why does listerine burn

Nothing could be more embarrassing than bad breath.  Brushing, however, only cleans about 25% of the mouth. The germs that are left behind may cause plaque buildup, gum problems, and bad breath.

Rinsing your mouth twice a day is not only a great way of keeping your gums disease-free but also good for breath fresh. Depending on the particular ingredients, some brands of mouthwash may burn more than others.

Listerine mouthwash is designed to reach all parts of the mouth, removing nearly all germs and reduce any potential gum problems. Listerine is an ethanol-based mouth rinse that acts as an oral antiseptic. Whenever it is used, it tends to leave behind a burning anti-septic tingling sensation.

Listerine Ingredients

Listerine contains about 26% ethanol (alcohol) weight-per-volume. This means that it actually cannot kill or eliminate all bacteria in your mouth completely. Essentially, what it does is it to dissolve them in your mouth. Because it has drying effects, alcohol can bring some discomfort in the mouth and also leave behind an unusual mouth taste.

What Causes the Burning Sensation?

When the active ingredients in Listerine like ethanol come into contact with your gum tissues, you are likely to feel a burning sensation. If used regularly or excessively, ethanol can cause damage to your mouth cells or trigger oral sores over the passage of time.

Although alcohol (ethanol) is effective, this is what usually brings the “ouch!” sensation whenever you use a mouthwash like Listerine. It’s also important to note that the prolonged use of Listerine and other alcohol-based mouthwashes can lead to the irritation of mouth tissues or even affect your salivary gland.


Alcohol in mouthwash has two functions: kills germs and dissolves/disperses other ingredients. However, the alcohol can cause mouth tissue irritation and over time even cause sores. This can make your mouth and gums more sensitive. The burning sensation you feel when using Listerine is because it contains ethanol and other mouth cleaning disinfectants.

If you are looking for a teeth whitening mouthwash, beware that most products also consist of 20% or more alcohol.

Author: Peter Mayhew

Peter is a dental hygienist in the city of Chicago, IL. In his free time he likes to write blogs and product reviews on anything dental health related.