How to Clean White Deposits off an Orthodontia Retainer

Bleah! Your kid's orthodontic retainers are scaling up with those unsightly white deposits and it seems that no amount of toothbrush scrubbing removes it. What can you do?

Firstly, it's helpful to know what the white deposit is. 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 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, my son 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 lunch box without rinsing first, then lets them fester there until after dinner when he lightly rinses and returns the retainers to his mouth. When I finally became aware of his habit, I nearly choked. When I got a close look at those plastic devices I recoiled so hard 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 the scale. They were nicely deodorized however. What did I do? 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.

Video: Types of Retainers and How to Clean Them

Comments 42 comments

S.Collier 8 years ago

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!!

Bob 7 years ago

does this work with essix retainers?

deepthinkin profile image

deepthinkin 7 years ago from California Author

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.

Joe 7 years ago

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

Rocky 7 years ago

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.

Jonas 7 years ago

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!

Bobby 7 years ago

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!

deepthinkin profile image

deepthinkin 7 years ago from California Author

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

Eric 7 years ago

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 profile image

deepthinkin 7 years ago from California Author

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

Giana 7 years ago

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

Neisha 7 years ago

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.

Neisha 7 years ago


aefrancisco profile image

aefrancisco 6 years ago from somewhere down the road

hi. thanks for sharing. :)

ill keep these in mind.

Chelsea  6 years ago

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

superboy 6 years ago

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!!!!!!!!!!!!!!:) :) :)

lora 6 years ago

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.

Deanna 6 years ago

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

Amanda 5 years ago

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

John 5 years ago

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.

Purple13512 5 years ago

Can I do this with clear retainers?

Pablo 5 years ago

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!

hannah 5 years ago

will apple cider vinegar work?

Robert 5 years ago

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.

Olivia 5 years ago

Can you use normal vinager?

Katy 5 years ago

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

Brit 4 years ago

Thank you!!!

Amanda 4 years ago

Can I use this on my clear retainer?

Jon 4 years ago

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

Anna 4 years ago

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? :(

Brittany 4 years ago

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

Jack Bergman 4 years ago

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

Cyber God 4 years ago

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

Ari 4 years ago

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

Hannah 4 years ago

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

liz 3 years ago

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

Crista 3 years ago

Wow it really worked! Thank you!!

Marah Telmesani 3 years ago

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

Diligence 3 years ago

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. :-)

Mackenzie 2 years ago

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!!

Katie 2 years ago

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.

Anna 2 years ago

I will definitely try this out!!

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