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Medically Reviewed
Published: January 25, 2024

How to clean your electric toothbrush and brush head

Author: Jon Love (17 Comments)
Medical reviewer: Dr Gemma Wheeler, BDS
Quick summary
  • Thoroughly rinse your brush with tap water after brushing. Store it upright to help it air dry.
  • See our advice below on keeping brush heads clean and avoiding grime buildup.
Montage of electric toothbrushes with grime on them

Things you should do daily

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

  1. Rinse your toothbrush handle and head with tap water after brushing to remove toothpaste and debris.
  2. For Oral-B heads in particular, make sure you rinse inside the brush head.
  3. Leave the head disconnected from the handle to dry.
  4. If possible, leave the toothbrush components stood upright in an area with good airflow to dry fully between uses.
Toothbrush being cleaned under running water

Make sure you take the head off and rinse it

This applies to some brushes more than others, most notably Oral-B.

If you don't do this regularly you can end up with something like that shown in the image below.

How to clean your electric toothbrush and brush head 1
It's unhygienic to put a grimey toothbrush into your mouth

This is an extreme, but very real example. A mixture of toothpaste and living bacteria from your mouth form an unpleasant 'gunk' around key toothbrush components.

Not only is this bad for your oral health, but it can cause the brush to deteriorate more quickly.

You should also clean inside the brush head. Again, this is particularly important if you have an Oral-B brush. At a minimum, taking the head off and rinsing it with running water every day or two should prevent too much grime from building up, but you may need to give it a more thorough clean periodically.

You should replace your brush head every 3 months, but even within that time we have found that a significant amount of grime can build up if the inside of the brush head isn't rinsed and cleaned well enough.

How to clean your electric toothbrush and brush head 2
Grime can quickly build up around brush heads if they are not rinsed after use

Video: how to clean your brush head

This video shows how to clean your brush head and demonstrates just how grimey it can get if it isn't cleaned properly.

Montage of photos showing dirty oral-b brush heads

Ongoing tips for electric toothbrush maintenance

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.

  • Wipe the toothbrush thoroughly with a damp cloth, using a mild detergent when necessary.
  • If necessary use an old toothbrush, a cotton bud or interdental brush to help break up and remove grime left in harder to reach areas.
  • Clean accessories such as charging stands, travel cases and brush head holders.
  • Replace your brush head every three months.
  • 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.

Thoroughly rinse your brush with tap water after brushing

By rinsing the brush under the tap, the volume and force of the water on the bristles will dislodge the majority of food debris and toothpaste that resides within the bristles. This means there are fewer sources for the bacteria to feed on and grow.

Store your brush in an 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. This creates less opportunity for bacteria to grow.

If storing several brushes near to one another, try to arrange them in a way that avoids the bristles coming into contact. This reduces the chances of cross-contamination and the spread of germs.

How to clean your electric toothbrush and brush head 3

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 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 doing it all the time. It is better for your brush head to air dry if possible.

Replace your brush head 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 your brushing routine.  They are not designed to last or be used for longer than 3 months.

As the bristles degrade the effectiveness with which they clean the teeth decreases and they have the potential to damage your 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 if you are concerned.

How to clean your electric toothbrush and brush head 4
You should replace your brush head every 3 months

Store your brush away from the toilet

Whilst there is limited evidence of the possible effects of contamination, storing your toothbrush away from the toilet is good practice to prevent any possible bacterial issues.

This doesn't mean going to great lengths, but reasonable precautions such as not storing the brushes on or directly above the toilet are a good idea.

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 left with a pool of residue that harbours the very bacteria and germs you should be trying to clean away from your toothbrush.

Depending on the electric toothbrush you have, leaving it sat in residue can damage or break it, especially if the contact point for the charger is exposed at the bottom of the brush.

Regularly cleaning out the container that you keep your brush in can really help to protect it from any contamination and prolong its lifespan.

Wipe the charging stand with a damp cloth

If cleaning a charging stand, ensure it is not connected to the power outlet and don't place it under running water. Just wipe it with a damp cloth and let it dry before reconnecting.

If you put the toothbrush on the charging stand directly after rinsing it under the tap, you may find that a layer of grime builds up on the charging stand over time. You should be able to remove this with warm water. The solution to avoid this ongoing is to either dry the toothbrush before putting it on the stand, or wipe the stand clean regularly.

Author: Jon Love
Medical reviewer: Dr Gemma Wheeler, BDS

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Ina Schaffer
November 2, 2020

What about the charger base. How do you keep that clean so it doesn’t stain or have build up

Jon Love - Chief tester
November 2, 2020

Wiping it with a damp cloth should be sufficient. Best to do this when the charger is disconnected from the power.

October 24, 2020

Good information in article. However I believe mould has grown inside the actually hand piece of my oral b electric toothbrush. I can see a minute rim of black matter where the rubber hugs and joins the top of the handle. The thing has a stink like mould and all the cleaning in the world doesn’t remove that faint odour. The actual device is not even a year old and I change the heads regularly. I’m tempted to wreck and cut the silicone Sleeve open to verify for myself. (And toss it out after of course) If my suspicions are confirmed I’ll be using manual brushes from now on! Before I go to drastic measures could you give me some feedback on this please? I cannot find anything at all on the web about this. Many thanks, Linda

Jon Love - Chief tester
October 27, 2020

Hi Linda. Thanks for the comment. What you suggest in theory should not happen, but I do believe is possible. Normally this is experienced on much older brushes where the materials wear and degrade over time, but whilst I have no hard data to confirm it, I have previously had others report similar. I don't believe it is something that fundamentally affects all, but maybe the materials were not quite as tight on your model for example. Whilst opening it up would likely confirm the issue I would suggest you contact Oral-B and see if you can book it in for repair under warranty. They may be able to repair or replace it. I think it is at worth least a shot before opening it up and invalidating any warranty you may have.

Gwynneth Savage
September 5, 2020

Hi. We have braun/oral B electric toothbrushes. We rinse the head after every use in clean water and scrip the handle at each charge. I have also soaked the head in bleach as recommended above, but with all of this the inside of the head becomes grubby and smells. It produces dirty residue when shaken. The part of the handle where the head sits also becomes grubby and over time there is a build up that becomes too hard to remove. We really do give both handle and head a good regular clean. Is there a make of toothbrush that doesn't have these unpleasant features? Thank you.

Jon Love - Chief tester
September 7, 2020

Hi Gwynneth. Thanks for the comment. It sounds like you are doing your best to keep the brush clean. I can't say there is necessarily a toothbrush that doesn't have this issue. It is not a definitive result, but anecdotal evidence suggests Sonicare brushes are better in this regard. A question for you though, is when the toothbrush is not in use, is it in a place with good airflow? Does the brush head dry out properly etc? I have found bathrooms or homes that are cooler, or have restricted airflow can potentially cause issues like this.

Chris Stanley
November 22, 2019

I soak my toothbrush heads in diluted Milton every 2 or 3 weeks and this removes the black residue.

October 1, 2019

Hi, my orab B toothbrush smell horrible as soon as I start brushing my teeth. The actual bristles DONT smell but the smell comes from where the brush head gets connected with the metallic part of the electric hand held unit. This oral b unit is pretty new and I have changed the brush head too but still the smell didnt improve. Is there anything u can suggest to get rid of this issue

December 24, 2021

I’m having the same issue! Did you ever figure it out? No noticeable smell at all until the unit is turned on, and it’s definitely coming from the spot you mentioned. I’ve cleaned it with alcohol, soap, you name it, and nothing has fixed it. Wondering if the inside of the handle is moldy at this point…

Jon Love - Chief tester
October 1, 2019

I can't say I have experienced this issue. Perhaps cleaning the metal shaft with some form of mild detergent might help?

July 2, 2020

Hi, My name is Jolly, I am from the Philippines, and I am a person who is physically blind. I have an electric toothbrush-- an Oral B Vitality Blue and White in color, and it's my first time to use it. However I have a question: Is it necesary to switch on the brush handle when rinsing the brush head after brushing my teeth, or is it okay if I wash the brush head with the handle switched off? And why should the handle be switched on for a few seconds when I wash the brush head? GOD bless you, and thank you. I a looking forward to your positive response. Regards, Jolly.

Jon Love - Chief tester
July 3, 2020

Hi Jolly. Thanks for the question. I would suggest the best approach is to rinse the brush head when the handle is turned off. You do not need the handle on. The only reason to turn on the handle would be to rid excess water that is left in the brush head. The consequence however is it will likely be sprayed around the sink/bathroom as little as this is not contained.

Jolly Camino
July 3, 2020

Thank you Sir. John Love for the clarification. GOD bless you, have a great day!

November 20, 2018

Good day,I have a problem with both my wife's Braum toothbrush,and my own one,the handle,even though it is washed in water after use has become blackened,and I have tried everything to clean it off,with no luck,I even wrote to Braum,but they didn't come back to me. Regards Anthony.

Jon Love - Chief tester
November 20, 2018

Hi Anthony, Have you tried giving the brush handle a gentle scrub with a cloth or using a mild cleaning agent to remove this? Or are you suggesting this 'blackening' of the handle is permanent and grained into the materials?

November 20, 2018

I have given it more than a gentle rub,I have rubbed the life out of it,with every type of cleaner,obviously when new there were no black marks,and I think the toothpaste has caused this while brushing the teeth,as it was always washed,and dried afterwards.

Jon Love - Chief tester
November 20, 2018

Sorry to hear this Anthony. I have no other suggestions I am afraid. Could try contacting the manufacturer, but I think they will suggest wear and tear.

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