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The best alcohol-free mouthwash

Person spitting out blue mouthwash

Alcohol is added to mouthwashes for a number of reasons, which I will explain later in the article.

Whilst it has little effect on most people, other than a mild burning sensation, there are a number of reasons people might want to avoid alcohol containing mouthwashes.

Most of the mouthwashes recommended on out site are alcohol free due to the potential downsides of using a mouthwash with alcohol in it. And alcohol free products seem to be just as effective.

After making some recommendations below, I explain the science behind alcohol in mouthwash and the key things to know about it.

Our main recommendation

Listerine Total Care Zero Alcohol

Listerine Total Care Zero Alcohol Mouthwash

Approx. $8.50 per bottle — Amazon, Walmart.

A milder tasting alternative to most Listerine options, this mouthwash is alcohol free so won’t leave you with a burning sensation after use. It contains fluoride and helps prevent plaque build up due to the essential oils used in the formulation.

Best budget pick

Act Anticavity Fluoride Mouth Rinse

Act anticavity fluoride mouthwash

Approx. $7 per bottle — Walmart, Amazon.

The best mouthwash to use is an alcohol free mouthwash that contains fluoride for protection against cavities, and CPC for reducing plaque levels. This mouthwash meets all of these recommendations in a budget friendly way, and also comes in a choice of flavours (including a non mint option).

Best Crest option with fluoride

Crest Pro-Health Advanced with Extra Deep Clean Mouthwash

Crest Pro-Health Advanced with Extra Deep Clean Mouthwash product shot

Approx. $6 per bottle — Amazon, Walmart.

I have recommended this as one of the few alcohol-free mouthwashes from Crest that also contains fluoride to protect against cavities. Some people prefer certain brands over others, and this would be the recommended alcohol free Crest mouthwash.

Best Colgate option

Colgate Enamel Health Anticavity Fluoride Mouthwash

Colgate enamel strength anticavity fluoride mouthwash product shot

Approx. $7.99 per bottle — Amazon, Walmart.

If you have a preference for Colgate products, this is the mouthwash I would recommend if you are looking for alcohol-free. It still contains fluoride, to protect against cavities, which many other options do not.

Buyers guide: useful things to know

In our more generalised guide to the best mouthwash, I explain how most people don’t need a mouthwash.

However, mouthwashes can be beneficial if there are reasons why physical cleaning is not good enough, or if additional doses of certain ingredients are needed.

If you are going to use a mouthwash, it is generally better to use one that’s alcohol-free.

Why alcohol is added to mouthwash

The term alcohol is found within a number of mouthwash ingredients, each with different functions. Alcohol is found in mouthwash in the form of 2-propanol (isopropyl alcohol), benzyl alcohol, dichlorobenzyl alcohol, nicotinyl alcohol HF (fluorinol, nicomethanol hydrofluoride) and phenethyl alcohol. These are not the ingredients I am talking about in this article.

Alcohol is a word used to describe a collection of atoms, and these ingredients aren’t what you will be thinking of when you are considering whether to choose an alcohol free mouthwash or not.

That type of alcohol is ethanol (ethyl alcohol), and this is the type you drink too!

Ethanol is added to mouthwash to act as:

  • a solvent – to dissolve non-water-soluble ingredients, such as antiseptic essential oils or flavour oils
  • a stabiliser and preservative so that the product does not “go off”
  • a sensory cue, giving a sensation and taste of cleanliness.

The benefits of alcohol in mouthwash

Ethanol also works alongside other ingredients to improve how well they work. Ethanol is not used in a strong enough concentration to work as an antiplaque ingredient in itself.

Compare it to hand gel, where concentrations of 50-70% are needed. This is not suitable for use in the mouth, so lower concentration is used. The alcohol is simply added to improve how well other ingredients work.

In particular, ethanol improves how effective essential oil based mouthwash works at concentrations up to 30%.

Side effects

Side effects of alcohol containing mouthwashes include:

  • A dry mouth
  • Burning sensation during and after use
  • Ulcers

There are some fears about alcohol containing mouthwashes being linked to cancer, although these do not have any firm evidence. See this study for more information.

People who should avoid mouthwash with alcohol

There are no official guidelines on avoiding alcohol free mouthwash. However, due to the possibility of side effects, mouthwash which does contain alcohol should be avoiding by children.

Whilst there is no evidence to say that alcohol mouthwashes are dangerous in pregnancy, many pregnancy people may want to avoid them. The alcohol content is unlikely to get into you blood and reach the baby, but the irritation caused by such mouthwashes should be avoided, especially if gums are already sore.

Alcoholics who are trying to give up or avoid alcohol should also avoid mouthwashes that contain alcohol.

Is mouthwash with alcohol in it halal or kosher?

Most muslims would wish to avoid any alcohol containing mouthwash. I am not a religious expert, however did some research and found the following statements:

  • “If the alcohol which this mouthwash contains is not intoxicating, then it is ok. to use it, so long as it is not harmful, because what is haraam is only that which is intoxicating.” from Islam Q & A
  • “Therefore, anything containing alcohol is impure and it is not permissible to use it except in case of necessity when there is no other permissible alternative, such as some kinds of medicine. Therefore, you should know that using mouthwash that contains alcohol is prohibited according to the view of the majority of the scholars because of the existence of permissible alternatives.”  Islamweb.net

When it comes to Judaism, again there are differing views:

  • [on Oral hygiene (toothpaste, mouthwash) & flavored lip treatment (lipstick, lip balm) products containing alcohol] “Rabbinical authorities disagree as to whether kosher certification of these items is required (both for Passover and year-round). Consult your Rabbi.” OU Kosher
  • That said, Listerine mouthwashes, containing alcohol, have been certified Kosher.

Is there an alternative ingredient to alcohol?

Yes, propylene glycol can be used instead of alcohol to act as a solvent and preservative.

About Gemma Wheeler

GDC number: 259369. Gemma qualified from Cardiff University School of Dentistry with BDS(Hons) in 2015. She went on to complete her Foundation Training and a further two years in the Armed Forces, primarily based around Wiltshire. She now works in a private practice in Plymouth.

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