How to Disinfect a Toothbrush & Avoid Bacteria - Public Goods

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How to Disinfect a Toothbrush & Avoid Bacteria

Millions of people brush their teeth to keep the bad germs — the ones that cause tooth decay or gingivitis — away.

 two bamboo toothbrushes stored upright

Some of those rotten microbes could theoretically hitch a ride onto the bristles of the toothbrush, resulting in some much-needed disinfecting.

When attempting to scrub away a days’ worth of food fragments inconveniently lodged between teeth and hard to reach areas such as the back molars, the Mayo Clinic advises people to brush for a good two minutes, three times a day.

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How Bacteria Transfers From Your Teeth to Your Toothbrush

Proper or improper use aside, studies show that once the toothbrush has been used, it begins to house bacteria. The longer the duration of use and lack of disinfection, the higher the risk of accumulation of potentially harmful microorganisms.

Another factor to consider is toothpaste. The moment a tube of toothpaste is squeezed onto the bristles, that instrument created to maintain proper oral hygiene and dental health has been contaminated. This consequence is due to the likelihood of the tube of toothpaste being shared, which results in cross-contamination if directly applied to the bristles of different toothbrushes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is still a chance the toothbrush could be harboring harmful pathogenic organisms, even if you’ve recently given it a decent rinse under the tap. This risk exists due to the possibility that it may have come in contact with blood, saliva, debris and toothpaste.

The human mouth contains a glut of microorganisms. How the toothbrush is handled between each use determines whether it has been truly disinfected.

In May 2019, the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) oral microbe expert, Dr. Robert Palmer, stated in a newsletter that roughly 700 classes of bacteria, fungi, and various other microbes are found in the human mouth.

“Everybody has these microbes in their mouth,” Palmer wrote.

Despite the stigma of the word, not all germs are detrimental to the human body. In fact, the microorganisms that dwell on and in the human body actually serve to protect their host.

Each time food enters the mouth, the good oral microorganisms act as a barrier checkpoint, guarding against foreign toxic bacteria while keeping internal harmful bacteria (such as plaque) in check.

How to Disinfect Your Toothbrush

There are a few methods a person can practice to sanitize their toothbrush and ensure it’s fully disinfected. Dental assistant Emily Earley of La Grande, Oregon, who has been working in the dental industry for nine years, shared some of her tips with Public Goods.


toothbrush in bowl of mouthwash

The most common approach folks rely on to sanitize their toothbrush is using mouthwash, such as Listerine. Some leave the bristles in the solution for a few minutes; others do so overnight.

“Overexposure to mouthwash can damage the bristles,” Earley warned.

Earley cautioned everyone that when it comes to using mouthwash as a disinfectant, it’s all about timing.

“Soak the head of your toothbrush in an antibacterial mouthwash for no more than fifteen minutes,” she said. “More isn’t more in this case.”

Never gargle the same liquid you just used to sanitize your toothbrush. Any toxic virus or bacteria that could have been lingering on the toothbrush would have transferred into the solution.

Vinegar and Baking Soda

 toothbrush in white vinegar and baking soda

Don’t have mouthwash to use? You can also use white vinegar, water and baking soda to get a clean toothbrush. One study published in 2014 found that white vinegar was an effective solution in killing an array of microorganisms commonly found on the toothbrush. If you want to use this cost-effective and simple route, Earley provided this set of instructions to follow:


  • ½ cup of water
  • 2 tablespoons of white vinegar
  • Dash of baking soda (optional)


  1. Start with a ½ cup of water.
  2. Mix the two tablespoons of white vinegar and (optional) baking soda.
  3. Soak the head of the toothbrush for 20-30 minutes.
  4. Rinse and store properly.

Store It In Hydrogen-Peroxide

toothbrush in bowl of hydrogen peroxide

This everyday solution will prevent germs from building up on the bristles. Once you finish brushing, place your toothbrush in a small cup of hydrogen peroxide. Switch it out after each time you brush. The only downside of this daily approach is that it will wear out your bristles faster.

Purchase a UV Toothbrush Sanitizer

toothbrush in uv sanitizer

Another option is to simply purchase a UV toothbrush sanitizer device. Designed to sterilize your bristles using ultraviolet light, they typically range between $20 to $50 in price. Research has proven these devices to be an effective way to eliminate bacteria. One 2008 study found that the UV toothbrush holder reduced the number of colony-forming units of bacteria by an average of 86%.

Storage Also Plays an Important Role

bamboo toothbrush stored in bathroom

Inventions such as the plastic caps that are meant to cover the head of the toothbrush only provide protection if the bristles are absolutely dry. It’s not a good idea to put these closed containers on a toothbrush just after it has been used because it produces a moist, dark environment that is ideal for unsafe bacteria to sprout.

Storing toothbrushes in medicine cabinets, drawers or any poorly ventilated area can create the same risk of harmful bacterial growth, given the right circumstances. Earley consistently emphasized the importance of where a toothbrush is placed.

How you store your toothbrush has everything to do with its potential to harbor bacteria,” she said. “Warm, moist environments help germs thrive.”

Before and after each use, Earley stated it was best to thoroughly rinse the bristles of the toothbrush under warm water to remove any particles. Once that process is completed, Earley recommends individuals allow it to air dry completely.

Earley went on to explain that it was best to place the toothbrush in an upright position, ensuring there is no contact with other toothbrushes, as per the American Dental Association (ADA) recommendation.

The Final Rinse

rinse toothbrush bristles in sink

When it comes to disinfecting a toothbrush, there is no need to incorporate it into a daily routine, as this habit can speed up the damaging of the bristles. Instead, Earley suggested disinfecting the toothbrush every few weeks or after being sick.

All in all, the key to keeping a truly clean and sanitary toothbrush is how it is stored. Remember to keep it upright, untouched and open to the air.

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Comments (1)

  • I do not understand how the article can state that a daily routine of safe storage and sterilization is not necessary as multiple studies show the presence of fecal matter and many other bacteria, fungi and viruses in the ‘bacterial bloom’ thrown up in a bathroom with a flushing toilet. does the author surmise that there is an acceptable level of such contamination (especially in a shared bathroom)?
    Daily storage where the item is not in contact with the atmosphere in the bathroom is required and also daily sterilization. I would like to know where the assertion that soaking a brush in Mouthwash or a solution of water and mouthwash has come from as I can not find any published evidence of same.

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