Mouthwash, also known as oral rinse, is a liquid-based dental hygiene product that cleans your mouth, freshens your breath, and kills bacteria on your tongue and between your teeth.

Most mouthwashes advertise their tingling sensation as a sign that the product is working. But for many people, using mouthwash doesn’t feel refreshing — it feels painful, and it burns.

You can use oral rinse products as directed and still feel a painful stinging and burning sensation while it’s in your mouth. In most cases, this doesn’t mean that you did something wrong or even that you need to stop using it.

We’ll go over the different reasons why mouthwash can cause a burning sensation and what to do about it.

Alcohol has antiseptic properties, and it’s a main ingredient in many oral rinse formulas. It kills bacteria and sanitizes your mouth. But pure alcohol alone isn’t enough to kill all the bad bacteria that can cause bad breath and gingivitis.

Alcohol is only one of the active ingredients in mouthwash. Others can include menthol. Some mouthwash formulas contain over 25 percent alcohol.

When you put an oral rinse in your mouth, you may notice that the burning sensation is centralized on your tongue. Your taste buds, which are located on your tongue, may be more sensitive to the taste and feel of alcohol than other areas in your mouth.

If you switch to a mouthwash that doesn’t contain alcohol but still experience a burning sensation, you may be sensitive to one of the other active ingredients in your oral rinse.

Popular mouthwash ingredients include chlorhexidine, which may reduce plaque and help fight gingivitis, as well as cetylpyridinium chloride, which kills bad-breath-causing bacteria. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also documented a rare but severe allergy that some people may have to chlorhexidine.

Mouthwash that’s supposed to whiten your teeth often contains hydrogen peroxide. Essential oils like peppermint oil, eucalyptus oil, and thyme oil can be included in mouthwash to freshen your breath. All of these ingredients can cause your oral rinse to give you a burning sensation as you use it.

Some people are extremely sensitive to menthol, which is derived from mint or peppermint, and experience severe burning instead of a pleasant tingling when they use it.

Not all mouthwashes cause burning, but your level of sensitivity to different ingredients might make it difficult to find one that doesn’t cause any burning symptoms.

Alcohol isn’t a necessary ingredient for an effective, bacteria-killing mouthwash. Some oral rinses are made without alcohol and can be more gentle on your tongue, mouth, and gums. Most of the leading mouthwash brands make alcohol-free formulas.

Menthol isn’t a necessary ingredient in mouthwash either. Oral rinses that are menthol-free, mint-free, or flavorless are readily available and sold wherever you typically buy your mouthwash. You might need to try a few different formulas before you find an oral rinse that you like.

Making mouthwash a regular part of your daily routine is a good idea for several reasons. Different types of mouthwash provide different benefits, which can be helpful if you’re trying to address a specific aspect of your oral hygiene.

  • Mouthwash can whiten your teeth. Formulas meant to whiten your teeth often contain bleaching or whitening ingredients, such as hydrogen peroxide. Some formulas may contain an alternative, such as activated charcoal or coconut oil.
  • Mouthwash can strengthen your tooth enamel. Oral rinses meant to make your teeth resistant to cavities typically contain fluoride.
  • Mouthwash can help fight gum disease. Mouthwash formulated to fight bacteria that cause plaque and gingivitis typically contains essential oils like menthol, eucalyptol, or thymol.
  • Mouthwash can banish bad breath. Formulas that target bad breath kill the bacteria that cause halitosis. This type of oral rinse is typically alcohol-based, but alternatives are available.

There are also therapeutic mouthwash formulas that are only available by prescription. Chlorhexidine mouthwash is sometimes prescribed to fight gingivitis and treat its symptoms.

Different mouthwashes may be prescribed to clean a dry socket after a tooth extraction, manage side effects of cancer treatments like oral mucositis, or stimulate saliva production if you have a diagnosis of dry mouth.

Mouthwash is only beneficial when it’s used safely and according to package directions.

You should never ingest mouthwash — it’s meant to rinse your mouth out, but it shouldn’t be swallowed. If you ingest more than two servings worth of mouthwash at one time, call a doctor or poison control hotline at 800-222-1222. Check the label to see if your mouthwash contains fluoride or ethanol and have that information ready to give the person on the call.

If the mouthwash you’re using causes ongoing burning or discomfort, discontinue use. Using a mouthwash that you’re overly sensitive to can result in a breakdown in some of the tissue in your mouth, resulting in ulcers.

Children younger than 6 shouldn’t use mouthwash. Those between the ages of 6 and 12 can use a mouthwash specifically made for children, though they should be supervised by an adult.

It’s not unusual for mouthwash to burn as you rinse your mouth with it. Ingredients like alcohol and menthol, which cause the burning sensation, are often found in mouthwash. Even though it’s not usually a cause for concern, there are plenty of alternative mouthwashes that you can purchase if your mouthwash is painful to use.

Always follow the instructions on your mouthwash carefully, and ask a dentist for a mouthwash recommendation if you have difficulty finding one that works for you. You should also look for a mouthwash with the American Dental Association’s Seal of Acceptance.