We researched more than two dozen products before selecting the 9 best mouthwash options available today. We rinsed, spit, and repeated, using all of these products in our own homes for an extensive period of side-by-side testing. We analyzed these mouthwashes for their cleaning power, protection against bacterial growth, fresh-breath potency, and overall taste and comfort. With so many similar products on the market, it can be overwhelming to decide which is the right option for your own hygiene. Our hands-on testing allows us to deliver expert advice on which mouthwash to choose for the freshest breath, the best protection, or which ones will simply get the job done for the right price.Hygiene is important, and our health experts have tested a wide variety of products to help you dial in your own personal care routine. Whether you need a new electric toothbrush — or perhaps just a replacement head for the one you already have — a new electric razor or hair dryer, or maybe just a fresh box of tissues for your bathroom, our comprehensive round-ups and in-depth reviews have all of your needs covered.
Our Top Picks
ACT Anticavity Fluoride Mint mouthwash took the cake as our overall favorite option. This product offers excellent protection, effective cleaning, and minty fresh breath. We appreciate that it includes an easy-dose cup, making it much easier to get the right amount every time. Finally, if you're one of those folks who hate the burn of alcohol from traditional mouthwashes, there's no alcohol in this one, making it a less abrasive option.
We really struggle to find any drawback to this product. If you enjoy the tingly feeling from some mouthwashes with alcohol, know that this product will not leave that. We like the ACT because it does just about everything mouthwash should do with no real downsides.
The Tom's of Maine Wicked Fresh left our breath smelling great. We were pleasantly surprised by the cleaning power that it packs. We observed a notable reduction in visible plaque on tooth surfaces and between premolars and molars. The cool mountain mint flavor was powerful but not overwhelming, as is usually the case with Tom's products, and we did not experience any burning or tingling sensation when using this product.
There is no easy way to measure the recommended amount since the cap is large, and the bottle does not come with a self-dosing cup. Similar to some other products, we also noticed that this one left our mouths temporarily dry feeling. However, if fresh breath is what you are after, the slightly sweet menthol punch of this mouthwash is worth trying out.
On the downside, it burned the most out of any product in the lineup. Its high alcohol content made for a high-tingle experience. We also found that it temporarily left a tannic feeling, like it somehow dried out our teeth. In terms of smell, it is undoubtedly an improvement over bad breath, but our testers did not find that it smelled good; it is, in fact, somewhat chemically. However, because of its effectiveness at what counts the most, this one is worth looking into if you need to rinse and spit on a budget.
The ACT Kids Anticavity Fluoride is our pick for kids' good oral hygiene habits. We appreciate the easy-dose bottle that allows you to squeeze out just the right amount into a small chamber at the top. We found that the no-alcohol formula doesn't burn, and the fruity flavors are kid-friendly, as is the shape of the bottle.
On the downside, most adults who tried out this product during testing thought it tasted pretty bad. We tested groovy grape, which did not leave us feeling 'fresh' at all. Despite the lack of alcohol, we also found that it did still leave our mouths slightly temporarily numbed. This product is unquestionably for kids and comes with the flavors and engaging packaging to stand up to the test.
Colgate Optic White offers the benefits of a hydrogen peroxide formula with the addition of whitening. Its foamy formula gets between teeth, and the lack of alcohol means that there is no burning sensation involved. We found that it was fairly effective at cleaning between back teeth and prevented new bacteria from growing on a petri dish.
Our testers think that this product has a very strong flavor that isn't connected to fresher breath, and some of them did not enjoy it. We also found that the cap is large and not terribly helpful for dosing. However, at the end of the day, this one is a good option for those looking for a whitening option without the abrasiveness of alcohol.
The CloSYS Sensitive Antimicrobial is a solid cleaner that is gentle on sensitive mouths. It is one of the rare products with a cap and bottle shape that is relatively useful for dosing (though there are still no marked lines to know exactly what the right amount is). Its alcohol-free formula does not burn, and it has a very mild taste and soothing quality if you find yourself with a canker sore.
On the downside, we were a little perplexed by the cleaning outcomes that we observed. This cleaner did not do an exceptional job at removing plaque and stains from the surfaces of teeth, and it was one of the few products that allowed a visible bacteria colony to grow on our test plate. Some of our testers also noted that it smells mildly chlorinated, like a swimming pool. Despite these drawbacks, if you have sensitive gums or prefer gentler oral hygiene products, this rinse is one to keep in your medicine cabinet.
The TheraBreath Fresh Breath is a unique product that leaves breath fairly neutral smelling. This could be a good option for those sensitive to strong flavors or smells since it is an all-around mild wash. It proved to be up to the task of preventing new bacterial growth and did an adequate job of removing plaque.
When used as directed, this product will get used up quickly. You are meant to rinse in two cycles (once to clean your mouth, a second time to gargle) twice a day. In addition to the typically loftier price per ounce, we used it up four times faster than other products. It has a fairly bland taste — mostly like really soft water. If you want to get rid of bad breath, and don't like the extreme minty flavor typical in other brands, this potent formula will get the job done.
The Listerine Total Care Alcohol Free cleans surface bacteria effectively. It also prevented any visible bacteria colonies from growing in our protection test. We appreciate that it tends to fall on the less expensive side as well. Though we have more to say about the odor that it leaves behind, it does at least conceal bad breath.
Many testers found this product to be a little too much. It has big dentist office energy and tastes like chemicals. It also leaves behind a slight tingle, which undoes the supposed benefit of an alcohol-free formula. However, for a low-cost product with several intact benefits that you would expect from a mouthwash, we would certainly use it if this is what we had on hand.
The Crest ProHealth Advanced Alcohol Free Extra Deep is an alcohol-free mouthwash with fluoride to protect and strengthen tooth enamel. Our testers found that this formula did not burn and did as good a job as any other product at preventing new bacteria from growing. The taste is strong but not overpowering and is a good option for people looking for a tolerable mouthwash.
We saw some of the least visible plaque removal with this product. We are also slightly annoyed by the bottle cap. It is large and configured in such a way that it not only doesn't actively facilitate proper dosing but makes it almost impossible without dripping some mouthwash onto the bathroom counter when replacing it. However, for a product that offers multi-point protection and cleaning, this one is still a worthwhile addition to a medicine cabinet.
Why You Should Trust Us
Lead reviewer Ben Applebaum-Bauch has been testing home goods and consumer products for GearLab for three years. In that time, he has worked his way through various personal hygiene products and home goods, from candles and facial tissues to electric razors and toothbrush heads. He always remembers to rinse with mouthwash daily.
At GearLab, we research and thoroughly test the products that we review and purchase everything at retail price. For this review, we used each product dozens of times and ran various experiments with them. We used plaque-identifying tablets to assess before-use and after-use results, observed how much each product curbed growth in bacteria samples, and did some classic how-does-my-breath-smell tests for fresh breath.
Analysis and Test Results
We identified four primary metrics to compare our mouthwash contenders. These include cleaning ability, protection, fresh breath, and comfort. Below, we define each metric and outline the results of our review.
By cleaning, we mean how effectively each product removes plaque that is already on teeth and gums. We used plaque disclosing tablets to highlight the gunk in our mouths, then used each product and made observations about each one's effectiveness.
The top tier in this metric proved to be the ACT Anticavity Fluoride Mint. After using as directed, it removed a visible amount of plaque from both flat tooth surfaces and harder-to-reach areas in between molars and premolars. Other top performers include CloSYS Sensitive Antimicrobial and Amazon Basics Tartar Control Plus.
Following very closely behind are the Colgate Optic White, ACT Kids Anticavity Fluoride, Tom's of Main Wicked Fresh, and TheraBreath Fresh Breath, which were all highly effective but left behind just slightly more gunk between teeth.
Besides removing bacteria and plaque, mouthwashes also typically claim to prevent bacteria from growing. By protection, we mean exactly that quality — the ability of each mouthwash to limit new plaque-causing bacteria from flourishing.
During testing, we found that almost all of the products lived up to their claims. The majority prevented any noticeable bacteria colonies from growing when we cultivated them in an agar dish. Only two products, the CloSYS Sensitive Antimicrobial and the TheraBreath Fresh Breath, permitted any visible bacterial growth at all. And every product easily outperformed the control. Our testing showed that the products in this category performed fairly uniformly for all regular intents and purposes.
Fresh breath is relatively straightforward. How much better does your breath smell before using the product than after? How long does the smell last? How much better does one product make your breath smell versus another?
The ACT Anticavity Fluoride Mint seemed to easily neutralize bad breath. The Tom's of Maine Wicked Fresh wash was a pleasant surprise that left our breath smelling slightly sweet but very fresh.
Contenders like the Colgate Optic White, TheraBreath Fresh Breath, CloSYS Sensitive Antimicrobial, Amazon Basics Tartar Control Plus, and Listerine Total Care Alcohol-Free got rid of bad breath but also replaced it with something that wasn't necessarily good smelling. Each of these products left a more chemical odor than a fresh scent. The ACT Kids Anticavity Fluoride groovy grape flavor that we tested was found by adults to be far too sweet-smelling and generally unenjoyable.
Comfort & Taste
Mouthwashes come in different formulas with different base compounds. Some products cause a 'burning' sensation and, quite frankly, hurt to use. Comfort takes into account the user experience of each product. That is, how painless/painful it is to use it and how easy it is to dose out. Taste is also about experience and relies on broad qualitative observations.
Once again, the ACT Anticavity Fluoride Mint takes a top spot in this metric for its zero-alcohol, totally burn-free formula, easy-dosing cup, and sweet but clean taste. Following very close behind are the Tom's of Main Wicked Fresh, and Colgate Optic White, which also did not burn at all.
A few products, like the Crest ProHealth Advanced Alcohol-Free Extra Deep and ACT Kids Anticavity Fluoride, have no (or low) alcohol formulas but still tingled, stung, or otherwise did not taste pleasant. The Amazon Basics Tartar Control Plus has a potent alcohol content that stung during use.
Whether you are looking for powerfully fresh breath or a mouthwash that won't leave your mouth burning, we hope that this expert review gives you the information you need to find the right product for you. Here's to a healthy smile!
— Ben Applebaum-Bauch
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