Mouthwash is an important part of a good oral health routine, but what about mouthwash with alcohol? Alcohol mouthwash tends to feel harsh and stinging in your mouth, which might make you think it’s better for serious cleaning but that’s not entirely true. Let’s find out what alcohol is doing in mouthwash and if alcohol or non alcohol mouthwash is better for your mouth. We’ll cover: 

  • How alcohol mouthwash works
  • How non-alcohol mouthwash works
  • Should you use alcohol or non-alcohol mouthwash?  
A depiction of ethanol, the alcohol in some mouthwash.
Ethanol is the alcohol used in alcohol mouthwashes. You’ll also find ethanol in household cleaners and beauty products such as perfume and aftershave.  

Alcohol Mouthwash 

What’s in Alcohol Mouthwash?

The alcohol in alcohol mouthwash is ethanol. This is the same alcohol used in lots of other household products, such as perfume, hand sanitizer, and cold medicine. 

The percentage of alcohol in these products is much higher than the percentage of alcoholic beverages intended for consumption--percentages in alcohol mouthwash are around 20% while drinks like beer and wine are around 5%-12%. This is because the alcohol in mouthwash is intended to be a cleaning agent, not to be consumed. 

In addition to ethanol, alcohol mouthwashes can contain all of the regular mouthwash ingredients. Mouthwash works by swishing antimicrobial agents, fluoride, and minty flavors into hard to reach places in your mouth. 

Alcohol in Mouthwash Kills Bacteria

Alcohol is an antimicrobial agent. This means it kills microorganisms, or bacteria, in your mouth. Mouthwash is great for getting between teeth, reaching the back of your mouth, and finding any crevices where bacteria might be hiding from your toothbrush.  

Alcohol in mouthwash is super good at killing all the bacteria in your mouth--that’s right, all the bacteria. This might sound like a perfect mouthwash, but there are both good and bad bacteria living in your mouth. 

You need the proper balance of bacteria in your mouth. Killing too much good as well as bad bacteria can lead to an imbalance, causing bad breath and other issues. While getting rid of bad bacteria is great, using alcohol mouthwash could end up creating issues in your mouth instead of cleaning it. 

Alcohol is highly effective at killing bacteria and non alcohol mouthwash is not always as good for getting rid of bacteria. However, there are ingredients in alcohol free mouthwash that do the same job as ethanol does in alcohol mouthwash. Alcohol free mouthwashes are often better for cleaning your mouth than alcohol mouthwashes.  

A man talks to his dentist about what kind of mouthwash she recommends for his mouth.
Talk to your dentist about whether alcohol or non alcohol mouthwash is better for your oral health. 

Non Alcohol Mouthwash

Ingredients

Alcohol in mouthwash is simply replaced with a different antimicrobial agent. Non-alcohol mouthwash contains ingredients such as Cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC) or chlorhexidine gluconate.

Cetylpyridinium chloride reduces plaque and gingivitis, or gum inflammation. CPC also provides antibacterial protection for 12 hours after use. 

Chlorhexidine gluconate reduces bacterial plaque formation and gingivitis. Chlorhexidine gluconate is also found in many alcohol mouthwashes as well because it is very effective.

Natural Options

If you’re looking for an organic mouthwash, you can find alcohol free natural mouthwashes:

  • hello - All hello mouthwashes are alcohol free and include aloe vera. Aloe vera is a natural cleaner as well as a soothing agent great for solving and preventing gum inflammation. 
  • Schmidt’s - Schmidt’s has alcohol free mouthwash options that clean with coconut oil, tea tree oil, and aloe vera. 
  • Blisque - Blisque natural mouthwash cleans your mouth with aloe vera and naturally mined baking soda.
  • Georganics - Georganics makes an oil pulling mouthwash that is natural and alcohol free. 
A bottle of ACT mouthwash which is alcohol and dye free.
Look for Alcohol Free on the label to find a non-alcohol version of your favorite mouthwash. Image courtesy of amazon.com

Should You Use Alcohol or Non Alcohol Mouthwash?

The Problem with Alcohol Mouthwash

Alcohol is a drying agent. This means that swishing alcohol mouthwash around in your mouth inhibits saliva production leading to dry mouth. This is more than just an unpleasant feeling--dry mouth contributes to bad breath and the production of germs in your mouth.

Saliva is a self-made natural cleaning agent for your mouth. Saliva cleans bacteria out of our mouths all day long, so reduction or elimination of saliva from prolonged use of alcohol mouthwash is bad for the cleanliness and health of your mouth. This means alcohol mouthwash is not the best choice for swishing, despite that stinging minty fresh breath feeling.

Alcoholism and Mouthwash

Alcohol mouthwash can be a problem for people with alcoholism. Alcohol mouthwash is readily available, cheap, inconspicuous, and contains a high alcohol percentage. These characteristics can turn a regular household item into something dangerous.

If you or someone in your house struggles with alcoholism, alcohol mouthwash is a potential trigger you might not want in your bathroom cabinet. This is also something to keep in mind if you have children. 

Drinking alcohol mouthwash can have very serious side effects partly because of the other ingredients in mouthwash that aren’t meant to be swallowed. Swallowing alcohol mouthwash can result in overdose, liver failure, or gastrointestinal damage. If the mouthwash contains methyl alcohol consuming it can cause blindness, organ failure, or death.

Alcohol Free Mouthwash to the Rescue

You may decide to use alcohol free mouthwash to avoid the danger of alcohol mouthwash or simply to protect and better clean your mouth. Non-alcohol mouthwash accomplishes both tasks easily.

Alcohol free mouthwash aids saliva production instead of inhibiting it--this helps your mouth naturally flush out bacteria. Switching to alcohol free mouthwash could save you from dry mouth and an imbalance of bacteria in your mouth resulting in bad breath. 

A man smiles with clean healthy teeth thanks to good dental hygiene including the right mouthwash.
Whether the right mouthwash for you contains alcohol or is alcohol free, make sure you include mouthwash in your routine for a clean and healthy smile. 

Alcohol mouthwash is great for killing bacteria in your mouth and leaving you with a fresh clean feeling, but it isn’t always the best choice. Alcohol free mouthwash might be the key to improving your dental hygiene. Talk to your dentist today about the right mouthwash for your mouth.