No matter who you are, what you do, or what you eat, plaque can develop between your teeth. Flossing is the accepted way to help clean it—most people opt for string floss, which is cheap and fairly easy to use. However, if you have orthodontic devices, like braces, or you have a disability and struggle with the fine motor skills required to floss, you may consider using a water flosser.
Water flossing can be excessively messy, and the jury’s still out scientifically on whether it’s really that helpful. (Despite what some dedicated water-flossing enthusiasts might lead you to believe.) But if you’re in the market for a water flosser, we have some thoughts on the best ones.
The Best Water Flossers
The Best Water Flosser
Philips Sonicare Power Flosser 7000
- Larger water flosser with customizable, comfortable settings
- 20 oz reservoir
- ADA accepted
- Lots of modes
- Many nozzles
- Adaptable in terms of pressure and comfort
- Some splatter
The Philips 7000 is the largest oral irrigator I tested, but it’s also my favorite. It has three nozzles (standard, comfort and quad stream, which is an X-shaped stream of water), and four modes (clean, deep clean, sensitive, and massage) that can be combined with 10 intensity settings of increasing intensity to create a highly tailored experience. This was the gentlest option I tried and the stream was wide enough that it wasn’t painful when it hit my soft palate. You can also add in a pulse mode if you’d like to blast water between your teeth. This gave me the most comprehensive cleaning experience of all the flossers I tried.
That said, the Philips 7000, which is similar in size to a small tissue box, takes up more space on your countertop than the other flossers we tested. It also has to be plugged in. If you have limited bathroom countertop space (or outlets), it may not work for you.
The Philips 7000 has one of the largest water reservoirs of any flosser on this list: 20 ounces. That’s large enough to allow you to irrigate for the oft-recommended 2 minutes; the other flossers we tested would have to be refilled to make this possible. I also liked that when you put the wand back into its magnetic holder, the Philips turns itself off automatically.
The Best Cordless Water Flosser
Waterpik Cordless Advanced Water Flosser
- Smaller flosser that’s customizable and easy to pack
- 6 oz reservoir
- ADA accepted
- Fairly small
- Easy to travel with
- Slick design
- Small water reservoir
- Some splatter
If you’d like a smaller water flosser, the water bottle-sized Waterpik Cordless is your best bet. It’s low profile, but still comes with four nozzles for different stream settings. “My patients with implants, bridges, and a history of gum disease often have tough nooks and crannies to clean,” says Chris Salierno, DDS, Chief Dental Officer at Tend. “I’ve found that WaterPik’s nozzles have been well-designed to reach these hard-to-reach areas that can trap food and plaque.” The reservoir is small—just 6 ounces—but it’s easy to refill if you’d like to floss for longer than 30 seconds.
The Waterpik Cordless Advanced is almost a foot tall and contains a streamlined reservoir. The design makes it easy to hold, but it’s also not too top heavy, which means it stays upright on your countertop even when it’s full of water. The main differentiator from other cordless flossers is that the Waterpik offers a gentle stream of water that still manages to give you a clean mouthfeel. (Several of the other cordless options had strong, narrow streams of water—without many adaptable settings —which made my gums bleed and hurt my soft palate.) The Waterpik charger is also magnetic, so you don’t have to worry about it getting wet. And it’s easy to clean—all you have to do is rinse it off. For a deeper clean, you can even stick the reservoir in the top rack of the dishwasher.
Why Do You Need to Floss?
The American Dental Association ADA “Floss/Interdental Cleaners” View Source daily flossing as a hygiene step to remove plaque from between your teeth. When you have plaque—a sticky film of bacteria—on your teeth, you’re at a higher risk for developing cavities and gum disease. This is true even if you regularly brush your teeth.
Most dentists agree. “Flossing is the number one thing you can do to keep yourself out of a dentist’s chair,” says Sonia Chopra, an American board-certified endodontist and author. “This is because decay often starts between the teeth, where your brush can’t reach, and flossing is the only way to get in there. So just as with brushing, you should be flossing every single day, preferably right before bed.”
However, the scientific evidence supporting flossing, at least in the peer-reviewed research world, is a bit sparse. One Sage Journals “Dental Flossing and Interproximal Caries: a Systematic Review” View Source showed that kids who flossed most days had lower rates of carries (decay)—but this was only the case for kids who had access to professional flossing in a dental setting, not those who engaged in self-flossing. A Cochrane Library “Flossing for the management of periodontal diseases and dental caries in adults” View Source on flossing found that even over 12 trials, “overall there is weak, very unreliable evidence which suggests that flossing plus toothbrushing may be associated with a small reduction in plaque at one or three months.” Much of the Journal of Dental Hygiene “The Effect of Brushing Time and Dentifrice on Dental Plaque Removal in vivo” View Source shows that brushing your teeth for just two minutes twice a day is enough to provide significant oral health benefits.
Still—you should probably floss. Our experts say that removing plaque is just good hygiene. It’s like clipping your toenails or applying lotion to dry skin. Even though you won’t see those benefits in the peer-reviewed research, adding them into your daily health routine is still a good idea.
Is a Water Flosser Worth It?
Nick Milanovich, PhD, the president of Speaking Science, notes that most water flossers are actually oral irrigators—basically, “garden hoses for your whole mouth.” Milanovich was previously a product developer in Oral Care at Colgate-Palmolive, and he worked in Clinical and Scientific Affairs at Sonicare.
Milanovich notes that a few water flossers work beyond irrigation; they use small volumes of high-pressure water to clean between your individual teeth. But most water flossers—including all of the flossers we tested for this guide—simply irrigate your mouth by moving loose food debris, and maybe cleaning around your braces.
The ADA also ADA “Waterpik Water Flosser” View Source water flossers. Some sport an “ADA Accepted” seal which, according to its website, means that the flosser will remove plaque more efficiently than a toothbrush alone. (This certification process appears to be specific to a few brands, including Waterpik, and doesn’t look like it represents much as far as quality.) But even the ADA doesn’t take a stand about the effectiveness of water flossers versus string floss, except that water flossers can be a useful option for people who have trouble flossing by hand. If you’ve had (or have) dental work like braces, water flossers can be easier to manage.
Water Flossing vs. Flossing: Which Is Better?
There are virtually no studies about whether or not a water flosser is better than string floss. (The The Journal of clinical dentistry “Evaluation of the plaque removal efficacy of a water flosser compared to string floss in adults after a single use” View Source that does exist about plaque removal and water flossers was funded by Waterpik, a brand that sells water flossers.)
Ultimately, the jury’s still out. But regular flossing may have a slight edge over water-based methods. Chopra says that the “click” sound you get when using string floss is the sound of the string going through the super-tight contact point between teeth. “The only thing that can get into that contact spot and clean it out is (string) floss,” she says. “Not even a [water flosser] is a replacement.”
“If a person can adopt using (string) floss, then go this route first,” says Milanovich, “and learn how to do it properly.” If this is not an option because of manual dexterity (or you just really hate string floss), a water flosser might be something to consider.
How To Use a Water Flosser
Recommendations vary, but often dentists suggest using a water flosser once per day after you’ve used string floss and brushed your teeth. If you’re just opting to use a water flosser (and not string floss), use it after brushing.
For most water flossers, you’ll fill the reservoir with warm water, then choose a nozzle tip to clip into the handle.
Then, put the nozzle into your mouth. (Make sure that the flosser isn’t turned on yet.) Aim the nozzle at a 45-degree angle, related to your teeth. Most experts recommend thinking of your mouth as divided into four zones: Top right, top left, bottom right, and bottom left. You’ll address each area for about 30 seconds; that’s two minutes of flossing total.
Choose the settings you’d like. (If you’re new to water flossers, opt for the most gentle settings.) Then turn the flosser on while it’s in your mouth. Make sure you’re leaning over the sink! You’ll want to keep your lips slightly parted to allow the water to drain into the sink as you floss, rather than swallowing it.
Most experts recommend following your gum line and moving from tooth to tooth. Irrigate along the top of your tooth, as well as the space between teeth. If you’re using a smaller flosser—especially a cordless option—you’ll probably need to stop to refill the reservoir every so often.
Once you’re done flossing, make sure to empty the reservoir so bacteria doesn’t grow! Leave the reservoir slightly open, to allow it to dry.
How We Found The Best Water Flossers
Meet Your Guinea Pig
I’m Jenni Gritters, a journalist with over 10 years of experience covering science, health, and psychology. I’ve written product reviews for publications like Reviewed, Wirecutter, Forbes and Slate, and you can find my essays and reported stories in the New York Times, Slate, and the Guardian. I was previously an editor at Wirecutter where I covered parenting gear, outdoor gear, and travel apparel as a writer and editor.
Our Testing Process
First I spent a week researching water flossers and talking to dental professionals. They taught me about whether or not water flossers are necessary for all people (they aren’t!), and when someone might find them to be useful.
Then I ordered six flossers; two with larger base stations, and four cordless options more well-suited for travel. I picked flossers that ranged in price, from $30 to $130.
Once the flossers arrived, I used each for two days and also enlisted my husband to help. I have very sensitive gums and teeth, while he feels very little mouth pain. We set each flosser up according to the instructions, used each with the different nozzles and modes over the course of a few days, and took notes. We also washed each flosser and noted how much (or little) mess was involved with using it. In the end, we were aligned on the best options.
How to Pick a Water Flosser
Water flossers are for people who want to keep their teeth clean but don’t want to (or cannot) use string dental floss. Using dental floss requires fine motor skills and dexterity; the action can be challenging if you have a disability, are a younger child or older adult, or you have orthodontic appliances, like braces. If you have dental concerns or an interest in oral hygiene, you may consider buying a water flosser.
Which Features Matter Most With Water Flossers?
Ideally, a good water flosser will have the following features:
- Ease of use: The water flosser should be easy to set up and use with nary a second look at the directions.
- Easy of cleaning: Water flossers can get mold-laden quickly because you’re dealing with plaque and moisture while using them. Thus, it’s important to choose a flosser that’s easy to clean.
- Low-splatter water stream: The stream of water looks different with different flossers (some emit a steady stream while others send water into your mouth in bursts). All water flossers are a bit messy, but the less mess, the better. A steady stream tends to create more splatter, depending on the pressure behind it, because you don’t have breaks for readjustment.
- Water pressure: A water flosser should have adjustable pressure settings so you can achieve a stream that removes food debris but still feels pleasant against your gums.
- Charge: Whether it’s plugged in or cordless, a good flosser should stay usable over the course of at least a few days.
- Size: Some water flossers are huge and take up a lot of space on your counter because they have big tanks. Others are cordless (and battery-powered, so you’ll need to charge between water flossing sessions). This will be subjective, but you should choose the flosser that best meets the needs of your space.
- Cleans your teeth: The flossers we tested all promoted oral irrigation. Ideally, your teeth should feel cleaner post-floss than when you started!
Other Great Water Flossers
MySmile Cordless Water Flosser
- Handheld flosser with a digital readout
- 12 oz reservoir
- Not ADA accepted
- Budget price
- Digital screen
- 8 nozzles
- Less comfortable than other flossers
- Complex settings
- High splatter
My second-favorite cordless option is the MySmile. It’s the only flosser with a digital readout that shows the temperature of the water, battery charge, and mode options. You don’t really need this feature, but it feels high-end. The settings are a bit annoying; you press start to turn it on, then choose your settings—which include strong, soft, normal, pulse, and “child”—and hit start again to put the flosser into action. But once you start flossing, you can’t pause the two-minute session. Instead, you’ll have to turn it all off and start all over again with choosing your settings.
The MySmile has a larger profile than the Waterpik Cordless. The reservoir holds almost 12 ounces of water. The battery charge also lasts for more than two weeks, which is nice for travel. But overall, the water streams on the MySmile are less comfortable than those in the Waterpik Cordless. My gums bled! It’s also not ADA accepted.
- Loud but effective countertop flosser
- 20 oz reservoir
- ADA accepted
- 7 total nozzles
- Battery operated
- Large reservoir
- Exceptionally loud
- Larger size
- High splatter
The Waterpik Ion is a pretty great flosser. It has seven total nozzle types and you can choose a pressure level from 1-10. This means the Ion has a lot of options (although still fewer than the Philips). But the main downside is that this flosser is really loud! If you want to floss and have a sleeping partner or child nearby, it will most certainly wake them up.
This is a battery-operated flosser that needs to be charged every four weeks. You can floss for about 90 seconds; the reservoir holds 20 ounces of water, which is the same capacity as the Phillips 7000.
I thought this flosser was less comfortable than the Philips. Even the “gentle” options were less gentle, and the available streams were more likely to splatter because they had higher intensity. If you’re most concerned about effectiveness, though, this option does have that ADA seal.