Water flossers can replace string floss
Water flossers can be used as an alternative to traditional string floss. Studies have shown that when used in addition to toothbrushing, a water flosser can reduce bleeding gums by 37%. They are recommended by the European Federation of Periodontology.
Our in-house dentist Dr. Gemma Wheeler notes that interdental brushes are the most effective method of cleaning, but she does recommend water flossers for some people:
“A water flosser doesn’t replace interdental brushes, which are the most effective interdental cleaning method. My recommendation to patients is to find a cleaning method that works for them, and there is certainly a place for water flossers. The most effective type of interdental cleaning is the one that you will actually do.”
In this post we recommend some reliable cordless water flossers based on vigorous hands-on testing and advice from Dr. Wheeler.
Essential features to look for
Cordless water flossers offer a variety of different features. Not all are necessary. From our testing, the most essential features of a portable flosser are:
- 45 seconds or more flossing time: enough time to get a thorough clean without having to refill
- 2 or more pressure modes: important if you have any sensitivity
- Rotating nozzle: to help you reach all parts of the mouth
- Comfortable grip: a large area for the palm and fingers to grip onto is better than a slim handle. It’s also helpful if the grip is made from materials that prevent slippage
Our recommendations take all of these into account. We explain their importance in more detail in our buyer’s guide below, and explain why some features aren’t as necessary.
Waterpik Cordless Advanced WP-560
*Prices correct at time of writing
Why it’s the best cordless water flosser:
Comfort was a key consideration in our choice for the best water flosser, the Waterpik WP-560. The curved design of the flosser and the large area of raised dots on the back make it easy to hold. It feels comfortable and secure in hand, which helps to control the flosser when in use.
Rotating the nozzle is the easiest of any water flosser we have tested. The large wheel used for rotating the nozzle feels natural to use with good feedback. Being able to rotate the nozzle makes it easier to reach all parts of the mouth.
The 207ml water tank gives 45 seconds of use on the most powerful of the 3 pressure modes. This is plenty of time to clean thoroughly and means you don’t need to rush. This makes it easier to focus on using the correct technique.
Having a variety of easy-to-use pressure settings is another key consideration. It is important to be able to change the pressure, to a lower setting, if you have sensitive teeth or gums.
The Cordless Advanced has all the features we recommend for a cordless water flosser and has been approved by both the American Dental Association (ADA) and Oral Health Foundation.
Read our full Waterpik WP-560 Review.
What we like
- 45+ second flossing time
- Easy to rotate the nozzle
- Grippy handle
- 3 pressure settings
- Easy to attach magnetic charger
- Travel pouch included in the box
What we dislike
- Price – it is expensive
Sonicare Cordless Power Flosser 3000
*Prices correct at time of writing
Why we chose it:
The Sonicare Cordless Power Flosser 3000 is the best alternative to our top choice. There are many similarities, but in favour of the Sonicare is the larger larger water tank. It means you get at least 15 seconds more flossing time with each use, making you feel less rushed.
The Quad Stream nozzle creates an X shaped water stream that covers a larger surface area and helps reach areas that are easy to miss.
Philips has built a timer into the flosser to encourage even cleaning between the teeth. It is a small, but very useful addition that gives it a bit of an edge over the competition. The additional cleaning mode, known as deep clean, gives more choice and uses pulsations in the water flow.
It’s the first water flosser (that we know of) to be recharged via a USB C cable, which is very convenient for frequent travellers. Unfortunately, the nozzle is very difficult to rotate and the flosser doesn’t feel quite as secure in hand as the Waterpik Advanced does.
Add in the lesser box contents and the premium price for the replacement nozzles and it doesn’t manage to knock the Waterpik from the top spot. But it’s a very close 2nd place.
Read our full Sonicare Cordless Power Flosser 3000 Review.
What we like
- 60+ second flossing time
- Rotating nozzle
- 3 pressure/intensity settings
- Built-in timer/pacer to encourage even flossing
- USB type-c charger
- Travel pouch included in the box
What we dislike
- The nozzle is a bit difficult to rotate
- Lacks gripping points
- Replacement nozzles are expensive
*Prices correct at time of writing
It’s cheap, but not a great option:
There aren’t very many good options if you want a reliable ‘budget’ water flosser. On Amazon you will find several products under £30, but do be aware that the product may fail a lot sooner than a product from a well-known brand such as Sonicare or Waterpik. One such example is Fairywill, which is arguably the best-known ‘cheap’ brand that makes these kinds of products.
Fairywill products are no longer available on Amazon. This is due to the way it has gone about gathering positive reviews for its products. As a result of this, and because of direct reports we have received about how frequently Fairywill products fail, we no longer recommend Fairywill as a budget alternative. However, we are still including the Fairywill 5020E in this post because there are very few alternatives if you want a budget recommendation.
If you can afford to, we strongly advise going for one of our other recommendations above. Failing that, you could consider the Panasonic EW-DJ10 (Amazon, Ebay), although it is more basic than the 5020E. The EW-DJ10 does have the advantage that it folds up, so it is a good option if you travel about a lot and want to take it with you.
The Fairywill 5020E has a few more features, but again, you may run into reliability issues. It lasts an impressive 90 seconds when using the most powerful of the 3 modes available. In our testing, the cleaning performance was comparable to other water flossers. The mouth felt clean after each use. But, it is not supported by clinical evidence. The studies simply haven’t been completed.
The nozzle can be rotated to help reach all areas of the mouth. But we found it much more difficult to rotate than the WP-560, particularly when in use.
Watch our Fairywill 5020E Video Review.
What we like
- 90+ seconds flossing time
- 3 pressure settings
- Long battery life
- USB charging
What we dislike
- Reliability issues reported by users
- Difficult to rotate the nozzle
- Warranty is only 1 year
- Small port cover that is easy to lose
Other flossers we have tested
Only a select few of the cordless water flossers we test actually make it into this best list. Hours of hands-on testing allow us to recommend only products we would use on a daily basis. In all honesty, it is quite rare for a product to be bad. The vast majority of water flossers are satisfactory. Most do meet the minimum requirements we set out for a good portable flosser. Thus, the best options really do stand out for one reason or another. Oral-B’s Aquacare range demonstrates this point.
Both the Aquacare 4 and the Aquacare 6 Pro-Expert have a 45 second flossing time. Both have at least 2 pressure settings, 2 weeks of battery life and a water resistant design. Both have rotating nozzles, are comfortable to hold and come with a 2 year warranty. But, neither feel the best quality.
The retaining clip for the water tank on the Aquacare 4 broke off in my testing. The nozzles do rotate, but not all that easily. The different pressure settings and modes are made more complicated than they need to be. Both come with bulky charging stands that are less than ideal for travel. And both are more expensive than they should when accounting for these shortcomings.
Even Waterpik, the brand leader, doesn’t get it right all the time. Its WF-10 Cordless Select is a great water flosser on paper. In fact, the USB magnetic charging cable is brilliant to use. Yet the design means you don’t have a lot of surface area to grip onto. Your hand feels restricted, which makes it feel less comfortable to use.
This is less of an issue with the WP-450 Cordless Plus from Waterpik, but, it is now a much older model that looks and feels dated. Yes, it works and does what it needs to do, but it has an exposed charging port on the front. And there is no light to give feedback on the rechargeable battery. The nozzle is harder to rotate and the quality feels worse than newer units from Waterpik.
Like the Cordless Plus, the WF-03 Cordless Freedom is another cheaper option — it is one of the only cordless options that uses removable AA batteries. It cleans the teeth well and it is American Dental Association approved like other Waterpik models.
The downside is that you cannot rotate the nozzle and the water tank has a capacity of 150ml. These are compromises that have to be made for the benefit of removable batteries. Unless you are travelling frequently and unable to charge a built-in battery, removable batteries do not offer any added convenience.
Waterpik do dominate within this space, for good reason. They have invested most heavily. They have a range of flossing tips that you don’t get with Oral-B, Panasonic and Fairywill. They accommodate more specialised needs much better.
The Burst cordless oral irrigator has a lot going for it. Nicely designed, it is one of the best looking flossers available in 3 different colours. It is very powerful, able to offering 160 PSI pressure, which is 60 more than even the best countertop models. Unfortunately, the main drawback is the small water tank’s capacity. At 110ml, the maximum usage time is just 30 seconds. This isn’t long enough for a full floss.
Panasonic are a well known company, but you don’t typically associate them with oral care products. They do however have a couple of cordless units. Their collapsible EW-DJ10 is a possible option for frequent travellers as it takes up much less space in a bag.
The larger EW1511 is the better of the two. A really well thought out flosser, it is the only one to have a wall mountable holder/charger. You have 5 different intensities, a good grip and the base is removable making it really easy to clean and dry the unit. Unfortunately the availability of nozzles is poor and the cost high, which goes against all the other things that are so right about what is on offer.
Buyer’s guide: useful pre-purchase advice
In the sections below we’ve added useful notes and tips from our research and testing. No doubt you’ll have one or two particular questions before buying, as did we. Browse the sections below, and if you can’t find the information you need, please leave a comment at the bottom of this page and we’ll get back to you.
Who should use a water flosser?
Overall, water flossers are not the most effective method for plaque removal. But they still show benefits for gum health.
They are a good option for someone who has tried and failed to use interdental brushes.
Our in-house dentist Dr. Gemma Wheeler says:
“I would recommend a water flosser to certain people:
- Those who have limited hand mobility and so struggle with interdental brushes.
- People with large gaps where a brush doesn’t fit but food gets trapped.
- Those who won’t use floss and brushes due to a gag reflex, negative experience, or who can’t get the technique right.
- Someone with braces, to help clean around the brackets.
I also say anyone who wants to try them can add them to an existing routine e.g. interdental brushes.
Even with the evidence available, I know that the most effective type of interdental cleaning is the one that you will actually do. I want to support people to make flossing a habit.”
The water flosser features we regard as essential
From handling and testing lots of water flossers, we’ve come to regard some features as essential, and others as nice to have but not a dealbreaker if they are missing.
We deem the essential features of a good portable flosser to be:
45 seconds or more flossing time
Flossers with a water tank of around 200ml will achieve this. 45 seconds is enough time to get a thorough clean without having to refill. It can make the flosser slightly heavier but it is a worthwhile trade off.
2 or more pressure modes
If you have sensitive gums it is useful to be able to adjust the pressure.
Having a 360 degree rotating nozzle makes it easier to reach all parts of the mouth.
From our testing, a large area for the palm and fingers to grip onto is better than a slim handle. It’s also helpful if the grip is made from materials that prevent slippage, particularly when wet.
Features that are nice to have, but not critical
There are lots of extra features that can be built into a flosser. These are in our opinion not essential. They are nice to have if they are included:
2+ week battery life
A battery life stated as being at least 2 weeks allows for a good amount of use between charges.
Battery status/charge light
A battery status or charge light gives you a clear indication of how much power actually remains. You know when it will need recharging and there is less chance the flosser will cut out on you mid session.
Backed by clinical evidence
Scientific studies that have tested the product and confirm what it can achieve.
Approved by dental bodies and organisations
Independent assessment of the product and any clinical data that exists. Examples include the Oral Health Foundations “Approved” status and the American Dental Association’s Seal of Acceptance.
Mode/pressure setting notification lights
Visible indicators to show the selected mode.
Variety of flossing tips
Interchangeable tips make the water flosser more adaptable to different use case scenarios. For example, some tips are designed to safely reach into periodontal pockets. These allow for deeper cleaning beneath the gum-line.
Some flossers come with a place to stow any additional/replacement nozzles, which helps to keep the bathroom tidy. A removable lid cum storage compartment also works well.
It’s a bonus if the flosser comes with a protective cover to prevent damage, leaks or accidental activation when in transit, but it’s not a deal-breaker if it isn’t included.
USB charging offers a more convenient option as the cable tends to be smaller with no bulky power brick. It’s particularly useful for regular travellers.
2 Year warranty
Ideally the flosser will come with a warranty of 2 or more years so that you have the peace of mind that should the product fail it will be repaired or replaced. Typically products do come with a 2 year warranty, but there are some that only come with 1 year.
Cordless vs corded (countertop) water flossers
If you have space (approx 6 x 6 inches) for one in your bathroom, we recommend going for a countertop over a cordless water flosser — we recommend a few in our best water flosser post. There is no evidence to suggest one is better than the other. There are scientific studies that confirm the effectiveness of both. In our own hands-on testing, we have found them to be as effective as each other.
We’ve found countertop models slightly more comfortable to use. They also have larger water reservoirs, meaning they have longer cleaning times and need to be refilled less often. They often come with extra features, such as extra pressure settings or a built-in timer.
That being said, a cordless water flosser is still a perfectly good option if you don’t have space for a countertop model, or if you travel a lot. Countertop units need a power outlet. They need to be plugged in for them to work. You are therefore more restricted on where you place them. Cordless units are wire-free. This makes them more portable and convenient, particularly if you don’t have a socket in your bathroom.
A bit more on why having different pressure settings is useful
You might not need to switch between them all the time, but having the choice is valuable. Whilst countertop water flossers can have as many as 10 settings, 2 or 3 is common for cordless models. You want at least a low and a high setting. As the names imply, the pressure varies between these. Low is more gentle and high more intense.
Pressure is measured in Pounds Per Square Inch (PSI) or Bar. Typically the pressure ranges from 10 to 100 PSI, although some models reach as much as 160 PSI. Low pressure tends to be around 30-45 PSI and high 60-80 PSI, subject to model.
The extra power can blast away more debris, but sheer force is not essential and may feel uncomfortable to some people. Lower pressure with the correct technique is equally as effective. There is no evidence to support using higher power over a lower power. A low setting is ideal for inflamed, sensitive and bleeding gums. If you have healthy teeth and gums, the higher setting can be used.
The evidence for and against water flossers
Water flossers are one of the less common forms of interdental cleaning. They are safe, with little ability to cause damage to the gums. Going by the studies that have been completed, it seems that water flossers do not fully remove plaque. Despite this, they can still have a positive effect on the gums, as we explain below.
Waterpik publishes its own clinical research
Waterpik has listed a large amount of clinical research on its website. Some people could perceive this as biased. But it is worth noting that it is independently scrutinised to be published in peer-reviewed journals. This means that you can discount any obvious problems with their data. However, do consider that they are unlikely to promote data that doesn’t support their hypotheses (read: advertising claims). Many of the articles are not available in full online, only the Waterpik summary or the paper abstracts.
Highlights from their research are (the link will lead you to the journal article, not the Waterpik page):
- Using a water flosser in addition to toothbrushing reduces bleeding gums and plaque levels. Lyle et al. compared bleeding scores and plaque levels in two groups: those using only an electric toothbrush; those using an electric toothbrush + water flosser. They found that the group who used the water flosser had decreased levels of bleeding gums. The plaque levels were also lower in those using the water flossers. Although these results were of less statistical significance.
- Waterpiks reduce gingival inflammation more than flossing does. Barnes et al. 2005 study found a Waterpik to be more effective than string floss in reducing gingival bleeding. This study compared manual toothbrush + floss to manual toothbrush + water flosser and sonic toothbrush + water flosser. They miss out a key comparison group: sonic toothbrush + flossing. This makes the evidence somewhat skewed in favour of the water flosser. Much of the benefit of switching to a powered brush is presented as being the water flosser, but there is no way to compare.
- Water flossers are effective and safe for implants. Kotsakis et al. showed that water flossers are as effective as interdental brushes and more effective than chlorhexidine mouthwash. They reduce the amount of bacteria on implants, without damaging the implant surface.
Independent reviews and papers support most of these claims
Independent reviews by Ng and Lim as well as Worthington et al showed that water flossers do not reduce plaque levels. This is also shown in Waterpik’s own study in 2011. Despite ineffective plaque removal, water flossers do reduce inflammation of the gums. They reduce bleeding from the gums, an indicator for active gum disease.
Water flossers might not reduce levels of plaque, but it is thought they do disrupt forming plaque from above and below the gum level. The theory is that this changes the structure of the plaque layer. If the plaque structure is altered, it may cause less inflammation in the gums. But at present, this is only a theory.
The water flossers also flush out food debris. This 2015 review by Sälzer et al also supports water flossers for improving gingival health versus no interdental cleaning aid. The European Federation of Periodontology (EFP) also recommends water flossers for interdental cleaning in their evidence based guidelines.
The benefits of cordless water flossers
- Convenience: you fill the tank and switch it on. It is less hassle than pulling out a length of floss and wrapping it around the fingers. Not to mention then feeding it between the teeth. Rotating nozzles make it easy to reach awkward spots in the mouth. A long nozzle makes it easy to reach the back teeth.
- Less time-consuming: you can complete a thorough floss of the teeth with a water flosser quicker than you can with string floss.
- Reduce inflammation and bleeding of the gums: the water reaches spaces that a toothbrush or traditional floss can’t. Notably, under the gumline. This means bacteria and debris that cause inflammation and bleeding are removed.
- They disrupt more plaque: traditional string floss requires a very specific technique to be effective. Water flossers are easier to use to disrupt the plaque layer.
- They are more gentle on the gums: incorrect flossing technique can be painful or damaging to the gums. The pressurised water feels softer and gentle on the gums. It will stimulate blood flow. Variable pressure settings allow you to find the right pressure for you.
- Suitable for braces, implants, bridges and crowns: the water flow allows for a quick and effective clean around dental appliances.
- They are easier for people with limited mobility (dexterity): the nozzles allow for much easier positioning and reach into the mouth. There are fewer fingers and thumbs and awkward movements.
- Nozzle variety: a variety of nozzles allows for a more personalised oral care routine. Individual circumstances, such as periodontal disease, can be more effectively treated at home.
And the drawbacks
- Environmental impact: no studies into the environmental impact of water flossers exist yet. In 2020 a study compared electric toothbrushes to manual alternatives. Electric brushes came out worse in many areas. The weight and electrical components likely make water flossers less environmentally-friendly. This is in comparison to other flossing options. The heavy use of water also has a large impact on the environment.
- Size: even the most compact cordless water flosser isn’t as travel friendly as a reel of traditional floss.
- Noise: a water flosser makes quite a bit of noise when in use.
- Price: a cordless water flosser is more expensive than string floss or floss sticks.
- Interdental brushes are more effective: despite the ease of use, interdental brushes produce better results. Plaque isn’t removed as effectively by a water flosser as it is with an interdental brush.
- Water tank size/pressure settings: each flossing session is limited to the size of the water tank and the pressure setting selected. You may have to refill the tank multiple times to complete the clean.
- Sink access: you need to be lent over a sink, even with a cordless, due to the amount of water that needs to be expelled during use.
- Batteries/power: water flossers will require recharging or replacement batteries.
How the different nozzles / tips work
d when you like. The most common nozzle is the ‘jet tip’. This is suitable for the vast majority of users. It is designed for everyday use, offering a deep clean between teeth and along the gumline. Most water flossers come with this type of tip included and available as a spare/replacement.
Some brands, notably Waterpik, offer a wider variety of nozzles. The additional nozzles are specifically designed to offer benefits to particular users. Here’s a short explanation of what various tips can be used for:
- Orthodontic tip: this has a tapered brush on the end to help remove plaque from braces and orthodontics. It also helps flush out bacteria and food debris from around teeth and under the gums.
- Plaque Seeker tip: designed to clean in and around harder to reach areas. Most notably dental restorations. 3 thin bristle tufts gently access stubborn plaque around dental implants, crowns, bridges and veneers.
- Pik Pocket tip: designed to deliver water deep into periodontal pockets. Ideal for those diagnosed with more advanced gum disease.
- Tongue cleaner: the nozzle has a spoon-like shape. This traps and removes plaque from the tongue, in an effort to prevent bad breath.
- Toothbrush tip: you can brush your teeth as you floss. It acts like a manual toothbrush (the bristles do not move like an electric toothbrush).
- Implant denture tip: designed to reach hard to access areas. Ideal to clean around dental appliances such as fixed implant bridges and dentures.
The names and features of the tips can vary from one brand to another. The range of nozzles and the availability tends to be best with larger brands. For example, DentJet only offers a jet tip only. Those with more personalised needs will not be best served by DentJet.
Our research suggests Waterpik offers the best range. In fact, out of the box, Waterpik models often come with some of these different tip types. Your dental professional can recommend specific tips if they are suitable for you.
Manufacturer guidelines suggest a nozzle such as a jet tip should be replaced every 6 months. More specialist tips such as a plaque seeker or orthodontic tip should be renewed every 3 months. Some people will clean jet tips with distilled vinegar. This is to extend the usable life from them and reduce the need to replace them.
The type of nozzle and its availability can affect the cost. A jet tip from Waterpik will likely cost in the region of £4-5 per tip, whereas a Fairywill option will cost around £2.50. Please note. Although nozzles are interchangeable, 1 brand might not be interchangeable with another. For example, Waterpik nozzles will not work with Sonicare.
Things to know about travelling with a cordless flosser
Different water flossers come with different power supplies. Many will come with a power cable suitable for the 2 pin outlet in your bathroom. It is quite rare for a flosser to come with a 3 pin UK plug. Although, you can get adapters (sold separately) that allow you to connect to a 3 pin socket.
Few come with replaceable batteries. But those that do can be a real winner for some. If you do need a water flosser with replaceable batteries, we recommend the Waterpik WF-03 Cordless Freedom.
More products now come with USB cables. These are more convenient, offering more flexibility when recharging. If you intend to travel internationally, be aware of the different power requirements. As a quick reference guide:
0-240V is printed on the base / plug
- It can be used globally
- No voltage convertor is needed
- A plug adapter may be needed, subject to country
If 220-240V is printed on the base / plug
- It can be used in countries with 200-240V (e.g. most European countries, NOT US/Canada)
- A converter is needed if the voltage of the country you are travelling to is less than 220V
- A plug adapter may be needed, subject to country
If 110V / 60 Cycles is printed on the base / plug
- It can be used in countries with 110 volts (e.g. US/Canada)
- You need a voltage converter if the voltage of the country you are travelling to is higher than 110V
- A plug adapter may be needed, subject to country
It could be worth investing in a travel case
It is worth considering protection for your water flosser when travelling. Some, but not all, come with cases included.
More often than not, these are basic cloth pouch cases. They offer limited protection. What they do allow is for the flosser and all the accessories to be kept neatly together. They can help stop any excess water leaking out into a bag.
Some will also come with a separate case for the nozzles.
Do bear in mind, no water flosser we have tested, comes with any way to deactivate the buttons. It is possible that in a cloth case, a button might accidentally get pressed and the device activated.