling, place your brush in a case that keeps from touching other items in your bag. However, you don’t want to keep it in a small, enclosed case too long—since it can allow bacteria to build up.
How often should I replace my toothbrush?
Manual toothbrushes and electric toothbrush heads typically last around 3–4 months. However, look for damaged or frayed bristles, a bad smell, or an unclean feeling on your teeth after brushing as signs that you need a new brush. You should also replace your toothbrush or electric toothbrush head after being sick, or if you let someone else use it.
Join The Discussion: