Is Alcohol in Mouthwash Bad? A Dentist Explains

The presence of alcohol in mouthwash is not inherently bad, but it's essential to understand its potential impact on your oral health.

While mouthwash is beneficial for your daily oral routine, prolonged use of alcohol based may cause certain risks, such as:

  • dryness

  • irritation

  • burning sensation

  • and an increased oral cancer risk.

Ultimately, there's always a way to address these concerns and maintain good oral hygiene.

One effective solution is to consider alcohol free mouthwash as a safe and effective alternative to alcohol-based options.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about alcohol in mouthwash and its efficacy and safety for your oral health.

What is alcohol mouthwash?

A man holding alcohol mouthwash

Alcohol mouthwash, also known as alcohol-based mouthwash, is a type of mouthwash that contains ethanol as a solvent for active ingredients, antiseptic properties, and preservative properties.

Research has shown that alcohol mouthwash (ethanol) is effective at killing germs and bacteria in the mouth, which helps reduce:

  • plaque buildup

  • tooth decay

  • and bad breath.

However, studies suggest that using alcohol containing mouthwash has potential risks associated with excessive use, including the development of oral cancer, a severe health condition that has been studied with prolonged mouthwash use containing high alcohol concentrations.

Additionally, research indicates that regular alcohol consumption can destroy your oral microbiome, causing bad breath and dry mouth due to bacterial imbalance and reducing saliva production which is crucial for fighting tooth decay and gum disease.

Therefore, the potential risks of using alcohol-based mouthwash should be carefully considered, and you may want to explore alcohol free alternatives to mitigate these potential concerns.

How does alcohol mouthwash work?

Alcohol mouthwash contains ethanol which acts as an antimicrobial agent to kill bacteria and freshen breath.

The alcohol concentration in mouthwash typically ranges from 18% to 26.9% which can work effectively to reduce plaque buildup and combat gingivitis when used in addition to regular brushing and flossing.

However, excessive alcohol consumption in mouthwash can have drawbacks. For example, mouthwash can burn your tongue and dry out the oral mucosa, ultimately leading to potential oral conditions.

It is worth nothing that alcohol free mouthwash also exists and may be a better alternative for those who are sensitive to alcohol or have dry mouth.

The Benefits of Alcohol Mouthwash

While alcohol mouthwash can be too strong for the delicate tissues in your mouth, moderate use of this product can still offer advantages that contribute to optimal oral hygiene.

Here are some benefits of alcohol-based mouth rinse:

  • Ethanol is effective at killing germs and bacteria in the mouth, reducing bacterial plaque buildup, and decreasing the risk of developing tooth decay, cavities, and gum disease

  • It helps to dissolve oils in the mouth which has an antibacterial effect that reduces cavities and prevents gum disease

  • Alcohol-based mouthwash also helps keep breath feeling clean and fresh

  • Overall, rinsing with alcohol-based mouthwash improves your oral hygiene

However, while using this alcohol-based mouthwash has an effective impact on your teeth, overexposure to these formulations may lead to the following consequences.

Potential Risk of Using Alcohol Based Mouthwash

Alcohol mouthwashes have long been associated with oral hygiene, primarily due to their potent bacteria-killing properties. However, it's essential to consider the potential risks of its use.

  1. Increased Risk of Oral Cancer: Studies associate a heightened risk of developing oral cancer with regular use of alcohol-based mouthwash for individuals who consume alcohol and/or cigarettes. 

  2. Potential Link to Upper Airway Cancer (≥3 times/day): A systematic review indicates a significantly higher risk of upper airway cancer when using alcoholic mouthwash ≥3 times/day, compared to non-users.

  3. Elevated Acetaldehyde Levels in Saliva: The alcohol strength in mouthwash correlates with higher levels of acetaldehyde in saliva, potentially increasing the risk of oral cancer.

  4. Drying Effect Leading to Dry Mouth: Alcohol-based mouthwash can diminish saliva production, resulting in a drying effect and contributing to dry mouth.

  5. Burning Sensation: Alcohol-based mouthwash may cause an unpleasant burning sensation in the mouth.

  6. Destruction of Good Bacteria: Alcohol in mouthwash can indiscriminately eliminate both beneficial and harmful bacteria, leading to an imbalance and potential complications.

  7. Potential Exacerbation: Alcohol-based mouthwash has the potential to amplify the effects ethanol, especially in cases of extreme exposure.

  8. Exceeding Acceptable Ethanol Intakes (for Alcohol-Dependent Consumers): In worst-case scenarios for alcohol-dependent consumers, using alcohol-based mouthwash may surpass acceptable daily intakes of ethanol and other compounds.

To address these issues, we recommend you consider switching to a milder or alcohol free mouth rinse formulation.

Alcohol Free Mouthwash as an Alternative

SWISH Mouthwash

Alcohol-free mouthwash can be a gentle alternative for maintaining your oral hygiene.

In fact, alcohol free mouthwash is shown by research to be equally as effective as alcohol based mouthwash at killing harmful bacteria without disrupting the good ones.

Evidence even suggests that it is more gentle and effective than containing alcohol as this can't cause any risks to your oral health.

Therefore, to avoid potential complications against the use of alcohol-based mouthwash, consider using a mouth rinse with an alkaline pH which evidence suggests can neutralize acidity. This is essential for oral health.

By neutralizing acidity in saliva production, these rinses can contribute to a healthier oral environment and may be especially beneficial for individuals prone to acid erosion or enamel sensitivity.

Alcohol Free vs. Alcohol-Based Mouthwash: Efficacy in Killing Germs

Studies show that non-alcoholic mouthwash can be just as effective at killing harmful bacteria as alcohol-based options.

Plus, it doesn't disrupt the balance of your oral microbiome which is essential for preventing issues like bad breath, dryness, or tooth decay.

Alcohol-based mouthwashes can indiscriminately kill both harmful and beneficial bacteria which can reduce saliva production and can lead to oral health problems.

Therefore, if you're looking for an effective mouthwash that fights bad breath without risking dryness, why not upgrade to alcohol free mouthwashes?

What other ingredients of mouthwash you should avoid?

Mouthwash can contain various ingredients that may not be beneficial to your oral health.

It is crucial to identify these components to avoid any adverse effects. For example, the alcohol in mouthwash may be associated with oral carcinogenesis and increase the risk of developing head and neck cancer, according to the Neck Cancer Epidemiology Consortium (INHANCE).

The alcohol content in mouthwash can also cause irritation on the oral mucosa and lead to a burning sensation.

Other components that may not be suitable for your oral health include:

  1. Methyl salicylate: one study suggests that it can result in burning sensations in the mouth, digestive problems if swallowed and can be poisonous in large amounts.

  2. Chlorhexidine gluconate: this is a common active ingredient in prescription mouth rinses that can cause discoloration of the teeth and affect the taste buds temporarily.

  3. SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate): SLS can cause oral irritation and poses potential health risks, leading to possible oral irritation and other health concerns.

  4. Parabens: Linked to hormone disruption and other health concerns, potentially resulting in hormone disruption and various health issues.

  5. Formaldehyde: Known as a carcinogen and skin irritant, it may cause carcinogenic effects and skin irritation.

Conversely, according to research mouthwashes with neem, licorice extracts, and essential oils are safe and effective alternatives that can provide additional benefits for your oral health, such as fresh breath and plaque-fighting effects, without any side effects that you must watch out for.

Who Should Not Use Mouthwash

Mouthwash is often considered essential for maintaining proper oral hygiene. However, not everyone is a suitable candidate for using mouthwash.

Children below the age of six should not be using mouthwash unless under the supervision of parents or healthcare professionals and know how to spit according to the American Dental Association.

Further, if you have poor oral hygiene, gum disease, or dry mouth, using mouthwash could exacerbate these conditions and potentially lead to further complications.

Plus, individuals who have undergone radiation therapies for head or neck cancers may experience a burning sensation when using alcohol mouthwash due to their sensitive oral mucosa.

That said, if you have any of these risk factors, we recommend opting for alcohol-free mouthwash options instead. These can still provide active ingredients to help with plaque buildup and fresh breath while avoiding the potential risks associated with excessive alcohol concentration.

The Importance of Good Oral Hygiene Habits

Good oral hygiene habits are essential for maintaining optimal oral health.

While non-alcohol mouthwash can improve your breath and reduce bacteria, it is essential not to skip your daily brushing with nano hydroxyapatite toothpaste, flossing, and tongue scraping routine.

These actions are vital for removing plaque, food particles, and bacteria from all surfaces of your teeth and gums, contributing to overall oral health and preventing issues like:

  • tooth decay

  • bad breath

  • canker sore

  • dry mouth

  • and gum disease

Mouthwash can complement these efforts, but it should not replace them entirely.

Additionally, we recommend using fluoride-free toothpaste to avoid potential risks like dental fluorosis.

The Bottom Line: Is alcohol mouthwash bad?

A woman pointing alcohol based mouthwash vs alcohol free mouthwash

No, alcohol mouthwash is not inherently bad for you; however, using it excessively may cause potential risks for your oral health.

For a safe and effective alternative, use alcohol free mouthwash together with nano hydroxyapatite toothpaste, dental floss, and a tongue scraper daily to enhance your overall health.

This combo will help you achieve healthy, clean, fresh, and pretty whites!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is mouthwash better with or without alcohol?
Research suggests that both alcohol-free and alcohol-based mouthwashes effectively reduce plaque and gingivitis. However, alcohol-free mouthwash shows comparable plaque reduction and superior gingivitis reduction without the irritation linked to alcohol-based options. Therefore, choosing alcohol-free mouthwash can offer effective oral care benefits, gentler on the gums, and avoiding potential drawbacks of alcohol-based formulas.

What is the safest mouthwash to use?
The safest mouthwash to use is typically alcohol-free. Research has shown that alcohol-free mouthwashes are effective in maintaining oral health while being gentler on the gums. It was found that alcohol-free mouthwashes offer comparable plaque reduction and superior gingivitis reduction compared to alcohol-based options, without causing irritation commonly associated with alcohol-based formulas. Therefore, choosing alcohol-free mouthwash, such as SWISH Mouthwash, can provide effective oral care benefits while being gentle and safe for daily use.

Should I Use Mouthwash Before or After Brushing?

You should use mouthwash after brushing. This sequence ensures a comprehensive oral care routine where brushing and flossing eliminate food particles and bacteria. At the same time, mouthwash provides a finishing touch, leaving the mouth healthy, clean, and fresh for an extended period. Moreover, the order of these steps is flexible—whether before or after brushing, the key is not to skip this important part of your oral care routine.

Can I drink water after mouthwash?
Generally, you should avoid drinking water after about 30 minutes to allow the mouthwash to have its full effect without being diluted. This is especially important if the mouthwash contains nano hydroxyapatite, as rinsing with water immediately after using mouthwash can wash away the ingredients and diminish its effectiveness. Therefore, it's advisable to wait at least 30 minutes before drinking water, especially after using fluoride-containing mouthwash.

Should I rinse with water after mouthwash?
We recommended avoiding rinsing with water immediately after using therapeutic mouthwash. This allows the active ingredients in the mouthwash to remain in contact with your teeth and gums for a longer period, maximizing their effectiveness. However, if you're using cosmetic mouthwash, you can rinse after use because cosmetic mouthwash primarily focuses on freshening breath and providing a pleasant taste.

Swish Mouthwash
Swish Mouthwash
Swish Mouthwash
Swish Mouthwash
Swish Mouthwash
Swish Mouthwash
Swish Mouthwash
Swish Mouthwash
Swish Mouthwash
Swish Mouthwash

Swish Mouthwash

Regular price$20
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Immerse yourself in the revitalizing freshness of our latest formulation, Swish. A testament to biöm's unwavering commitment to holistic health and well-being. Harnessing the potent benefits of mother nature, our mouthwash combines science and nature's bounty to deliver a unique solution for impeccable oral hygiene and lasting fresh breath.

Bottled at 16 fl oz, our herbal mouthwash formula takes the best of what nature has to offer:

Neem and Licorice Extracts: Used for centuries in traditional medicine, these power-packed botanicals promote oral health by combating harmful bacteria and providing natural anti-inflammatory benefits.

Spearmint and Peppermint Essential Oils: Long-lasting freshness is no longer a dream. These cooling natural oils ensure you'll enjoy a pleasant, long-lasting minty freshness that truly invigorates.

Xylitol and Stevia: We've incorporated these natural sweeteners to provide an enjoyable, refreshing taste without any guilt – they actually help in maintaining a healthy pH balance in your mouth!

Aloe Vera Juice: Say goodbye to the harsh, drying effect of traditional mouthwashes. Our formula includes these natural moisturizing agents for a comfortable rinse that leaves your mouth feeling hydrated.

Not just that, our formula is as kind to the Earth as it is to your mouth:

❖ Free from harsh chemicals and artificial preservatives

❖ Cruelty-free and vegan

❖ Eco-friendly packaging


Shake well before use. Swish approximately one tablespoon of mouthwash in your mouth for about 30 seconds, then spit it out.

Experience the biöm difference today – because your oral health is a reflection of your overall wellness.