How to Clean Aligners: Tips, Myths, and Prevention
Written by Dr. Febin Mary George, BDS | Medically Reviewed by Dr. Zein El Hammouz, DDS, MFD/RCSI.
Table of Contents
Your aligners need to be cleaned and taken care of just like any other dental appliance. When your aligners are in your mouth, they are exposed to saliva, food debris, and oral bacteria. Cleaning aligners routinely and thoroughly ensure that there is no plaque buildup and that your aligners remain clear and free of any unpleasant smell.
1. How to Clean Aligners at Home: Do’s and Dont’s
You should keep your clear aligners clean so that they remain virtually invisible. Stains or discolorations can make your clear aligners look dirty and indicate a lack of oral hygiene and cleanliness. To make your life easy, simply go through this list of do’s and don'ts so that you can devise your own best way to clean invisible aligners.
1.1 What You Should Do
1.1.1. Cleaning tablets
Cleaning tablets can be referred to as one of the best ways of cleaning aligners. These effervescent tablets are primarily composed of sodium bicarbonate, (commonly known as baking soda) and sodium sulfate. (1) Simply drop one tablet in a bowl of water and let your aligners soak in this solution for about 10 to 15 minutes. After that, you can take them out and rinse them in water before you put them on again. Before using the product, it is recommended to read the directions on the label.
While sodium bicarbonate, which is commonly known as baking soda, is one of the primary ingredients of cleaning tablets, it is not recommended to use it as a standalone compound to clean aligners. Being a mild abrasive, baking soda can damage your aligners when used as a DIY product for cleaning aligners.
1.1.2. Soft toothbrush
Using a soft toothbrush is a traditional yet effective way of cleaning your aligners. (2) Just brush your aligners gently under running water. Do not use toothpaste along with the toothbrush as the tiny abrasive particles within the toothpaste may damage the clear aligners.
1.2. What You Shouldn’t Do
Though mouthwash is an excellent oral cleaning aid, it may not be a great option for aligners. Colored mouthwash tends to stain your aligners so it is not recommended to use it for cleaning aligners.
1.2.2. Hot Water
Washing clear aligners with hot water can damage the plastic and cause warping resulting in a change in the shape.(3)
Using vinegar as a cleaning agent for clear aligners may not be the right decision due to its acidic nature. The quality of the aligners could be affected by the action of vinegar.
1.2.4. Baking soda
Baking soda is mildly abrasive in nature and therefore, is not a recommended DIY option for cleaning aligners.
1.2.5. Hydrogen peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide is a strong antibacterial agent and hence, not recommended to be used on clear aligners.
1.2.6. Colored or Scented Soaps
Colored soaps can leave stains on the clear aligners whereas scented soaps can leave a bitter taste in your mouth.
1.2.7 Aligners without protection
It is not a good idea to leave your aligners exposed or unprotected. There is a danger of losing your aligners. Moreover, aligners should be kept within their container when not in your mouth to avoid the growth of harmful germs on them.
2. How to Clean Aligners On the Go: Best Hacks
If you are someone for whom traveling is a part and parcel of your work life, you may need a couple of things to make sure that both your aligners and your teeth are clean on the go.
2.1 Travel Toothbrush and Toothpaste
A toothbrush and toothpaste (preferably a small-sized one) should be the first on your list. Brush your teeth after every meal and before placing your aligners back in your mouth. Do not forget to pack a separate soft toothbrush for your aligners.
While your toothbrush cleans the surfaces of your teeth, flossing helps in eliminating food remnants in the areas between your teeth.
2.3 Small Mirror
So you can appreciate your beautiful smile even when you have your clear aligners on! Those who find flossing difficult can make use of a mirror to see where exactly the floss needs to be passed through.
2.4 Bottle of water (if you can’t brush your teeth)
A bottle of water comes in handy when you have no water available for brushing your teeth. Just swish some water in your mouth to flush out any remaining food particles. You can use plain water for a quick rinse of your clear aligners.
2.5 Next Set of Aligners (if you’re traveling)
Never forget to pack the next set of aligners as you can switch to the next step during your travel period should the need arise.
Never place your aligners in a cup or glass as there are high chances of you losing them owing to their virtually invisible appearance. It is always wise to carry an extra case to keep your clear aligners.
3. Oral Hygiene: Best practices for your aligners and teeth
Just like your teeth, you should clean your clear aligners twice daily, soon after brushing your teeth.
3.2. Eating and Drinking
You may think your aligners need no cleaning because you take them off before eating food. But, that's not true! They should be cleaned to avoid the oral bacteria building up on the aligner surfaces. Always make sure to brush your teeth and clean your tongue after you eat or drink to avoid any stains on the aligners!
3.3. Use the Protective Case
You should keep your clear aligners in a clean protective case when you take them out from your teeth. Sticking to this habit allows your clear aligners to be clean and clear always. Also, you need not search for your aligners after every meal as you know for sure where you have kept them. You should wash your protective case once in about two weeks so that you can store your aligners in a hygienic way.
How often should I clean my aligners?
You should clean your clear aligners at least once daily but preferably two times a day just after you have brushed your teeth.
Can you clean aligners with soap and water?
A mild antibacterial soap, that is clear and not scented, can be used along with water to clean invisible aligners.
Why do my aligners smell?
Your aligners remain in your mouth for around 22 hours a day. That is a sufficiently long time for the bacteria inside the mouth to feed on food that remains inside the mouth and produce a plaque layer. All these things contribute to the unpleasant smell of your aligners. Hence, clean your aligners regularly to keep them fresh.
Can you soak aligners in mouthwash?
Soaking your aligners in mouthwash is not recommended as artificial colors added in the mouthwash can leave a permanent stain on your aligners.
What toothpaste should I use with aligners?
It is best to avoid the use of toothpaste on clear aligners as the abrasive particles inside the toothpaste can leave fine scratches on the aligners. These scratches will serve as excellent breeding ground for bacteria to thrive and flourish.
Can I leave my aligners in water?
No. You should not leave your aligners in water as it can affect the physical properties of the aligners.
Can you use a denture cleaner on retainers?
Yes. You can use a denture cleaner to clean your retainers. Just immerse your aligners in the denture cleaner for about 15 to 20 minutes and then rinse them with plain water before placing them on your teeth.
Can I rinse with mouthwash while wearing aligners?
Rinsing your mouth while wearing your clear aligners will not be fruitful at all as your teeth are obscured by the aligners. Moreover, colored mouthwash can stain your clear aligners permanently.
How often should I clean my trays?
Ideally, you should clean your trays twice daily just like how you clean your teeth. If that seems difficult, try to clean your aligners once a day.
Can I use toothpaste to clean my aligners?
No. Toothpaste contains abrasive particles that can scratch your clear aligners and give them a non-transparent appearance.
As long as your aligners work hard on your teeth to bring them in the perfect alignment, you need to take care of them and maintain them in a clean and fresh state.
Cleaning your clear aligners with the help of effervescent cleaning tablets and a soft toothbrush is the most recommended approach to maintaining your clear aligners.
Though there are plenty of other home remedies available on the internet, do not try them out impulsively as they may contain harsh chemicals that may cause permanent damage to your aligners. If you want to know more about how to clean your aligners and which product to use, then don't hesitate to reach out to your nearest Eon Aligner provider. We are happy to help you!
1.Levrini, L., Novara, F., Margherini, S., Tenconi, C. and Raspanti, M. (2015). Scanning electron microscopy analysis of the growth of dental plaque on the surfaces of removable orthodontic aligners after the use of different cleaning methods. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dentistry, [online] 7, pp.125–131. doi:10.2147/CCIDE.S95814.
2.Levrini, L., Mangano, A., Margherini, S., Tenconi, C., Vigetti, D., Muollo, R. and Marco Abbate, G. (2016). ATP Bioluminometers Analysis on the Surfaces of Removable Orthodontic Aligners after the Use of Different Cleaning Methods. International Journal of Dentistry, 2016, pp.1–6. doi:10.1155/2016/5926941.