Best Natural Mouthwash - 100 Hours of Lab Testing Concludes
Updated: Nov 12, 2020
If you’ve been looking for the best natural mouthwash, you’re in luck. We’ve spent over 100 hours testing natural and synthetic-based mouthwashes in a Columbia University infection control lab, and we’ve had people sample unlabeled mouthwashes to provide blind and unbiased feedback.
If you want a natural mouthwash that offers safety, efficacy, and taste without trying or testing them all yourself, we’ve got the information you’re looking for.
Table of Contents
1 What to Consider in a Natural Mouthwash
2 Natural Mouthwash Ratings
3 Why Use Natural Mouthwash?
4 The Difference Between Natural and Synthetic Mouthwash
5 Common Concerns About Ingredients
6 Is Natural Mouthwash Healthier?
7 What About DIY Mouthwash?
8 The Benefits of Natural Mouthwash
9 The Best Natural Mouthwash
10 Lokena Addresses the Cause of Bad Breath and Tooth Decay
11 What About Good Bacteria?
12 Summing Up Your Options
What to Consider in a Natural Mouthwash
When shopping for a natural mouthwash, there are a lot of factors to consider. Some may be more important to you than others, but most people should evaluate their choices based on:
Efficacy — The best natural mouthwash will do its job well without potentially hazardous ingredients and synthetic chemicals. As a point of reference, the FDA requires a product to kill 99.9% of bacteria in order to carry the antibacterial designation — something no natural mouthwash available in stores currently does.
Taste — Even if it does the job well, few people would choose a natural mouthwash that tastes awful.
Intensity or “burn” — Intensity is a personal preference. Some like it mild and some like the burn. Even if it’s alcohol free, some natural mouthwashes could “burn” just as much as their alcohol-based counterparts.
Price — Many people are willing to pay a little bit of a premium for ingredients they feel better about, but everyone has their limits.
Breath freshness — In addition to the oral health benefits of using mouthwash, most of us appreciate it for its breath-enhancing ability, which is good for your mouth and your social life.
How long that fresh feeling (and smell) lasts — You want your natural mouthwash to keep working long after you use it.
Natural Mouthwash Ratings
So which mouthwash is really the best for protecting your oral health without ingredients you want to avoid? The following table is a summary of ratings from over a hundred hours of lab and consumer testing.
Table of natural mouthwash ratings. The numbers in the far left column correspond to the reduction in bacteria. A 3 Log reduction is considered the minimum level of performance Listerine is not naturally sourced but is added as a point of reference.
The effectiveness of the mouthwash is the most important factor in our ratings. If mouthwash doesn’t work, why would you use it? The product’s taste, fresh breath level, and intensity are other relevant factors in ranking mouthwash.
As you can see from the graph, our study found that natural mouthwashes overall:
Taste good and feel good to use
Aren’t very good at reducing the bacteria that causes gum disease, bad breath, and cavities (except Lokena, which kills 99.9%)
When it comes to more synthetic mouthwashes like Listerine, we found:
They're good at killing germs
They freshen breath well
They can have an intense burning sensation, making them unpleasant to use for a lot of people
As for the synthetic ingredients in the commercial mouthwashes most people use, that’s another story that we’ll explore later.
How We Rate Natural Mouthwash
Anti-bacterial efficacy is measured using a standardized test called the Kill-Time study (pretty cool name for a bacteria reduction test). In short, we apply bacteria that causes gum disease to a petri dish, expose it to mouthwash for 30 seconds, and then incubate the petri dish overnight.
After 12 hours, we measure how much bacteria has grown. The following time-lapse shows bacteria growing after being exposed to the liquids in the bottles above.
A 99.9% reduction in bacteria -- or a 3 Log reduction -- is considered the minimum level of performance that would indicate a product has substantive killing activity versus a particular microorganism. In the charts we’ll show your later on, you’ll see how close each mouthwash comes to meeting this level of killing activity (hint - it isn’t pretty).
Additional examples of how well mouthwash kills bad bacteria are seen in the images below. How well each mouthwash does that job is also an indication of how well it handles bad breath. (Trust us, you don’t want to smell that plate of yellow bacteria colonies, or have this bacteria growing in your mouth.) Can you guess which mouthwash killed the most germs?
Taste, Fresh Breath Level, and Intensity
In addition to killing germs, the mouthwash must taste good, make your breath feel fresh, and have the right amount of “burn.” However, how people feel about these factors vary according to each individual person. Some people like the burn, and others like a very mild mouthwash.
We sent out some mouthwash samples in unlabeled bottles, and asked people to rate the samples based on taste and how fresh their breath felt after 10 minutes. We also asked them to rate the intensity or burn of the mouthwash on a scale of 1-5.
Which Natural Mouthwash is the Best?
To understand the answer to this question, you should first understand why mouthwash is important. Basically, it comes down to much more than good hygiene — it’s really about periodontal disease.
Robert Genco, DDS, PhD, past president of the American Association for Dental Research stated that, “periodontal disease is one of the most prevalent non-communicable chronic diseases in our population, similar to cardiovascular disease and diabetes.” Studies have shown that using mouthwash along with regular teeth cleaning may actually help you avoid and treat periodontal disease. One study states that, “mouthwashes represent an essential tool in prophylaxis [or preventative action] and thus also in post-periodontal treatment (maintenance phase).”
If you’re not totally convinced that periodontal disease is that big of a problem, consider that nearly half of American adults have a mild, moderate, or severe form of gum disease. This can not only lead to tooth loss, but is strongly associated with other chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.1 Also startling is the fact that under current oral care hygiene practices, more than one-fourth of Americans age 65 and older lose all their teeth.2
You read that right, more than one fourth!
Why Use Natural Mouthwash?
The term “natural mouthwash” usually refers to a product that is more botanical, rather than based on synthetic chemicals or harsh ingredients like alcohol. This is attractive to a lot of people — at least in theory.
Consumer demand for natural products is on the rise, and that includes natural mouthwash. Americans spend about $1.8 Billion dollars annually on oral rinse products. Recent statistics show that of that $1.8B, 14% is spent on non-antiseptic brands3 (Tom’s of Maine, for example), implying a desire for less harsh ingredients. But why the trend toward natural mouthwash?
Thanks to the Internet, information about potentially harmful ingredients in all kinds of products — including mouthwash — is more available every day. When you read a product label and have a question about an ingredient, what do you usually do? You Google it. So let’s take alcohol for example.
Antiseptic alcohol (the kind you’ll find in many commercial mouthwashes) is very good at killing germs. That’s why it’s also in hand sanitizer, and what makes it an effective topical antiseptic for a skinned knee or cut. However, it’s terribly unsafe to drink. While adults are pretty good at using oral care products like mouthwash and toothpaste without swallowing, the same can’t be said about your kids. This is why we tend to buy “kid safe” products that can be swallowed without having to call poison control. Aside from the safety issue, rinsing with an alcohol-based mouthwash can cause a pretty unpleasant burn, followed up by a dry mouth. Most adults don’t enjoy using it, let alone giving it to their kids.
So alcohol is a big factor in a lot of people’s decisions to look for a more natural mouthwash. But that isn’t the only ingredient you might be concerned about. Just because a mouthwash claims to be “natural” doesn’t mean it doesn’t include ingredients you might find objectionable. Like many other product choices, it’s important to read labels and educate yourself on potential ingredients, so you know what you might want to avoid.
The Difference Between Natural and Synthetic Mouthwash
As you would imagine, the most obvious difference between natural mouthwash and synthetic mouthwash is the ingredients. Compare most commercially-made mouthwashes not labeled as “natural” with the ingredients table below, and you’ll likely find some or all of those ingredients. You may also find other mystery ingredients that are completely unfamiliar to you. These mouthwashes tend to contain synthetic chemicals and other ingredients you may not want to swallow yourself, or allow your kids to use.
Unfortunately, another difference between synthetic mouthwash and most natural mouthwash is efficacy. When it comes to killing germs, alcohol-based mouthwashes like Listerine do a good job. So if you don’t mind the burn and aren’t concerned about safety, those might be what you’re looking for.
The efficacy issue is why many commercial mouthwashes carry an ADA Accepted label. Many of them also have an antigingivitis or antiplaque indication. These mouthwashes contain 22% alcohol (in the case of Listerine) and cetylpyridinium chloride (in the case of Scope). See the table below for more information on these ingredients.
Ironically, other natural mouthwash makers publicly and correctly state that, “anaerobic bacteria are the primary cause of bad breath.” However, they do almost nothing to effectively reduce that bacteria. A bit later, you’ll learn what these bacteria actually do that cause your bad breath (hint: it has to do with sulphur).
Right now, there is no all-natural mouthwash with an ADA Accepted label or antigingivitis indication.4. In fact, our own laboratory testing shows that commercially-available, natural oral-care products are about as effective as water at killing germs (Lokena is the exception to this).
Is Natural Mouthwash Healthier?
The answer to this question depends on your goal. Why are you using mouthwash in the first place? Is your primary goal to kill the germs that cause bad breath, cavities, and periodontal disease that could lead to other health problems? (For example, some studies show a potential link between periodontal disease and rheumatoid arthritis, but data isn’t conclusive yet.) If so, then the lack of efficacy in natural mouthwashes could mean they aren’t the best choice for you.
If your concern over healthier, gentler ingredients overrides your desire to “burn the germs,” then maybe you should look for a natural mouthwash that will do its job as well as possible, without the harmful stuff. While it’s true that laboratory testing of other natural mouthwash brands proves they are ineffective in the germ-killing department, Lokena is the exception. It actually kills germs effectively without the synthetic chemicals.
The following table details some of the most common mouthwash ingredients that raise questions or concerns with consumers. You’ll find the ingredient, what it’s used for, and what the potential concerns might be. Then you can decide for yourself which ingredients raise red flags for you.
While the above table shows the ingredients most likely to be a concern, here’s a quick rundown of the basics.
As we discussed earlier, alcohol is a great antiseptic, but is harmful if swallowed and can lead to a dry mouth. Dry mouth can actually cause bad breath, and hence a need for more mouthwash and a potentially vicious cycle. Alcohol is also the mouthwash ingredient best known for that burning sensation. While Listerine does offer an alcohol-free option, the original formula is well-known to contain alcohol — 26.9% to be exact.
Fluoride has been used for many years in toothpastes, mouthwashes, and more concentrated treatments your dentist might apply during your checkup. It occurs naturally in the environment, but is produced synthetically for many oral care products.
While there is conflicting information about the benefits and risks of fluoride, a lot of people avoid it due to bad reactions or concerns about potential toxicity, thyroid complications, neurological effects, and more. If you’re concerned about fluoride, be sure to check labels. Some natural mouthwashes and other oral products still contain it (Lokena does not).
While it may be an effective treatment for gingivitis, chlorhexidine may also stain your teeth, and has been associated with increased tartar production and changes to sense of taste.
Cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC)
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
Along with helping mixtures stay uniform, SLS is a foaming agent that helps oral care, detergent, and soap products form those pleasing bubbles. Unfortunately, it has also been studied for potential cancer links, neurotoxicity, and skin irritation, among other things.
An additive meant to prevent bacterial contamination in a lot of personal care products, triclosan is still under study. However, preliminary evidence shows potential association with thyroid interference, antibiotic resistance, and skin cancer. More study is needed.
So the question of whether natural mouthwash is healthier for you may be, “yes and no.” Will it kill germs as effectively as your typical drugstore mouthwash that contains some or all of the above ingredients? With the exception of Lokena, no it won’t. But could using the best natural mouthwash you can find save you and your family from a host of potentially harmful ingredients? Absolutely.
What About DIY Natural Mouthwash?
There are lots of DIY or homemade natural mouthwash recipes online. Some of them might seem like they’d be effective in killing germs or freshening your breath. However, some of those DIY recipes aren’t safe (such as a daily swish with hydrogen peroxide). Others aren’t actually going to be effective, resulting in a false sense of security.
Unless you have a lab in your basement, it’s probably best for your health and safety to let research scientists do the concocting for you. You simply can’t know how effective DIY formulations are, or what kind of long-term effects they may have. (Think you have a great formula that should be tested? Let us know.)
Many homemade mouthwash mixtures contain hydrogen peroxide. While hydrogen peroxide is good at killing germs, it’s also a “highly reactive substance” which can damage oral soft tissues and hard tissues in high concentrations, or with prolonged exposure. While it’s used as a primary ingredient in some oral care products, especially tooth whiteners, these are formulated under precise conditions for safety and come with strict instructions.
Using hydrogen peroxide in a mouthwash too frequently, for too long, or in too high a concentration can be harmful, especially if swallowed. You should also be aware that “food grade” hydrogen peroxide is kind of a misnomer. With a concentration of 35%, it could lead to significant gastrointestinal problems if swallowed.
Even in the common 3% first-aid concentration, hydrogen peroxide can be irritating to the lungs, eyes, and mucous membranes. A 2016 medical report even details a case of chemical colitis and gastritis after repeated hydrogen peroxide rinsing in a dentist’s office.
A lot of other DIY natural mouthwashes contain essential oils. While these are widely used and promoted, there isn’t a lot of regulation over this industry. Their safety — especially for something you’re putting in your mouth every day — depends on a lot of different factors. The dilution has to be right, and even makers of essential oils warn against internal use, especially for children and pregnant women.
Because of their ability to freshen breath and potentially provide some germ-killing, essential oils definitely have value in oral care products, but should be left to expert formulation.
The Benefits of Natural Mouthwash
To sum up, natural mouthwash can benefit you and your mouth in several different ways:
No alcohol, with the associated burn and potential for dry mouth
No synthetic chemicals or fluoride
Kills the bacteria that causes bad breath (if you use Lokena)
Safety for kids and peace of mind for parents
Less risk of gum irritation and other potential side effects of synthetic chemicals
Absence of synthetic chemicals (better for you and the planet)
Generally less intense to use
Enhanced protection against cavities and gum disease (if you use Lokena)
The Best Natural Mouthwash for Killing Germs
By now you know the main ingredients you might want to avoid in commercial mouthwash. You know there are natural alternatives that are safer for you and your family. But you also know that most of these alternatives are lacking in the germ-killing department. (The natural brands we tested are about as effective as water at killing germs, with more tests pending.)
But what you’re about to learn is that there is a natural mouthwash alternative that actually kills as many or more germs than the synthetic mouthwashes most people use.
We’ve spent years in the lab with our team developing Lokena’s botanical formula to be the best natural mouthwash. We wanted to create a safe, natural alternative to brands like Listerine and Scope that would burn the germs, but not your mouth. And guess what? We did it. Lokena has been proven in laboratory testing to kill 99.9% of germs — something no other natural mouthwash can claim.
Lokena’s groundbreaking formula has the potential to be the first all-natural mouthwash that meets FDA requirements for antimicrobial efficacy. In other words, it’s the first mouthwash formula that kills germs as well or better than commercial mouthwashes, but does it without synthetic chemicals or alcohol.
Not only that, but Lokena is free of questionable preservatives, along with additives and detergents which many brands use to enhance flavor or increase sudsing. Lokena’s minty flavor comes from all-natural ingredients. It’s been proven in the lab, but it doesn’t taste like one.
For reference, take another look at our chart. These are the findings from laboratory and user testing.
Lab results from Kill-Time Study (ASTM E2783) S. Aureus bacteria
Lokena Addresses the Cause of Bad Breath
The primary cause of bad breath is anaerobic bacteria. These bacteria that live in your mouth consume enormous amounts of proteins, and then excrete (or essentially exhale) sulfur compounds, which smell awful and make your breath stink. This is why bad breath can happen to anyone, anytime. Unless, that is, you can get rid of these bacteria. That’s exactly what mouthwash is supposed to do, and Lokena does it well.
The following chart details our testing, conducted in a Columbia University infection control lab. As you can see, we tested Lokena and several other brands, including Listerine and natural formulations. What we found is that Lokena kills 99.9% of mouth bacteria — the threshold required by the FDA to carry the antibacterial designation. And if those bacteria aren’t there, then they can’t create those yucky bad-breath-causing compounds.
Lokena Also Addresses Tooth Decay
S. mutans, or Streptococcus mutans are the #1 cause of tooth decay. And as you’ll see from the chart, Lokena kills more of them — more than Scope, and way more than TheraBreath or Tom’s.
Of all the bacteria in your mouth, S. mutans in particular have an uncanny ability to form biofilms, including dental plaque. The formation of plaque is where the trouble with tooth decay really begins, and it’s why regular brushing, flossing, and cleaning your mouth is so important.
S. mutans promote tooth decay by feeding on the sugars in the foods you eat, and then spitting out the resulting acid. And of course, it’s the acid that eats away your teeth. If you’ve heard your mom or your dentist talk about “sugar bugs,” they most likely meant S. mutans.
What About Good Bacteria?
Right now, there are approximately 700 different species of microbes living in your mouth, including bacteria, fungi, and more. Before that totally grosses you out, let’s point out that not all of them are bad. Some of these microbes are necessary and helpful for a healthy balance. Others, like S. mutans, play a significant role in tooth decay and gum disease.
With so many microbes in your mouth and the ability of the bad ones to grow so rapidly, you need to stay on top of them by regularly killing the bacteria that lead to plaque, tooth decay, bad breath and gum disease. This is why we brush our teeth and use mouthwash every day, and it’s why Lokena can be such an important tool for your oral health.
What happens to the good bacteria? Don’t worry, you have plenty of good bacteria in your throat and gut that repopulates your oral cavity quickly — with the good guys. You just need to make sure to get rid of the S. mutans so they stop turning sugars into acid all over your teeth, which eats away at your precious tooth enamel.
Summing Up Your Options
When it comes to mouthwash, you have two basic categories to choose from.
These are good at killing germs and freshening breath, at least for a while. But they most often include synthetic chemicals or other potentially harmful ingredients. Many include fluoride, and may also cause an unpleasant burning sensation. These mouthwashes usually contain alcohol, additives, and other “mystery” ingredients. You wouldn’t want to swallow any of these, let alone risk your kids swallowing them.
These safer, more environmentally and kid-friendly mouthwashes are usually free of alcohol and synthetic chemicals like SLS, triclosan, and chlorhexidine. Some may still contain fluoride, so reading labels is still important if you’re concerned about that. They probably won’t burn your mouth as much as their synthetic counterparts, but with the exception of Lokena, they don’t kill harmful mouth bacteria. Because of that, they aren’t great for freshening your breath or preventing gum disease.
Lokena — The Best of Both
If you want to have the best of both worlds, Lokena is the first and only mouthwash that reaches the FDA’s “antimicrobial” threshold for germ killing. As such, it’s the best natural mouthwash for freshening breath and preventing tooth decay and gum disease. It does it all with a pleasant taste that comes without the burn or concern over harsh ingredients.