The Best Mouthwash

An added layer of protection against bad breath and cavities

The 30-Second Review

Mouthwash should accomplish a lot in under a minute: Wipe out the bacteria that produce plaque and bad breath, strengthen tooth enamel, improve gum health, and make you feel like you just took a sip from a melting polar ice cap. Our top picks accomplish all of the above, while also steering clear of alcohol, which dentists warn can dry out your mouth and worsen existing problems.

Best for Cavity Protection

Our anti-cavity pick relies on fluoride to strengthen and protect teeth. Its classic mint flavor is tingly but not overpowering.

Best Anti-Plaque

ACT Advanced Care
ACT provides a powerful dose of plaque-killing cetylpyridinium in a sweet, but strong, peppermint rinse.

Best Natural

This gentle, herbal mouthwash uses essential oils to reduce bacteria and freshen breath.

Best for Whitening

Crest 3D White Diamond Strong
Crest’s whitening solution comes with a mild mint flavor and has been clinically proven to lighten teeth.

Best for Dry Mouth

Biotène Dry Mouth Oral Rinse
This formula has lubricating ingredients that help battle dryness, with a spicy aftertaste that reminded us of cloves.

The Best Mouthwashes

First things first: mouthwash is no replacement for brushing and flossing. The dentists we spoke with stressed that it’s an adjunctive treatment — it provides an additional round of pampering for your mouth but can never replace a toothbrush. In fact, Dr. Hosan Park, a Seattle-based periodontist, noted that he rarely recommends mouthwash to patients who already have good oral hygiene routines and no sign of oral disease.

That said, mouthwash is uniquely capable of reaching nooks and crannies that you’d be hard-pressed to hit with your toothbrush. Your teeth only constitute about 25% of your mouth’s total surface area. Mouthwash can help make the other 75% a less hospitable environment for bacteria — providing an added layer of protection in the battle against plaque and bad breath.

Of course, the exact product you should choose depends on the problem you’re trying to target. If you want extra cavity protection, Colgate Total Daily Repair stands out. It relies on fluoride to give your teeth an added boost while fighting decay, and has a mild, refreshing taste. If you’re more concerned about plaque, we’d suggest ACT Advanced Care. It relies on cetylpyridinium to cleanse and protect, and imparts that intense burn many people associate with old-school mouthwash.

The natural product market is flourishing, and we actually had more products to test in this category than any other. These mouthwashes rely on essential oils and other botanical ingredients to freshen breath and kill plaque. Nature’s Answer PerioBrite made it to first place in our hands-on testing thanks to its full arsenal of essential oils and an herbal peppermint flavor that testers loved.

We also considered two other common issues: treating dry mouth and whitening teeth. For those searching for relief from dryness, Biotène Dry Mouth Oral Rinse comes stocked with moisturizing ingredients and imparts a spicy, tingly flavor. If a whiter smile is on your agenda, Crest 3D White Diamond Strong boasts both whitening and anticavity properties, containing the hydrogen peroxide levels necessary to lighten surface stains on your teeth alongside fluoride to keep them strong.

Any alcohol-free mouthwash with antibacterial properties should help freshen your breath, but for the fullest effect, it helps to know what’s causing your bad breath. UC Berkeley’s Wellness Center points out that plaque and dry mouth are two common culprits, so we’d suggest our picks in one of these categories.

Our Picks for the Best Mouthwash

Best for Cavity Protection

Colgate Total Daily Repair Minty and mild, this classic formula uses fluoride to battle cavities.

For an anticavity mouthwash, Colgate Total Daily Repair came out on top. Like most mouthwashes in this category, it contains a mid-range concentration of fluoride, clocking in at 0.02%. It also contains a low amount of cetylpyridinium for help against plaque.

Our testers described Colgate’s mint flavor as mild and refreshing, with a slight tang that gets more intense after the first 30 seconds. Our testers preferred this to options like Crest ProHealth Advanced, which got dinged for being “very sweet” and “artificial-tasting.” Colgate also has staying power, leaving a pleasant minty tang that we continued to catch traces of a full hour and a half after swishing. “I could see myself actually using this,” one tester noted. ACT Total Care, by comparison, left our mouths feeling clean but had a somewhat bitter aftertaste that testers didn’t care for.

Colgate’s bottle was also mercifully easy to hold — agin unlike ACT, whose flimsy plastic bottle was impossible to grip without sending a volcano of mouthwash erupting over the counter. The one potential drawback? Colgate is fairly gentle. If you prefer a mouthwash with more bite, we’d suggest our runner-up.

Runner-Up

Arm & Hammer Truly Radiant Bright & Strong The addition of baking soda helps this anticavity pick fight bad breath.

We also enjoyed Arm & Hammer Truly Radiant Bright & Strong, which comes with similar stats but a different flavor profile. In addition to fluoride, this mouthwash contains baking soda — Arm & Hammer’s original claim to fame — which gives the mouthwash a faint saline undertone that we found refreshing. More than that, research suggests baking soda is an effective tool against bad breath.

A tingling mint flavor predominates, which testers described as “clean,” and “delightful,” with one noting, “it’s a good option if you want a mouthwash that packs a slight punch but won’t leave your eyes watering.” This helped it stand out against CariFree CTx3 Fluoride Rinse, which was so strong that one tester reported her tongue felt seared after use. We appreciated Arm & Hammer’s bottle, too, which features a longer neck than usual and allowed us to pour without sloshing out more than we wanted.

Best for Anti-Plaque

ACT Advanced Care Sweet and intense, a plaque-fighting mouthwash for those who like bold flavors.

If you’re battling plaque, ACT Advanced Care Plaque Guard is our pick. A big name in oral care, ACT offers an entire army of mouthwashes with fairly tiny ingredient variations; Advanced Care caught our attention for its relatively high concentration of cetylpyridinium chloride (0.07%) and its intense flavor — an extremely sweet peppermint that quickly begins to scorch.

Testers noted that all of our cetylpyridinium-based finalists had a noticeable burn, so if you’re looking for a milder pick, we’d suggest an essential oil-based option instead — like one of the natural picks. But ACT is perfect if you want a mouthwash that packs a wallop. We preferred it over options like Crest Clinical ProHealth, which was so strong one tester reported having to spit out early.

Note that Plaque Guard is available both with and without alcohol, so check the label to make sure you’re getting the alcohol-free version before you buy.

Runner-Up

Philips Sonicare BreathRX A rinse that fights plaque, with extras to ward off bad breath.

Another top contender in this category, Philips Sonicare BreathRX contains a similar concentration of cetylpyridinium (0.075%), though its formula is slightly more viscous, with some testers complaining of an oily after-feel.

Still, it’s an interesting alternative to the normally water-thin texture of mouthwash. It’s also a good choice if you want an anti-plaque wash that’s not as sweet as ACT. Testers described Philips’ mint flavor as “pretty minimal,” though noted that it offers a similarly intense burn that continues to build the longer you swish.

This mouthwash also claims stronger breath control than its peers, with moisturizing and antibacterial extras like zinc, sugar alcohols, and essential oils. You do pay a little more for these additions, though. While the majority of finalists cost less than $6, Philips retails at roughly $10 for 16 ounces.

Best Natural Mouthwash

Nature’s Answer PerioWash An herbal rinse that battles bacteria and tastes great.

Modern medical thought has only recently begun to back what folk medicine has long believed: essential oils have strong antimicrobial properties, making them surprisingly effective against the bacteria that cause plaque and bad breath. So for our natural pick, we wanted a product that derived its antibacterial power straight from the most effective of these essential oils, like peppermint, cinnamon, clove, and thyme.

Nature’s Answer PerioBrite surpassed our expectations with a blend of nine different oils, including peppermint, cinnamon and clove. It tastes like mint, but its inclusion of calendula, chamomile, and echinacea extract adds delightfully herbal undertones that testers praised for tasting less artificial than other picks.

In addition to relying on the antibacterial power of essential oils, we also wanted our all-natural pick to be free of synthetic colors: The lack of dye means this mouthwash has a deep golden shade rather than the usual blue-green. The formula is quite mild, but we did notice a post-swish tingle along our gums that came not from mint, but from the mildly analgesic qualities of the clove oil. If you want to avoid that numbing sensation, check out our runners up, below.

Other Natural Mouthwashes to Consider

We also really liked Oxyfresh Lemon-Mint Power Rinse. This pick combines mild mint with a soft citrus note. It doesn’t have quite as many herbal extras as Nature’s Answer, but it does boast a range of citrus-based essential oils, like orange and grapefruit.

If you’re looking for an even more radical departure from mint, we’d suggest checking out Young Living Thieves Fresh Essence Plus Mouthwash, which tastes intensely of cloves and cinnamon. Just be warned that it also has an oily, orange appearance that one tester compared to “thin, runny orange juice.”

Best Whitening Mouthwash

Crest 3D White Diamond Strong Brightens your smile while strengthening your enamel.

If whitening is your primary goal, be aware that there’s a limit to what mouthwash can accomplish. Dr. Park told us that professional tooth whitening procedures rely on a highly concentrated level of peroxide that can range up to 35 percent. “Low concentrations might not make a significant clinical difference,” he warned.

But studies suggest low doses of peroxide do help slightly. One 2015 study found that whitening mouthwashes resulted in noticeably lighter teeth over a two-month span, though a dedicated whitening gel had far stronger results.

One of the mouthwashes utilized in this study was our very own top pick, Crest 3D White. We tested Crest 3D White Diamond Strong, the most highly rated member of the Crest 3D White line on Amazon. It gets its whitening power from a 1.5% peroxide concentration, and it contains a hefty percentage of fluoride to strengthen and protect teeth. It’s a good idea to double-down on fluoride while whitening, as peroxide lifts stains by penetrating into teeth. There is controversy over whether peroxide weakens tooth enamel, but Crest 3D allows you to play it safe.

Looking for a toothpaste for sensitive teeth? You can check out our potassium-nitrate based favorites in our review of the best toothpastes.

Crest was also far and away the best-tasting whitening option we tried, with one reporting it was “sweet but refreshing.” During our gargling session, a sensitive-mouthed swisher experienced slight tooth sensitivity, but of the three whitening mouthwashes we sampled, she reported that Crest 3D was the least potent offender. If you’re prone to sensitive teeth but dead set on lightening them, dentists suggest incorporating a sensitivity toothpaste (containing potassium nitrate) into your oral care regime two weeks prior to whitening.

Best Mouthwash for Dry Mouth

Biotène Dry Mouth Oral Rinse Stimulates saliva flow and soothes parched mouths.

Apart from being unpleasant, dry mouth (or xerostomia) endangers your oral health. Saliva is the original mouthwash, carrying away food particles and naturally cleansing with its antimicrobial properties. Without it, your mouth can turn acidic, damaging tooth enamel.

Most of the dry mouth rinses we tested contained the enzymes and moisturizing sugar alcohols needed to boost saliva. Biotène Dry Mouth Oral Rinse stood out because it also contains fluoride, which aids in preventing cavities — a constant concern in a dry, acidic environment. Biotène is also the mother of all dry mouth products: it’s the only product the company makes.

While Biotène Dry Mouth Oral Rinse is marketed as “fresh mint,” testers described it as a mild cinnamon rinse that felt a little more viscous than a typical mouthwash. They noted that swishing with Biotène left their mouths feeling exceptionally smooth, as though coated with a thin layer of oil — likely to be a draw if you’re battling dryness.

The one potential drawback is that this product had the strongest numbing effect of all the mouthwashes we tried, leaving our mouths tingling for several minutes post-rinse. (“I can’t feel my tongue,” reported one tester.)

If that sounds a little too intense, we also really liked TheraBreath Dry Mouth Oral Rinse. It’s a milder mouthwash that contains all the most beneficial ingredients: aloe, xylitol, and sorbitol. If you have a sensitive mouth, you will appreciate its extremely light flavoring. It imparts a noticeable cooling sensation that starts to zing right before spitting, but there are no after-effects like the burning, numbing, and tingling we found elsewhere.

Did You Know?

Diet strongly impacts oral health.

Sugary, starchy foods, from candy to bread, can create an acidic environment in your mouth that’s paradise to plaque bacteria. When food debris of this kind is left undisturbed, the bacteria chow down, depositing acid as they work — which quickly begins eroding tooth enamel.

There are also foods that are actually beneficial to the health of your teeth, namely those that contain calcium and phosphorous, like dairy, meats and fish. However, even nutrient-rich foods can wreak havoc if not followed up with a brush, floss, and rinse routine.

Mouthwash for your kids probably isn’t a good idea.

Both of the dentists we interviewed said they do not recommend that children use mouthwash. Good brushing and flossing habits need to be ingrained at a young age, and it’s too easy for mouthwash to become a replacement. “I really emphasize flossing from an early age rather than advising the use of mouthwashes,” Dr. Shahid told us.

There’s also a higher risk of children swallowing mouthwash, whether accidentally or on purpose. That bubblegum flavor is hard to resist!

Looking for other ways to tackle bacteria? Consider tongue scraping or a DIY mouthwash.

Widely recommended in Eastern medicine, scrapers allow you to manually remove the sulphur-producing bacteria that builds on the back third of the tongue. If you ever need visual proof of a smelly mouth, check out your tongue in a mirror. That white biofilm gathering on its surface is directly responsible for bad breath.

And if you want a mouthwash but store brands aren’t appealing, consider whipping up your own cleansing concoction. While it won’t contain the powerful active ingredients of a laboratory-made rinse, essential oils, aloe vera, and even some types of honey may help fight plaque and bacteria.

The Best Mouthwash: Summed Up

Mouthwash
The Best
Colgate Total Daily Repair
Cavity-Protection Mouthwash
ACT Advanced Care
Anti-Plaque Mouthwash
Nature’s Answer PerioWash
Natural Mouthwash
Crest 3D White Diamond Strong
Whitening Mouthwash
Biotène Dry Mouth Oral Rinse
Mouthwash for Dry Mouth