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How to Clean Retainers: For Removable and Permanent Retainers

28 July 2021

Categories: Braces, Invisalign
Clear retainers in a turquoise case

Your retainers spend long hours inside your mouth. Thus, they can quickly become a host for bacteria as tartar and plaque accumulate in the little nooks and crannies.

These bacteria can subsequently result in bad breath and in more serious cases, tooth decay and fungal infections. Hence, it’s crucial that you clean your retainers frequently to maintain good dental hygiene.

In our article, we show you how to clean retainers using different methods and include step-by-step instructions!

Cleaning or rinsing your retainers should be done daily while extensive or deep cleaning should be carried out once a week.

Additionally, if you notice any of the following signs on or from your retainers, you should clean them immediately:

  • A bad smell or taste 
  • A layer of film 
  • A cloudy look 
  • White spots 
  • Breaks or cracks

If you suddenly encounter issues with your oral health such as tooth sensitivity or cavities, you should seek advice from your dentist and check the fit of your retainer.

There are different types of retainers available in Singapore. They can be categorised into removable and permanent retainers.

Removable retainers

Clear* and Hawley retainers are 2 types of removable retainers. These orthodontic devices can be removed from your mouth during cleaning.

To prevent any debris from hardening, you should clean the retainers while they’re still moist.

These are 4 simple methods that you can use to clean your removable retainers:

*Vivera retainers are a type of clear retainers from Invisalign.

Method 1: Rinse with water only

After each meal, brush your teeth and rinse your retainer with lukewarm water.

Method 2: Brush with water and mild soap

For more thorough cleaning, mix some mild dishwashing soap and lukewarm water in a dish.

Grab a soft-bristled toothbrush and gently brush your retainer to remove any plaque or bits of food.

Make sure to use a separate toothbrush from the one you use for brushing your teeth!

Method 3: Clean with a cotton swab

To get into the nooks and crannies of your retainer, use a cotton swab to clean the retainer.

Method 4: Use a cleaner tablet

Cleaner tablets* like Polident and Brite can be used to clean your retainers.

Simply mix 1 tablet with 1 cup of lukewarm water for the cleaning solution. Refer to the tablet’s packaging for timing instructions.

*Before using this method, you may wish to consult your dentist for his/her advice as it may not be suitable for all types of retainers.

Rinsing and brushing your retainers with water is sufficient for daily cleaning. However, for deep cleaning (done once a week), using water and mild soap or cleaner tablets (depending on your dentist’s advice) is recommended.

If there are debris or stains that can’t be removed with the above methods, you may wish to bring the retainer to your dentist for special cleaning.

Permanent retainers

Unlike removable retainers, its permanent counterpart cannot be removed for cleaning. Therefore, brushing and flossing your teeth play a crucial role in maintaining the cleanliness of your permanent retainers.

For brushing, it’s important to brush the back of your teeth to clean your retainers. Additionally, you should brush each tooth in a small, circular motion.

For flossing, you can follow these steps:

Step 1: Thread the floss between your teeth

Using a floss threader, thread a 15cm piece of dental floss between 2 of your teeth, under the retainer wire.


Step 2: Floss your teeth up to the gum line

Next, floss between your teeth up to the gum line. If possible, you should also gently floss below the gum line.

Step 3: Floss the side of your teeth

With the dental floss, form a U/C-shape and clean the sides of each tooth.


Step 4: Repeat for each tooth

Repeat steps 1 to 3 to clean each tooth that’s bound by the permanent retainer.

Alternative: Interdental brush

If you find flossing a hassle, you can also use an interdental brush to clean between your teeth.

Simply insert the brush in the gap between your teeth and under the retainer wire and slide the brush in and out.

It’s crucial to use the right brush size to ensure proper cleaning and avoid hurting your gums. You may consult your dentist for advice on the brush size that’s suitable for you.

You’re also recommended to visit your dentist for a professional cleaning on top of your regular routine at home to prevent a buildup of plaque and tartar.


Infographic - comparison of types of retainers


  • 1. Always keep your retainers moist

    You should always ensure that your retainers are soaked in liquid if you’re not wearing them. This will prevent biofilm and tartar from forming on the device.

  • 2. Clean your retainer case

    On top of cleaning your retainers, you should develop a habit of cleaning your retainer case.

    To clean the case:

    1. Scrub all surfaces of the casing using warm water and dishwashing soap 
    2. Rinse it with water
    3. Dry the case


  • 1. Don’t expose your retainers to heat

    Heat can cause the retainer plastic to warp. Thus, you should avoid using the following to clean your retainers:

    • Boiling water
    • Microwaves
    • Dishwashers
    • Dryers
  • 2. Don’t clean with mouthwash

    Mouthwash may contain certain ingredients such as sodium lauryl sulfate and alcohol that can cause your retainer to dry out.

    As a result, the retainer may become more susceptible to damage such as cracks and breaks.

  • 3. Don’t clean with toothpaste

    Toothpaste can cause scratches and/or tiny holes in your retainer due to its abrasive nature.

    The small holes can subsequently become a breeding ground for bacteria.

  • 4. Don’t clean with hydrogen peroxide

    Even though hydrogen peroxide is able to get rid of bad bacteria, it shouldn’t be used to clean your retainers as it can also kill other types of bacteria that are essential for your oral microbiome.

  • 5. Don’t eat or drink with your retainers on

    You 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.

It no longer fits

Your retainers may no longer fit when:

  • They’re exposed to high temperatures, causing the plastic to warp
  • You haven’t worn them in a long time and your teeth have shifted

If you think that your retainer no longer fits your teeth, you should arrange for a consultation with your dentist.

There’s a buildup of calcium

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

It has cracks

Over time, cracks may form on your retainer. In such cases, you should get a replacement as soon as possible as the device may not have the ability to hold your teeth in place anymore.



Aligners (such as Invisalign) are orthodontic devices used to move your teeth to their desired position. They’re used during orthodontic treatment.

On the other hand, retainers are used after treatment is completed to keep your teeth in their places after they’ve shifted to their ideal position.

You can soak your retainers in the following solutions:

  • Distilled water
  • Distilled water with baking soda
  • Distilled water with vegetable-based soap
  • White vinegar (for up to 15 minutes)

White vinegar can remove fungus and bacteria from your retainer.

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 stainless steel container.
  2. Mix 2 tablespoons of baking soda into the solution.
  3. Leave the retainers to soak in the container for 15 minutes.
  4. Rinse the retainers thoroughly with lukewarm water.

Baking soda is good for removing odours and killing harmful bacteria. These are the steps for cleaning retainers with baking soda:

  1. Mix 2 tablespoons of baking soda with ¾ cup of lukewarm water.
  2. Soak the retainers in this mixture when not in use.
  3. Before wearing the retainer, rinse it thoroughly with lukewarm water.

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