Boil, Soak or Pitch It? 4 Tips for a Clean Toothbrush

Clean, hot water is enough to keep your brush clean


People swear by all sorts of folk wisdom when it comes to keeping a clean toothbrush. Some run it through the dishwasher. Others soak the head in mouthwash or effervescent denture cleaner. Still others freeze it, boil it or invest in a pricey ultraviolet toothbrush “sanitizer.”

But here’s the bottom line from an expert: “None of that is necessary,” says dentist Karyn Kahn, DDS. “I suggest just rinsing it in good, hot water.”

The reason, Dr. Kahn says, is that you have a natural flora of bacteria living in your mouth that’s necessary for a healthy environment. It is not necessary to try to completely remove these from your toothbrush. In its recommendation about toothbrush care, the American Dental Association (ADA) cites studies that have found no evidence of negative oral health effects from normal bacteria on a toothbrush.

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“If you don’t have that bacteria, that’s when opportunist microorganisms like yeast and fungi take over,” Dr. Kahn says. “You want a certain amount of natural bacteria in your mouth (just not around the teeth or gum tissue).” Instead of trying to sterilize your toothbrush, make a habit of replacing it regularly, she says.

Here’s Dr. Kahn’s other advice for keeping a clean and effective toothbrush:

  1. Use your eyes to protect your teeth. “When you can visually see discoloration, buildup or matting of the bristles, it’s time to change the toothbrush,” says Dr. Kahn. “It should look clean and straight.” Rinse well to dislodge any chunks of residual toothpaste.
  2. When in doubt, throw it out. The suggestions on when to replace a toothbrush vary according to manufacturer. Keep it easy and follow the ADA guidelines — replace it every three to four months, or sooner if the bristles become frayed. If you have a fungal, yeast or viral infection in your mouth, replace your brush at the beginning of treatment and again at the end.
  3. Never share a toothbrush. Your mouth needs a healthy flora of its own bacteria, but it’s not good to introduce bacteria from someone else. That’s why Dr. Kahn says you should never share a toothbrush, especially with your children. “That’s when they are acquiring their normal flora,” she says.
  4. Give it lots of fresh air. Store your toothbrush in an open-air holder, not in a dirty cup, drawer or travel case. That can promote the growth of mold or bacteria that isn’t natural to your mouth, leading to mouth diseases like gingivitis. “If you have any question about the effectiveness of your toothbrush, just get a new one,” advises Dr. Kahn.

Each year, employed adults lose more than 164 million hours of work due to oral health problems or dental visits.

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  • GeorgeBMac

    I’ve found though that when I have a sore throat that lingers on, changing the toothbrush can help.

  • Mary Hinkle

    Have more than one brush and rotate their use so the brushes dry out before the next use. Replace quarterly. Always replace after a cold or flu. Buy good brushes that stand up to regular use. Don’t scrub.

    • Richard Kovacs

      Good advice, but I should think most brushes dry out in plenty of time when brushing 2-3 times a day. Bacteria shouldn’t multiply as fast on dry brushes, but how long can they survive on dry brushes? If they die off that means fewer good bacteria for your mouth, too.


    Dip the brush in hydrogen peroxide before using. Especially when traveling.

    • Richard Kovacs

      Sounds like you’re concerned about mold growing on your brush when traveling. Perhaps you could bring new toothbrushes with you for each stop. That way you can air out the brush in, say, a hotel bathroom for the couple days you’re there, then toss it when you leave. I like to repurpose old toothbrushes, which are great for cleaning small parts and crevices. Using hydrogen peroxide will kill all the good bacteria, too.


        I actually dip my brushes (I use an electric and a plain) in h2o2 even at home……just “because”.
        Really. The bathroom is the filthiest place around. All sorts of things flying around. Think about it.
        It isn’t mold that bothers me so much as germs.
        I’m not a nut about things. I live on a farm so we are exposed to a lot which does get tracked around. It pays to be careful.
        Believe me, a farm is no place for someone with OCD!

  • Hollie M. Woods

    How about UV cases that kill the bacteria in 5 mins?

    • Richard Kovacs

      The expert’s advice was to not kill all the bacteria. Save your money.