Last updated on Nov 19, 2019

The Best Mouthwash

An added layer of protection against bad breath and cavities ​
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How We Found the Best Mouthwash

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3 Dentists Interviewed

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99 Mouthwashes Compared

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5 Top Picks

The Best Mouthwash

Most mouthwash offers a standard set of benefits, wiping out the bacteria that produce plaque and bad breath, strengthening tooth enamel, and improving gum health. Whether you’re looking for an all-purpose mouthwash that accomplishes all of the above, or something that targets more specific symptoms, we’ve got you covered.

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The 5 Best Mouthwashes

    The Best Mouthwash: Summed Up

    Colgate Total Daily Repair
    ACT Advanced Care
    Nature’s Answer PerioWash
    Crest 3D White Diamond Strong
    Biotene Dry Mouth Oral Rinse
    Best Cavity Protection
    Best Anti-Plaque
    Best Natural
    Best for Whitening
    Best for Dry Mouth
    Key Ingredient
    Fluoride
    Cetylpyridinium
    Essential Oils
    Hydrogen Peroxide
    Aloe and Sugar Alcohols
    Flavor
    Mint
    Mint
    Mint
    Mint
    Mint / Cinnamon

    Colgate Total Daily Repair

    Best for Cavity Protection
    Colgate

    Colgate Total Daily Repair

    Pros

    Balanced fluoride
    Pleasant taste
    Low burn

    Cons

    Not as strong

    Why we chose it

    Balanced fluoride

    Colgate Total Daily Repair came out on top in our testing for anticavity mouthwash. Like most mouthwashes in this category, it contains a mid-range concentration of fluoride, clocking in at 0.02%. At this concentration, you would be in the clear to rinse twice daily without exceeding the dentist-recommended max (too much fluoride, though not a rampant problem, can lead to cosmetic issues like fluorosis.) It also contains a small amount of cetylpyridinium for help against plaque.

    Pleasant taste

    Our testers described Colgate’s mint flavor as mild and refreshing, with a slight tang that gets more intense after the first 30 seconds. Colgate also has staying power, with a noticeably clean aftertaste that we continued to catch traces of a full hour and a half after swishing. One tester even noted, “I could see myself actually using this.”

    Low burn

    Colgate Total Daily Repair is a fairly gentle rinse, which our testers found enjoyable. This was a nice change of pace compared to the others we tried. For example, one tester explained that Listerine’s single alcohol-free formula, Listerine Total Care Zero Alcohol, left her tongue feeling “uncomfortably raw.” We prefer a clean feel over pain any day.

    Points to consider

    No targeted ingredients

    Colgate Total Daily Repair is a great general boost to your oral health, but it’s not the best solution for more specific problems. If you’re trying to tackle more precise issues like dryness or stained teeth, look to the targeted active ingredients of our other picks.

    ACT Advanced Care

    Best Anti Plaque
    ACT

    ACT Advanced Care

    Pros

    Good against plaque
    Clean feel

    Cons

    A little sweet

    Why we chose it

    Good against plaque

    If you’re battling plaque, ACT Advanced Care Plaque Guard is our pick. Advanced Care caught our attention for its high 0.07% concentration of cetylpyridinium chloride—the dentist recommended concentration.

    Formulas that target plaque rely on cetylpyridinium chloride which is one of just three ingredients considered both “safe and efficacious” in the treatment of plaque and gum disease. (The others are stannous fluoride, which shows up only in toothpaste, and essential oils, which figures in our other anti-plaque option, Best Natural.)

    Clean feel

    ACT Advanced Care has a sweet peppermint taste that quickly begins to scorch. ACT is perfect if you like a mouthwash that packs a punch. Testers noted that all of our cetylpyridinium-based finalists had a noticeable burn, but there is a line between intense and unbearable. For our testers ACT was a comfortable burn while others made mouths uncomfortably raw and led to early spitting.

    Points to consider

    A little sweet

    Different people have different taste tolerances, and we tried to keep that in mind during testing. If you frequently complain about things being too sweet, you’ll probably have a better experience with Colgate Total Repair. But if sweetness isn’t an issue (for many it’s a strength), we recommend ACT Advanced Care.

    Nature’s Answer PerioWash

    Best Natural
    Nature’s Answer

    Nature’s Answer PerioWash

    Pros

    Balanced Ingredients
    No Synthetic colors

    Cons

    No fluoride

    Why we chose it

    Balanced ingredients

    Natural mouthwashes are just as effective as their cetylpyridinium-containing equivalents at controlling bacteria. That’s because they employ essential oils with strong antimicrobial properties that work to kill or inhibit the bacteria that cause plaque and bad breath.

    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 extracts (all of which boast their own antiviral and anti-inflammatory benefits) adds herbal undertones that testers praised for tasting less artificial-sugary than our other picks.

    No synthetic colors

    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 brownish yellow color may look strange, but it still tastes good — the formula’s herbal flavor is 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.

    Points to Consider

    No fluoride

    Nature’s Answer is a great option if you have generally good oral health and are looking for a mouthwash without artificial additives. However, you’ll be missing out on fluoride, which is an important ingredient for maintaining strong teeth. If you’re prone to cavities, we recommend one of our other top picks.

    Crest 3D White Diamond Strong

    Best for Whitening
    Crest

    Crest 3D White Diamond Strong

    Pros

    Whitening power
    Good fluoride content

    Cons

    Not as comfortable

    Why we chose it

    Whitening power

    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. It gets its whitening power from a 1.5% peroxide concentration.

    However, 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 highly concentrated levels of peroxide, up to 35 percent. “Low concentrations might not make a significant clinical difference,” he warned.

    Good fluoride content

    Crest 3D White contains the same percentage of fluoride as our anti-cavity pick (0.02%). 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.

    Points to Consider

    Not good for sensitive teeth

    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. Crest was also far and away the best-tasting whitening option we tried, with one reporting it as “sweet but refreshing.”

    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.

    Biotène Dry Mouth Oral Rinse

    Best for Dry Mouth
    Biotene

    Biotène Dry Mouth Oral Rinse

    Pros

    Stimulates saliva
    Good fluoride content

    Cons

    Intensity

    Why we chose it

    Stimulates saliva

    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. The best mouthwashes for dry mouths contain effective humectants like aloe vera, xylitol, and sorbitol.

    Most of the dry mouth rinses we tested contained the enzymes and moisturizing sugar alcohols needed to boost saliva. But Biotene felt the best, and our testers noted that after swishing with Bioténe’s viscous solution their mouths felt exceptionally smooth, as though coated with a thin layer of oil — a noticeable improvement when you’re battling dryness.

    Good fluoride content

    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. We appreciate that Bitoene targeted our main concern (dry mouth), but the best mouthwashes should also focus on overall dental health as well.

    Points to Consider

    Intensity

    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.)

    How We Chose the Best Mouthwash

    No alcohol

    Alcohol aids in mouthwash’s antiseptic powers, but plenty of other ingredients can play the same antibacterial role. Its most noticeable function is just to give your mouthwash the tingly bite that seems to signal a thorough clean. This is akin to the lather of shampoo — lather doesn’t do hair any extra good (and actually means that rough detergents are at work) but it sure seems like it’s working.

    Alcohol also dries out your mouth, which promotes bad breath. In other words, the more often you use an alcohol-based mouthwash, the more likely you are to feel like you need mouthwash. Dr. Rubecca Shahid, of Seattle’s Bright Now Dental, told us that she recommends alcohol-free mouthwash to her patients due to this, so we cut any mouthwash that included it — which knocked much of Listerine’s product line from the running right out of the gate.

    Specialized ingredients

    While some ingredients — like alcohol — are always bad, deciding which ingredients are “good” depends on what you want your mouthwash to do. After looking through our remaining ingredient lists, we divided the rest of our mouthwash into five categories, each relying on different active ingredients and targeting different oral needs: cavity protection, anti-plaque, natural, whitening, and dry mouth.

    No duplicates

    As we sorted through ingredient lists, we learned many mouthwash brands offer multiple formulas that are basically identical: The only difference between Crest Pro-Health Advanced Mouthwash with Extra Deep Clean and Crest Pro-Health Advanced Active Strengthening Mouthwash is that one includes water and the other doesn’t. The active ingredients are the same.

    So for each of our five categories, we hand-selected one popular product apiece from well-known brands like Crest and ACT, also including highly reviewed niche offerings from brands like TheraBreath and The Natural Dentist.

    Flavor and feel

    We wanted to find products that we liked enough to use on a daily basis. After all, no matter how many great ingredients your mouthwash has, if you don’t like the experience, the bottle will sit in purgatory in your medicine cabinet. To test our contenders, we swished with each mouthwash’s recommended dose for one minute (about the maximum recommended time).

    We compared flavor, whether the mouthwash burned, and how our mouths felt post-gargle. We compared the bitterness and sweetness of mint, the differences between a satisfying tingle or sting, and whether our mouths felt clean or coated in chemicals. Our testers also looked closely at products with gimmicks or claims of cutting edge technology to see whether they made any difference in experience.

    How to Find the Right Mouthwash

    Consider your diet

    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 and making way for cavities.

    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 leave debris for bacteria to feast on and so should always be followed up with a brush, floss, and rinse routine.

    Try tongue scraping

    Widely recommended in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine, U-shaped metal scrapers allow you to manually remove the sulphur-producing bacteria that builds on the back third of the tongue. That white biofilm gathering on its surface is directly responsible for bad breath.

    Mouthwash FAQ

    About the Authors

    Anne Dennon

    Anne Dennon Home Technology Writer

    Anne has covered home security and home automation for Reviews.com for two years. She's interested in human-computer interaction and tech ethics. She previously worked in education and information literacy.