How to Clean Your Toothbrush: Tips for Disinfecting Your Toothbrush


You count on your toothbrush to help keep your mouth, teeth, and tongue healthy and clean. But do you ever wonder how to clean your toothbrush? You should! Find out more about what can hide on toothbrushes and how to keep yours as clean as possible. You’ll also learn how to disinfect a toothbrush that’s been exposed to anything especially nasty.

How to Disinfect Your Toothbrush

Your toothbrush gets exposed to a lot of germs and bacteria, and that’s just in your mouth! Because of this, it is important to keep your toothbrush clean so that it can do its job keeping your mouth clean, too. That’s why Learning how to take care of your toothbrush properly should be an essential part of your oral care routine. Let’s take a look at what you need to do and why disinfecting your toothbrush can help protect yourself from serious germs and microorganisms that can negatively impact your health.

What Builds Up on Your Toothbrush?

Toothbrushes are designed to help us clean the bacteria, germs, and plaque from our mouths. That’s great news for your oral health. However, that also means those bacteria and germs from your mouth are now on your toothbrush. But that might not be all. Depending on your hand hygiene and toothbrush storage, your toothbrush can collect germs and bacteria from other places, too. In fact, your toothbrush is potentially home to about 1.2 million bacteria, including E. coli, staphylococci, yeast, and more. If you keep your toothbrush out in the open near your toilet, you could also end up with fecal bacteria on your toothbrush. Yuck. 

Thankfully, there are multiple ways to help mitigate all kinds of bacteria and germs that end up on your toothbrush. With thoughtful hygiene before and after brushing and paying close attention to where to keep your toothbrush, you can keep your toothbrush clean, which will help keep your mouth cleaner, too. Remember, your mouth is a complex microbiome where about 700 species of microbes already live. They already do their part of keeping your mouth healthy. Now it’s time to do your part.

How to Keep Your Toothbrush Away From Germs

Keeping your toothbrush clean starts with keeping it away from germs whenever possible. The fewer germs your toothbrush is exposed to, the fewer will make their way into your mouth. Start with these easy solutions to keep germ exposure to a minimum so you don’t have to worry about disinfecting your toothbrush very often.

Wash your hands before brushing

First things first—always wash your hands thoroughly before brushing your teeth. If your hands are dirty or covered in germs and bacteria, guess what happens when you pick up your toothbrush? Washing your hands properly before brushing ensures you don’t transfer whatever is dirtying your hands onto your toothbrush and into your mouth. It’s also a good idea to wash hands after brushing as well to avoid the spread of germs and bacteria from your mouth to anywhere (or anyone) else. 

Store your toothbrush upright with plenty of space

After brushing your teeth and rinsing your toothbrush, shake off the excess water. Then, make sure you store your toothbrush upright in a holder or container where it can dry completely between cleanings. Most of the bacteria on your toothbrush need moisture to stay alive. If your toothbrush is allowed to thoroughly air-dry between uses, the bacteria will die before you brush again. 

Store your toothbrush as far from the toilet as possible

Another detail that’s vital to reducing your toothbrush’s exposure to germs is being thoughtful about where you keep it. Ideally, you should keep your toothbrush holder as far away from the toilet as possible. As we mentioned, if you keep your toothbrush close to the toilet, you’ll end up with fecal bacteria all over it, and no one wants that. Gross.

To avoid this problem, make sure everyone in the home closes the toilet lid before flushing. This will help to reduce the number of bacteria blown into the air with each flush, preventing it from landing on your toothbrush. Also consider storing your toothbrush away from the sink as toothbrushes can get splashed while washing dirty hands. 

How to Clean Your Toothbrush

Now that you know how to keep your toothbrush away from excess germs and bacteria, it’s time to learn how to clean your toothbrush properly. While you won’t need to clean your toothbrush regularly, there are times—like if you drop your toothbrush on the floor or if you’ve been sick—when you might prefer to know how to disinfect your toothbrush as best you can. There are several ways to significantly reduce the bacterial load present on your toothbrush between replacements. To safely clean your toothbrush without damaging it, try one of the methods below to kill microorganisms on your toothbrush. 

Run hot water over your toothbrush before and after each use

Always rinse your toothbrush well before putting it in your mouth. After brushing your teeth, make sure that you rinse your toothbrush thoroughly to rinse away saliva and remaining toothpaste. Use hot tap water before and after brushing for the best results. This keeps plaque, food particles, and toothpaste from building up on your toothbrush and ending up back in your mouth. 

Soak your toothbrush in antibacterial mouthwash

Studies have shown that soaking your toothbrush in antiseptic mouthwash, like Listerine, for 20 minutes is 100% effective at killing microorganisms on your toothbrush.

Soak your toothbrush in a hydrogen peroxide solution

Studies also showed soaking your toothbrush for 20 minutes in a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution was 100% effective at killing microorganisms. This method is also less expensive than mouthwash.

Soak your toothbrush in 100% white vinegar

Studies have also found that soaking your toothbrush in 100% white vinegar is another extremely effective method of killing microbes.

Soak your toothbrush in a baking soda solution

Soaking your toothbrush in 2 teaspoons of baking soda dissolved in one cup of water is another effective disinfecting method.

Use denture cleanser

You can also use denture cleansing tablets to soak your toothbrush for a good cleaning.  Many of these cleansing tablets use baking soda and citric acid to kill bacteria.

UV toothbrush sanitizer

UV sanitizers are also available and kill more bacteria than water; however, the cleaning solutions above are more effective and much less expensive. 

Should you boil toothbrushes?

Never boil your toothbrush or put it in the dishwasher or microwave it. High heat methods could melt the bristles and plastic, or otherwise damage your toothbrush.

Regardless of the cleaning solution you choose to use to clean your toothbrush, rinse your toothbrush well after cleaning before using it again. That way, you rinse everything you don’t want away and start fresh

How to Clean an Electric Toothbrush

Whether you have a regular toothbrush or an electric toothbrush, you’ll really clean the heads in the same way. The only difference with an electric toothbrush is that you’ll want to detach the head from the electric base before cleaning the head and bristles. If you can’t detach the head from your model, stick with a quick mouthwash soak, submerging only the head to be safe. 

In addition, you should always rinse any toothpaste or saliva from the base of your electric toothbrush, the same way you would from the handle of a regular toothbrush. Maintain a clean electric toothbrush in between replacing the heads to keep your mouth healthy and balanced.

How to Take Care of a Toothbrush After Disinfecting

Once your toothbrush has been cleaned or disinfected, you can take steps to ensure that it stays as clean as possible between cleanings.  

Can you store it in hydrogen peroxide solution?

You’ll sometimes see suggestions to store your toothbrush in a hydrogen peroxide solution every day. While this seems like it would be a smart way to keep germs and microorganisms at bay, there are risks, too. Soaking it for any longer than 20 minutes has the potential to degrade and damage the bristles on your toothbrush. As such, disinfecting your toothbrush in hydrogen peroxide should be limited to 20 minutes in a 3% solution, and it isn’t necessary every day. 

Avoid storing toothbrushes side by side

If you keep your toothbrush in the same location as other members of your household, make sure you avoid cross-contamination between toothbrushes. Ensure that the toothbrush holder you use keeps multiple toothbrushes from touching. Each toothbrush should be a few inches apart from the others at all times. This helps them to dry thoroughly and prevents bacteria from being shared between people and their toothbrushes.

Use a toothpaste dispenser

If you share a toothpaste tube with several members of your household, consider trying a toothpaste pump dispenser. This can help minimize the spread of bacteria from each member of the household touching their toothbrush to the tube of toothpaste. Alternatively, make sure each person has their own tube of toothpaste, or make sure everyone dispenses toothpaste without touching their toothbrush to the tube itself.

Clean toothbrush covers and holders

It’s also essential to think about anything else that touches your toothbrush, like toothbrush covers or the toothbrush holder itself. In addition to cleaning your toothbrush, make sure you clean your toothbrush holder and covers regularly as well. Now that you know where to keep your toothbrush, that should help quite a bit, but since bacteria and germs can also build up on anything touching your toothbrush, it could be a source of contamination as well. 

Give your toothbrush holder and your toothbrush cover a good cleaning once a week with soap and hot water. This should ensure that harmful bacteria doesn’t build up and that your toothbrush (and mouth!) stay as clean as possible. If you use a toothbrush cover, which isn’t necessary in most cases, make sure that it allows your toothbrush to dry properly between brushings.

How Often Should You Replace Your Toothbrush?

Believe it or not, knowing how often to replace your toothbrush is just as important as knowing how often you should brush your teeth. Generally speaking, toothbrushes or electric toothbrush heads should be replaced every three to four months. However, sometimes it’s necessary to replace them sooner. 

If the bristles on your toothbrush become frayed or matted down, you should get a new toothbrush regardless of the amount of time that’s passed. Worn down bristles don’t provide effective cleaning, and they could even damage your gums. If you find that your toothbrush is regularly frayed or matted well before three months, talk to your dentist about your brushing technique. Your toothbrush is a likely indicator that you’re brushing too hard or too aggressively, which can be bad for your teeth and gums as well. 

Another reason you might need to replace your toothbrush more often is if you come down with an infectious illness. Replacing your toothbrush after you’ve been sick is helpful because it can prevent you from reinfecting yourself later on or passing the illness to others in your household. If your toothbrush is brand new or you can’t get a new one right away, consider one of the disinfecting methods above instead. However, if it’s near that three to four-month time frame, it might be best to just toss it and start fresh!

When it’s time to get new toothbrushes, make sure you know how to choose the right toothbrush for you and your child. Most adults should consider a small or medium head toothbrush with soft bristles. However, it’s always a good idea to talk to your dentist or your child’s pediatric dentist to make sure that you’re each using the right toothbrush for your needs.

Why Keeping Your Toothbrush Clean Matters

Keeping your toothbrush free from harmful bacteria helps keep your mouth’s microbiome in balance. While our mouths are home to loads of different bacteria and microorganisms, keeping the right balance is crucial for your oral health. And, as Dr. Kami Hoss reminds us in his forthcoming book, If Your Mouth Could Talk, your oral health is directly connected to your overall health. A healthy mouth helps ensure a healthy body. 

Whether you’re concerned about the link between gum disease and heart disease or you’re focused on maintaining your smile for your confidence and mental health, your mouth is the gateway to the rest of your body. Making sure your toothbrush is ready to clean your mouth properly is an essential part of excellent oral hygiene and maintaining your whole-body health. Preserve the health of your entire family by ensuring that you all take great care of your mouth. Great health all starts with seeing your dentist regularly, flossing and brushing each day, and keeping your toothbrush nice and clean!

Keeping Your Toothbrush Clean: FAQs

  • What is the best way to disinfect your toothbrush?

The most effective ways to disinfect your toothbrush are by soaking it in either a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution or an antiseptic mouthwash, like Listerine, for 20 minutes. Studies show this is 100% effective at eliminating microorganisms on your toothbrush.

  • Do you need to sterilize your toothbrush?

Sterilizing your toothbrush isn’t necessary, and disinfecting it is rarely necessary unless you’ve dropped it next to the toilet. If you’re careful about how and where you store your toothbrush, regularly wash hands before brushing, and replace your toothbrush when you’re supposed to, excess bacteria shouldn’t build up on it. 

  • How long should I keep a toothbrush?

Don’t keep a toothbrush longer than four months. You should plan to replace your toothbrush every three to four months, or sooner if it appears frayed, worn, matted, or dirty. If you’ve been sick, it’s also a good idea to get a new toothbrush.

  • Can your toothbrush make you sick?

It’s indeed possible for your toothbrush to make you sick! If you’ve recently been sick and haven’t cleaned your toothbrush thoroughly, you could reinfect yourself. If you haven’t kept your toothbrush clean, dry, and away from bacteria-riddled areas like the toilet, you could also get sick from a buildup of bacteria.


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About the Author

About Dr. Kami Hoss

Dr. Kami Hoss is a nationally sought-after expert with a master’s in craniofacial biology from USC, a doctorate in dental surgery from UCLA, and a post-doctorate in orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics. With over 25 years of experience in the dental field, Dr. Hoss is a #1 National Best Seller author frequently featured on NBC, ABC, FOX, NPR, and CBS affiliates, and founder of The Super Dentists, one of the leading multi-specialty dental practices in the country.

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