Mouthwash is often misunderstood.
Some of the claims manufacturers make can be a little over-hyped.
Not everyone needs it, so you may even be wasting money if you buy it unnecessarily.
But it does have its uses — it can reduce the bad breath sensation, ease pain and inflammation in the mouth, and even protect the tooth enamel.
In this post I begin by explaining the key things to know about mouthwash.
I then recommend some products based on my own hands-on testing and input from our in-house dentists.
And for even more detail, our buyer’s guide answers additional questions.
Mouthwash is not a replacement to brushing
No matter what your current understanding and knowledge of mouthwash is, I want you to know…
Mouthwash is not a replacement to your normal tooth brushing and flossing routine.
It is designed to be complementary to that. You should still brush at least twice a day for 2 minutes and floss once a day too.
It is the physical act of brushing and flossing that lifts and removes the bacteria in your mouth.
Failing to brush will mean that bacteria and food debris are left behind on your teeth.
Brushing your teeth only cleans 60% of the tooth surface, some 40% goes uncleaned unless you partake in interdental cleaning whether that is flossing or using interdental brushes.
Investing in a good toothbrush can be helpful and picking the right flossing tools for your needs. Why not check out our guide to the best electric toothbrushes as well as our guide to the best flossing tools for more information.
Mouthwash is not a cure for bad breath
The major brands claim that a mouthwash will help deal with and essentially stop your bad breath problems.
Sadly, it is not quite as simple as that.
Bad breath is almost always caused by bacteria in the mouth.
The solution that is mouthwash might well assist in reducing the perceived presence of bad breath by masking the odor the bacterias produce, but it does not stop it or remove the cause of bad breath.
The alcohol content in some can actually dry the mouth out and make the bad breath worse.
To take control of bad breath, you must remove the bacteria, so you need to brush and floss regularly, including cleaning your tongue.
Your tongue is one of the biggest components in the issue that is bad breath or halitosis. The pitted surface enables bacteria growth, which produces the bad smelling sulphur residues.
Tongue scrapers, are brilliant at removing and reducing the bacteria build up and the impact of bad breath.
As a result, mouthwash is a solution to ease and help resolve the feeling of freshness when you are not within reach of a toothbrush and floss.
Don’t use mouthwash right after brushing
You might well have been taught to rinse after you brush your teeth, be that with water or mouthwash. This is actually the wrong time to do that.
Rinsing with mouthwash should really be done at times when you do not have a toothbrush to hand and you want the refreshed feeling.
A common time people might make use of mouthwash is after lunch.
Rinsing right after brushing will wash away the concentrated fluoride that the remaining toothpaste within your mouth contains.
When you do use mouthwash, ensure you don’t eat or drink for 30 minutes after to get the maximum benefit.
The best mouthwash options and what to use them for
In the sections below you can read a little more about each mouthwash and the reason we have chosen it as the best in its category.
Best general mouthwash: Listerine Antiseptic
Listerine is likely one of the first brand names that come to mind when you think about mouthwash.
Named after Joseph Lister, the former president of the Royal Society and pioneer of antiseptic surgical methods, it has a respected heritage.
You simply cannot argue with what you get in terms of freshness and price.
It is available in a range of flavors and has the backing of the American Dental Association as it has achieved their ADA Seal.
The antiseptic mouthwash addresses plaque build-up, kills off certain bacteria and gives you fresh breath for up to to 12 hours.
Bottles can be purchased in 17oz (500ml) and 50oz (1.5 litre).
|Listerine Cool Mint Mouthwash||29,179 Reviews||$4.99||View on Amazon|
|Listerine Cool Mint Mouthwash||3,314 Reviews||$11.62||View on Amazon|
- Great value for money
- Fights plaque
- Keeps breath fresh
- Readily available
- Different bottle size options
- Strong fresh taste
- Can dry the mouth out for some
Best alcohol-free mouthwash: CloSYS Alcohol Free Mouth Rinse
Another American Dental Association approved product, I won’t lie, this is a relatively expensive option.
Listerine Total Care Zero Alcohol is cheaper, but the taste and experience with CloSYS is much better.
With no alcohol or flavouring this neutral tasting rinse is great if you are put off by the strong and often overpowering tastes of similar products.
Sulfate-free, triclosan-free, gluten-free this is a better option for those looking for a less ingredient rich rinse.
Rinse 1/2 an oz around the mouth for 30 seconds and repeat for the best results.
It is available in 16 and 32oz bottles.
|CloSYS Unflavoured Mouth Rinse||6,341 Reviews||$14.99 $11.49||View on Amazon|
- Alcohol free
- Flavor free
- ADA approved
- Wide availability
Best for gum disease – Crest Pro-Health Advanced with Extra Deep Clean
Technically, the best mouthwashes for gum disease or bleeding gums is a rinse that contains, chlorhexidine, an ingredient which essentially fights the harmful bacteria and microscopic organisms in the mouth that cause pain, discomfort, inflammation and bleeding.
However, the most popular example of this, Colgate’s PerioGard Rinse is only available on prescription, so you will need your dentist to prescribe this.
However, of the over the counter options, then it has to be Crest’s Pro-Health Advanced with Extra Deep Clean.
|Crest Pro-Health Advanced Mouthwash with Extra Deep Clean||361 Reviews||$20.29||View on Amazon|
Available in 250ml, 500ml and 1L bottles, you can find the right size for you.
Alcohol free with fluoride included, it fights against bad breath, cavities, kills germs and cleans deep between the teeth along the gum.
You can find a few different buying options in the price comparison below.
- Alcohol free
- Fluoride included
- Deep cleaning action
- Fresh taste
- No burning sensation
- Available in different bottle sizes
- Does not contain chlorhexidine
Best for dry mouth: Biotene
A premium has to be paid for this product, but it is well worth it for the relief it brings.
Considerably more specialized, this alcohol free solution rehydrates the mouth and leave you feeling refreshed for longer, a real relief when suffering from dry mouth.
Sold in a large 33.8oz bottle there is less need to keep replenishing supplies.
|Biotene Mouthwash||650 Reviews||$28.34 $23.85||View on Amazon|
- Does what it should
- Nicely designed bottle and packaging
- Alcohol free
- Helps with things such as mouth ulcers as well as dry mouth
- The taste isn’t as nice as normal oral rinses
- More expensive than some other every-day mouthwashes
- Not sold in lots of outlets
Best for bad breath – TheraBreath – Fresh Breath Oral Rinse
Fighting bad breath for up to 24 hours, this has won positive feedback from thousands of customers.
For those who really suffer with bad breath (halitosis) this can be a deal breaker.
Kosher, gluten free and with no artificial flavors, it is suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
The Fresh Breath Rinse is available in 2 flavors, Icy Mint and Mild Mint.
Developed by Dr Howard Katz, TheraBreath guarantee it stops bad breath thanks to its neutralizing formula.
It is far from the cheapest option, but ADA approved and highly regarded, it has to be worth it if you really suffer with bad breath.
With a money back guarantee, it has got to be worth a go.
|The Breath Co Fresh Breath||36,122 Reviews||$25.19 $15.34||View on Amazon|
- Powerful and intense
- It does freshen the breath
- It works instantly
- Comes with a decent cap/cup for consuming each dosage
- Suitable for vegetarians, vegans
- Certified kosher and halal as well as being gluten free
- Money back guarantee
- Invigorating Icy Mint is perhaps a little overpowering
- Sizeable dosages – too much?!
- Bottle design not all that appealing
Mouthwash Buyer’s Guide
I covered the key things to know about mouthwash at the start of this post.
In the sections below you can find some additional information to assist with your purchase.
What is mouthwash and what does it do?
Mouthwash is a liquid, that is rinsed or gargled in the mouth.
The primary purpose in most instances is to offer a fresh and refreshed feeling to the mouth.
There are some types of mouthwash that go a little further and provide more benefits.
Examples include fluoride rinses that can help protect the teeth against acids produced by plaque bacteria.
Made up from a number of different ingredients, the combination, flavor, and effectiveness of mouthwash varies from brand to brand.
Where once there was a fairly limited range, there is now a wide number of options including alcohol-free versions.
Is mouthwash bad for you?
No, mouthwash is not bad for you.
If used incorrectly, excessively or swallowed it can potentially be bad for you.
Specialist mouthwashes, such as those used to help treat gum disease can be bad for the teeth as they have a tendency to stain. However, such products will usually be specifically advised to you by a dentist and clear instructions will be given on how to use. In select instances, the risk of staining is outweighed by the other benefits the mouth rinse can bring.
Assuming you use mouthwash once, maybe twice a day and follow the directions of the mouthwash manufacturer then you will be fine.
This is what our in-house dentist Dr. Gemma Wheeler advises:
An alcohol-free mouthwash, used in addition to proper toothbrushing and interdental cleaning, may well have some benefit. Aim to use it at a separate time of day, for example after a snack, and at least half an hour before or after brushing.
If you have a specific disease which requires extra help to fight bacterial infection, specialist mouthwashes, such as those containing chlorhexidine or hydrogen peroxide, will help you get on top of the infection’
Dr Gemma Wheeler – In-house dentist – GDC Number: 259369
The benefits of mouthwash
Here are some of the benefits of mouthwash. Not all apply to every mouthwash.
- Quick and easy to use – most bottles offer a cap built-in, ideal when on the go.
- Can leave your mouth feeling fresher and cleaner – quash the bad taste or odor you have that is caused by bacteria and plaque.
- Germ-fighting (antiseptic) ingredients – help fight gum disease, bacteria and pain suffered from dental treatment such as extractions. Chlorhexidine is most highly regarded for this.
- Pain relief/sensitivity reduction – can soothe sensitive areas of the mouth.
- Fluoride – some have this included. It fights tooth decay, protecting the teeth.
- Limited dexterity – makes it easier for those with limited dexterity where brushing and flossing is not easy.
- Orthodontics – helps fight bacteria and clean around orthodontic fittings
- Relief for dry mouth – the liquid itself provides some comfort, whilst the taste may get you salivary glands going to produce more saliva and also provide relief.
Drawbacks of mouthwash
- Does not cure bad breath – mouthwash is really only a mask for bad breath and does not treat the root cause.
- Alcohol content – this can be high in some products and may not be to everyone’s taste. It can dry the mouth out too. Over time it can even kill good bacteria. Some evidence points towards a link between these types of mouthwash and cancer.
- Staining – mouthwashes that contain Chlorhexidine can stain the teeth.
How to use mouthwash
So you now have the mouthwash you intend to use, now how do you use it?
- Use the right amount – use the amount indicated on the label or as directed by your dentist. Many come with caps with markers or measures so you can ensure you use the correct amount.
- Swish and gargle – keep your mouth closed and swish the liquid around the mouth or as directed on the label. Some choose to gargle with it too.
- Spit – don’t swallow mouthwash, it can potentially be harmful.
- Wait – to get the most benefit from a fluoride mouthwash, avoid eating or drinking for at least 30 minutes so you don’t wash away the residual rinse.
Most mouthwashes come out of the bottle ready to use. There are a few where it is recommended that you dilute them before use.
But, there is normally nothing stopping you from diluting the mouthwash further if you like. Not only will the bottle go further but it will reduce the intensity of the rinse if you find it to be too much.
Do be aware that whilst it is fine to dilute, the effects on your breath and oral hygiene may not be as great compared to using the manufacturer-recommended dose.
Use for the right amount of time.
Mouthwash is designed to be held in the mouth for a relatively short period of time. Consult the instructions and guidance for the mouthwash you use, but often 30-60 seconds is the recommended time you should use or leave mouthwash in the mouth for.
Please note: Always resort to the instructions for your mouthwash for directions on how to use. The following are a guideline only based on the typical mouthwash routine.
What studies say about mouthwash
Clinical trials have tested many different products. Various scenarios have been used to test different outcomes.
Results and conclusions differ slightly but the general trend seems to be that there are some benefits to be had, subject to your desired outcomes and the product used.
A 2015 publication by A Jose and team “Chlorhexidine mouthrinse with or without alcohol as an adjunct to brushing with regular fluoride toothpaste significantly reduces bleeding scores, plaque, and gingival inflammation compared to brushing alone.”
A team from Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul – UFRS, Faculty of Dentistry, Department of Periodontology, Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil, concluded “mouthwash containing 0.075% CPC and 0.28% zinc lactate with 0.05% sodium fluoride in an alcohol-free base provided significantly greater reductions in Plaque, Plaque Interproximal, Gingival, Gingival Severity, and Gingival interproximal index after 4 and 6 weeks of product use as compared to a negative control mouthwash and a 0.07% CPC and 0.05% NaF mouthwash.”
And lastly, TheraBreath found “At the conclusion of a 24-hour clinical efficacy evaluation conducted in 30 subjects, TheraBreath Oral Rinse was associated with the following improvements: Malodour of the breath was significantly improved immediately after and 12 hours and 15 minutes after a single use of the test product. TheraBreath was the only product proven in the laboratory trial to last beyond 12 hours.”
Choosing the right mouthwash
Ideally, we would love a mouthwash to taste of our favorite food or drink but leave us with the lovely fresh breath feeling. Sadly this is not always the case.
Mouthwashes do not always taste that great. It is not all about the taste, it is about the effectiveness of the mouthwash and how well it meets your needs.
As suggested earlier in the article there are different types of mouthwash suited to certain users and designed for specific purposes.
Most of us have tried a mouthwash at one time or another and therefore have an idea of what it is like to use and what it achieves. If you have not, then you may need to test a few to find the right one for you, unless you know you are looking for a mouthwash that targets a specific need.
The most popular types are typically Fluoride, Anti-plaque, Desensitising, and Whitening.
You might then want to ask yourself what it is you want from a mouthwash.
Is it the best for bad breath, gum disease, dry mouth or just something to give you a boost of freshness?
Mouthwash vs rinse
A mouthwash is designed to freshen the breath, they are not to be used as a replacement to regular routines that include brushing and flossing. Primarily containing breath freshening ingredients, they can be purchased over the counter or straight from the shop shelves.
Few, unless specifically labelled include fluoride.
A rinse, on the other hand, is generally more targeted and designed to achieve or help with certain healthcare goals and aid in routines or treatment. Examples include a fluoride rinse to help fight against cavities, whilst a Chlorhexidine Gluconate rinse targets and kills bacteria associated with gum disease / gingivitis.
It is quite common that a dental professional will recommend a rinse if you need one.
With or without alcohol (alcohol free)
Alcohol is found in many mouthwashes due to its ability to fight off germs and bacteria that cause the bad breath and plaque build up.
The concentration of alcohol varies, but can be as much as 25 percent.
For many the strong alcohol consistency and taste can be unpleasant. During and post use, some may suffer from a mild burning sensation.
In addition to these drawbacks, some evidence points towards a potential link between alcohol-containing mouthwashes and cancer, although there is yet to be any strong scientific studies to confirm this.
However, there are alcohol free products that are just as effective.
CPC (cetylpyridinium chloride) is the ingredient found in many alcohol free mouthwashes. It binds to the surface of germs and causes them to burst, which helps reduce their build-up on the teeth.
If you are sensitive to the taste, or the mouthwash is to be used by a child or teenager, then alcohol free is a great way to go.
Plaque forms as a result of a bacteria in the mouth. Food particles, moisture and pH levels in the mouth make a perfect environment for growth, but some mouthwashes have anti-plaque ingredients which can help control build up on the teeth and control bad breath too.
Sore and swollen gums can be painful, particularly if you have undergone surgery or some form of dental procedure.
Alcohol free mouthwash might be less irritating or sensitive on the tender parts of the mouth. Some contain ingredients which are soothing and more gentle on the teeth and gums.
Products like Corsodyl that contain chlorhexidine gluconate might be applicable. As might other rinses that contain benzydamine or hydrogen peroxide. An an anti-inflammatory, chlorhexidine can reduce the swelling and associated pain. These products should typically be used for a short period of time. Where you are looking for mouthwash or a rinse to soothe pain it is best to consult a dentist first.
More likely to be something you are recommended or advised to get by your dentist, a fluoride rinse protects your teeth from acids and bacteria by coating them and integrating with the enamel to in the long term fight against cavities. It essentially remineralises the teeth to support the development of enamel.
This is to be used in conjunction with, but not as an alternative to your regular brushing routine.
Chlorhexidine Gluconate rinse (If suffering from gum disease)
Chlorhexidine rinses help to control and kill the bacteria in your mouth that cause gum disease.
Quite often this is prescribed, due to the strength and risks attached to using. However, one popular product that does include this is Corsodyl as well as some other minor brands.
Chlorhexidine gluconate rinses are very effective, with 0.12% chlorhexidine gluconate, and 11.6% alcohol, in addition to the other antibacterial properties. An alcohol-free formula does exist.
This rinse is most helpful and most likely to be prescribed after a deep cleaning procedure such as tooth scaling and root planing.
The downside to this formula is that teeth can be left with brown stains as chlorhexidine is known to bind to both hard and soft tissues.
The prescribed rinse is likely to be for a short period of time, whilst recovering from treatment. It is advised to avoid consuming too much coffee, tea, red wine, or particular foods that are likely to stain.
Chlorhexidine mouthwashes may not be the best choice if you have tooth crowns or caps made of composite or glass ionomer.
Does Mouthwash Whiten Teeth?
Mouthwashes that are advertised as having teeth whitening effects often contain hydrogen peroxide and sodium fluoride to strengthen teeth.
Whilst hydrogen peroxide acts as a bleaching agent, its concentration in mouthwash is not strong enough to whiten teeth in the same way as professional whitening.
Using a whitening toothpaste together with a whitening mouthwash may help to reduce staining of the teeth.
However, results are not guaranteed and depend on various factors.
Our in-house dentist Dr. Chhaya Chauhan explains about whitening mouthwash in the following video: