10 Tips on How To Disinfect a Toothbrush
The mouth is a haven for millions of germs. Good oral hygiene starts with clean, bacteria-free tools. Here's how to disinfect toothbrushes.
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What’s the Difference Between Clean, Sanitize, Disinfect and Sterilize?
These terms aren’t all interchangeable, especially when it comes to your toothbrush. Here are the distinctions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
This refers to removing most germs, dirt and impurities on a surface. Generally, it’s performed with water, soap or other detergents — and scrubbing.
If you sanitize a toothbrush, you’re reducing the number of germs to levels that are considered safe, per public health codes or regulations.
When disinfecting a toothbrush, you’re killing most of the germs on the surface with stronger-than-soap solutions or chemicals.
Sterilization of a toothbrush means you destroy or eliminate all forms of microbial life. Unless you’re in a healthcare or dental practice setting, “sterilize” is often used synonymously with “disinfect.”
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Rinse In Hot Water
The simplest way to disinfect your toothbrush is to rinse it with hot water before and after you use it. Hot running water removes contaminating material (bacteria, germs, blood, saliva and food particles) while softening bristles and releasing caked-on toothpaste.
Here’s the best way to do it:
- Turn on the tap and wait for the water to feel hot to the touch.
- Hold the head of the toothbrush under the faucet for five to 20 seconds while rubbing your thumb across the head. This opens spaces between bristles.
- After rinsing, shake off the excess water.
- Place the toothbrush upright (head up) and let it air dry.
Leslie Reichert, author of The Joy of Cleaning and a professional cleaning coach, stores her toothbrush carefully.
“I use a toothbrush holder that attaches to the mirror and has holes in the bottom so no moisture collects,” Reichert says. “Then I let the brush air dry.” Air drying is important because studies show toothbrushes kept in closed containers can promote microbial growth.
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Soak In Hydrogen Peroxide
Did you know soaking your toothbrush in hydrogen peroxide (3% solution) can kill bacteria and other pathogens hiding between bristles? Peroxide’s strong oxidizing powers make it one of the most common, cost-effect and eco-friendly disinfectants around.
“No need to mix with water,” says Reichert. “Why bother diluting it when you’re trying to kill germs?”
- In a small cup, pour enough hydrogen peroxide to cover the head and lower part of the handle.
- Submerge the head of the toothbrush in the solution and swish it around for about 30 seconds, OR once a week, soak the head of the toothbrush in the solution for up to 30 minutes.
- Remove the toothbrush and rinse the bristles thoroughly with clean tap water. Let dry.
- Pour the used solution down the drain.
Caution: Only clean one toothbrush per cup of solution to avoid cross-contamination.
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Dip In White Vinegar
Soaking a toothbrush in white vinegar once a week is another way to disinfect it. “White distilled vinegar is a natural acid,” says Reichert. “I wouldn’t leave the toothbrush in there all night, but it won’t hurt to keep it in the vinegar for 30 minutes.”
Follow the same steps as above, substituting vinegar for hydrogen peroxide.
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Swish In Antibacterial Mouthwash
You can also disinfect a toothbrush by dunking it in antibacterial mouthwash for 30 seconds. It’s believed treating your toothbrush with mouthwash can reduce the bacterial load by as much as 85%.
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Mix Baking Soda and Water
If you don’t have mouthwash around the house, mix a blend of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and water instead.
Baking soda has been a popular cleaning agent for centuries thanks to its mild alkaline makeup. Natural, inexpensive and versatile, it dissolves dirt and grease and removes germs. Just combine two teaspoons of baking soda with one cup of water and soak the toothbrush for a few minutes.
Alternative home remedy recipes:
Baking soda + vinegar
A great way to lift off residue. “The mixture will bubble and make you feel like it’s really doing something,” says Reichert.
Baking soda + lemon juice (citric acid)
Another excellent “solution.”
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Try Denture Cleaner
Because denture cleaners contain enzymes and detergents, they’re outstanding for disinfecting toothbrushes. The effervescent solution breaks down food, proteins and bacteria left behind. Here’s what to do:
- Dissolve a denture-cleaning tablet in a cup of water per manufacturer instructions;
- Soak the toothbrush in the solution for about 90 seconds;
- Remove the toothbrush, rinse well with clean water and let it air dry.
Invest In a UV Toothbrush Sanitizer
A toothbrush sanitizer uses ultraviolet light technology to disinfect your toothbrush.
When you’re done brushing your teeth, place the toothbrush inside the case to activate it. The light goes to work, cleaning the toothbrush in about three minutes. These devices are especially handy when traveling. Some plug directly into an outlet, while others run on rechargeable batteries.
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Run It Through the Dishwasher
For a fast and easy way to disinfect toothbrushes, Reichert suggests placing them in the silverware section of a dishwasher and running the sanitizer setting. While you’re at it, Reichert, says, pop the toothbrush holder in the dishwasher to keep it fresh and clean. Regular cleaning of the holder is essential for removing saliva droplets and other contagions.
Admittedly, there may be some dishwashers with a sanitizing cycle that uses really hot air, which could damage plastic. Most toothbrushes should be OK, but it’s wise to always have extra toothbrushes on hand.
Pro tip: If you don’t own a dishwasher, try holding your toothbrush in a pot of boiling water for about three minutes, once a week.
Toothbrush Cleaning Dos and Don’ts
- Don’t share toothbrushes, especially with anyone immune compromised. Because brushing can sometimes cause gums to bleed, you could expose others to diseases spread through contact with blood. At the least, you could pass diseases like cold and flu.
- Don’t reuse (double-dip) in cleaning solutions. Toss them out when you’ve finished sanitizing to avoid spreading germs. Mix a fresh batch of solution for each toothbrush you clean.
- Don’t forget to sanitize the handle. Microorganisms can grow there too.
- If you store more than one toothbrush in a holder, don’t let the heads touch each other.
- Do wash your hands before brushing your teeth. This lowers the risk of spreading viruses onto the toothbrush after touching your mouth and lips.
- Do replace your toothbrush frequently. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends swapping it out every three to four months.
- Do invest in a toothbrush sanitizer approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)