When should you use mouthwash?

Mouthwashes promise extra fresh breath, a tingling clean feeling, and oral health advantages. But with so many types and options, when exactly should you be swishing daily – morning, night, or after meals? The ideal timing depends on your specific goals.

Dental professionals recommend incorporating both pre-brushing and post-brushing mouthwash into your daily routine to achieve maximum cleanliness and cavity protection for your teeth and gums.

Using mouthwash before brushing (pre-brushing) helps to dislodge debris so brushing cleans more effectively. Using it after brushing, on the other hand, achieves optimal debris removal, plus you can enjoy the benefits of fluoride residual on your teeth as an anti-cavity rinse.

Let’s explore mouthwash dos and don’ts to maximize outcomes.

When should you use mouthwash

Morning Mouthwash Benefits

Starting your day with mouthwash offers perks like:

  • Helps freshen “morning breath” from reduced saliva flow overnight.
  • Provides quick prep and moisture before eating or drinking coffee which can dehydrate tissues.
  • Rinses away bacteria accumulation overnight before morning brushing.
  • Starts the day with a clean mouthfeel and minty taste.

The anti-plaque and freshening effects make mouthwash an ideal morning habit, especially for those prone to dry mouth upon waking.

Evening and Post-Meal Swishing

The post-meal and bedtime window is another prime opportunity:

  • Using mouthwash AFTER brushing and flossing at night provides that final reducing bacterial load right before long sleep hours.
  • Swishing after meals helps prevent food debris from sticking between teeth before you can brush. Rinsing keeps oral pH in check.
  • Look for rinses with xyilitol to deter cavity-causing bacteria after sugar and carbohydrate consumption.
  • At night, fluoride and pH balancing rinses work while you sleep to remineralize and neutralize acid.

So consider a quick swish after meals and a more thorough evening rinse after complete tooth cleaning.

Pre-Brushing vs. Post-Brushing Use

The timing of when you should use mouthwash, either before or after brushing your teeth, is a common question in oral hygiene routines.

Here are some considerations for both approaches:

a. Pre-Brushing (Before Brushing)

Using mouthwash before brushing your teeth can have some benefits:

  • Dislodging Debris: Rinsing with mouthwash before brushing can help dislodge debris and particles from your teeth and gums. This can make it easier for your toothbrush to clean effectively.
  • Improved Brushing: With some debris removed, your toothbrush can make better contact with your teeth, potentially leading to a more thorough cleaning.

However, there are some potential downsides:

  • Residue: While pre-brushing mouthwash can remove some debris, it may not eliminate all of it. Some residue may still remain in your mouth.

b. Post-Brushing (After Brushing)

Using mouthwash after brushing has its own advantages:

  • Debris Removal: After brushing, your mouth is likely cleaner, and using mouthwash can help rinse away any remaining particles and bacteria.
  • Fluoride Protection: Some mouthwashes contain fluoride, which can provide an extra layer of protection against cavities when used after brushing, similar to not rinsing toothpaste after brushing.

However, there are limitations:

  • Reach: While mouthwash can reach areas of your mouth that a toothbrush might miss, it may not penetrate as deeply between teeth or into gum pockets as flossing can.

Dentist-Recommended Approach

Many dentists recommend a combination of both methods for a comprehensive oral care routine:

  • Pre-Brush Rinse: Start with a quick rinse before brushing. This can help loosen debris and get your mouth ready for brushing.
  • Brush and Floss: Follow up with thorough brushing and flossing to remove as much debris and plaque as possible.
  • Post-Brush Rinse: Finish with a final rinse, preferably with an anti-cavity fluoride mouthwash. This step can provide added protection against cavities.

Tips for Proper Technique 

To maximize mouthwash effectiveness:

  • Carefully follow manufacturer instructions for rinsing duration and amount. Don’t under or overdo it.
  • Swish gently between teeth – Don’t aggressively slosh, which can trap debris.
  • Tilt head back to allow full circulation and avoid swallowing rinse.
  • Finish with a quick water rinse to dilute and limit tissue irritation.

Pair with Brushing and Flossing

Importantly, mouthwash should enhance – not replace – fundamental brushing and flossing. It provides additive benefits only with dedicated daily cleaning. Your dentist can advise how best to integrate mouthwash into your routine.

Final Note

With the right technique and purposeful timing, mouthwash can provide that extra boost between dental visits. Harness morning, night, and post-meal timing to target specific needs from fresh breath to maximum bacterial reduction. A strategic swish makes good oral hygiene even better.


  • Editorial team

    A team comprising oral health care professionals, researchers, and professional Writers, striving to impart you with the knowledge to improve your oral health, and that of your loved ones. 

  • Lilly

    Lilly, aka, Liza Lee, is a passionate community oral health officer and our lead writer. She's not only well-versed in performing a multitude of dental procedures, including preventive, restorative, and cosmetic, but also an avid writer. Driven by the significant oral health burden all around her, Lilly strives to build capacity and promote oral health. She envisions making a lasting impact by advancing research, prevention, and promotion efforts to alleviate oral health disparities. Please share your views and opinions on my posts.

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