Q: I caught Morieka’s advice back in February on how to keep a pooch’s breath from peeling wallpaper (both me and Tank say thank you) but now I’m left wondering how I can exhale without keeping potential suitors from running for the hills. I brush, floss and see my dentist regularly but because I worry that my breath can be so kickin’, I also rinse with a potent antiseptic mouthwash. I’m happy with the results of my regimen — no one has passed out yet — but I’m curious as to if there are any gentle yet effective mouthwash options out there aside from the big-name drugstore brands that come with confounding ingredient labels. I’ve been pretty vigilant about what types of personal care products I use in and on my body but until now, I’ve never given any thought to using a natural mouthwash. Have any recommendations?


The Green Gargler,

Nadine – Richmond, Va.

A: Hey Nadine,

I’m glad to hear, as I’m sure others are, that you’re on top of your (and your dog’s) stank breath. Although using a mouthwash isn’t as crucial as regular brushing and flossing are when it comes to practicing good oral hygiene, it can certainly help, especially when the bacteria in your mouth is prone to expelling a toe-curling odor. Plus, as I’m sure you know, in addition to giving you minty-fresh breath, mouthwashes help combat plaque, cavities and the dreaded “G” word: Gingivitis. But the downside? You’re most likely swishing with a host of artificial colors, flavors and synthetic chemicals with pretty bad eco-reps, namely parabens and triclosan.

Like toothpastes, there are several numerous mouthwashes on the market that ditch questionable chemicals for plant-based ingredients and no synthetic flavors or colorings. I highly recommend, ahem, scoping out the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep: Cosmetic Safety Database for a comprehensive listing of mouthwashes and other oral care products ranked (from 1 to 10) by the toxicity of their ingredients. Ranking well on the list are mouthwash options from natural brands that you might already be using at home like Jason and Tom’s of Maine. Ranking not so well are ACT mouthwashes, Scope and even “natural” offerings from Nature’s Gate and Weleda. It’s always eye-opening to check in with the Cosmetic Safety Database since many well-intentioned products that might be labeled as natural can have one ingredient that really ups its hazard levels.

A good, natural mouthwash shouldn’t be the most hard-to-find product out there — check in at your local health food store, online or even your local drugstore — but in the event that you’d rather ditch packaged mouthwashes altogether, there is another option: Make your own.

Although I’ve used natural mouthwashes in the past, I’ve never personally gone the DIY route aside from the occasional salt water gargle when my gums are acting up. But I do know that there are numerous concoctions out there, most involving a combination of ingredients like tea tree oil, cloves, baking soda, mint leaves, rosemary leaves, myrrh and vodka (just another household use for the amazing, multi-talented booze). I’d do a bit of searching around for a recipe that seems to suit you as they range from pretty basic to more involved. And it goes without saying, please check in with your dentist if you think your real or imagined stinky breath problem requires you to stick with a more potent, not-so-natural mouthwash.

Let me know if you find a good DIY mouthwash recipe that works for you. … I’d be curious to try one out someday but for now, I’m sticking with salt water rinses, Tic-Tacs, and not-so-close talking. Happy breathing.

— Matt

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

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