How to clean retainers: for removable and permanent retainers

Help! My retainer is dirty and I’m not sure how to clean it!

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Written by NoFrills Dental

This dental article has been curated by the clinical team @ NoFrills Dental 🙂

October 10, 2021

close up of clear retainers

Do I have to clean my retainer?

Yes most definitely! Retainers sit inside of your mouth and come into direct contact with your teeth. Bacteria, plaque and tartar can quickly accumulate inside of your retainers if they’re not cleaned properly and regularly. Just like your regular teeth, it’s important to clean your retainers everyday.

Some patients find themselves having to wear their retainers full time for a period of up to 12 months even after completing their orthodontic treatment as newly shifted teeth have yet to fully integrate with surrounding tissue and can relapse over time if not held in place by retainers.

Retainers allow teeth to properly fuse to the surrounding tissue, locking them in their new placements. Moreover, some patients may need to have their retainers worn every night indefinitely to prevent their teeth from relapsing back to their old positions.

In this article we’ll dive deep into the different types of retainers available in Singapore, how to clean them and additional tips to keep them well-maintained in order to prolong their lifespan.

hawley retainers

Hawley Retainers

Hawley retainers are a type of removable retainer that’s 100% custom and molded out of acrylic that’s shaped to fit the roof of your mouth and along the inner surface of teeth on the lower jaw. this type of retainer is also lined with a thin metal wire to hold the retainer in place. Hawley retainers have a typical lifespan of about 5 – 10 years.

clear plastic retainers

Clear Plastic Retainers

These type of removable retainers that are made from a FDA approval clear plastic that has been heated and vacuumed fitted through the use of a dental thermoformer in order to perfectly fit the shape and position of your teeth. They’re commonly known as clear retainers or ‘invisible’ retainers. Clear plastic retainers are easy to remove but they’re not as durable as Hawley retainers. Clear plastic retainers have a lifespan of about 1 year.

fixed-permanent retainers

Permanent, Fixed or Bonded Retainers

Permanent retainers are attached to the back of your lower teeth. They’re generally only used if there’s a significant risk of a relapse. This type of retainer is not removable without the help of a dentist. Permanent retainers are usually placed for months or even years, with some permanent retainers lasting up to 20 years.

How to clean your retainer

do's on how to clean your retainer infographics

Hawley & Clear Retainers

Both Hawley and clear plastic retainers can be removed from your mouth for daily cleaning. The process of cleaning removable retainers can be broken down into 4 basic methods.

Method 1: Rinse and brush your retainers under lukewarm water after every meal.

Method 2: Use a cotton swab or tissue to clean the hard to reach grooves and ridges.

Method 3: Soak your retainers in denture or retainer cleaning tablets like Polident or Efferdent. Mix 1 cleaning tablet with a cup of lukewarm water with one tablet of cleaner and follow the package for the timing instructions.

Method 4: Bring your retainers to a dentist. Sometimes hard calculus may form on the retainers that you cannot remove at home, a dentist would have professional equipment to help you clean your retainers.

Before using cleaning tablets, you should consult your dentist for his/her advice as not all retainers are suitable for denture or retainer cleaning tablets.

Important notes:

  • Wash your retainers immediately after removing from your mouth while it’s still moist in order to prevent any debris from hardening and sticking onto the retainers.
  • Rinsing and brushing your retainers with water on a daily basis is sufficient. However, it’s highly recommended that patients clean their retainers with water and soap at least once a week and use cleaner tablets as advised by their dentist.
  • If there are debris or stains that can’t seem to be removed, then you might need to bring your retainers to the dentist or orthodontist for a special clean.
fixed retainers | Singapore fixed retainers

Permanent, Fixed & Bonded Retainers

To keep permanent retainers clean, it is important to focus on the surface that the retainers are attached to (i.e. the back of the teeth), as well as the gaps between the retainers and the teeth. These are areas that tend to trap plaque and harbour bacteria which may cause decay and gum problems.

Some aids may be useful in cleaning permanent retainers:

A good toothbrush

A proper, soft-bristled toothbrush will help remove most of the plaque and debris. Brush the back of your teeth with small circular motions around the gumline and spending enough time would ensure the most effective cleaning.

Interdental brushes

Interdental brushes are very helpful in cleaning the gaps between the retainers and teeth, as well as in between the teeth.


Due to the presence of the retainer, regular floss might be difficult to thread through. Unlike normal floss, superfloss has a stiff end which will help to thread the floss through the gap in between the teeth. Use the superfloss to scrape the in-between surfaces of the teeth to get rid of plaque.

Interdental tooth brushing

Alternative to flossing: Interdental brush

Patients who find it difficult to floss their teeth can opt to use an interdental brush to clean between their teeth instead. Insert the interdental brush through your front teeth, underneath the retainer wire and slide it in and out.

It’s important to use the right brush size to ensure proper cleaning and avoid hurting your gums.

Dental check up with Dr Li Kexin

Regular visits to dentist

Patients are highly recommended to visit their dentist for a professional clean once every 6 – 8 months on top of their regular home cleaning routine to prevent plaque and tartar buildup.

If you’re due for your regular check-up and clean. Get in touch with us and we’ll have you schedule in with one of our friendly dental professionals!

When do I need to clean my retainer?

close up of woman holding invisalign

Removable Retainers

Patients with removable retainers should clean their retainers at least once a day. Ideally, patients should rinse and brush their retainers with water once after every meal.

Once a week, removable retainers should be washed with water and dish soap for a more thorough and deep clean.

Here are some signs that a person needs to clean their retainer:

  • the retainer starts to smell bad or taste bad
  • a shiny film starts to develop on the retainer
  • the retainer looks faded and crusty
  • white spots have started to develop on the retainer.

White spots could be mineral buildup (tartar) that causes cavities in teeth, or a combination of the two. Another sign that a retainer needs cleaning is it keeps breaking or cracking. Just as bacteria can damage the teeth, they can also damage a retainer.

If someone suddenly begins getting cavities, tooth sensitivity, or other oral health problems, there may be a problem with their retainer. If this occurs, they should review proper retainer care with their dentist or orthodontist, and ask them to check the retainer fits properly.

lingual permanent retainers

Permanent Retainers

Patients with permanent retainers should clean their retainers at least twice a day. As mentioned earlier, having a disciplined flossing and brushing regime is crucial to maintaining the cleanliness of permanent retainers.

Maintenance of permanent retainers is crucial as plaque buildup can be a issue as it may lead to a buildup of bacteria and an increased risk of other oral health issues.


How NOT to clean your retainer

Retainers are made of a flexible and porous materials that can absorb whatever is used to soak them in or clean them with. As a result, any cleaning product becomes part of the retainer, and it inevitably ends up in your mouth.

Here are some things that you should NOT do when cleaning your retainers.

infographics on how not to clean your retainers

Don't expose your retainers to heat

Dont expose retainers to heat

Exposure to excessive heat will warp and ruin retainers.

Keep your retainer away from:

  • boiling water
  • microwaves
  • dishwashers

Always wash retainers in lukewarm water, never in hot water.

Don't use mouthwash to clean your retainers

Mouthwash typically contains ingredients that can cause retainers to dry out such as alcohol and sodium lauryl sulphate. Dryness can cause the retainer to become more susceptible to damage such as cracks and breaks.

Don't use toothpaste to clean your retainers

Dont use toothpaste to clean your retainersWhile toothpaste is great for keeping your teeth clean, but it’s not suitable to be used to clean retainers. Toothpaste contains abrasive compounds that can scratch and damage the material used to make retainers. These small scratches inevitably become a breeding ground for bacteria.

Don't use hydrogen peroxide to clean your retainers

Dont use hydrogen peroxide to clean your retainersHydrogen peroxide should never be used to clean your retainers. It kills all types of essential mouth bacteria which are needed for the proper functioning of the oral microbiome.

Don't use rubbing alcohol to clean your retainers

Dont use rubbing alcohol to clean your retainersAnything that contains alcohol is not good for your retainers. Just like mouth wash, alcohol is less effective in cleaning the retainers, and it also dries out your retainers, making them more prone to cracks and breaks.

Don’t eat or drink with your retainers on

Dont eat or drink with your retainers onYou should avoid eating or drinking with your retainers on, especially when consuming food such as curry, coffee, tea or red wine as they can stain your retainers.

When to change your retainer

As important as maintaining your retainer is, its also just as important to know when to replace your retainers.

Here’s a couple of things to take note of to determine if it’s time to replace your retainers with a new set.

buildup grit in invisalign
cracked invisalign

Your retainers no longer fits well

Your retainers may no longer fit when:

  • They have been exposed to high heat, causing the plastic to warp and deform
  • Lack of wearing the retainers has resulted in teeth shifting out of their ideal position

If your retainer no longer fits your teeth well, then it’s highly recommended that you see your dentist to make a new set.

There’s a severe buildup of calcium, plaque and tartar on your retainers

If you notice a buildup of calcium and/or tartar on your retainer and are unable to remove it, you can visit your dentist for a replacement.

Your retainers has cracks

Cracks may form on your retainer after many years of wear and tear. Patients should get a replacement as soon as possible as cracks may lead to the retainers not having the ability to properly hold teeth in place anymore. Moreover, cracks can become a festering ground for bacteria.


invisalign soaked in baking soda & vinegar

How to clean retainers with baking soda or vinegar?

White vinegar can remove fungus and bacteria. While baking soda can be used to remove bad odours and kill harmful bacteria.

Here’s how to clean your retainers with white vinegar and baking soda:

  1. Mix white vinegar and warm water in a 1:1 ratio in a container.
  2. Mix 2 tablespoons of baking soda into the solution.
  3. Soak your retainers in the solution for 15 minutes.
  4. Remove the retainers are 15 minutes and rinse the retainers thoroughly with lukewarm water to remove all of the solution.

What's the difference between aligners and retainers?

Retainers are used to hold teeth in place after completing orthodontic treatment such as braces. Whereas, aligners are orthodontic devices used to move teeth to an optimal, desired position.

What happens if retainers aren't cleaned?

Retainers that aren’t regularly maintained and cleaned will keep collecting bacteria, plaque and tartar while being worn. Over time, the retainer will start to smell and taste funny if it’s not cleaned often enough.

Moreover, dirty retainers can harbour a myriad of dangerous bacteria that can cause illness when too much bacteria accumulate on your retainer.


Cleaning your retainer is just as important as brushing your teeth. You need to clean your retainer in warm water at least once a day and with dish soap at least once a week to keep it well maintained and clean. It’s a good idea to brush it out after each meal as well. Remember to replace your retainer once you’ve noticed cracks and breaks.

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