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.

The 5 Best Mouthwashes

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

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

Best
Natural Mouthwash
Nature’s Answer PerioWash
Nature's Answer
An herbal rinse that battles bacteria and tastes great
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.

Best for
Whitening
Crest 3D White Diamond Strong
Crest
Brighten your smile while strengthening your enamel with this fluoride-containing pick
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.

Best for
Dry Mouth
Biotène Dry Mouth Oral Rinse
Biotene
Stimulates saliva flow and soothes parched mouths
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 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

Is mouthwash safe for kids?

Both of the dentists we interviewed said they do not recommend that children under 12 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 may be hard to resist, but mouthwash contains plenty of potent ingredients that can be harmful to thin stomach tissues.

Can mouthwash replace brushing?

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 periodontist in Seattle, noted that he rarely recommends mouthwash to patients who already have good oral hygiene routines with no sign of other oral diseases.

What is the benefit of mouthwash?

Mouthwash is uniquely capable of reaching nooks and crannies that you’d be hard-pressed to hit with your toothbrush. Since 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 and bacteria-induced problems like plaque and bad breath.

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