Reviews You Can Rely On

Best Mouthwash of 2021

Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch
By Ben Applebaum-Bauch ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 17, 2021
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We've rinsed, spit, and repeated to find the best mouthwash available in 2021. We researched over two dozen products before selecting the 10 top contenders for hands-on testing. With a market full of options, it can be overwhelming to find just the right one for your specific needs. Our expert reviewers cut through the noise with rigorous, hands-on testing to find the best products for fresh breath, the ones that get the job done at an economical price, and even ones that will get the kiddos excited about oral hygiene.


1

Best Overall Mouthwash


ACT Anticavity Fluoride Mint


Contains Alcohol: No | Recommended Use: 1x daily, 60 sec
Easy dosing cup
Effective cleaning
No burn
Might be too sweet tasting for some

The ACT Anticavity Fluoride Mint is our pick for the best overall mouthwash. We appreciate the easy-dose cup that allows the user to squeeze out exactly the right amount from the bottle, and the alcohol-free formula does not burn at all. It offers excellent protection, effective cleaning, and fresh breath.

We struggle to come up with many negatives, but perhaps for those who enjoy that tingly feeling that other products leave behind, this one has none of that. We like the ACT because we found that it does just about everything a mouthwash should with really no downsides.

This mouthwash comes with a self-dosing cup, no burn, and a powerful...
This mouthwash comes with a self-dosing cup, no burn, and a powerful clean.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

2

Best for Freshest Breath


Tom's of Maine Wicked Fresh


Contains Alcohol: No | Recommended Use: 1x daily, 60 sec
Fresh breath
Natural ingredients
Tannic feel
No cap measurer

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 pre-molars and molars. The cool mountain mint flavor was powerful but not overwhelming, 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.

We found that this wash with natural ingredients left our breath...
We found that this wash with natural ingredients left our breath feeling fresh.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

3

Best Bang for the Buck


Amazon Solimo Tartar Control Plus


Contains Alcohol: Yes, 21.6% | Recommended Use: 2x daily, 30 sec
Protects against bacteria growth
Inexpensive
Burns
Leaves iron-y feel

The Solimo Tartar Control Plus is an excellent budget-friendly option that achieves its primary objectives of cleaner teeth and fresher breath. During our cleaning test, it did admirably, removing a notable amount of plaque from between premolars. It also prevented bacteria from growing in any notable amount during our cultivation test. This product can also typically be found at a comparatively low price.

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.

This alcohol-based product burns, but cleans and protects like we...
This alcohol-based product burns, but cleans and protects like we would expect.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

4

Best with Whitening


Listerine Healthy White Vibrant Multi-Action Fluoride


Contains Alcohol: Yes, 8% | Recommended Use: 2x daily, 60 sec
Whitening
Foaming
Expensive
Slight burning sensation

The Listerine Healthy White Vibrant Multi-Action Fluoride is an excellent choice if you want a product with whitening power in addition to everything else. The formula includes hydrogen peroxide, which foams up on contact. We observed that it effectively removes visible plaque and found that it is one of the most effective cleaners of any product in this category.

This wash didn't leave our testers with stunningly fresh breath — just a much more neutral non-smell. The formula includes a small amount of alcohol, which is noticeable when rinsing with it. The burn is slight but present in a way that is not the case with alcohol-free products. The foaming action is nice but taking too large of a dose becomes an issue as the fluid can quickly expand and fill up your mouth. These minor issues aside, if you are looking for a mouthwash plus whitening, this one is a good bet.

The wash with whitening foams up to get in between teeth.
The wash with whitening foams up to get in between teeth.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

5

Excellent for Kids


ACT Kids Anticavity Fluoride


Contains Alcohol: No | Recommended Use: 1x daily, 60 sec
Easy dosing bottle
No alcohol
Comparatively inexpensive
Numbs mouth
Flavors not for everyone

The ACT Kids Anticavity Fluoride Rinse is our pick for building good oral hygiene habits for kids. 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. We also found, despite the lack of alcohol, 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.

We don't love the taste of this product, but it does have a...
We don't love the taste of this product, but it does have a self-dosing cup and offers solid cleaning power.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

6

Great Whitening Option without Alcohol


Colgate Optic White


Contains Alcohol: No | Recommended Use: 2x daily, 60 sec
No alcohol
Foaming
Whitening
Large cap not useful for dosing
Expands and can drip out as it foams

The 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 it also doesn't burn at all. 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 burn of alcohol.

This foaming whitening wash has a distinctive taste that not...
This foaming whitening wash has a distinctive taste that not everyone will enjoy, but still gets the job done.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

7

Great for Sensitive Mouths


CloSYS Sensitive Antimicrobial


Contains Alcohol: No | Recommended Use: 2x daily, 30 sec
Feels gentle
Cleans effectively
Expensive
Smells like chlorine

The CloSYS Sensitive Antimicrobial is a solid cleaner that is gentle on sensitive mouths. It is one of the rare products that comes 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 confused by the cleaning outcomes that we observed. It 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 just prefer gentler oral hygiene products, this rinse is one to keep in your medicine cabinet.

This wash for sensitive mouths has a very mild taste and won't leave...
This wash for sensitive mouths has a very mild taste and won't leave your gums burning.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

8

Another Good Option for Fresh Breath


TheraBreath Fresh Breath


Contains Alcohol: No | Recommended Use: 2x daily, 90 sec
Innocuous taste
ADA accepted
Expensive
Small bottle

The TheraBreath Fresh Breath is a unique product that leaves breath fairly neutral smelling. For those sensitive to strong flavors or smells, this could be a good option since it is relatively innocuous. 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 some other products. It has a fairly bland taste — mostly like really soft water. If you are looking to get rid of bad breath, this potent formula will get the job done.

This product is effective, but when used as directed, you can go...
This product is effective, but when used as directed, you can go through it very quickly.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

9

Effectively Cleans Surface Bacteria


Listerine Total Care Alcohol Free


Contains Alcohol: No | Recommended Use: 2x daily, 60 sec
Cleans surface stains
Inexpensive
Slight tingle
Tastes like cleaner chemicals

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 just 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.

This alcohol-free wash still left our mouths feeling just a little...
This alcohol-free wash still left our mouths feeling just a little bit tingly.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

10

An Alcohol Free Mouthwash


Crest ProHealth Advanced Alcohol Free Extra Deep


Contains Alcohol: No | Recommended Use: 2x daily, 60 sec
Fluoride for strong enamel
Alcohol-free
Expensive
Cap not effective for dosing

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.

This wash is reasonably effective, though we did find that the cap...
This wash is reasonably effective, though we did find that the cap was not helpful.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

Why You Should Trust Us


Lead reviewerBen Applebaum-Bauch has been testing home goods and consumer products for GearLab for three years. In that time, he has worked his way through a variety of 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.

We are not dental professionals. Our testing is conducted in 'everyday use' environments. Claims about product efficacy are limited to our own observations.


Cleaning


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.

Most products were fairly effective at visibly reducing the amount...
Most products were fairly effective at visibly reducing the amount of plaque on and between teeth.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

The top tier in this metric proved to be the ACT Anticavity Fluoride Mint and Listerine Healthy White Vibrant Multi-Action Fluoride. After using as directed, both removed a visible amount of plaque from both flat tooth surfaces as well as harder to reach areas in between molars and premolars. Other top performers include CloSYS Sensitive Antimicrobial and Solimo Tartar Control Plus.

The disclosing tab highlights plaque between the lower canine and...
After rinsing, much of the visible plaque between the lower canine...

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.

Protection


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.

The products in this category prevented a significant amount of...
The products in this category prevented a significant amount of bacteria regrowth.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

During testing, we found that almost all of the products lived up to their claims. Eight out of ten prevented any noticeable bacteria colonies from growing when we tried to cultivate 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. For all regular intents and purposes, our testing showed that the products in this category performed fairly uniformly.

Fresh Breath


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?

In practice, we found that the activities of daily life (e.g...
In practice, we found that the activities of daily life (e.g. eating, drinking, sleeping) meant that breath did not stay fresh all day with these products.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

The Listerine Healthy White Vibrant Multi-Action Fluoride offers a foaming action that seemed to neutralize bad breath. The ACT Anticavity Fluoride Mint had a similar effect. The Tom's of Maine Wicked Fresh wash was a pleasant surprise that left our breath smelling slightly sweet but very fresh.

A lot of bad breath can be caused by tongue bacteria, so it's...
A lot of bad breath can be caused by tongue bacteria, so it's important to make sure the wash makes it all around your mouth.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

Contenders like the Colgate Optic White, TheraBreath Fresh Breath, CloSYS Sensitive Antimicrobial, Solimo 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.

Self-dosing cups are a nice perk that make it a no-brainer to get...
Self-dosing cups are a nice perk that make it a no-brainer to get the right amount of wash every time.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

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.

Some products use alcohol in their formula, which can be...
Some products use alcohol in their formula, which can be uncomfortable and burn.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

A few products, like the Crest ProHealth Advanced Alcohol-Free Extra Deep, ACT Kids Anticavity Fluoride, and Listerine Healthy White Vibrant Multi-Action Fluoride, have no (or low) alcohol formulas but still tingled, stung, or otherwise did not taste pleasant. The Solimo Tartar Control Plus has a potent alcohol content that stung during use.

Conclusion


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