The best mouthwash

  • Used in tandem with brushing, flossing, and avoiding saltwater taffy before bed, a good mouthwash can play a pivotal role in your oral health and hygiene regimen.
  • Listerine Cool Mint Antiseptic Mouthwash is our top choice thanks to its ADA-accepted, clinically-proven ability to kill off germs that contribute to plaque buildup, bad breath, and gum disease.

Every time you gargle an ounce or two of mouthwash after a meal or just before bed, you might think you’re benefiting from the latest advances in chemistry and medical science. In fact, people have been using varieties of mouthwash for millennia.

The history of mouthwash can be traced back 4,000 years, with ancient Chinese and Indian texts containing references to liquids used for sanitation of the mouth, though exactly what they were swishing remains a mystery. Some Ancient Romans reportedly used urine as an oral disinfectant, while many Pre-Columbian Mesoamericans used rinses made of saltwater infused with plant extracts both to cleanse their teeth and to soothe aches and pains in the mouth.

In the latter half of the 19th century, the pioneering work of Sir Joseph Lister changed the way people performed surgery, with the medical community adhering to new standards of cleanliness and adopting the use of antiseptics in all surgical procedures. While first applied as an antiseptic used to sterilize surgical instruments, today the eponymous Listerine is arguably the most famous brand of mouthwash. Although Listerine has long been my household’s go-to mouthwash choice, it might not be right for yours. Why? Because that stuff’s intense, man, no two ways about it.

But don’t worry, there are myriad brands of mouthwash out there, and many are specially formulated to appeal to narrow sectors within the oral care marketplace. So whether you’re looking for an intense, eye-watering rinse that lets you know you’re slaughtering bacteria by the millions, an all-natural mouthwash made with ingredients you can readily pronounce, or if finding something gentle and palatable is your top priority, we’ve found an option for you.

Here are the best mouthwashes you can buy:

Updated on 12/6/2019 by Caitlin Petreycik: Updated prices, links, and formatting.


The best overall

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Listerine

When you gargle with Listerine Cool Mint Antiseptic Mouthwash, you can feel it working.

As noted in the intro, I use Listerine mouthwash, two or three times daily. It’s the first thing I do upon waking in the morning, the last step I take before leaving the house, and my final ablution before bedtime, too. This has been the case for nine or ten years easily, and while I’ve occasionally switched to knock-off brands that imitate it, I’ve always returned to classic blue burn-your-tongue Listerine. Why? Because I don’t think the American Dental Association plays fast and loose with its ADA seal of approval.

Listerine features four active antiplaque and antigingivitis (gum disease) ingredients, which are eucalyptol, menthol, methyl salicylate, and thymol. Working in concert, these compounds help kill off bacteria that would otherwise contribute to plaque buildup, enamel breakdown, and periodontal disease.

It stings, but it works. Also, the Cool Mint leaves your breath super fresh.

Pros: Effective against plaque and gingivitis, ADA-accepted formula, low price point

Cons: Burning and stinging sensation during use


The best for fresh breath

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Crest

Crest Scope Outlast Mouthwash is specifically formulated to give you a long-lasting clean feeling and fresh breath.

How does Crest Scope Outlast Mouthwash keep your breath so fresh for so long? It does so by killing the bacterium that would otherwise contribute to that dreaded halitosis. In fact, as the brand rather unscientifically puts it, Crest Scope Outlast “kills 99% of bad breath germs.”

While Crest Scope Outlast has a fresh minty taste that most people love and arguably leaves the breath fresh for longer than mouthwashes from other brands, do note that while it’s great for killing those “bad breath germs,” this mouthwash is not as effective as others at fighting plaque or gingivitis. So gargle it when you want fresh breath, but don’t necessarily treat it as a critical part of your overall oral healthcare program.

A video review from For Us Foodies said Outlast mouthwash did indeed leave a fresh taste and feeling for longer than other mouthwash products but questioned the “five-hour” protection Crest boasts about.

Pros: Great taste, fresh breath lasts longer than with competing brands, non-drug formula

Cons: Not highly effective against plaque or gingivitis


The best gentle mouthwash

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CloSYS

CloSYS Gentle Mint Mouthwash provides oral cleaning and freshening without the harsh burn associated with many mouthwash brands.

You know that stinging, eye-watering misery caused by so many highly astringent mouthwash products? That feeling you get where your cheeks are aflame and your gag reflex starts firing? Yeah, that’s not much fun. With CloSYS Gentle Mint Mouthwash, you can kill germs, freshen your breath, and leave your mouth feeling cleaner without the savage burn of those other rinses.

CloSYS Gentle Mint Mouthwash uses an alcohol-free and fluoride-free formula that is non-irritating yet still kills 99% of the bacteria causing bad breath with just a few seconds of swishing, it claims. You can also use this ADA-approved formula for weekly toothbrush cleaning. Just soak the head of your toothbrush in CloSYS Gentle Mint Mouthwash for about a minute once a week and you’ll kill off any bacteria clinging to the bristles.

Do note that the absence of fluoride means this mouthwash won’t restore any dental decay, effective as it is in helping prevent further degradation.

Pros: Non-burning formula, long-lasting fresh breath, effective toothbrush cleanser

Cons: Quite expensive for the category


The best natural mouthwash

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Uncle Harry’s

If you prefer the fresh, clean feeling without a mouthful of chemicals, then Uncle Harry’s Natural Products Miracle Mouthwash fits the bill.

Most brands of mouthwash have a lot of rather odd-sounding ingredients in them, things like polysorbate 80 and cetylpyridinium chloride and such. Not so with Uncle Harry’s Natural Products Miracle Mouthwash, an oral rinse with ingredients like mustard seed powder and clove extract – the most difficult-to-pronounce ingredient is calcium carbonate, aka chalk.

By omitting a lot of those potent, often-astringent, but highly effective compounds that other mouthwashes use in their formulas, Uncle Harry’s Natural Products Miracle Mouthwash renders itself little more than a freshening solution.

It will make your breath smell better and your mouth taste and feel clean, and it can neutralize acids and prevent further damage to teeth from substances sitting on the enamel, but it won’t fight plaque or gum disease and it can’t calcify. This is an oral rinse for freshness, not for hygiene. But used in tandem with brushing and flossing and perhaps the occasional fluoride rinse, that’s fine indeed.

Uncle Harry’s Natural Products Miracle Mouthwash has a 4.3-star average rating on Amazon, with one buyer praising its “strong flavor” that “doesn’t burn like Listerine… and lasts a long time.” Another buyer called it an “effective and super refreshing mouthwash.”

Pros: All-natural formula, long-lasting fresh feeling, numbs mild oral pain

Cons: Flavor unpleasant to some people, not as effective as antiseptic rinse


The best fluoride mouthwash

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ACT

ACT Anticavity Fluoride Rinse Mouthwash is clinically proven to both prevent tooth decay and to restore teeth already afflicted with mild decalcification issues.

Most mouthwashes kill off bacteria that cause bad breath. Some mouthwashes fight the bacteria that can cause gum disease and help break up plaque, thus preventing the development of cavities. ACT Anticavity Fluoride Rinse Mouthwash takes things a step farther than that by not only preventing the development of new cavities but by actually repairing minor cavities, potentially preventing the need for a dentist’s intervention.

If you use ACT Anticavity Fluoride Rinse Mouthwash as part of your regular oral care routine, there’s a good chance you can avoid fillings (or crowns or root canals, for that matter!) altogether. The 0.05% concentration of sodium fluoride found in the formula is actually that effective.

That said, ACT Anticavity Fluoride Rinse Mouthwash has to be used with more care and caution than most mouthwash products. You’re only supposed to swish 10 milliliters at a time (most rinses recommend 20 ml) and children under the age of 12 are advised to use the product only with adult supervision. Kids under six aren’t advised to use it at all.

Unlike many types of mouthwash that are perfectly suitable for use multiple times a day, it’s best to reserve use of ACT Anticavity Fluoride Rinse Mouthwash for three to four uses weekly, and only after brushing. Also, don’t eat or drink anything for at least a half-hour after use, or you’ll greatly reduce the efficacy of the fluoride treatment.

In addition to Listerine, I use ACT Anticavity Fluoride Rinse Mouthwash every other night.

A SupplementPolice article says it can “restore the health of your teeth.”

Pros: Prevents and restores cavities, effective with thrice-weekly use, gentle non-stinging formula

Cons: Can be dangerous if swallowed in volume


Check out our other great oral health buying guides

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Goby

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