Do UV toothbrush sanitizers really work?

Do UV toothbrush sanitizers really work?

Fear of bacteria and microorganisms is a constant drumbeat from merchandisers. In some ways this is reasonable, as the majority of our illnesses are caused by invasive life that we cannot see. While many of these millions of microscopic life forms are relatively harmless, and some even beneficial, the human mind usually rebels at the thought of willingly living with them.

Enter the ultraviolet light sanitation device! Manufacturers lead you to believe that these machines are the best way to keep your toothbrush clean. They certainly do try to make them convenient, but what are the facts regarding UV toothbrush sanitizing?

What the Science Says

Studies in dental journals do demonstrate that UV sanitizers effectively kill bacteria and microorganisms. You will note, however, that even manufacturers seldom, if ever, claim a 100% kill rate, because they can’t. Many studies demonstrate that while they certainly reduce the amount of microscopic life, UV lights designed for toothbrushes seldom eliminate it entirely.

Interestingly, other forms of sanitizing, using common household products, were found to be equally or more successful at eliminating microorganisms from toothbrushes.


Many studies examined the effect of soaking toothbrushes in anti-microbial rinses, such as mouthwash, for up to twenty minutes. This was considered very effective, using a wide variety of antiseptic products available over the counter. Of course, with time the costs of this method may equal or exceed the cost of a UV sanitizer.

Microwave Ovens

Various researchers studied the sanitizing properties of microwaves. Microwaving for even just one minute completely eradicated life previously found on study toothbrushes. Keep in mind, the Sacramento Dentistry Group does not advise immediately handling a toothbrush that’s been in the microwave! We’re sure it gets hot and does not belong anywhere near your mouth until it has cooled down considerably! Of course, we don’t know what your family members will say about this sanitizing method, which leads us to the next cleansing system commonly found in Sacramento households.

The Dishwasher

Another study published in the American Journal of Dentistry found that simply sticking a toothbrush in the dishwasher and running it through a cleaning cycle successfully eliminated the majority of bacteria present. Again, this method might work well if you live alone, but roommates, significant others and family members may be absolutely disgusted to find your toothbrush in with their forks and spoons.

What About Rinsing and Air-Drying?

The most commonly recommended method of dealing with your toothbrush – rinsing with water and air-drying – shows mixed results in studies. Some proclaimed it good, others proclaimed this method inferior. All pointed out that it reduced the count of oral bacteria over simply doing nothing to clean your toothbrush. The benefit of this method is that it’s the easiest and cheapest method of keeping your toothbrush usable.

Do Your Consumer Research

If you decide to go the UV sanitation route, do your consumer research first. Many devices have short life-spans, churn through batteries, or are just plain fidgety. While they do cut down the bacteria present on the two hundred year old invention they are meant to clean – the toothbrush – significant quality control issues indicate that sanitizers also fit the even older saying: “Let the buyer beware!”

  • Myra
    Posted at 13:19h, 12 July Reply

    The only one of these options I would consider, besides air drying my toothbrush inside the medicine cabinet, would be to soak it in mouthwash.

  • Jessica (@squareduptweets)
    Posted at 19:21h, 30 July Reply

    It was nice to know I’m not the only person who would run their toothbrush in the dishwasher. Of course that would be a family only load. I try to look for toothbrushes on sale, so we just change them a lot so they don’t get too icky.

  • Frank Bibkin
    Posted at 06:32h, 24 July Reply

    Wait a minute…do people really not even just rinse off their toothbrush after using it?

  • Scott
    Posted at 06:43h, 27 August Reply

    I assume that soaking in alcohol would have much the same result as soaking in mouthwash since many have that as their active ingredient.

    I’d be curious about soaking in white vinegar overnight, and suspect it would kill many bacteria and fungi on brush. Perhaps not as many as alcohol, but vinegar is really, really cheap at something like a couple dollars a gallon. There are reasons vinegar is used to preserve some foods (killing or keeping away many bacteria to stop spoilage).

    • Tracy
      Posted at 18:10h, 19 June Reply

      I soaked one of my kids toothbrushes in alcohol once. The bristles disintegrated.

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