Do You Need to Replace Your Toothbrush After You've Been Sick?

If you've just gotten over a cold, the flu, COVID-19, or another infectious illness, you might have heard it's best to throw out your toothbrush to avoid getting sick again.

It makes sense that germs in your mouth could contaminate your toothbrush, but does that mean using it can reinfect you? If your kids get sick a lot, do you need to replace their toothbrushes for every sniffle?

Here's what experts say about whether you really have to replace your toothbrush every time you get sick, as well as some tips for taking care of your brushes.

Toothbrush in cup
Image Source / Getty Images

Do Germs Stay on Your Toothbrush?

Toothbrushes can harbor germs, and some of them (like flu viruses) hang on for days. That said, unless your immune system is severely compromised, you probably don't have to worry about the germs on your toothbrush reinfecting you.

Even a bad case of strep throat doesn't necessarily mean you have to get a new toothbrush. One study from 2013 found that the toothbrushes used by kids who had strep didn't grow more of the bacteria.

Part of why you don't need to toss your toothbrush is that you've got your immune system to protect you. When you get sick, your immune system makes antibodies to fight off germs and keep you from catching the same virus again. That's why any cold or flu germs on your toothbrush won't make you sick again after you recover.

Can My Toothbrush Make Others Sick?

If you shared a toothbrush holder with other people in your home while you were sick, it's best to replace all the brushes. While you might not get reinfected, the germs could spread to others and make them sick.

Should I Disinfect My Toothbrush After I've Been Sick?

Disinfecting your toothbrush is not only unnecessary but can actually be harmful. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), soaking your toothbrush in disinfecting solutions (including mouthwash) can lead to cross-contamination if it soaks for too long or if multiple people use the same solution.

That said, there are steps you can take to keep your toothbrush as germ-free as possible. Here are a few tips from the American Dental Association (ADA):

  • Do not share toothbrushes or toothpaste. You can avoid spreading germs by giving everyone in your home their own toothbrush and toothpaste.
  • Rinse your toothbrush after using it. After brushing, rinse your toothbrush under cold running water to remove excess toothpaste and debris.
  • Don't soak your toothbrush in disinfecting solutions or mouthwash. Putting your toothbrush in a disinfecting soak can actually make germ spread more likely, especially if you soak everyone's brushes in the same solution.
  • Let your brush air-dry. After rinsing, store your brush upright in a holder and let it air dry. Avoid covering your toothbrush or storing it in a closed container, as moist environments are a breeding ground for bacteria.
  • Change out your toothbrush regularly. Replace your toothbrush every three to four months, or sooner if the bristles start to look frayed.


While it's true that germs in your mouth when you're sick can get onto your toothbrush, that doesn't mean you'll get sick again if you continue to use your toothbrush when you're better. That said, your toothbrush could spread germs to other people in your home if you share a holder or toothpaste.

You don't need to throw out your toothbrush and shouldn't try to disinfect it after you've been sick, but if you'd feel better doing so, there's no harm in getting a new one. In general, you should replace your toothbrush every three to four months or sooner if it looks worn out.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The Dental College of Georgia. Do you really need to toss your toothbrush after the flu?.

  2. American Dental Association. Cold and flu season.

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Don't be quick to toss your toothbrush after a sore throat.

  4. Christiaansen A, Varga SM, Spencer JV. Viral manipulation of the host immune response. Curr Opin Immunol. 2015;36:54-60. doi:10.1016/j.coi.2015.06.012

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Use & handling of toothbrushes.

  6. American Dental Association. Toothbrushes.

  7. Schmalz G, Feindt L, Tanneberger F, et al. The role of toothbrush in the transmission of corona- and influenza viruses - results of an in vitro studyClin Oral Investig. 2022;26(9):5741-5749. doi:10.1007/s00784-022-04530-w

By Kristina Duda, RN
Kristina Duda, BSN, RN, CPN, has been working in healthcare since 2002. She specializes in pediatrics and disease and infection prevention.