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Guide for How to Use Every Type of Mouthwash

Updated: Jan 2

Are you rinsing your mouth out properly because there are guidelines to follow such as how to do it but depending on which mouthwash you're using, it may be different. This is a guide for what to do for the most common types of rinses that we use.

Table of Contents:

What is a mouthwash?

A mouthwash is a liquid solution that is used to rinse out your mouth along with your teeth and gums by swishing and gargling for a specified duration of time. They're also commonly known as a mouth rinse or an oral rinse and they're either synthetically made or contain all natural ingredients.

While a mouth rinse isn't meant to be a replacement for brushing and flossing, their purpose is to be used as an adjunct to your oral hygiene routine. According to Listerine, regular brushing and flossing will only reach 25% of your mouth because they only clean the teeth but adding in a mouthwash will help you reach the last 75%.

How does a mouth rinse work?

Mouthwash works by killing the bacteria directly and/or creates an inhospitable environment for them by neutralizing the acidic environment.

  • Kill the bacteria. Some of the main ingredients in mouthwashes have the ability to directly kill bacteria when the solution comes into contact with them. The most notable rinses that do this are Listerine, hydrogen peroxide, and some of the essential oils.

  • Neutralize pH. The more gentle mouth rinses create an environment that slow down bacterial activity by making it more alkaline. The microbes typically work best at more acidic pHs. The rinses which do this are salt, tea, and oil.

The benefits of using a mouthwash

  • Antiseptic - kills bacteria and other types of microorganisms.

  • Prevents gum disease - keeps the gums healthy by reducing gum bleeding.

  • Fights bad breath - eliminates malodor causing bacteria.

  • Reduces plaque - removes plaque via swishing and gargling.

  • Fights cavities - kills the tooth decay causing bacteria.

General guideline for how to use mouthwash

Mouthwashes that are more acidic and give off a burning sensation only need to be rinsed for a short duration of time. In contrast, mouth rinses that are more alkaline and gentle will need to be rinsed for a longer period of time. If you're unsure about which category your oral rinse falls into, you should follow the instructions on the bottle's label.

How to use it

  1. Pour approximately 4 teaspoons of the rinse into a cup.

  2. Empty the cup into your mouth but don't swallow.

  3. Swish it around your mouth and gargle with it for the specified time.

  4. Spit solution out into the sink.

When to use mouthwash

The recommendation is to use a mouth rinse at least twice a day, once in the morning and again at nighttime prior to going to sleep. It is preferable that you use the oral rinse after you have brushed and flossed your teeth. It'll be more effective this way because if you remove most of the plaque and food debris with brushing, the mouthwash will be unobstructed from penetrating into every nook and cranny of your mouth.

How often should you use mouthwash?

Our dentists recommend that you use it twice a day but that doesn't mean you can't use it more often. In fact, you can use a mouth rinse after every meal if you'd like because there is no harm in doing so. It would actually be beneficial for you because the rinse can kill off bacteria and bring your mouth back to a neutral level after your meal. Typically the bacteria are most active immediately after a meal.

Should you rinse with water afterwards?

After using a mouthwash, you should not rinse your mouth out with water afterwards because you want to let the solution keep on working even after you've stopped swishing. For example, if you were using Listerine, after you spit it out, your mouth will still have that residual minty fresh feeling. If you rinse with water immediately after, that sensation will subside. However if you don't rinse, that sensation can linger on for a longer period of time, which means it'll be working for longer.

How to use various types of mouthwash

Depending on what the main ingredient in the mouthwash is, how you use it would also differ. This is a list of the most common types of mouthwashes and how to use them.



  1. Pour 4 teaspoons of Listerine into a small cup.

  2. Transfer cup into your mouth but don't swallow.

  3. Swish and gargle for 30 seconds total.

  4. Spit solution out into the sink.

Hydrogen peroxide

This solution is easily purchased at your local pharmacy and comes in a 3% concentration.

hydrogen peroxide

  1. Pour 1 table spoon of hydrogen peroxide into a cup.

  2. Add 2 table spoons of water to the mixture.

  3. Stir the mixture lightly.

  4. Transfer the solution into your mouth but don't swallow.

  5. Swish and gargle for 30 seconds.

  6. Spit solution back out into the sink.


This is a prescription based rinse that can only be prescribed by your dentist or healthcare professional. You can't buy it over the counter at the pharmacy.

  1. Measure 15 mL of the solution into a medicine cup.

  2. Place solution into your mouth.

  3. Swish and gargle for 30 seconds total.

  4. Spit solution back out into the sink.


When using this rinse, it is advised to only use it for 14 days at most because the solution is very staining. Studies have shown that it has a tendency to turn your teeth into a brown color when used excessively.

Salt water rinse

  1. Add 2 oz of water into a cup.

  2. Add 1 teaspoon of salt into the cup.

  3. Stir the mixture lightly.

  4. Place the solution into your mouth but don't swallow.

  5. Rinse your mouth for 30-60 seconds.

  6. Spit solution back out into the sink.

Salt water is a very gentle rinse so you can rinse for much longer if you want. If you want to reap it's maximum benefit for reducing bleeding gums, you can rinse 10-15 minutes total.

Oil pulling

  1. Pour 1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil into a cup.

  2. Pour the oil into your mouth.

  3. Swish it and gargle it for 15-20 minutes minimum.

  4. Spit it back out and do not swallow it.

The coconut oil does not directly kill bacteria because it works by neutralizing all acids in your mouth. According to ayurvedic practices, the oil allegedly "pulls" the bacteria out of your mouth and into the oil so you shouldn't swallow it afterwards.

We used coconut oil in this example but you can use any type of oil such as extra virgin olive oil, sunflower oil, and etc.

Essential Oil rinse

  1. Add 2 oz of water into a cup.

  2. Add 1-2 drops of an essential oil of your choice into the mixture.

  3. Stir it lightly.

  4. Swish and gargle with the solution in your mouth for 5-10 minutes.

Any type of essential oil will work but the most popular ones for mouth rinsing are:

  • Peppermint

  • Spearmint

  • Tea tree

  • Oregano

Rinsing with tea

For rinsing with tea, you can use any type of tea but the most common are black and green tea. Studies have shown that black tea was more effective at lower concentrations than green tea but both teas were effective in reducing the growth of Streptococcus mutans (cavity causing bacteria).

  1. Boil 8 oz of water.

  2. Steep your choice of tea bag for up to 5 minutes.

  3. Wait for the tea to cool down to room temperature.

  4. Rinse your mouth with the tea solution for up to 15 minutes.

  5. Spit out the solution.

You should be aware that if you were to use tea as your mouthwash of choice, it does tend to stain your teeth. Tea staining will usually leave a black line close to your gumline.

Safety and Precautions

The two biggest concerns with using mouthwash is the potential for swallowing it and possibility of self-inflicted pain when the wrong type of rinse is used for your situation.

Accidentally ingesting the mouthwash

The very acidic rinses such as Listerine, hydrogen peroxide, and chlorhexidine should not be swallowed at all. They were synthetically made specifically as an antiseptic rinse and not for consumption. The more natural mouth rinses such as coconut oil, sea salt, tea, and essential oils aren't as harmful if you do swallow them but the recommendation is to spit it out. The reason is because there is a lot of food debris and bacteria in that solution which you used to swish with so you don't want to bring the bacteria back into your body which you're trying to remove.

Using the wrong type of rinse for the wrong situation

If you have a wound such as a canker sore, cut, or tooth extraction socket, you should use a more gentle rinse such as salt water. If you used an acidic rinse like Listerine or hydrogen peroxide, you would aggravate the site that is healing and cause yourself pain. The salt is much more gentle on wounds that are healing so it is the recommended type of rinse for that type of situation.

Although if you don't have a wound and you're just looking for a general mouthwash, any one of the above solutions would work!

The Verdict

All mouthwashes require you to swish and gargle them but depending on what type of rinse it is, you may need to rinse for a longer period of time. It is also important to keep in mind that you should not swallow the solution that you are rinsing with.

Last but not least, using an oral rinse is not a replacement for brushing and flossing your teeth everyday. It is considered an adjunct to your preventative dentistry routine and not a complete replacement.

This guide on mouth rinses is brought to you by your long island city dentist, Dr David Chen.


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About the author: Dr David Chen, DDS

Hello, I'm Dr Chen and I'm an actively practicing dentist in Long Island City, NY. I graduated from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in 2016 but prior to going to dental school I was already working in the dental field. It's been more than a decade since I first got to know dentistry and let me tell you, time flies by quickly. Since then I've developed a fondness for writing, which is how this all got started!

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Medical Disclaimer:

This blog is purely meant for information purposes and should not be used as medical advice. Each situation in your mouth is unique and complex. It is not possible to give advice nor diagnose any oral conditions based on text nor virtual consultations. The best thing to do is to go in person to see your dentist for an examination and consultation so that you can receive the best care possible.

The purpose of all of this oral health information is to encourage you to see your dentist and to inform you of what you may expect during your visit. Due to the unfortunate nature of dentistry, there isn't really any true home remedies that will get rid of dental problems. Roughly 99.99% of them require in-person intervention by a healthcare professional.

Hint: That is the reason why you can't eliminate seeing dentists in your life!

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