The Sonicare AirFloss is the more convenient and user friendly product. It is less messy, more portable and easier to use.
The trade off is the cleaning performance. The Waterpik water flossers are more effective at removing plaque and bacteria.
Waterpik offers a larger range of products with different features and price points. This includes control of the pressure settings and nozzle direction. Add in the interchangeable tips and Waterpik is better suited to individual needs.
Read on to find out the differences in more detail, or click here to jump to our overall product recommendations.
What are they and are they effective?
Both the AirFloss and Waterpik are electronic tools for cleaning between the teeth.
As much as 40% of the tooth surfaces are not cleaned with regular brushing alone. It is therefore vitally important to clean in between the teeth.
Both products use pressurized water to blast away plaque and debris that sits between the teeth and along the gumline.
There is clinical evidence to support their effectiveness, particularly in comparison to regular string floss.
But clinical data aside, one of the biggest reasons they are effective, is because they are convenient and tools that you and I will actually want to use compared to string floss.
Whilst most dental professionals will promote floss and interdental brushes in addition to these, they will generally prefer you do some form of interdental cleaning than none at all. So, if a Waterpik or AirFloss is your choice over not flossing at all then great.
AirFloss and Waterpik stand out as even more useful products for the following people:
- Someone with limited hand and finger mobility.
- Someone with braces, to help clean around the brackets.
- Someone with dental work such as bridges and crowns, who struggle with cleaning in that area.
- Anyone who wants to use them in addition to either floss or interdental brushes.
What’s the difference between AirFloss and Waterpik?
The most significant difference between Waterpik and AirFloss is the flow of water.
Waterpik uses a stream of water, delivered at a constant pressure. Well technically, it isn’t a completely constant stream, but it’s very difficult to tell otherwise.
Whereas AirFloss uses bursts of air, interspersed with small micro droplets of water. Or microbursts as Sonicare call it.
Both products allow users to add mouthwash to the water, for a more refreshing cleaning sensation.
There are more subtle differences between them, but more on that later.
AirFloss is a product whilst Waterpik is a brand
Waterpik is the name of a company that manufactures water flossers.
They are not the only brand that makes them. But they are best known and do dominate with their range and market share.
There isn’t just 1 Waterpik product, they offer many different models. All use the same fundamental technology and cleaning method.
The company has become synonymous with water flossers. The name Waterpik is often used interchangeably when technically they are different.
So, if someone says they have a Waterpik, you know they have a water flosser. But, you don’t know what features it has or whether it is portable or not until you know the exact model.
AirFloss on the other hand is a particular type of product, rather than a company itself.
The AirFloss product is made by Philips and marketed under their dental health brand Sonicare.
There are a couple of different AirFloss models. They have the same approach to cleaning with considerably more subtle differences between them.
Different models and options
As I have suggested, Waterpik offers a more diverse range of water flossers compared to AirFloss.
AirFloss comes in 2 versions, the standard model and then the Ultra, also known as the Pro.
In fact, the standard model has been superseded by the Ultra and is the one we recommend here at Electric Teeth.
The key difference is that the Ultra variant offers 3 different burst modes (single, double and triple) compared to the single mode on the original.
Waterpik on the other hand has a much more comprehensive choice of options, including cordless and countertop (corded) units too.
Cordless models are designed to be more portable and convenient. They are usually powered by removable or rechargeable batteries.
Countertop units are powered from the wall socket and won’t work without being connected to the mains.
There are a couple of hybrid options, which bring countertop unit benefits, whilst being more compact or having a built-in rechargeable battery.
At the time of writing, Waterpik offers 10 different models. 5 of these are cordless.
Each of these have their own pros and cons. Some have more or fewer features, bigger or smaller tanks or differing box contents.
Over and above the clinical evidence in favour of Waterpik, some of the reasons that you should consider them over AirFloss are:
- Rotating nozzle
- Control the angle/rotation of the nozzle. The vast majority can be rotated a full 360 degrees. The AirFloss nozzle is fixed and can’t be rotated.
- Larger water tank
- In most cases, you will get usage times of 45+ seconds of continuous use, compared to the short bursts from AirFloss.
- Pressure settings
- Up to 10 different levels of pressure to gain much greater control of the flossing experience. There is no pressure control on AirFloss only the number of bursts.
- Interchangeable tips
- Specially designed tips are available to work more effectively with different oral health conditions. Tips for those with periodontal pockets, those with braces or dental implants. AirFloss offers just 1 type of nozzle/tip.
- Cleans along the gumline
- Waterpiks can be guided along the whole gumline in the mouth, not just in the areas between the teeth like AirFloss. They in turn offer a more comprehensive clean.
The price will depend on the model that you are looking to purchase and even the store selling it.
Do remember Waterpik have a much larger range of models compared to AirFloss.
Prices can vary from about $130 right up to $225 for Waterpik whilst the AirFloss Pro comes in at around $150 on average.
So, despite the broader price range, the Waterpik cordless is about the same price, whilst the countertop Ultra Professional is in the region of $70 more.
For many people, the price of a product is an important consideration. If possible avoid price being the primary reason for selecting one product over another. Try and pick the product that is right for you. That said, it is important to consider it, there can be some considerable variance.
Make no mistake, both of these products are more expensive than regular string floss.
Usability, clean & general use
Both products achieve similar outcomes, yet the daily user experiences are quite different.
As I have already intimated, the AirFloss is more convenient and user friendly. It is less technique sensitive.
With the Airfloss you move the tip of the nozzle to the interdental space you want to clean, press the button and the jet of air and water is delivered into the gap. You then move it to the next gap and repeat the process until you have cleaned the whole mouth.
When using the AirFloss, even using the 3 burst mode on the Ultra, your mouth isn’t full of water after having cleaned between all the teeth. You still need to get rid of this water. Therefore you need to be near a sink, but you don’t need to be quite so attached to it as you do with a Waterpik unit.
With a water flosser, the stream of water is normally continuous. Whilst you move from one interdental space to another, there is a need to be more controlled and focused with your approach, following the gumline as you go.
The flow of water is so great that after only a few seconds you need to allow the waste water to escape from the mouth. This means, that even with the cordless Waterpik options, you need to be near a sink to allow this to happen.
I and many others have found that it takes longer to master the right technique. As you become more familiar, it is very likely that your bathroom will get a shower of water as you learn and adapt.
How you use either is best demonstrated in the following videos.
The cordless nature of the AirFloss has appeal for those who don’t like to stand still or find themselves multi-tasking.
Of course, the AirFloss is more compact too. This means it is much more portable and better suited to travel.
Waterpik has portable models, but the water tanks make the overall size and weight mean they are less suited to travelling light.
If you have limited dexterity in the hands or struggle to hold heavier items, the AirFloss is a much better product.
To be fair to Waterpik they have worked hard on their designs and even the countertop units are more compact than they once were. They don’t take up that much space. But, if space is a real premium in your bathroom a Waterpik probably isn’t as well suited.
Ease of use and portability is a definite advantage for the AirFloss. The trade off is the overall clean, flossing time and versatility.
Waterpiks clean better, generally last for longer and cater to many more users, particularly those with more specialised needs.
Whether you have an average set of teeth, are recovering from oral surgery, have implants, braces, a bridge or suffer from periodontal pockets, Waterpik have you covered.
The water flosser units themselves have pressure settings, ranging from 10 to 100PSI. You can dial up or down the pressure to find the ideal setting for you.
The nozzles can be rotated and the handles easily manoeuvred and positioned to the tightest and stranges of angles.
With a reservoir capacity of up to around 600ml, you can get many minutes of flossing time from a single fill of the tank.
There are no less than 7 different tips for Waterpik units, all of which are interchangeable and designed to suit your needs. The classic jet tip is most common and appropriate for the majority. But, the Pik Pocket tip is great for those with advanced gum disease. The implant denture tip is designed to clean around and access areas that are unreachable with other tips for fixed dental work such as implants and bridges.
A consequence of the more capable units is that they tend to have to be powered from mains electricity. This means you need to be in range of a wall socket. Including the power cord and hose of the handpiece, you are generally looking at about 2 meters/6ft of distance between the socket and sink.
Another benefit of the AirFloss is the charging stand. It uses a standard Sonicare charging stand, 1 comes supplied. But if you are using a Sonicare toothbrush, the stand is more than likely the same. This means our toothbrush and AirFloss can share a stand.
Something that does make some Waterpik units stand out is the range of colours they come in. Not all models have many choices, but some have some bold and funky colours that make them unique.
Pros & Cons
Both products make it easier to floss. But there are differences. To help understand them, I list below what I consider to be the main positives and negatives.
- Easy to use – Less messy/technique sensitiveEach burst contains a tiny amount of water, making it perfectly possible to complete a clean, yet retain the water within the mouth.
- Cordless – Not restricted by wires you can move around and use wherever you wish.
- Portable – The size, shape and ease of use make it a very convenient product to use on a daily basis and travel with.
- Battery life – The built-in rechargeable battery lasts about 2 weeks between charges.
- Automatic power off – A simple but neat feature, it will automatically powers off after 4 minutes, to conserve power.
- Charging stand – Compact and uses the same charger as most Sonicare electric toothbrushes. Share 1 charger for your brush and AirFloss.
- Clean – Doesn’t target the whole gumline, only in between the teeth.
- Nozzle control – No ability to rotate the nozzle.
- Pressure control – No real control over pressure, only the number of bursts.
- Reservoir size – A little on the small side. More difficult to get multiple uses from 1 fill.
- Lack of nozzles – Lack of interchangeable nozzles means it is not suited to some users who have more specific needs.Con
- Effectiveness – Superior cleaning results.
- Clean – Targets between the teeth as well as along the gumline.
- Pressure settings – Variable pressure settings put you in control of how powerful the jet of water fired from the nozzle is.
- Nozzles – More nozzle options to suit the needs of specific users.
- Usage time/reservoir size – Can floss for longer and more thoroughly due to the larger reservoirs.
- Choice – A choice of models, be that countertop or cordless to suit different needs and budgets.
- Nozzle control – Long nozzles with angled tips that rotate 360 degrees gives unrivaled control over where the jet hits and cleans.
- More difficult to use – It is harder to learn the correct technique and it is messier if you get it wrong. Water splashes everywhere due to the volume and rate of flow.
- Size & portability – Both the cordless and countertop units are bigger and heavier than the Airfloss and take up more space.
- Time – It takes longer to floss with Waterpik.
- Reservoir sizes – Cordless units have smaller tanks and may require a refill to complete the clean.
The clinical data
Naturally, Waterpik and Sonicare are going to promote the benefits of their water flossing products.
Both companies have conducted a number of studies to support the claims they make. Inevitably there is some rivalry between the 2 companies.
The good news is that in most instances, these claims are supported by independent reviews.
There is no denying that these products can be beneficial to our oral health. But it is important to put some of the claims into context.
A 2012 clinical study compared the Sonicare Airfloss and a Waterpik water flosser, looking to see which was better at plaque removal.
The conclusion of the study found that both were able to provide a significant reduction in plaque, but it was the Waterpik that showed significantly higher reductions overall. The figures were 74.9% for Waterpik vs 57.5% for Airfloss. Even when looking at specific areas within the mouth, the AirFloss scored worst.
But, since then the AirFloss has been improved and what was true then, might not be so accurate now.
That said, another study headed up by Goyal in 2018, still found the Waterpik to be more effective than Sonicare’s AirFloss Pro.
Yet possible retorts for AirFloss are the ease of use and portability. This leads to greater adoption and adherence to oral care routines.
In truth, it would be preferable if more study was completed. But even then, it is unlikely that the results will be conclusive.
Based on the evidence we do have, Waterpik water flossers are more effective than AirFloss. As such our recommendation would be to opt for Waterpik over AirFloss.
We look at more of the data around water flossers in our article best water flosser.
What do dental professionals say?
Professional opinion is mixed on the use of Waterpik and Airfloss products.
It is very common for 1 dentist to have a different opinion to another and most like to see clinical evidence that they are effective and better than the age old floss and interdental brushes.
As I have shown there is evidence to show that both are effective at plaque removal.
How they really compare to more traditional methods is still to be researched.
The most recent study, in 2017 by Mwtha and team found that Airfloss Pro provides a similar reduction in gingivitis and plaque to string floss.
String floss has for a long time been a recommendation of dentists nationwide and organisations like the Australian Dental Association endorse the use of such. That said, they also endorse Waterpik.
There is a very strong argument that the physical contact the floss or interdental brush makes with the tooth surface is much more effective in dislodging and removing plaque.
For maximum benefit, the recommendation from dental professionals is to ideally use a combination of both floss or interdental brushes and products like water flossers and Airfloss.
Despite many years of recommendation, the reality is that too few people clean interdentally.
Therefore, whilst professional opinion may on the whole favour floss and interdental brushes, it is about finding the products and tools that are right for you and your needs and will ultimately encourage you to floss.
Waterpiks, Airfloss, string floss and interdental brushes are all tools to help clean those surfaces of the teeth that regular brushing simply does not reach.
In-house dentist Dr Gemma Wheeler also has come reservations, explaining:
A water flosser or air flosser will work ok in patients who have healthy gums or mild gum disease. For advanced gum disease, I always recommend interdental brushes as the most effective way to remove the disease-causing bacteria.
Dr Gemma Wheeler – In-house dentist – GDC Number: 259369
A Waterpik water flosser of the AirFloss from Sonicarecan help you take care of your teeth and gums, but there are not to be used exclusively.
You still need to brush your teeth twice a day, with the correct technique and do this for 2 minutes. You should also clean in between the teeth at least once a day with a mechanical interdental device, such as floss or interdental brushes.
The physical movement of toothbrush bristles or floss against the tooth surface is necessary to help dislodge, break up and remove plaque.
Conclusion – which is better?
The best product is the one you will actually use.
For many, the AirFloss has this box ticked. It is more convenient and doesn’t require you to be leant over a sink to expel the wastewater.
We rate it as the cordless water flosser that is easiest to use.
But technically Waterpik is the better product.
There is more clinical evidence in its favour. Waterpik units typically have more features and allow greater control of the water pressure, direction and flow.
There is a wider range of models and nozzles available so that you can pick the right one for you and your needs.
With any water flosser, it is preferable to also perform mechanical cleaning with floss or interdental brushes if you can.
Are water flossers better than string floss?
Yes, they are. Floss is ineffective in most cases. One of the main reasons is that lots of people don’t use the correct technique. Correct technique for flossing is very important for it to have a positive effect on gum health and reducing the risk of decay.
There is limited evidence that supports this.
Unfortunately, there is some difficulty directly comparing different types of interdental cleaning. This is because of differences in methods during studies. The result of this is low quality evidence. The term “low quality” is actually a technical term used within science. Low quality does not equate to the method of interdental cleaning being ineffective.
Is it OK to use Waterpik or AirFloss twice a day?
Yes. As a minimum, you want to be cleaning between the teeth at least once a day (preferably with interdental brushes).
Additional interdental cleaning with a Waterpik or AirFloss will help improve and maintain your oral health.
The gentle nature of the water on the teeth and gums prevents damage and it really shouldn’t be an issue if you wished to use even 3 times a day.
Those undergoing orthodontic treatment will usually need to clean between the teeth, with such devices more frequently.
Can I put mouthwash in my water flosser?
Yes. It is an expensive way to fill your water flosser, but both Waterpik and Airfloss can be used with standard, antiseptic, or antimicrobial mouthwash.
If you use a concentrated mouthwash, be sure to dilute it sufficiently before using in the device. Avoid any rinses with essential oils too. Not diluting the concentrate or using essential oils can damage parts of the water flosser.
My recommendation, particularly with the Waterpik is to add a dash or 2 of mouthwash to the water reservoir. Mixed with water it does become more diluted. But, you still enjoy the freshness and cut the cost of filling the tank.