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Philips Sonicare Brushing Modes Explained

Sonicare cleaning modes close up on handle

Choosing an electric toothbrush is far from simple.

Some brushes come with just 1 cleaning mode, but the most premium models come with as many as 5!

Here at Electric Teeth, we try to simplify the process of deciphering the range and choosing one.

In this article, I explain the different cleaning modes available on Sonicare electric toothbrushes.

Which ones do you need and why are they important? Let me explain.

Explanation Video

Sometimes it’s just easier to explain things in person, so I have put together this video that runs through the cleaning modes and their differences.

Sonicare Cleaning/Brushing Modes Explained

The cleaning modes available on sonicare toothbrushes

At the time of writing, there are up to 8 different cleaning modes offered on different Sonicare electric toothbrushes.

These available modes are:

  1. Clean Mode
  2. White/White+ Mode
  3. Deep Clean/Deep Clean+ Mode
  4. Gum Health/Gum Care Mode
  5. Sensitive Mode
  6. Tongue Care Mode
  7. Refresh Mode
  8. Massage Mode

Whilst we have listed 8, of these, 2 (Refresh and Massage) are being phased out by Sonicare and you tend to see these only on older models.

Philips Sonicare Brushing Modes Explained 1

The names of particular modes have also changed or updated over the years.

For example, on some models, you have White as a cleaning mode, whilst on others, it is labeled as White+.  They are the same mode, just with a different name as far as we understand.

Why the new or different names for the same mode?  Your guess is as good as ours!

Which modes should you opt for?

Any electric toothbrush is going to come with at least 1 cleaning mode, and the default is ‘Clean’.

For the vast majority, this 1 mode is perfectly adequate and you will not need extra modes.

Cleaning modes are not something that we particularly take into account when choosing our best electric toothbrush recommendation.

Yes, as strange as this might sound in reality there is little actual need for all of these extra modes.

Each of these extra cleaning modes does offer something different and can potentially have benefits for you. But, don’t strive to buy a brush that might be outside of your budget, just because it has White mode for example.

Out of all the other modes available, it is the gum health and/or sensitive mode that in our opinion will be the most beneficial.

Therefore, if you can get a brush that fits your budget and requirements and has this mode, then it is a bonus.

If you are in the process of choosing a brush, check out our best electric toothbrush recommendations — we take the same approach of telling you which features we recommend and which aren’t so important.

Philips Sonicare Brushing Modes Explained 2

What each cleaning mode does

Philips Sonicare themselves seem to alter the description and explanation behind each cleaning mode, depending on what documentation or user manual you are reading.

The explanation of the mode can be quite brief or not particularly clear on what it does, how it works and why you would want to use it.

For example on the Sonicare DiamondClean Smart product page, ‘Clean’ mode is described as ‘for exceptional everyday cleaning’, whilst ‘Deep Clean+’ is described as ‘For an invigorating deep clean an invigorating deep clean’.

Therefore I hope the following is a little more useful.

  • Clean Mode
    • This is the standard mode for daily teeth cleaning.
    • The cleaning cycle lasts for 2 minutes.
    • Ideally suited to most users, to use on a daily basis any time of the day or night.
  • White/White+ Mode
    • The cleaning mode lasts for 2 minutes and 40 seconds.
    • During the first 2 minutes, the brush alternates the speed of the motor from a low to high power as you complete regular brushing.
    • The additional 40 seconds is to be spent polishing the outer surface of upper and lower teeth. Spend 20 seconds cleaning each.
    • The polishing motion used in the last 40 seconds of this mode will feel and sound different from the first 2 minutes.
    • Ideal for those wanting to get the best shine and really do away with any surface staining.
    • Some models refer to this mode as just White, whilst on others it is labeled as White+.  It is the same cleaning action, just with a different name.
  • Deep Clean/Deep Clean+ Mode
    • The cleaning mode usually lasts for 3 minutes.
    • If the brush handle has Bluetooth connectivity and is connected to a smartphone the mode will last for just 2 minutes.  If there is no active Bluetooth connection, the mode will run for the longer 3 minutes.
    • The motion and speed is adjusted to really massage the teeth and gum tissues and push the cleaning motion through bacteria and stubborn stains that may exist
    • Ideal to use when you want to spend a bit of extra time on your teeth and really make sure you are doing the best you can to keep them clean and healthy.
    • Some models refer to this mode as just Deep Clean, whilst on others, it is labeled as Deep Clean+.  It is the same cleaning action, just with a different name.
  • Gum Health/Gum Care Mode
    • The cleaning mode usually lasts for 3 minutes.
    • On some models, notably DiamondClean Smart, the mode runs for an additional 20 seconds.
    • During the first 2 minutes, the brush runs the standard clean mode.
    • The remaining minute uses a slower and less powerful sensitive/massage mode to stimulate and massage the gums, to improve their health.
    • It is a bit of a crossover mode between Clean and Sensitive.
    • Ideally suited to those who have mild sensitivity in their gums, with occasional bleeding and are getting or recovering from gum disease treatment.
    • A useful mode to also use fairly regularly to give your gums a little extra attention and keep them in good shape.
    • Some models refer to this mode as just Gum Health, whilst on others it is labeled as Gum Care.  It is the same cleaning action, just with a different name.
  • Sensitive Mode
    • This cleaning modes lasts for 2 minutes.
    • It uses a lot less of the brush motors power to be more gentle on the teeth and gums.
    • Ideally suited to those with very sensitive teeth and gums, but want to benefit from the additional cleaning power and efficacy of an electric toothbrush.
    • Those experiencing gum disease or gum recession will likely find this mode most useful.
  • Tongue Care Mode
    • This cleaning mode lasts for 20 seconds.
    • Designed to provide adequate time to brush the tongue.
  • Refresh Mode
    • This cleaning mode lasts for 1 minute.
    • Touch-up for a quick clean.
    • Ideally suited for those who want to freshen up and are cleaning their teeth at additional times during the day.
    • This mode is being phased out.
  • Massage Mode
    • This cleaning mode lasts for 2 minutes.
    • It uses a lot less of the brush motors power to be more gentle on and to stimulate the gums.
    • This mode has essentially been replaced with the Sensitive mode.
    • Ideally suited to those with very sensitive teeth and gums, but want to benefit from the additional cleaning power and efficacy of an electric toothbrush.
    • Those experiencing gum disease or gum recession will likely find this mode most useful.

You should note, that with most Sonicare electric toothbrushes the brush will turn itself off automatically at the end of the cleaning cycle.

The vast majority of brushes also have a quadpacer/30 second timer built in that works in conjunction with the 2 minute timer to encourage you to brush evenly around the mouth.  For longer cleaning modes, this pacer may kick in at different times.

Most Sonicare brushes will, when turned on default to the last cleaning mode used on the brush unless you manually change it or the fitting of a BrushSync compatible head forces a mode change.

Sonicare cleaning mode comparison chart

The following image (click to enlarge) compares the brushing/cleaning modes available from Philips Sonicare.

The chart summarises the information provided above and you can see which models of toothbrush offer which cleaning mode.

Philips Sonicare Brushing Modes Explained 3

An explanation of power delivery: the number of brush strokes and movements

Sonicare electric toothbrushes use a ‘sonic’ cleaning action, which is slightly different to the oscillating-rotating technology that the likes of Oral-B use.

This kind of toothbrush uses 2 methods to clean the teeth.

The first is a mechanical side-to-side cleaning motion of the bristles to remove plaque by essentially sweeping and scrubbing the surfaces, like a manual brush (although the motor moves the bristles, not you).

The second is a non-contact approach that uses the sonic technology to disrupt plaque beyond the tips of the bristles.

To be a sonic toothbrush, the motion or vibration from the brush has to be quick enough to produce a ‘humming’  sound that is within the audible range of the human ear (20 Hz to 20,000 Hz).

This intense vibration agitates fluids that surround the teeth and can loosen and remove dental plaque in locations that are beyond the physical touch of the toothbrush.

Philips Sonicare 2100 electric toothbrush

It was Philips, under the Sonicare brand, that first brought this to market in 1992, although others like Colgate & Omron now use this technology too.

In theory, the more speed the motor has the more effective the clean is, because the bristles move more frequently over the tooth and gum surfaces.

However, it is not all about speed, the technique has a big part to play, but that is a different topic, for another article.

The vast majority of Sonicare models offer 31,000 brush strokes and 62,000 movements. There are some exceptions to this though.

31,000 brush strokes/62,000 movements

A really important point to pick up on and explain is the 31,000 brush strokes and 62,000 movements. Sonicare often refers to these when they talk about the speed and performance of their brushes.

For many years Sonicare stated 31,000 brush strokes, this has changed in more recent times to instead quoting 62,000 movements within their sales documentation.

62,000 sounds better than 31,000 doesn’t it?

I wouldn’t blame you for thinking it was better and maybe a newer technology.

As we understand it, they are essentially the same thing. 1 brush stroke is equal to 2 movements. (31,000 x 2 = 62,000).

But, there is a bit of a catch.

Some newer brushes, such as the 1100, 2100, 3100 and 4100 Series are listed as having 31,000 brush strokes only. They don’t achieve the 62,000 movements.

This is because the motors are configured differently.

Sonicare doesn’t share the technical explanation, but premium Sonicare models are programmed with an extra dimension to the brushing experience that allows the 62,000 movements to be achieved.

As a result, certain models, do give a brushing sensation that feels less intense compared to some other Sonicare toothbrushes.

Technically, more power or movements does mean better cleaning results.  But, it isn’t quite as simple as this, there are more factors at play.

The lesser power on offer here isn’t immediately obvious. Even for me and I have tested hundreds of brushes. The brushing sensation is slightly different. It is most noticeable if you have used other premium Sonicare toothbrushes before

It is easy to get led by the numbers. Whilst they can have a bearing, for most it isn’t that significant.

Philips Sonicare Brushing Modes Explained 4

Power delivery and cleaning modes

From my very own hands-on testing, it is clear that the ‘power’ of the brush differs, depending on what mode you have selected.

Sonicare themselves acknowledge that the Sensitive cleaning mode, for example, is more gentle than the clean mode.  

I was therefore keen to know if the clean mode makes use of all the power from the brush motor (31,000 brush strokes per minute/62,000 movements), how much power do all of the other cleaning modes use?

To me, it seems like the Sensitive mode operates at about 15,000 strokes per minute.

Naturally, Sonicare deems a lot of this information to be confidential and getting a clear answer hasn’t been possible.

However, I have gained some useful insights to better understand how the ‘power’ differs with each mode.

What I call ‘power’ is actually made up of 2 different variables. They are amplitude and frequency.

  • Amplitude is the maximum distance covered (or the sweep angle) by the power toothbrush bristles during their cycle of movement. This is usually defined in terms of mm (distance) or degrees (angle).
  • Frequency is defined as the number of cycles the power toothbrush bristles move within a unit of time (i.e. 1 Hz: 120 strokes per minute)

Sonicare technology is based on the unique movement (disclosed in the famous original Sonicare patent) thanks to an optimal combination of high frequency and high amplitude.

By changing either the amplitude or the frequency; or varying one or both of them during the brushing cycle, the different cleaning/brushing modes are achieved. E.g. Gentle/Sensitive modes will operate at a lower amplitude than Clean mode.

Philips Sonicare Brushing Modes Explained 5

Brushing intensity

It should be noted that some Sonicare models have the option to change the intensity of the brushing motion.

Depending on the model this can vary between 2 or 3 different power intensity settings.

You will either have a low and high setting or a low, medium and high.

Many models will have an LED indicator to help clearly show what intensity has been selected.

  • Low: 1 LED indicator light.
  • Medium: 2 LED indicator lights.
  • High: 3 LED indicator lights.
Philips Sonicare Brushing Modes Explained 6

The user manual will advise what intensity achieves the best effect on each cleaning mode and in the case of BrushSync handles and heads, the intensity will automatically be set for you.

However, you have the ability to change the intensity allows you to find a brushing sensation that is best for you.  Depending on the model, depends on how exactly this is done. There is often a separate intensity button, or the power button is used to change this, once powered on.

Philips Sonicare Brushing Modes Explained 7


A very neat feature, that appeals to new electric toothbrush users, is the Easy-Start technology that Sonicare builds into brushed.

The Easy-start feature gently increases the power over the first 14 brushings to help you get used to the brushing with the Philips Sonicare toothbrush.

Providing each of the 14 brushing sessions last for at least 1 minute, the brush will properly advance through the Easy-start ramp-up cycle.

At the end of the 14 days, the brush will operate at full intensity, unless you alter this, or switch off the easy-start feature sooner.

Philips Sonicare Brushing Modes Explained 8

You don’t need to use special brush heads

Theoretically, you can use any Sonicare brush head on any of the cleaning modes.

Technically there is nothing stopping you using the Tongue Care+ brush on the Deep Clean mode or a DiamondClean brush head when using the Tongue cleaning mode.

Most brush heads on any mode are going to deliver a good standard of cleaning and be far better than a manual brush or nothing at all!

However, certain brush heads are better suited to certain modes.

For example, the W3 Premium White brush head will deliver the best results when used on the White/White+ cleaning mode.

Check out our guide to Sonicare brush heads to learn which heads are best suited to which mode, but the following graphic gives you a quick reference point. Click the image to enlarge.

Philips Sonicare Brushing Modes Explained 9

You should be aware that if you are using a Sonicare toothbrush that has BrushSync technology depending on which brush head is fitted, the brush will automatically select the ‘best’ mode, unless overridden by you as the user.

Sonicare brushes are labelled with the cleaning modes they have

Unlike Oral-B who use a series of icons on their brush handle as labels for their cleaning modes, Sonicare brush handles usually have the name, written in text on the brush handle.

As the mode is selected, it is normally lit up/illuminated by a light within the handle, so it is very clear and easy to see exactly what mode you have switched on.

Philips Sonicare Brushing Modes Explained 10

Which brushes have which cleaning modes?

The following lists show which brushes have each of the various Sonicare cleaning modes.

Clean mode

Philips Sonicare Brushing Modes Explained 11

White/White+ mode

  • FlexCare Platinum Connected
  • ProtectiveClean 6100
  • DiamondClean
  • DiamondClean Smart 9300
  • DiamondClean Smart 9500
  • DiamondClean Smart 9700
  • 9900 Prestige

Deep clean/Deep clean+ mode

  • FlexCare Platinum Connected
  • ExpertClean
  • DiamondClean
  • DiamondClean Smart 9300
  • DiamondClean Smart 9500
  • DiamondClean Smart 9700
  • 9900 Prestige

Gum health/Gum care mode

  • ProtectiveClean 4500
  • ProtectiveClean 6100
  • ExpertClean
  • DiamondClean
  • DiamondClean Smart 9300
  • DiamondClean Smart 9500
  • DiamondClean Smart 9700
  • 9900 Prestige

Sensitive mode

  • DiamondClean
  • 9900 Prestige

Tongue care mode

  • DiamondClean Smart 9500
  • DiamondClean Smart 9700

Refresh mode

  • FlexCare+

Massage mode

  • FlexCare+

Compare Sonicare electric toothbrushes

The following Philips Sonicare electric toothbrush comparison chart shows the main brushes available and how they compare.

You can see which brushing modes each toothbrush has as well as checking whether or not it has a two minute timer and pacer.

Our Sonicare toothbrush comparisons page also features in depth articles comparing popular brushes to one another.

Click the comparison table below to enlarge.

Philips Sonicare Brushing Modes Explained 12

Your comments

Do you like or make use of particular modes on your Sonicare toothbrush?

Have you got something you want to share with others about the modes and the way they work?

Perhaps you have a question that I have not answered.

Leave a comment or question below.

About Jon Love

Jon is a leading voice on electric toothbrushes and has been quoted by mainstream media publications for his opinions and expertise. Having handled & tested hundreds of products there really is very little he does not know about them. Passionate about business and helping others, Jon has been involved in various online enterprises since the early 2000s. After spending 12 years in consumer technology, it was in 2014 that he focused his attention on dental health, having experienced first-hand the challenge of choosing a new toothbrush.

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