Best Mouthwash of 2020
The ACT Anticavity Fluoride Mint is our pick for the best overall mouthwash. It offers excellent protection, effective cleaning, and fresh breath. 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.
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.
The Tom's of Maine Wicked Fresh left our breath smelling great. The cool mountain mint flavor was powerful but not overwhelming, and we did not experience any burning or tingling sensation when using this product. We were also pleasantly surprised by the cleaning power that it packed. We observed a notable reduction in visible plaque on tooth surfaces and between pre-molars and molars.
Similar to some other products, we also noticed that this one left our mouths temporarily dry feeling. There is also no easy way to measure the recommended amount since the cap is large, and the bottle does not come with a self-dosing cup. However, if fresh breath is what you are after, the slightly sweet menthol punch of this mouthwash is worth trying out.
The Solimo Tartar Control Plus is an excellent budget-friendly option that performs its primary functions well. It prevented bacteria from growing in any notable amount during our cultivation test. During our cleaning test, it did admirably, removing a notable amount of plaque from between premolars. This product can also typically be found at a comparatively low price.
On the downside, it burned the most out of any product that we tested. Its high alcohol content made for a high-tingle experience. 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. We also found that it temporarily left a tannic feeling, like it somehow dried out our teeth. 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 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 it to be one of the most effective cleaners of any product that we tested.
The formula includes a small amount of alcohol, which is noticeable when rinsing with it. This product also didn't leave our testers with stunningly fresh breath — just a much more neutral non-smell. 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 quickly as the fluid can quickly fill up your mouth. These minor issues aside, if you are looking for a mouthwash plus whitening, this one is a good bet.
The ACT Kids Anticavity Fluoride Rinse is our pick for building good oral hygiene habits for kids. We found that the no-alcohol formula doesn't burn, and the fruity flavors are kid-friendly as is the shape of the bottle. We appreciate the easy-dose bottle that allows you to squeeze out just the right amount into a small chamber at the top.
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.
The Colgate Optic White offers the benefits of a hydrogen peroxide formula with the addition of whitening. We found that it was fairly effective at cleaning between back teeth and prevented new bacteria from growing. Its foamy formula gets between teeth, and the lack of alcohol means that it also doesn't burn at all.
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.
The CloSYS Sensitive Antimicrobial is a solid cleaner that is gentle on sensitive mouths. 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. 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).
On the downside, we were a little confused by the cleaning outcomes that we observed. Some of our testers also noted that it smells mildly chlorinated like a swimming pool. 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. 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.
The TheraBreath Fresh Breath is a unique product that leaves breath fairly neutral smelling. It proved to be up to the task of preventing new bacterial growth and did an adequate job of removing plaque. For those sensitive to strong flavors or smells, this could be a good option since it is relatively innocuous.
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 for long-lasting fresh breath, 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 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.
The Crest ProHealth Advanced Alcohol-Free Extra Deep is an alcohol-free mouthwash with fluoride to protect and strengthen tooth enamel. The taste is strong but not overpowering and is a good option for people who are looking for a tolerable mouthwash. 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.
We are 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. We also saw some of the least visible plaque removal with this product. 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 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 electric razors to 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 smell and feel 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 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.
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. 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 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 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.
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.
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.
There were a few products like the Crest ProHealth Advanced Alcohol-Free Extra Deep, ACT Kids Anticavity Fluoride, and Listerine Healthy White Vibrant Multi-Action Fluoride that 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.
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