Do all electric toothbrushes get moldy?
December 14, 2011 7:28 PM   Subscribe

Why is my Oral-B electric toothbrush's head moldy? Would a Sonicare have the same problem?

I have a Braun / Oral-B electric toothbrush that uses their standard replacement heads. The insides of the heads have black gunk build up in them, no matter how well I rinse them after use and prop them up to dry. I've tried alternating toothbrush heads, to make sure they dry out between uses, but that doesn't help. The heads are expensive and I don't want to have to replace them monthly.

Does anyone know how to stop this from happening? Should I switch to Sonicare, or will the problem follow me?
posted by anonymous to Technology (18 answers total)
I had a sonic care that I got free as an (unused) christmas regift. I had that nasty problem as well and ended up just throwing the whole thing out. No idea if I was doing it wrong though.
posted by raccoon409 at 7:32 PM on December 14, 2011

I have a Sonicare that I love, and it has the same problem. I think it's from the rubber...seal? deteriorating enough to let moisture in. FWIW I've had mine for three years or so--this is a development in the last year.

My dentist said the new model of Sonicare has a top that just pops on, rather than screws on, eliminating the hollow cavity where mold grows. That's what I'm asking Santa for--that black gunk is so gross!
posted by stellaluna at 7:37 PM on December 14, 2011

For various reasons I often end up brushing my teeth without a sink handy, so I store a (non-electric) toothbrush in a mild chlorine solution which keeps it from getting moldy; maybe you could do the same with the toothbrush heads.
posted by XMLicious at 7:37 PM on December 14, 2011

The gunk is coming out of your mouth. Rinse with hydrogen peroxide.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:38 PM on December 14, 2011

I had an Oral-B for a while, after which I bought a Sonicare that I've had for about five years now. I've never had the problem you are describing, for what it's worth, and I store mine in the shower most of the time.
posted by halogen at 7:39 PM on December 14, 2011

I periodically soak my Braun / Oral-B electric toothbrush heads in hydrogen peroxide, which seems to keep them pretty clean and non-smelly. I stick the head business end down in an empty Sanbittèr bottle, which is the perfect size for the purpose, then fill up the bottle with H202 and leave it alone for 20-30 minutes until the fizzing stops. Then I pull out the brush head, rinse it off, and resume use. I have no idea whether this is an approved cleaning method but it doesn't seem to damage the brush heads.
posted by Orinda at 7:40 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think it's basically impossible to prevent mould from growing on surfaces that're wet as often as pretty much everything in the bathroom is. (Although I've now looked inside our two rather elderly Braun brushes, and there's no obvious mould; just a little unidentifiable white and yellowish gunk. Perhaps our bathroom is better ventilated than yours, or the Braun design doesn't have the Sonicare's design flaws.)

If you dried out the inside of the brush attachment quickly, by for instance sitting it in front of a fan heater, the mould probably wouldn't grow. I think it'd be easier to just keep the brushes in an antiseptic solution, though, like false teeth. Whatever false teeth soak in would presumably work, as would a mild bleach solution, or vinegar. A more rock-and-roll option would be a jar of vodka :-).

I think it's unlikely that a bit of black mould inside a toothbrush attachment poses any significant health risk, though, even if you're in the habit of sucking on your toothbrush.
posted by dansdata at 7:40 PM on December 14, 2011

I have used my Oral-B toothbrush for years. Using the last one for over a year. I have never seen anything inside the head. But if I did I would do as Orinda suggested and use hydrogen peroxide. I am mystified that your brush head does that.
posted by JayRwv at 7:48 PM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

The new Sonicare designs don't have the mold problem, in my experience.
posted by gerryblog at 7:50 PM on December 14, 2011

Family members, SOs, and I have used a variety of electric toothbrushes over the years, including the OralB one and Sonicares. I have never experienced or seen anything like what you describe. Some toothpaste spatter gradu, sure, but never mold or mildew.

Try taking the toothbrush head off to dry after each use and consider soaking in hydrogen peroxide.

Is your bathroom mildewy in general? Maybe try storing the toothbrush in another, drier room.
posted by phunniemee at 8:12 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've had that problem with the Sonicare. I have to take the head off and then disassemble it by separating the brush part from the sleeve that screws onto the base, and clean that all out periodically. It's not obvious at first glance that the brush separates from the sleeve, and I have to use a little force to do it. Perhaps the Oral B is the same?
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:42 PM on December 14, 2011

I soak my Sonicare heads in peroxide which seems to work just fine. My cousin who's a dental hygienist runs his through the dishwasher so that's an option if you want to go all out.
posted by stray thoughts at 9:43 PM on December 14, 2011

I've had this issue, but mostly inside the charging 'dimple' at the bottom. I've noticed the same black mould growing inside my kids' bath toys (inside plastic ducks, for example).

The only way to avoid it is through dryness. I'd hazard a guess that storing the brush with the head pulled off ought to fix your problem. Provided the inside of the head is open to the air (e.g. store it lying flat on a windowsill in sunlight), that might well be enough to dissuade the mould from forming. Putting the head through a dishwasher every few days also sounds like a good suggestion.

Having said that, I don't worry about it too much. It seems harmless enough, if unsightly.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 1:30 AM on December 15, 2011

My wife and I use an Oral-B electric and never have this problem but it may because we leave the heads off the motor when not using it (we swap heads and our medicine cabinet also doesn't have a tall enough shelf space to leave the heads on) so they tend to dry out between uses.

Also we live in England and just about everything else gets mouldy regularly.
posted by srboisvert at 6:19 AM on December 15, 2011

we take the heads off ours after every brushing. The manual also says you should wash the body regularly as well (monthly ?) .. Great way to use the old toothbrushes..
posted by k5.user at 6:30 AM on December 15, 2011

I haven't noticed that problem with my sonicare. The one I purchased came with a UV cleaner, which I do use every time, maybe it would help. It might dry it, and then keep it protected from moist air.
To be honest though, I didn't have the problem with my old oral-B. You might have a moister bathroom.

I like my sonicare way more than my oral-b. It cleans much better. However, at least where I am, the replacement brushes are more than double the cost. I think the lifespan is the same, I find I get about 2 months of quality brushing from either.

I doubt you will save money switching, probably you will spend more, but I think your teeth will be much cleaner and whiter. I wished I had switched much sooner because of that.
posted by fruit sandwich at 8:26 AM on December 15, 2011

I assume you're talking about the bottom part of the toothbrush head that connects into the body? Yes, this problem also exists with the sonic-care. It's because it's staying wet.

I regularly clean it with rubbing alcohol and a q-tip.
posted by vivzan at 10:48 AM on December 15, 2011

Aha! In my bathroom right now I have both a sonic care AND an oral b each in their own little brush holders*. The sonic care is not mine, and not only would I NOT use it to brush my teeth, I wouldn't use it to clean the sink, and I actually resent it being in the same room as my oral b brush. The design of the sonic is just gross - it has a big space that just gets filled up with the nasty stuff. The materials it is made out of haven't held up as well as the oral b, it is harder to clean and bits of the case have fallen off. My oral b has been dropped, frozen, I've used all sorts of random cleaning agents on it and it still works despite having a cracked case and it even holds a decent charge.

The folks who actually test this sort of thing (summarized here) put the Oral-B ProfessionalCare SmartSeries 4000 (prev. the Triumph) at the top. NOTE: there is little difference in how well the two brands actually clean your teeth (despite any sonic care owners deluded {ie the owner of the other brush in my house} claims to the contrary), but that's no reason to switch to a completely inferior product.

*helps keep them dry try target - kitchen brush holder with suction cups.
posted by zenon at 2:18 PM on December 15, 2011

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