How to Clean and Sanitize a Toothbrush—and Keep It Germ Free

Updated: Mar. 21, 2024

If you know how to clean a toothbrush, you know it isn't time-consuming or costly. But you may be surprised how often you should do it.

We’re more likely to think about cleaning things with a toothbrush than we are to think about cleaning the toothbrush itself. And that’s because it’s easy to space out on cleaning the things that do our cleaning for us. Making time to clean a dishwasher, clean a washing machine or clean a showerhead not only helps them sparkle and shine, but also makes for a healthier environment. Learning how to clean a toothbrush is no different.

“I always say, never rush while you brush,” says Roopali Kulkarni, DMD, MPH, a spokesperson for the American Dental Association (ADA). “Take the time to clean your toothbrush too.” If cleaning the bathroom is already part of your cleaning schedule, why not add washing those bristles to the list? Here’s how to clean your toothbrush to keep bacteria at bay and your pearly whites shining.

Why you need to clean your toothbrush

“Our mouth is home to millions of types of bacteria, many good, and some not as good,” says Dr. Kulkarni. “Cleaning the toothbrush is getting rid of residue, toothpaste, saliva, blood and plaque, which is a sticky substance that holds some of the bacteria in our mouth.”

Thinking about the gunk on your toothbrush? Don’t get too grossed out just yet. The ADA says that while toothbrushes do harbor bacteria, there is no evidence that these bacteria cause adverse health effects.

How often to clean your toothbrush

Those tooth scrubbers are definitely a household item you don’t clean often enough. Make cleaning a toothbrush routine, and do it after each time you brush your teeth. It won’t take as long as it does to, say, clean the kitchen from top to bottom, but it should take the same amount of time as it does to actually brush your teeth. “If you use it twice a day, clean it twice a day,” says Dr. Kulkarni.

How to clean a toothbrush

hand cleaning a toothbrush in a bathroom sink; rinsing the bristles in the stream of waterDavizro/Getty Images

It doesn’t differ much whether you’re using a manual toothbrush or an electric one. All that matters is that you learn how to clean a toothbrush effectively.

How to clean a manual toothbrush

    1. Run water on it after each use until the bristles are free of residue and debris. “Rinse the head with warm tap water thoroughly until it looks clean after you use it,” Dr. Kulkarni says.
    2. Rinse off the handle until it’s clean too. Dr. Kulkarni says that while it doesn’t make much of a difference which material the toothbrush is made of—plastic, bamboo, wood—you’ll want to thoroughly dry it off when you’re done.
    3. Store it upright when you’re finished, so it can air-dry.

How to clean an electric toothbrush

    1. Run warm tap water on the bristle head after each use until it’s thoroughly free of residue and debris.
    2. Rinse off the handle until it’s clean too. “Be mindful if the brush has a cord or a charger, so you keep it away from water,” Dr. Kulkarni says.
    3. Like a manual toothbrush, store it upright where it will have air flow to dry it out.

How to disinfect a toothbrush

Have you heard that soaking a toothbrush in hydrogen peroxide cleans it better? Dental research hasn’t decisively concluded that doing so significantly improves how a toothbrush is cleaned. According to Dr. Kulkarni, rinsing it with warm water each time you use it is enough to keep it clean.

If you feel better having an extra system in place to de-germify your toothbrush, there are sanitizing devices on the market, including those that use ultraviolet rays. “Look for ones that are approved by the FDA or have the ADA seal of acceptance,” Dr. Kulkarni says.

How to store your toothbrush

Storing a toothbrush upright allows extra water to drip off it instead of pooling at the bristles, which encourages bacteria to thrive. It’s also important to give it the space it needs. “Keep it away from other toothbrushes when you’re done, so it doesn’t get contaminated again,” says Dr. Kulkarni.

If there are multiple people in a home and toothbrushes are stored in a common holder, make sure there is enough space between each one and they aren’t touching. Dirty toothbrushes displayed in holders might just be one of the things houseguests notice about your bathroom.

She also recommends keeping it away from the toilet to protect it from bacteria. “When you flush, water can splash up and land on your toothbrush.” Not exactly the feel-fresh situation we’re looking for.

How often to replace your toothbrush

According to the ADA, you should replace your toothbrush approximately every three to four months, or more often if the bristles become matted or frayed. The effectiveness of the brush decreases as the bristles become worn.

“Typically, we recommend soft-bristled toothbrushes, but you might notice the bristles are floppy or worn down more quickly,” Dr. Kulkarni says. “That’s a sign that the material has become frayed, and it’s time to replace it.” The signs that an electric toothbrush head should be replaced are the same.


Does boiling a toothbrush disinfect it?

Boiling-hot water certainly cleans things, like glass shower doors, but it’s not the best option for toothbrushes. “Boiling is good for disinfecting, but the high heat can damage the material and the bristles,” Dr. Kulkarni says. “It’s best to rinse it under warm water every time you use the brush.”

The ADA says microwaving or putting toothbrushes in the dishwasher is also not recommended, since high heat may cause damage. Regularly replacing your toothbrush is important, and here is how often you need to change your toothbrush.

How do you keep a toothbrush clean?

Never let it stay dirty. Just like expert cleaning tips suggest, staying on top of a cleaning schedule is important. If you don’t want your tooth scrubber to be one of the germiest things in the bathroom, you need to rinse it and rid it of the debris immediately after using it. Every single time.

Can toothbrushes be shared?

It may seem like a good idea in the moment, but according to the ADA, toothbrushes should not be used by more than one person. Doing so could result in an exchange of bodily fluids and microorganisms, and you really don’t need that to happen.

How do you keep a toothbrush clean while traveling?

Use a plastic bristle cover to keep your toothbrush away from other products in your toiletry bag. And when you get to your destination, take it off so the toothbrush has ventilation. “Moisture makes more bacteria grow,” says Dr. Kulkarni. “Covering the toothbrush when it’s wet is exactly what you need to avoid doing.”