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How to Clean White Deposits Off an Orthodontia Retainer

My son's retainers were covered with unsightly white deposits. This is the method I used to remove them.

How do you keep your child's retainers clean?

How do you keep your child's retainers clean?

Keeping Retainers Clean

So, your kid's orthodontic retainers are scaling up with those unsightly white deposits, and it seems that no amount of toothbrush scrubbing will remove them. What can you do? Read on for some easy tricks.

Firstly, it's helpful to know what those white deposit are. Like your teeth, orthodontic retainers can build up plaque and tartar. The white stuff is calcium left behind from saliva. If your child has been ultra-diligent about cleaning the retainer on a daily basis, the build-up should be minimal. However, if that were the case, you probably wouldn't be reading this article.

For example, take my son's retainers, which are a bit different than the run-of-the-mill kind in that they are designed to widen his palette and jaw. His devices have a little gear in the center that is turned once a week to spread the retainers. Theoretically, he is supposed to wear them 24/7, with the exception of meals. The reality is that he removes them at lunch during school, stores them in his lunchbox without rinsing, and then lets them fester there until after dinner when he gives them a light rinse before returning them to his mouth. When I finally became aware of his habit—and got a close look at the retainers—I recoiled so fast I nearly got whiplash. You could have mined the calcium build-up; they were practically growing crystals!

No amount of soaking in Efferdent seemed to rid his retainers of those deposits. They were, however, nicely deodorized. What did I end up doing? Read on.

Use Vinegar

Being the organic, holistic, find-a-natural-way-to-do-things kind of mom that I am, I realized the solution to this calcium build-up lay in my kitchen cupboard in the form of distilled white vinegar. Here's what you can try:

  1. Add one part vinegar to three parts water in a cup.
  2. Drop in the offending orthodontia devices, letting them soak for 15 minutes.

Victory! In those short minutes, the calcium had softened to the point where I was able to scrape away the entire mass of disgusting white calculus with a dental tool. As a bonus, the vinegar acts as a disinfectant too.

Since this discovery, I make sure that my son soaks his retainers in the vinegar solution at least twice a week and that he thoroughly brushes them daily. We've not had a problem since.

A note on dentures: I wouldn't try the vinegar solution on dentures because the acidity of the vinegar may mar the finish on them. However, a denture brush works better on cleaning retainers than a regular toothbrush because the bristles are stiffer. Every little bit helps.

Types of Retainers and How to Clean Them

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


Cameron on September 01, 2017:

Thank you!!! -207

Hey on December 23, 2016:

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Hey thank you so much i just got a partial an the calcium build up began tried everything an nothing wrk but this thank you!!!

Anna on June 20, 2014:

I will definitely try this out!!

Katie on April 07, 2014:

Thank you! This page just helped me remove some disgustingly old gunk from retainers I'd had as a kid, that I want to get back to wearing regularly. I thought the retainers had corroded, but it was just calcium buildup. Amazing.

Mackenzie on January 26, 2014:

THANK YOU SO MUCH! I had been looking forever for ways to remove the nasty, scratchy, build up. I brushed and scrubbed my retainer for 45 minutes at a time. Leading to no better results. Then I was researching and stumbled upon this article. I went to the store quickly after and tried it. Within 35 minutes, every bit was gone and my retainer looked brand new!! I Couldn't thank you enough for posting your article! It has made my "wearing retainers life" so much better! THANKS SO MUCH!!

Diligence on September 13, 2013:

I had my retainer for two days before I noticed calcium build-up. I was brushing/using mouthwash after every piece of food I ate AND rinsing/brushing my retainer (sans paste). I'm a stay-at-home-mom, so I had the few extra minutes to be on top of the game. In two days I had calcium build-up anyway (not to the point of crystals, but still...). *sigh*

Thank you for this post. :-)

Marah Telmesani on July 27, 2013:

Hi thank you so much , anyways i just wanted to ask does it smell or taste like vinegar afterwards ?

Crista on November 14, 2012:

Wow it really worked! Thank you!!

liz on November 02, 2012:

this worked a treat! here's another tip - after soaking, brush the retainers with a denture brush.

Hannah on July 30, 2012:

Worked perfect! Wasn't sure at first but now it's what I turn to! Thanks! :D

Ari on June 16, 2012:

You saved my retainers!! Thank you!!!!

Cyber God on May 28, 2012:

my retainers had this problem thank you so much for this answer it really helped.

Jack Bergman on April 25, 2012:

The best is PowerDent pulse. My daughter uses it for her retainer and it keeps it the cleanest. Check it out

Brittany on April 01, 2012:

Thank you! I started to see some plaque build-up on my retainer so I looked it up online and found your wonderful advice. It takes repeated soakings for me (I am using a soft bristle toothbrush) but I can see the plaque vanishing from my retainer

Anna on March 11, 2012:

Wow this method sounds great! I currently use efferdent on my essix retainers (the completely plastic clear ones)and I reluctantly do this because afterward when I wear my retainers I can taste the efferdent. Even if I brush my retainers it doesn't completely go away until after my first use (and I end up swallowing it since I'm wearing them). I would like to try your vinegar method but I am afraid it will dissolve the plastic. Any suggestions? :(

Jon on March 11, 2012:

When I had my regular cleaning at the dentist, I gave her my retainers and she cleaned it for me. It looked brand new!

Amanda on January 06, 2012:

Can I use this on my clear retainer?

Brit on January 03, 2012:

Thank you!!!

Katy on September 28, 2011:

Yeah, but I have a tooth in my retainer. (Actually, the calcium didn't how up until after I used Efferdent. Crazy.)

Olivia on August 19, 2011:

Can you use normal vinager?

Robert on July 16, 2011:

Just so you guys all know, it's a chemical reaction between the acetic acid in the vinegar and the calcium (actually calcium carbonate).

That said, any weak/dilute acid will do. (There's a difference between weak and dilute! Acetic acid is a weak acid, so is citric acid, for example. Most acids are weak, actually- but if they're concentrated they can still hurt you.)

Look up "strong acids" (wikipedia) and avoid those- weak acids shouldn't dissolve the plastic. If you have any doubts, dilute it first- but I think vinegar is pretty dilute acetic acid already.

hannah on June 20, 2011:

will apple cider vinegar work?

Pablo on May 11, 2011:

Tank you so much me being very ashamed hid this from my parents thinking i hadn't done a good job cleaning. But, getting worried over brushing i should've remembered that vinegar eats the calcium off eggs!

Purple13512 on February 21, 2011:

Can I do this with clear retainers?

John on February 03, 2011:

I had my retainer for a few months and it soon became gross! I have clear braces and I cannot use vinegar since it may cause them to become discolored or leave marks on them. I did fine a washing machine made for retainers.It is safe to use on all retainers and the best part is I don't have to use vinegar. (Sorry but the vinegar smell makes me sick) The machine I use is called Sonicbrite, I definitely recommend this to anyone that has retainers, especially the clear retainers. I hope this helps too, good luck.

Amanda on November 10, 2010:

Ive been trying to figure out how to clean my retainers for ages. It was quite the embarrassment.. Thank you so much!! :)

Deanna on September 12, 2010:

OMG that's all i need is vingear!! Thank you so much!!

lora on May 31, 2010:

Cleaning retainers daily is an important part of the orthodontic routine. I would say that what makes a lot of difference is the material the archwire is made of. The titanium and it's alloys are obviously not subject to scale buildup as much as the stainless steel ones. I'm sure there's plenty of cleaning solutions available for teeth retainers besides vinegar, but i guess you never know until you try.

superboy on April 22, 2010:

thank you for info, i tried these other websites and were hopeless by the way sacajewea oi oi oi oi means in my words THANK U GOD THAT I SAW THIS WEBSITE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!:) :) :)

Chelsea on April 07, 2010:

I have a retainer that has false teeth attached. Would the vinegar damage the color or strength of those false teeth?

aefrancisco from somewhere down the road on December 28, 2009:

hi. thanks for sharing. :)

ill keep these in mind.

Neisha on October 02, 2009:


Neisha on October 02, 2009:

Thanks this was really helpful. I thoughts about something similar but I was afraid it would have caused damage to my retainers. Now that I read this I'm definitely going to try it out.

Giana on September 09, 2009:

thank you so much! i have an orthodontist appointment toorrow and i need it off ASAP!!! much love! thanks!

deepthinkin (author) from California on July 29, 2009:

Bravo Eric! I'm glad the vinegar method worked for you. Now just keep working it and good luck to you in the future!

Eric on July 28, 2009:

Deepthinkin, such an effective treatment ... about 95% of my caked on nasty calcium has disappeared. I used a mix of your vinegar sink and ultrasonic cleaner bought from Amazon ($20) to bring my retainers from nasty/embarrassing to mostly clean. Thanks for sharing your findings with us ... you're my heroine too. (And a cute looking mom if I might add!) Cheers

PS I had so much calcium (tartar?) that I had to sink, scrub (w/toothbrush etc), and ultraclean in repeat cycles. Little by little it came off, so I recommend repeat soakings. The improvement is cumulative.

deepthinkin (author) from California on May 13, 2009:

I'm so glad this method has worked for all of you. Let the kissing continue! :)

Bobby on May 13, 2009:

Joe, now my wife doesn't mind kissing me with my retainer on as well! Now I don't have to take it off to kiss her goodnight! Thanks deepthinkin! You're my hero!

Jonas on April 29, 2009:

I have been thinking of doing something like this to clean my retainer, but wanted to do some research online before doing so in case it might damage it. I'm glad I found this article, as it has encouraged me to try it! Thanks!

Rocky on April 02, 2009:

I also tried this but I added baking soda. It forms a chemical reaction and works very well to power most of the deposit away.

Joe on April 01, 2009:

Thanks to you, my girlfriend kisses me with the retainer on!

deepthinkin (author) from California on December 24, 2008:

I'm not sure what Essix retainers are exactly, but as far as I can tell, it's a plastic. You might try a weaker vinegar/water solution if in doubt. Thanks for commenting.

Bob on December 24, 2008:

does this work with essix retainers?

S.Collier on September 27, 2008:

Wow, thank you!!

My orthandontist never told me that the calcium would build up on my retainers, and I'm away in Switzerland for school for three months so I can't just call him back in California. Luckily, I googled this. Thank you miss!!

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