What's That Weird Gunk on the Base of My Electric Toothbrush?

A home cleaning expert explains how to keep your toothbrush free of the dreaded beige slime.

Man looking at shaved face and beard in mirror.

What's That Weird Gunk on the Base of My Electric Toothbrush?

Electric toothbrushes are better than manual toothbrushes: Fact. An analysis of 56 different studies published in 2014 found that not only do electric toothbrushes reduce dental plaque by 21 percent more than manual toothbrushes, they reduce gingivitis by 11 percent more, too.

There’s one downside of electric toothbrushes, though: For some reason, they develop a weird coating of grey-brown slime around the base over time. But what is this goop? Is the toothbrush secreting it? Is it possessed?? How do you make it stop? Surprisingly, when we asked the American Dental Association what this gunk is, they told us they couldn’t say for sure. But one internet commenter (credited with 40 years of dental experience, no less!) had an interesting theory: The accumulated water and protein-laden water drips down and there are enough nutrients in that water to allow bacteria and mold to grow [sic].

Which all sounds about right: Gunk and mold thrive wherever water sits stagnant—say, the base of the toothbrush, or where the head is attached. Considering the average toothbrush is harboring around 10 million bacteria, it’s not surprising to see a little mold here and there (although some cases are more extreme than others).

If you’re gagging at the thought of your electric toothbrush being covered in mold, you’ll probably want a few tips on how to stop stuff like this from happening. As per Debra Johnson of Merry Maids: “For starters, I recommend thoroughly rinsing with warm water every two to three days to remove excess toothpaste and germs from the exterior. You’ll also definitely need to give it a deep cleaning, preferably once per week or every other week.”

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How to Deep Clean Your Electric Toothbrush

First, Johnson recommends soaking the toothbrush head for 30 minutes in this DIY sanitizer: “Mix a half cup of water, two tablespoons of white vinegar and two tablespoons of baking soda in a large bowl (make sure it’s big enough to accommodate the bubbling that results from mixing vinegar and baking soda).”

While the toothbrush head is soaking, wipe down the handle with a mild cleanser or bleach solution to remove excess gunk (use a cotton swab-dipped solution to clean out the area where the head is attached). When 30 minutes have passed, rinse both the toothbrush head and handle with warm water. Admittedly, this all seems like a lot of effort to go to. In the end, you’ll just have to decide what’s the lesser of two evils: Biweekly baking soda rinses, or sticking a gunk-covered germ factory in your mouth twice a day. See you in the baking soda aisle, we guess.