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

Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Gemma Wheeler

(GDC Number: 259369)

How to clean your electric toothbrush: base, handle & heads 1

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?


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.

How to clean your electric toothbrush: base, handle & heads 2

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 specialised 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 sanitiser to ensure all germs and bacteria is cleaned off.

You have the choice of specialised ones for toothbrushes such as the Philips Sonicare HX7990 Universal UV Brush Head Sanitiser or more generic UV santisers. 

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 electric toothbrush brush head every three months, Some brush heads, such as those from Oral-B have blue Indicator bristles which 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 sanitising 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.


  • 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 harbour 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.

How to clean your electric toothbrush: base, handle & heads 3


  • 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 sanitiser
  • 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.

How to clean your electric toothbrush: base, handle & heads 4
  • 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.

How to clean your electric toothbrush: base, handle & heads 5
  • 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.

How to clean your electric toothbrush: base, handle & heads 6
  • 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 harbours 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 sanitiser.

  • 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.

How to clean your electric toothbrush: base, handle & heads 7
  • Using a toothbrush sanitiser

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

Sanitising means that 99.9 percent of bacteria are reduced. Sterilising will destroy ALL living organisms.

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

There are a number of different sanitisers 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 organisations 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 sanitiser 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.


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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17 thoughts on “How to clean your electric toothbrush: base, handle & heads”

  1. 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

    • 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.

  2. 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.

    • 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.

  3. 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

      • 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.

        • 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.

    • 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…

  4. 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.

    • 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?

      • 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.

        • 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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