When was mouthwash invented? From ancient cultures to modern era

Seems like we have had mouthwash forever, but exactly when was mouthwash invented? Who invented mouthwash? Even though mouthwash is an easily overlooked dental hygiene product, it has been around for a while. Almost 144 years ago is when mouthwash was invented.

In this article, you will find the answers to those questions and more about the history of mouthwash. After reading this you might have mixed feelings depending on how you look at mouthwash history it can both be fascinating and disgusting at the same time. So you better buckle up because this article will be a bumpy ride and we do not want you to get nauseous.

The invention of mouthwash

You might think mouthwash is more of a new addition to the oral care family. On the contrary, it is quite the opposite. Throughout centuries, many solutions and liquids have been used as oral rinses. Whether to fight bad breath or simply get rid of food leftovers in the mouth. Now let’s see how it all began.

It always starts with the ancient cultures

Yes, scientists have discovered many signs of oral hygiene in ancient Egyptian, Chinese, Roman, and Greek cultures. This means that bad breath has always been an issue to deal with.

Ancient breath-freshening recipes that scientists have found included many ingredients such as salt, vinegar, goat’s milk, and even wine. But that is not the worst. Urine was used as mouthwash up until the 18th century. In fact, the Romans bought bottled Portuguese urine to use as a mouthwash back then. Talk about spending a penny!

So, when was mouthwash invented?

The mouthwash we know and use today came from the one that was invented in 1879.

The father of microbiology

Interestingly enough he was not even a scientist but Antonie van Leeuwenhoek’s curiosity made him discover tiny organisms in the human mouth. You are right he discovered bacteria in dental plaque. He figured out that with ammonia or alcohol, he could kill those oral bacteria that exist in dental plaque. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek himself used vinegar or brandy to do that. From then on alcohol became a popular ingredient in mouthwash.

The turning point: 1865

In 1865, the health code violations were different and hygiene especially in a surgery room was not the same as it is today. But Dr. Joseph Lister changed that by using an antiseptic solution to sterilize his operation chamber. With this practice ending up lowering the mortality rate of patients scientists started to notice the importance of antiseptic surgery.

So how is this related to why was mouthwash invented?

The antiseptic for surgery inspired another doctor named Joseph Lawrence to invent a mouthwash named after Dr. Lister in 1879. At that point in time Lawrence’s solution was used as antiseptic medicine to clean surgical wounds and mouthwash.

The new age of mouthwash

Nowadays it is almost impossible not to notice the aisles of oral products in pharmacies or even supermarkets. There are advanced mouthwashes for gingival health with anti-plaque action and so much more. If you are unsure about which mouthwash to use consult with your dentist. Your dentist will give you recommendations well suited for your oral health.

Who invented mouthwash?

The person who invented mouthwash was Dr. Lawrence. He initially made the solution to be used as a surgical antiseptic for clearing surgery sights and surgical wounds. At that time there were many people with wounds in their mouths as well. That is how he made an antiseptic mouthwash.

How was mouthwash invented?

You might consider this a weird fact about mouthwash history, but mouthwash did not start as a mouthwash.

Not only that but other ingredients that were used as mouthwash are nowhere near the formula used today. In ancient cultures, different ingredients such as leaves of olives, wine, beer, and even ammonia in urine were used to fight bad breath and other oral conditions.

Later in the 17th century, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek found out that vinegar or brandy can be used as an oral germ killer. Moving into the 18th century, Dr. Lawrence made the first mouthwash inspired by the work of Dr. Joseph Lister. The combination of these is how mouthwash was invented. 

Where was mouthwash invented?

The inspiration for modern mouthwash came from the work of Dr. Joseph Lister who sterilized his surgery chamber using an antiseptic solution at Glasgow Royal Infirmary in Scotland. The work of Dr. Lister traveled across the pond and inspired Dr. Lawrence. Dr. Lawrence created his mouthwash in St. Louis, Missouri, and named it after Lister.

The evolution of mouthwash: Ancient to the modern era

From using urine to the many types of mouthwash we have today, mouthwash has been in the wringer for quite a while now. And of course, it has changed a lot. Let’s go back in time to the disgusting beginning of mouthwash.

The ancient times: When was mouthwash invented?

We don’t know why or how but a specific bodily fluid was pretty popular among the Romans to take care of their oral conditions. That bodily fluid was urine. It became so popular that the emperor at the time decided to tax the import of Portuguese urine. Scientists and historians think this goes to the thought process that ammonia in the urine aids in tooth whitening and killing bacteria.

In some other cultures, tortoise blood was swished in the mouth to avoid toothaches. Mixtures of olive leaves with milk, gum myrrh, pomegranate, vinegar, and wine were used to fight bad breath.

It wasn’t until the 12th century that a German scholar named Saint Hildegard von Bingen said that pure cold water is better for removing plaque buildup. He suggested swishing cold water a few times a day.

Later on, mint leaves and vinegar were used to clean the mouth and to have a fresher breath. But do not think that was the end of using urine as a mouth rinse. Urine was still very popular until the 18th century.

This changed when Dr. Lister changed the world of medicine with his practice of sterilizing the operation room and surgical sight. He used a mix of antiseptic ingredients to do that. A few years later his work inspired Dr. Lawrence to create a mouthwash. To honor Dr. Lister, Dr. Lawrence named the mouthwash he made after him.

Nowadays we are surrounded by all types of commercial mouthwashes and even prescription mouthwashes.

Fun facts about mouthwash

But you should never drink your mouthwash. With the high alcohol content, it can cause organ failure and death within minutes.

This article on mouthwash has come to an end but the journey of mouthwash products still continues. To maintain your healthy smile make sure you follow your dentist’s recommendation. For your other dental inquiries contact us at Dentfix.


Fischman SL. The history of oral hygiene products: how far have we come in 6000 years? Periodontol 2000. 1997 Oct;15:7-14. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0757.1997.tb00099.x. PMID: 9643227.