How to clean toothbrush

My then 5-year-old daughter once asked me that when I cleaned the bathroom did I also clean the toothbrushes?

Reasonable question.

To which I answered ‘no, I don’t clean the toothbrushes when I clean the bathroom.’

I could see this statement working its way through her little brain until, inevitably, the next question came…

‘So, if our toothbrushes don’t get cleaned, do we use dirty toothbrushes to clean our teeth?’

Another totally reasonable question.

And a very good point.

Our toothbrushes do not get cleaned. They are rinsed after use (thoroughly I might add) but I wouldn’t say ‘cleaned’ – just held under the tap for an unspecified amount of time that we think is enough to maintain good oral hygiene. 

“The oral cavity contains the highest number of bacteria among all other body areas.”

Assari AS et al; National Center for Biotechnology Information

But is that really enough? Are we ignorant to the dangers that toothbrushes can harbor?

And what about afterwards when they are sitting in their toothbrush holders, exposed to all sorts of airborne particles?

That ignorance is beginning to falter…

Before it disappears completely and I run upstairs to par-boil all of our daily scrubbers, let’s have a look at what the best thing is to keep our toothbrushes – and ultimately – our mouths and gums sparkling clean and germ free…or at least bad germ free.

“Toothbrush disinfection is essential to maintain toothbrush and oral hygiene.”

Assari AS et al; National Center for Biotechnology Information

How to Keep Your Toothbrush Clean

Wash your Hands

Ok, the obvious one, but washing our hands can sometimes be overlooked when we reach for our toothbrush half-asleep!

And we should also wash our hands in clean water AFTER brushing our teeth because harmful bacteria from our mouth can be transferred to our hands. Makes sense but I can’t see me instilling that at home with my other child, it’s a victory I get her to clean her teeth at all!

Oh, and we should also use a clean towel afterwards…erm…cleanish…

Rinse Well

Another obvious one, and the most important job to do after brushing is to rinse the toothbrush thoroughly in tap water until all the toothpaste and gunk has gone.

And then shake vigorously to remove excess water – trapped water in the bristles can lead to bacterial growth.

No doubt kids would go OTT on the ol’ shaking there!

Note: This will also reduce the amount of liquid that accumulates in the toothbrush holder into an unhygienic puddle! Yes we’re going to have to go there soon…

Hot Water…Cold Water

Rinsing toothbrushes in hot water softens the bristles and makes it easier to remove the gunk. This really should be done both before and after the toothbrush is used.

Unless you have a heating tank like mine and you could clean the whole bathroom before the hot water kicks in!

It is worth noting though that warm water is also effective at killing bacteria. Still waiting for the tank…

Finally…yes there is more…the toothbrush should be rinsed one last time but in cold water as this will help to stiffen the bristles.

I’ve come full circle!

Antibacterial Mouthwash

I never thought to soak toothbrushes in antibacterial or antiseptic mouthwash but I suppose if it’s good enough for your mouth…

This article on Efficacy of Different Sterilization Techniques for Toothbrush Decontamination: An Ex Vivo Study will tell you mouthwash can reduce bacteria by up to 31%.

Mouthwash is convenient, so giving the toothbrush a quick swirl isn’t such a chore, especially if mouthwash is used regularly anyway. And, obviously a must to throw out the mouthwash after each soak of a toothbrush, just in case somebody uses it afterwards (why on earth would they??).

Denture Cleaner

As a child, I always thought denture tablets were sweets, although thank goodness I never tried eating one!

I sure never thought about using them to soak toothbrushes in, but just as they kill bacteria on dentures, they can be just as effective on toothbrushes too.

According to Healthline ‘denture cleanser is made up of antimicrobial ingredients that target bacteria and plaque that grow in your mouth‘.

I think I prefer thinking of them as candy!

UV Toothbrush Sanitizer

Not knowing anything about these before and fearing I sometimes live under a rock… studies have shown that the ultraviolet light in the UV sanitizer kills the germs within toothbrushes which makes it a good disinfectant.

If you have the room for one that is.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Seems a tad OTT and I envision myself wearing gloves and a surgical mask if I ever attempted this cleaning ritual, but soaking a toothbrush in a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution is apparently pretty effective.

The study performed by Assari et al found that using this solution reduced 87% of bacteria, compared to 18% when rinsed under the tap.

An impressive result but still not enough to have me sourcing out masks!

Baking Soda

Ahh good old baking soda – I recently found this (mixed w/ water and white vinegar) for spraying on a smelly gift my beautiful husky left me on the carpet. Voila the smell was gone!

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So, baking soda for cleaning toothbrushes (totally different head spin) I can imagine could be a good alternative, although I’m not sure I’d want to use my toothbrush again afterwards.

White Vinegar

Similar to baking soda, white vinegar can be used as a cleaner because of its antibacterial properties.

And according to the following study conducted by A Basman et el (Evaluation of Toothbrush Disinfection via Different Methods) found that “the most effective method for disinfecting toothbrushes was submersion in 50% white vinegar”.

Preventative Measures

Ok, so now that you’re all keyed up on the best ways to clean your toothbrushes, let’s now have a look at toothbrush care by ways to keep them clean and help prevent nasty germs from having a party in those bristles.

Storing Multiple Toothbrushes

So as not to transfer germs from a contaminated toothbrush, they should be stored separate to each other and preferably in different holders, or a sizable pot so they are not touching.

Toothbrush holders that are a closed container or with any type of toothbrush cover should be avoided altogether as toothbrushes need to breathe – storing them in a closed area can cause bacteria to grow.

According to research, and referenced in the review article ‘Toothbrush Contamination: A Review of the Literature’; found that storing a toothbrush in a moist, covered environment increased bacterial growth by 70%.

This is the same for cabinets, storing toothbrushes in bathroom cabinets can breed mold and other nasties between the bristles.

And then there’s the traveling… Obviously, a toothbrush can be stored in a case for the trip but it is to be removed as soon as possible, and stored outside of the case for the duration of the stay. And, on return, rinsed in mouthwash before it is used again.

And as for camping…how you store/clean your toothbrush is probably the least of your worries 😉

Sharing Toothbrushes

Not that you would anyway but sharing your toothbrush is a big NO-NO, as well as sharing the handle.

So many obvious reasons why this is banned in The Law of The Toothbrush, but just the thought of using somebody else’s toothbrush is just…no.

Which Way Up to Store Toothbrushes

This is like the mug storing – upside down vs right side up!

I do know somebody who stores their toothbrush bristle-head down – ok, they live alone but still…

Toothbrushes should be stored upright so all of the excess water, gunk and germs run down the handle.

(We will get to that puddle of gunk shortly)

Mugs – I’m right side up btw…

Toilet Germs

Toothbrushes should be kept as far away from the toilet as possible.

It is quite an eye-opener how many germs and bacteria escape from the toilet so when not in use, it is highly recommended to keep the lid closed – especially after flushing.

This is because of the toilet plume.

I didn’t know what that was either (again…the rock).

Toilet plume is the name for the tiny water particles – from your toilet water – that contain germs and…other things…that spray into the air and land on surfaces like toothbrushes.

I’ll wait while you go and close it

Ensuring the toilet lid is closed helps to keep everything where it should be – in the dunny!

The Gunk Puddle

Ok, so we’ve got to the gunk puddle; that unhygienic, don’t-want-to-think-about-it, residue liquid that accumulates at the bottom of the toothbrush holder(s).

Why is it slightly gooey…?

After brushing, excess fluid runs down the brush and accumulates in the holder – no matter how much it has been shaken. And over time, can lead to…well a puddle of gunk! 

To avoid this, rinse the pot out weekly or more depending on the amount of (non-touching) toothbrushes are using it.

To clean toothbrush holders, use dish soap with warm water or, if it’s safe to do so, stick it in the dishwasher!

You can also rinse it out with mouthwash.

That mouthwash is turning out to be darn handy!

How Often Should You Change Your Toothbrush

The general recommendation is to replace toothbrushes every 3 months, or when they are starting to look tired…not when they’re flat as a pancake 😉

But a study done in 2015 found that toothbrushes used for 3 months had heavy contamination compared to just 1 month of use. Therefore, their recommendation is to change toothbrushes every 3-4 weeks.

That’s going to take some self control – ditching a perfectly looking toothbrush after only 4 weeks!

And…(self control not needed) after sickness, toothbrushes should be thrown out immediately to enjoy a sparkling new one.

Did I really say ‘enjoy’ a new toothbrush…? I need to get out more!

How Often To Change Electric Toothbrush Head?

The same time as any normal toothbrush; every 3 months or after sickness/virus’.

Or, every 3-4 weeks according to the 2015 report above.

This applies to the brush head and not the entire toothbrush.

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How To Clean an Electric Toothbrush?

The methods for cleaning an electric toothbrush are very similar to a manual toothbrush, the only real difference is the removing of the head of the electric toothbrush from the body before cleaning.

The body of the electric toothbrush can be wiped with a wet cloth and some mild detergent like washing up liquid, to remove any dirt/scum.

Scraping the Toothpaste

Do you or don’t you? Scrape the toothpaste that is…

After dispensing the toothpaste onto your brush, do you scrape it on the bristles when you’ve finished applying it?

If ya do, then don’t! Letting your toothbrush touch the open tube-end of the toothpaste may cause cross-contamination.

Sort of funny because I’m sure I’ve seen a toothpaste ad showing this exact same technique – shame on them!

If, like me, you find it impossible to train yourself NOT to scrape, pump dispensers are much easier to avoid touching and helping to keep that cross-contamination at bay.

Another alternative suggested by The Children’s Oral Health Institute suggests dispensing toothpaste on the back of your (freshly washed) hand and wiping it on your toothbrush. This has two advantages; iliminates cross-contamination from bristle to the end of the toothpaste tube, and it causes you to wash your hands again!

Geniouslike I say, I need to get out more!

Microwave

One of the search queries is ‘how to sterilize a toothbrush in the microwave’ – I have never thought (or had the inclination) to put my toothbrush in the microwave. I guess it makes some kind of sense and indeed there are experiments to prove whether this would work at removing bacteria, one in particular for a festive, light-hearted edition of the Nature publication who were trying to find a method to decontaminate a toothbrush within just one minute. Microwaving proved not to be one of them.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any conclusive evidence that using a microwave to sterilise toothbrushes actually works, that is, without causing damage to the bristles.

Dishwasher/Freezer/Hairdryer

I have no idea why the freezer, dishwasher or even a hairdryer would be considered suitable methods to clean a toothbrush.

And funnily enough freezing toothbrushes or running them through a dishwasher cycle is not a good idea as these methods will most likely damage the bristles.

And although using a hairdryer to blow hot air onto a toothbrush (I can just see my hubby’s face if he saw me doing this) will probably not cause any damage, there is no evidence that this method has any effect on removing bacteria. And besides, you may as well run it under the hot tap!

How to Disinfect Toothbrush – My Parting Words

So there you have it. How to clean your toothbrush, keep it clean, and practice good hygiene to help prevent all those nasty germs from contaminating our toothbrushes and inevitably plaguing our mouths.

I really wish I had the time to think of all these things to do with my toothbrush. But then again…I guess I just have.

And I’ve forgotten most of them.

As far as I’m concerned, as long as we stick to the main advise of hand washing, rinsing both before and after, storing upright in spaced containers, and closing the toilet lid…

I am happy to continue as we are.

And back to my then five-year-old, and the response that seemed to satisfy her curious mind…

‘Although toothbrush cleaning is not done at the same time as the bathroom, when everyone is asleep, mommy goes back and scrubs all the toothbrushes so they are sparkling and clean for you when you get up!’

I must remember to ask my now 24-year-old if she still thinks her mother scrubs her toothbrush while she sleeps…

References

  1. Assari A, Mahrous M, Ahmad Y, Alotaibi F and Alshammari M. Efficacy of Different Sterilization Techniques for Toothbrush Decontamination: An Ex Vivo Study. Cureus. 2022 Jan 11;14(1).
  2. Frazelle MR and Munro CL. Toothbrush Contamination: A Review of the Literature. Nursing Research and Practice. 2012. Vol. 2012, Article ID 420630.
  3. Raiyani CM, Arora R, Bhayya DP, Dogra S, Katageri AA and Singh V. Assessment of microbial contamination on twice a day used toothbrush head after 1-month and 2 months: An in vitro study. J Nat Sci Biol Med. 2015 Aug; 6(Suppl 1): S44-S48.
  4. Peker I, Akca G, Sarikir C, Alkurt MT, Celik I. Effectiveness of alternative methods for toothbrush disinfection: an in vitro study. ScientificWorldJournal. 2014;2014:726190.
  5. Basman A, Peker I, Akca G, Alkurt MT, Sarikir C and Celik I. Evaluation of Toothbrush Disinfection via Different Methods. Brazilian Oral Research. 2016. 30(1).
  6. Konidala U, Nuvvula S, Mohapatra A, Nirmala SV. Efficacy of various disinfectants on microbially contaminated toothbrushes due to brushing. Contemp Clin Dent. 2011 Oct;2(4):302-7.
  7. Patcas R, Zbinden R, Schatzle M, Schmidlin PR and Zehnder M. Whisky, microwave or hairdryer? Exploring the most efficient way to reduce bacterial colonisation on contaminated toothbrushes. 2018. Br Dent J. 225, 1007-1010.
  8. American Dental Association: https://www.ada.org/resources/research/science-and-research-institute/oral-health-topics/toothbrushes
  9. Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/health/dental-and-oral-health/how-to-clean-toothbrush
  10. Insider: https://www.insider.com/guides/health/how-to-clean-toothbrush
  11. The Children’s Oral Health Institute: http://www.mycohi.org/pdfs/A_Clean_Toothbrush_final.pdf

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