Why Does Mouthwash Burn? Let’s Find Out!

woman pouring mouthwash into cap

One of the frequently asked questions about mouthwash is: why does it sting so badly and why does mouthwash burn? The burning sensation is especially noticeable when one uses the traditional alcohol-based variety like Listerine.

If you’ve ever swished or gargled mouthwash after or before brushing your teeth, it’s safe to say then, you’ve undoubtedly experienced a burning sensation while using the solution. Most if not everyone using it, have come to accept that mouthwashes burn. But, does it have to be so?

So, in this article, we’re going to examine what exactly is going on here. We’ll look at the ingredients in most mouthwashes to understand what actually causes this stinging sensation.

So, if you’re ready to learn why does mouthwash burn, let’s dive right in and find out


First, what is a mouthwash?

It’s a liquid that is held in the mouth, swilled, and or gargled after brushing the teeth with the aim of removing food particles lodging in the teeth; also for dissolving and preventing the buildup of plaque on the teeth.

Disinfecting the mouth is recommended in addition to other oral hygiene practices such as twice-daily brushing and flossing to prevent bad breath and other oral health maladies.

However, it’s essential to keep in mind that it should not replace your twice-daily tooth brushing routine. If you’re in search for a great toothbrush, check out our Philips Sonicare Platinum and ENKE NOMAD Travel Sonic Toothbrush.


So, why should you use mouthwash?

Let’s face it, one can make do with fresher breath and if mouth rinse promises to do just that, why not?

For individuals suffering from gingivitis, that’s a form of gum disease, mouth rinsing with liquids containing essential oils like Listerine is vital to fighting teeth plaque and gingivitis.

If you desire cleaner whiter teeth, then consider including mouthwash in your daily oral regimen. Some contain teeth whitening agent that can give you a whiter smile by preventing or reducing tartar accumulation on the teeth.

Also, it’s an excellent way to fight cavities, especially using fluoride mouth baths. But, take while using this liquid not to swallow it.

Finally, mouth rinses are complementary to the tooth brushing and flossing, like toothbrush sanitizers, are complementary to toothbrushes. The mouthwash is able to reach those crevices and cracks in the mouth the toothbrushes cannot access; hence enabling you to get rid of food particles and bacteria that might be hiding in there.


Choosing mouthwash that’s suitable for you

Selecting one that’s best suited for you is not a walk in the park. There’re so many factors to take into consideration.

First, you’d want to understand why you need it. Is it for treating a chronic bad breath or just to optimize your oral health? Was it recommended by your dentist? Answering these questions as best as you can, will enable you to make the best buying decision as you’re better equipped to identify the product that’s perfect for your situation and undoubtedly meet your needs.

Once you’re clear on why you need it, it’s time to take a look at the products on the market. At this point, you’ll realize there are so many varieties of mouthwashes available. There’s the alcohol, and alcohol-free products, fluoride rinses and others that are being marketed for different purposes.

Take for instance; fluoride rinses are branded as a mouthwash that protects the teeth against the impact of the acids from bacterial plaque. The alcohol-free mouth baths are touted to burn less compared to those mouthwashes with alcohol.

A simple hack in selecting what product to use is to check the active ingredients used in making them. Mouthwash with high ethanol content, say about 20 percent, sting more, and are more efficient than alcohol-free mouth rinse.

For someone prone to cavities, fluoride rinse is best suited to protect the teeth against the acids of plaques while for someone recovering from alcohol, it’s best to stay away from the ethanol-based mouthwash, due to the potential for abuse, so in this situation, an alcohol-free mouthwash will do just fine.


So, why does mouthwash burn?

The reason why a mouthwash burns is because of the essential oils from its composition, which affect the cells from the mouth, thus, the burning sensation.

The apparent culprit people point at is the ethanol in those mouthwashes. But, is the ethanol really the cause of these stinging sensations after swishing a mouth rinse?

Well, to answer why does mouthwash burn we’ll have to compare how the cells in the mouth react.

Ethanol-based mouth rinses are known to have a more intense stinging sensation than ethanol-free ones; this particular reason is why people believe alcohol is what causes the burning tingling.

In most instances, it serves as a solvent, that is they are used to keep the essential oils dissolved and in solution.

However, one downside of an alcohol-based rinse is that it dries out the mouth which that can lead to a new set problem.

The saliva, as it turns out, is an integral part of the equation in the fight against plaque and bacteria buildup in the mouth. It also ensures a balance between the beneficial microbes in the mouth.

So, the prolonged use of alcohol-based rinses such as Listerine can result in irritation of mouth tissues and even lead to permanent damage to the salivary gland.

However, when one takes a closer look at the active ingredients of both products, it becomes clear that alcohol, in reality, isn’t the cause of the burning feeling.

In alcohol-free mouth rinses, the essential oil is significantly lower; also, most producers of alcohol-free mouthwashes don’t use the term antiseptic in their labeling. This, of course, has led us to believe that the actual agent causing the burns is not alcohol but rather the essential oils.

Although alcohol-free mouthwashes are not irritating, there is nonetheless, the concern that they might not actually be effective due to the reduced level of essential oils.



To recap, it’s an oral hygiene routine that complements daily tooth brushing and flossing for a healthy whiter smile.

However, there are several options on the market today that caters to different individual needs. So, whether you’re fighting plaque buildup, trying to get rid of that nasty bad breath, or just interested in more healthy teeth there’s a product for you.

But, one thing you would notice is the burning sensation after each use – whether it’s the ethanol-based or ethanol-free version –  of the mouthwash which is as a result of the essential oil used in the formulating the solution.

We truly hope that with this article we helped you to learn why you should use mouthwash and why does mouthwash burn.

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