Moldy Toothbrushes: Freshen Up Without Fungus

David J. Allen

I spent the better part of 2 ½ years learning about mold and indoor air quality because my child's life depended on it. Now I help others avoid ever having to experience the same thing. The mold industry suffers from conflicting opinions and I do my best to distill loads of data into something practical and useful. I love hearing from and helping readers. • "A house desecrated by mildew, mold, or fungus would be a defiled place to live in, so drastic measures had to be taken." — Leviticus 14:45

No matter where it shows up, finding mold growth in your home is always an unpleasant surprise. If there’s one place where you really don’t want to find the nasty fungus, though, it’s on your toothbrush.

Few things are as disgusting as getting ready to clean your teeth and realizing at the last second that the toothbrush is visibly moldy—talk about a bad way to start your day!

This is, unfortunately, a much more common occurrence than many people realize.

Why Do Toothbrushes Get Moldy?

Generally speaking, mold is a fungus that doesn’t require too many specific conditions to be able to grow. As long as the spores have moisture, organic material to eat, and in most cases, relatively warm temperatures, they can thrive and spread. So, when you think about it from that perspective, toothbrushes can often be the perfect environment for mold to grow.

No matter what you do to prevent mold growth, there are still a number of microscopic mold spores floating around your home at any given time.

As long as mold is actively prevented from actually flourishing, it usually does not become a problem. But since the bathroom is typically a warm, damp environment, those mold spores tend to gravitate there, as it’s usually one of the most habitable areas of the house. 

So, the mold spores may already be lingering in your bathroom, which is where your toothbrush sits when you aren’t using it. You most certainly rinse your toothbrush after use, so it’s frequently damp, and there are also plenty of organic particles on it from your mouth and the air. These factors all combine to make your toothbrush a prime piece of real estate for any mold spores seeking a new home.

And, if you have an electric toothbrush, it may be even more susceptible to the fungus. This is because after you brush your teeth and rinse the brush, water will continuously drip down onto the electric base, meaning there’s even more surface area for mold to invade.

How Should You Handle a Moldy Toothbrush?

If you find mold growing on a non-electric, inexpensive toothbrush, the smart move is to throw it out.

After all, if the toothbrush is easy and affordable to replace, there’s no reason to take even a slight risk of ingesting mold.

That said, many modern electric toothbrushes are expensive and very high-quality, and it would be totally understandable if you didn’t want to throw yours in the trash.

So, if you see or smell mold on a toothbrush that you prefer to keep, you can thoroughly clean the electric base so that it’s once again usable.

Even if you’ve decided to keep your electrical toothbrush, you’ll want to start by replacing the brush head. Since that’s the part you actually put in your mouth, it simply isn’t a good idea to continue using it once it’s become moldy.

To clean the base of the electric toothbrush, you can scrub away the mold with distilled white vinegar and thoroughly wipe it dry with a microfiber towel.

After you’ve cleaned the toothbrush base, you’ll want to monitor it closely for the next few weeks. If the fungus comes back, you can try cleaning it again, but with a persistent mold problem like that, it may be wise to consider investing in a replacement toothbrush.

Prevent Mold From Growing on Your Toothbrush

Although the thought of disgusting mold showing up on your toothbrush is certainly an unpleasant one, there is some good news. If you make a few changes in the way you store and care for your toothbrush, you can greatly reduce the chances that it will ever become moldy.

1. Rinse Thoroughly After Each Use

Every time you brush your teeth, part of your toothbrush is spending as long as two minutes moving all around the inside of your mouth. During this time, lots and lots of particles are accumulating on the brush, and if you don’t thoroughly rinse them away, they can create a perfect situation for mold to grow. If you’re able to get rid of those particles, though, you’ll be eliminating a major food source for the spores, making it less likely that they’ll choose your toothbrush as a home.

2. Get Rid of the Excess Moisture

The one downside to thoroughly rinsing your toothbrush is all of the water that’s likely to be left behind on the brush. Since mold loves moist environments, letting your toothbrush remain wet after using it can be a problem. To remedy the situation, try shaking the excess moisture from the brush or tapping it against the inside of the sink. Then, wipe the base of the toothbrush with a towel; after all, you don’t want any mold showing up there, either.

3. Choose a Good Storage Spot

Believe it or not, where you keep your toothbrush when you aren’t using it can play a significant role in whether or not mold shows up. Ideally, you want to store it somewhere that has decent airflow, as that will allow the brush to dry more quickly. So, keeping it inside a cabinet or drawer might not be the best idea. In those enclosed spaces, the air is likely to become stagnant, providing mold with a good opportunity to grow. It’s also wise to keep your toothbrush a healthy distance away from the toilet in the interest of keeping those nasty particles away.

4. Clean the Toothbrush Periodically

Mold takes time to grow, and it’s extremely unlikely that a large accumulation of spores will show up on your toothbrush overnight. So, if you make a point to regularly clean the brush with a mold-killing agent, you should be able to prevent any mold colonies from gaining a real foothold. As mentioned before, distilled white vinegar is an excellent solution for killing mold, and there’s a decent chance you’ll already have it at home. Even if you don’t, it’s inexpensive to pick up at any grocery store.

If you’re using an electric toothbrush, you can remove the head and soak it in the vinegar for 30 minutes to an hour, then thoroughly rinse it with water.

As for the base of the toothbrush, you’ll probably want to be more conservative with the vinegar and carefully scrub its surface, then wipe it dry with a towel. Ideally, you should give your brush one of these deep cleanings every week.

5. Replace Your Toothbrush Preemptively

According to the American Dental Association, you should replace your toothbrush or brush head every three or four months. This is mainly because over time, the bristles on the brush will begin to deteriorate. That not only makes the toothbrush less effective, but it also makes it more likely to retain moisture and thereby more susceptible to mold growth. Rather than waiting until your toothbrush gets moldy to throw it out, consider replacing it every few months as a preemptive (preventative) measure.