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A lot of us have a baseline approach to mouthwash—let’s call it “mouthwash, rinse, repeat”. We use it before a date, perhaps after guzzling coffee or smoking, or eating something heavy on garlic and onion. What we often overlook, though, is the potential this product has to prevent bacterial buildup and keep bad breath at bay for much longer than the next few hours.
So, what’s in the best mouthwashes out there? For a few pointers, we spoke with Dr. Clement Kairouz, dentist at Apa Aesthetic in NYC. As for mouthwash red flags, Kairouz says to watch for alcohol, which dries out your mouth and creates an even more hospitable environment for odorous bacteria. (This is why you often wake up with bad breath, even if you gargle mouthwash before dozing off. If your mouth dries out while you sleep—particularly common for air-conditioned or dehumidified environments—then you are a prime candidate for pungent dry-mouth morning breath.)
Your mouthwash of choice should focus on multiple factors of oral care, Kairouz says. Its antimicrobial agents will help reduce gingivitis (gum disease) and bad breath. Some great options have fluoride to improve tooth enamel, and might have ingredients like xylitol to reduce tooth staining, like xylitol. “Xylitol increases the amount of saliva in the mouth and reduces the bacteria S. mutans, which cause plaque to form on teeth,” adds Kairouz. (Hydrogen peroxide is another common ingredient in whitening mouthwashes.)
If you have severe issues with bad breath (such as halitosis), then either speak with your dentist about the best prescriptive options or look for therapeutic OTC options. Kairouz has one warning about some high-grade washes, though: “Prescribed therapeutic mouthwashes often contain chlorhexidine, which helps to combat swollen, red gums. However, it should not be used for prolonged periods as it darkens teeth by staining enamel.”
Below are the best mouthwashes for a lasting freshness, all of which are alcohol free, and none of which will dry out your mouth. Also, don’t be fooled by the preservative ingredient benzyl alcohol on many of these products’ ingredient rosters; this is not the kind of (ethyl) alcohol they’re talking about when it comes to drying out your palate.
The Best Mouthwashes
Marvis Strong Mint Mouthwash [$22.50 on Amazon]
Apa Beauty White Rinse [$25 on Revolve]
Estrella Raíz Herbal Root-Based Mouth Rinse [$40 on Estrella]
vVardis Enamel Highlighter Mouthwash [$25 on Neiman Marcus]
Aesop Mouthwash [$25 on Nordstrom]
SmartMouth Bad Breath Prevention Mouth Rinse [$9.84 on Walmart]
Snow Arctic Frost Whitening Mouthwash [$25 on Neiman Marcus]
Listerine Total Care Alcohol-Free Mouthwash [$14.98 for 2 on Amazon]
TheraBreath Healthy Gums Oral Rinse [$17.64 for 2 on Amazon]
Terra & Co. Oil Pulling Mouth Wash [$40 on Saks Fifth Avenue]
Marvis Strong Mint Mouthwash
Don’t be fooled by this tiny vessel: Marvis’ mouthwash is a concentrate, so you must dilute it with each gargle (four parts water, one part concentrate). It’s an alcohol-free, xylitol-powered recipe that keeps bacteria and plaque at bay, and it’s also easy to increase or decrease the ante if you want an extra kick or sedated splash.
Apa Beauty White Rinse
Xylitol and hydroxyapatite work together in this whitening formula to mitigate plaque and protect tooth enamel. Peppermint oil and menthol give it a refreshing and purifying blast, while allantoin soothes the mouth and promotes healing at any site of inflammation or wear.
Estrella Raíz Herbal Root-Based Mouth Rinse
This unsweetened mouth rinse focuses largely on calming, purifying and balancing the mouth as a system (as opposed to the dental-centric tasks). It deploys a plant-based formula that includes soothing aloe vera, antimicrobial tea tree and echinacea, calming lavender and astringent witch hazel.
vVardis Enamel Highlighter Mouthwash
Oral care wunderkind vVardis has made a big splash in the space in a few short years; this mouthwash uses a patented zinc-peptide complex to freshen breath, xylitol to brighten teeth and thwart plaque, as well as fluoride to fortify enamel.
Leave it to Aesop to launch a uniquely flavored mouthwash, a sharply fresh blend of spearmint, clove and anise. Those oils respectively purify the gums, neutralize bacteria and target buildup (while tea tree oil also aids in antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory efforts). The formula honors your mouth’s natural pH and saliva production to ensure maximum comfort and moisture.
SmartMouth The Original Bad Breath Prevention Mouth Rinse
This is the fighter you’d choose if you have to battle serious morning breath issues. There are two halves to the SmartMouth bottle, and when you pour them into the cap together, they activate the product’s zinc formula which in turn guarantees fresh breath for 12 hours. Gargle in the a.m. and you’re good to go all day (I mean, take it easy on the coffee and garlic, still), and then gargle before bed and you’ll wake up without any worries—particularly if you share the bed with a snoggable +1.
Snow Arctic Frost Whitening Mouthwash
In this mouthwash, sensitivity-minded Snow combines the anti-buildup abilities of xylitol with the soothing powers of aloe. Peppermint oil gives you a purifying, ultra-fresh finish.
Listerine Total Care Alcohol-Free Anticavity Fluoride Mouthwash
This drugstore staple has a variety of mouthwash options, and this alcohol-free fluoride-forward option is likely your dentist’s pick of the Listerine roster. In addition to freshening your breath, it also supports enamel and helps prevent tooth decay.
TheraBreath Periodontist Formulated Healthy Gums Oral Rinse
Not only is this one of the heaviest hitters for bad breath, but it’s also the best for gums—and for rectifying (and preventing) severe gingivitis, at that: The active ingredient in this periodontist-developed recipe is the antimicrobial cetylpyridinium chloride 0.05 percent, which not only protects the gums but also helps prevent plaque, tartar and foul breath.
Terra & Co. Brilliant Black Oil Pulling Mouth Wash
Remember when oil pulling was all the rage? While people may not be talking about it as much, the habit is still very much effective at purifying the mouth. This oil-pulling rinse has a coconut oil base (which is also the sole ingredient in simple DIY oil-pulling). Still, Terra & Co adds activated charcoal, peppermint oil and vitamin E to the formula to detoxify, purify, calm and freshen the mouth as you swish it around. It’s a perfect pick for sensitive smiles and helps boost saliva production to hydrate the mouth and prevent bacteria that proliferate in parched palates.