How to clean your electric toothbrush: base, handle & heads

Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Gemma Wheeler

(GDC Number: 83940)

How to clean an electric toothbrush

It seems somewhat ironic that you should need to clean the very tool you used to clean your teeth, but it is really a necessity in taking care of your toothbrush and maintaining hygiene.

Over time, if you don’t rinse off or thoroughly clean your toothbrush, it can end up with a layer of hardened toothpaste and generally look a little unpleasant.

Does your electric toothbrush look like this?

Bottom of electric toothbrush covered in grime
grime covered neck of electric toothbrush

When was the last time you gave your toothbrush a good clean?

How to clean an electric toothbrush

The humble toothbrush should be used twice a day for 2 minutes to clean your teeth, but thankfully you don’t need to spend this long cleaning the brush itself.

You can go a few days or potentially weeks without giving it a proper clean, a quick rinse under the tap can keep it looking fairly fresh.

But, there comes a time when you need to clean the toothbrush (including the base, handle and heads) itself.

The mouth is a gateway into your body and bacteria can reside on your brush and the brush head so it does not hurt to keep your brush clean.

Of course, keeping the brush clean also helps prolong the life of the brush and reduces the chance of grime degrading the materials the brush is made out of.

Toothbrush handle under water from tap

You may not be as fussy as me, but personally, I tend to rinse off my toothbrush and give it a wipe down every couple of days to remove any residue toothpaste and grime that builds up on the brush.

You may be a bit more particular and do it every day.

How often you do it does not matter as long as you do it regularly.

Electric brushes from leading brands such as Oral-B and Philips are fully water resistant so you can rinse them under the tap without any worry of it affecting the operation of the brush.

For the most part, cold or warm water and a wipe with a cloth or towel will remove the excess grime.  You do not need a specialized toothbrush cleaner.

A cotton bud and even a toothpick can be useful for getting in harder to reach areas and for assisting in removing harder baked in grime.

For those particularly concerned about the hygiene of a toothbrush there is too the option of using a toothbrush sanitizer to ensure all germs and bacteria are cleaned off.

You have the choice of specialized ones for toothbrushes such as the Philips Sonicare Universal UV Brush Head Sanitizer.

Failing to take care of your electric toothbrush potentially means you will not be getting the best clean with every brush.

If bristles get frayed or worn down, they won’t be as effective at removing plaque.

Here are some tips on how to take care of your toothbrush.

Daily electric toothbrush maintenance

If possible, you should complete the following things daily to keep your toothbrush in a good condition.

  1. Rinse your toothbrush with tap water after use to remove toothpaste and debris.
  2. Don’t overbrush. Too much pressure on your toothbrush can cause the bristles to wear out more quickly and be less effective when cleaning.
  3. Store your toothbrush in an upright position to let it air-dry.

Ongoing tips for your electric toothbrush

Whilst these things need not be done everyday, you should try and complete the following fairly regularly to ensure your brush remains functional and hygienic.

  • Replace your Oral-B Electric Toothbrush brush head every three months, The blue Indicator bristles will have faded halfway to white to remind you of this.
  • Replace the brush head sooner than 3 months if the bristles are frayed and not in the tight formation as they were when the brush head was new.
  • First-time use will require a longer charger or up to 16 hours before the brush is fully charged and ready to use.
  • Use a cotton bud, toothpick or mild detergent if necessary to help remove older, dried on grime and apply light pressure to remove it. Avoid doing damage to the plastic and rubber body of the brush.
  • Whilst safe to leave on charge all the time, in order to get the very best battery life make sure at least every 6 months the brush is used until very little charge is left, then re-charge. This will help extend the battery’s useful life.

Whatever your view or opinion on cleaning and sanitizing your toothbrush I strongly recommend doing what you can to keep it clean, keep you healthy and prolong the life of your electric toothbrush.

How to clean a manual toothbrush

Cleaning a manual toothbrush doesn’t differ all that much to cleaning an electric toothbrush — for either brush it’s quite straightforward — but in the sections below we have included extra detail on maintaining your brush long term.

Do

  • Thoroughly rinse toothbrushes with tap water after brushing
  • Store your brush upright position and let it air dry
  • Replace your brush every 3 months
  • Avoid routinely covering or storing brush heads in closed containers

Do not

  • Do not share toothbrushes

The above do’s and don’ts come from advice offered up by the American Dental Association (ADA).

By following these you stand the best chances of ensuring your toothbrush does not harbor harmful levels of bacteria.

The ADA does state that ‘although studies have shown that various microorganisms can grow on toothbrushes after use, and other studies have examined various methods to reduce the level of these bacteria, there is insufficient clinical evidence to support that bacterial growth on toothbrushes will lead to specific adverse oral or systemic health effects’.

What this means is that should bacteria grow on a toothbrush, the likelihood of it having any serious knock-on effect to you and your health is very low with no real evidence to support such.

Despite this, there are a number of considerations you could make to further ensure you protect yourself and others when using a toothbrush, but the evidence and beneficial effects of such are not clear or necessarily significant.

Consider

  • Avoiding over-brushing
  • Take extra precautions during times of illness
  • Store away from the likes of toilets
  • Regularly clean any storage containers used for holding toothbrushes
  • Soaking a toothbrush in mouthwash
  • Placing in boiling water
  • Using a sanitizer
  • Home remedies
  • Using a dishwasher or microwave

Now, let me explain all of these and the reasoning behind these dos, don’ts and considerations.

The things you should do explained

Firstly, the things you should do.

  • Thoroughly rinse toothbrushes with tap water after brushing

By rinsing the brush with water from the tap, the volume and force with which it makes contact with and passes through the bristles will dislodge the majority of remaining food debris and toothpaste that resides on or within the bristles, giving fewer sources for the bacteria to feed on and grow.

  • Store your brush upright position and let it air dry

By letting your toothbrush stand upright and air dry the excess moisture can drain away from the bristles and they can dry out naturally and offer less opportunity for bacteria to grow.

If stored alongside other toothbrushes as is common in a family environment, avoid the bristles of the brush touching that of another brush to reduce the chances of cross-contamination.

Multiple toothbrushes in cup
  • Replace your brush every 3 months

Over time the bristles of the brush head will naturally degrade.  They will split, fray, wear or become damaged as a result of the brushing routine we have.  They are not designed to last or be used for much longer.

As they degrade the effectiveness with which they clean the teeth decreases and potentially the head becomes more damaging to the teeth and gums.

Replacing the toothbrush on average every 3 or so months is good practice to maintain a good level of oral health.  However, subject to your teeth and brushing style, you may need to replace the head more frequently.  Always consult your dentist for their advice.

  • Avoid routinely covering or storing brush heads in closed containers

If a brush head is covered, the damp environment in which it sits can be an ideal environment for encouraging the growth of bacteria and the microorganisms that make up harmful bacteria.  It is perfectly fine when required to pop a brush within a travel case or container, but avoid where possible doing it all the time.

The things you should not do explained

Now for the things you should not do.

  • Do not share toothbrushes

By sharing a toothbrush you are putting yourself and the other user at risk of exchanging body fluids and microorganism.  Whilst it may seem harmless, those sharing a toothbrush are at greater risk of infection and could be considerably more damaging to those with a compromised or weak immune system.

Learn more about the issues with sharing a toothbrush.

Considerations explained

  • Avoid over-brushing

Not only do you want to avoid over brushing for the sake of your teeth and gums, if you are brushing more frequently than you need to or with more pressure than is actually required the bristles of the brush are likely to become damaged more quickly.  When the bristles are damaged they are less effective and can hamper the clean you get when brushing.

  • Take extra precautions during times of illness

Depending on your living arrangements you may want to take extra ‘common sense’ precautions if you or others in the household are ill or suffering from any illness or diseases.

This is particularly applicable if you have for example a family bathroom and all the toothbrushes are stored in one container.  Replacing the brush sooner can be advantageous.

If one family member has a particularly contagious infection or disease, you may want to ensure their toothbrush is positioned away from others to retain good health amongst others as best as possible.

  • Store away from the likes of toilets

Whilst there is limited evidence in the possible effects of contamination from water splashes from a toilet, keeping toothbrushes away from such is good practice to prevent any possible bacterial issues.

This need not mean going to great lengths, but reasonable precautions such as not storing the brushes on or directly above the toilet, if it can be avoided.

  • Regularly clean any storage containers used for holding toothbrushes

If you store your brush in a cup or stand, any excess moisture on it likely drains to the bottom.

You can be potentially left with a pool of water or a residue that harbors the very bacteria and germs you wish not to have on or around your toothbrush.

Regularly cleaning out that container can really help protect the brush from any contamination.

  • Soaking a toothbrush in mouthwash

This study has suggested that there may well be benefit from soaking in mouthwash, the ADA has yet to see any clinical evidence for the benefit of doing this.  There are too concerns over potential cross-contamination if the same cup of mouthwash is used for multiple toothbrushes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) specifically state you do not need to do this.

A better bet might be using a toothbrush sanitizer.

  • Placing in boiling water

The high temperature may indeed be known to be useful in helping cleanse and kill off some strains of bacteria, it is not a proven technique and may or may not have a beneficial effect.

  • Using a toothbrush sanitizer

It is all too easy to misinterpret the words sanitizing and sterilizing.  They are very similar but different.

Sanitizing means that 99.9 percent of bacteria are reduced. Sterilizing will destroy ALL living organisms.

Thus, technically sterilizing is the more effective method for ensuring the ultimate safety when it comes to brushing your teeth.

There are a number of different sanitizers on the market that could be considered and may well be effective or give you peace of mind even if the data has yet to convince leading dental organizations and bodies to promote them as a way of reducing germs.

The ADA specifically states, ‘while there is evidence of bacterial growth on toothbrushes, there is no clinical evidence that soaking a toothbrush in an antibacterial mouth rinse or using a commercially-available toothbrush sanitizer has any positive or negative effect on oral or systemic’

  • Storecupboard items

There have been suggestions that a combination of water, vinegar and baking soda can be used to cleanse your toothbrush, but there is no clinical evidence to confirm that this is indeed effective.

Using a dishwasher or microwave could according to the ADA damage a toothbrush and the bristles and the effectiveness of the brush decreased.

Putting a toothbrush in a dishwasher or microwave cycle may sound like a logical and sensible idea.  Whilst it is possible it can clean off bacteria due to the heat and cleaning techniques used, this is not a proven technique and manufacturers of toothbrushes do not design their brushes to be used in such ways.

References

Jon Love

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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