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How to Clean Each Type of Retainer


When it comes to dental health, it's not just about brushing and flossing your teeth. If you wear a retainer, proper cleaning and care are essential to keep it in good condition and maintain your oral health. Cleaning your retainer regularly can prevent the buildup of bacteria and plaque, which can lead to bad breath, tooth decay, and other dental problems. However, not all retainers are in the same way. In this blog post, we will discuss how to clean each type of retainer, so you can keep your smile healthy and bright.

Do I have to clean my retainer? Cleaning varies by type

Before we dive into the specifics of cleaning each type of retainer, it's important to understand why cleaning is necessary. Retainers are custom-made dental devices that help maintain the alignment of your teeth after orthodontic treatment. They can be made from different materials, such as metal, plastic, or a combination of both. The cleaning methods for each type of retainer may vary, depending on the material and design.

How to clean your retainer: Hawley and clear plastic retainers

Hawley retainers are the most common type of removable retainers. They consist of a metal wire that goes across the front of your teeth, along with a plastic or acrylic plate that rests against the roof of your mouth or the bottom of your mouth. Clear plastic retainers, also known as Essix retainers, are similar to Hawley retainers but are made entirely of clear plastic. Here's how you can clean these types of retainers:

1. Rinse with water: After removing your retainer, rinse it under lukewarm water to remove any loose debris or saliva.

2. Brush gently: Use a soft-bristle toothbrush and a non-abrasive toothpaste to brush your retainer. Be gentle to avoid scratching the surface. Pay attention to the wire and any areas where plaque or buildup may accumulate.

3. Soak in a retainer cleaner or mouthwash: You can use a retainer cleaner specifically designed for retainers or soak your retainer in a mixture of water and mouthwash for a few minutes. This helps kill bacteria and freshen your retainer.

4. Rinse again: After soaking, rinse your retainer thoroughly with water to remove any remaining cleaner or mouthwash residue.

5. Store properly: When you're not wearing your retainer, store it in a clean case to protect it from damage and bacteria.

6. Visit your dentist: Regular dental check-ups are important to ensure your retainer is fitting properly and to address any concerns or issues.

How to clean your retainer: Fixed, or bonded, retainers

Fixed retainers, also known as bonded or permanent retainers, are cemented to the back of your teeth and cannot be removed. These retainers require a slightly different cleaning approach:

1. Brush carefully: Use a soft-bristle toothbrush and an interdental brush or floss threader to clean around the wire and between your teeth. Be gentle to avoid damaging the wire or dislodging the retainer.

2. Use a fluoride mouthwash: Rinse your mouth with a fluoride mouthwash to help prevent tooth decay and keep your retainer clean.

3. Visit your dentist: Regular dental check-ups are important to ensure your retainer is securely in place and to address any concerns or issues.

6 tips for removable retainer care

If you have a removable retainer, whether it's a Hawley or clear plastic retainer, here are some additional tips to keep in mind for proper care:

1. Avoid heat: Keep your retainer away from hot water, hot car interiors, or other sources of heat, as it can cause the retainer to warp or distort.

2. Skip the chemicals: Avoid using harsh chemicals, such as bleach or alcohol, to clean your retainer, as they can damage the material.

3. Time your soak: If you choose to soak your retainer in a cleaning solution, follow the instructions provided and do not exceed the recommended soaking time.

4. Clean your case: Regularly clean your retainer case with soap and water to prevent the growth of bacteria.

5. Keep watch: Inspect your retainer regularly for any signs of wear or damage. If you notice any cracks, chips, or loose wires, contact your dentist for advice.

6. Replace as needed: Over time, retainers may wear out or become less effective. If your retainer no longer fits properly or shows signs of wear, consult your dentist for a replacement.

What happens if you don't clean your retainer?

If you neglect to clean your retainer regularly, it can lead to a buildup of bacteria, plaque, and tartar. This can result in bad breath, tooth decay, gum disease, and other oral health problems. Additionally, a dirty retainer may not fit properly, compromising its effectiveness in maintaining the alignment of your teeth. To avoid these issues, it's crucial to establish a routine for cleaning and caring for your retainer.


Proper cleaning and care are essential for maintaining the health of your retainer and your overall oral health. By following the appropriate cleaning methods for each type of retainer, you can ensure that your retainer remains clean, comfortable, and effective. Remember to consult your dentist for specific instructions and recommendations based on your individual needs. With regular cleaning and care, your retainer will continue to support your beautiful smile for years to come.