5 tips to clean your toothbrush and keep it germ-free
- To clean your
toothbrush, you should rinse it thoroughly with water before and after using it.
- You can also disinfect your toothbrush with antiseptic mouthwash, hydrogen peroxide, and UV light sanitizers.
- It's important to store your toothbrush properly and practice good hygiene to prevent germs — and replace your toothbrush after three or four months of use.
- This article was medically reviewed by John T. Grbic, DMD, professor of dental medicine at Columbia University College of Dental Medicine.
But bacteria from your toilet can also end up on your bristles. When you flush a toilet, the swirling water that removes waste from the bowl also mixes with small particles of that waste, shooting aerosolized feces — called fecal coliform bacteria — into the air.This phenomenon is known as a toilet plume, which can reach as high as 15 feet, says Philip Tierno, a microbiologist at New York University. And studies have shown that it can end up on your toothbrush. Advertisement
While it's not believed that the germs on your toothbrush can directly cause
After all, what's the point of brushing your teeth if your toothbrush isn't clean? Here's how to prevent the spread of germs to and from your toothbrush and the best ways to clean it.
1. Wash your hands before and after brushing your teethFirst, it's important to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds whenever you'll be touching your toothbrush.
Your hands are the main vehicles of transmission for bacteria and viruses, so washing your hands before and after brushing will help stop the spread of germs to and from your bristles."You can't overemphasize the importance of washing your hands, whether it is flu season or allergy season," says William Martin, President of the Maryland State Dental Association. "People are vulnerable to the germs that end up on their hands and under their fingernail beds."
2. Rinse and store your toothbrush properlyYou should thoroughly rinse your toothbrush with tap water after every use to remove any remaining food particles, toothpaste, and plaque debris, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). Advertisement
After rinsing, store it in an upright position and allow it to air-dry. The bacteria that live on your toothbrush are mostly anaerobic, meaning they die in the presence of oxygen, so air-drying will kill most of the bacteria.
In addition, germs flourish in moisture and closed containers or cabinets, so it's important to leave it in the open air. But try not to store it close to your toilet — and close your toilet seat before flushing — in order to protect against germs from toilet plumes.Lastly, avoid storing multiple brushes, such as those of family members, in the same holder or in a drawer together. It's best if they do not contact each other, as germs can also spread that way. Advertisement
3. Disinfect your toothbrush
If you want to take extra precaution — or, say you drop your toothbrush on the floor, and it's visibly dirty — you may want to disinfect your toothbrush to better kill germs.
Hydrogen peroxide is an effective disinfectant that can destroy essential components of germ cells and deactivate a wide range of microorganisms. Antiseptic mouthwash contains various active ingredients, such as alcohol, menthol, and eucalyptol, which can all kill bacteria.According to this 2011 study, soaking your toothbrush in either a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution or antiseptic mouthwash killed 100% of germs. Advertisement
Here's how to disinfect your toothbrush in just four steps by using antiseptic mouthwash or hydrogen peroxide:
- Rinse the bristles thoroughly in water after brushing.
- Place some antiseptic mouthwash or 3% hydrogen peroxide into a small cup, enough to cover the toothbrush.
- Soak for about 15 minutes — any longer risks damaging the bristles.
- Rinse thoroughly with water before using again.
There are also other, more natural ingredients you can use from your kitchen cupboard to disinfect a toothbrush — such as vinegar.In this 2014 study, using 100% white vinegar for toothbrush disinfection was the most effective alternative method, when compared to UV sanitizing and microwaving. Advertisement
The Children's Oral Health Institute recommends soaking it in a solution of two teaspoons of baking soda with one cup of water. The baking soda — otherwise known as sodium bicarbonate — has antibacterial cleaning power and can also be used as a teeth-whitening ingredient in toothpaste.
UV light sanitizersA UV light sanitizer kills germs by destroying the molecular bonds that hold together the DNA of viruses and bacteria. Although UV light was found to be less effective than hydrogen peroxide and mouthwash, several studies show it can still kill some bacteria on your toothbrush. Advertisement
For example, this 2008 study published in the American Journal of Dentistry found that UV light got rid of 86% more germs compared with
According to the ADA, you should look for a device that has been cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The ADA also warns against microwaving or putting toothbrushes in the dishwasher because the heat can damage the brush.
4. Keep your toothbrush safe while travelingTo keep your toothbrush germ-free while traveling, you should unpack it, remove its case, and store it properly everywhere you go. Advertisement
Air-drying your toothbrush for as long as possible — and ideally until it is completely dry — before putting it back in its travel case is one of the most important steps you can take to protect yourself from germs.
You can also clean your travel case by rinsing it in hot water to loosen any dirt, and washing it with soap or soaking in antibacterial mouthwash for 10 to 15 minutes, just as you would with your toothbrush.
5. Know when to throw your toothbrush awayToothbrushes should be replaced approximately every three to four months, or sooner if the bristles become matted or frayed, according to the ADA. Advertisement
That's because the plaque-removing efficacy of the brush decreases as the bristles become worn, as this 2013 study shows.
You should also replace your toothbrush after you've been sick with common illnesses like the cold or flu, as this can help prevent reinfection or transmission to family members.
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