We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
Ask ten different people what makes a person beautiful, and you’ll probably receive ten different answers. But if there’s one aesthetically pleasing feature nearly everyone can agree upon, it’s pearly white teeth. Case in point: the teeth whitening industry is estimated to make more than $10 billion annually.
Fortunately, you needn’t pay anywhere near that amount to treat your own teeth at home. In fact, you could spend around $1 or $2 per day for results. Teeth whitening strips safely remove certain stains from the teeth, leading to a much-improved smile.
At BestReviews, we give our readers the information they need to make smart shopping decisions. We studied the teeth whitening strip market in order to find the key information customers need. To ensure that our reviews are unbiased and fair, we never accept free samples offered by manufacturers.
If you’re ready to start whitening at home, please see our product matrix above, where we’ve outlined the best teeth whitening strips available. If you’d like to learn more about teeth whitening strips, please continue reading this shopping guide.
Teeth whitening strips are typically made of a thin plastic called polyethylene. This plastic makes the strip flexible enough to fit the teeth yet tough enough to avoid tearing.
The chemicals found on whitening strips break down stains on the teeth. The strips also contain an adhesive which ensures continuous contact between the chemical and the teeth during therapy.
Modern teeth whitening strips should contain one of two chemicals: carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide. Peroxide-based chemicals remove both superficial and embedded surface stains. At the same time, these chemicals are not thought to harm the enamel.
Older teeth whitening strips may have used other chemicals that aren’t as safe as carbamide peroxide and hydrogen peroxide.
Whitening strips with carbamide peroxide break down into hydrogen peroxide and urea. So in reality, all teeth whitening strips today make use of hydrogen peroxide in some form.
Different strip brands use different types of adhesive. The quality of the adhesive may impact the success of the whitening process.
Notably, not all whitening strips stick to teeth with the same level of effectiveness.
Denise has a background in healthcare and physical therapy. She also has the unique experience of raising three boys. Through the years, she has coached her sons and many of their friends through their share of childhood health problems and accidents. When not helping others recover from their injuries, you may find Denise working in her garden or reading.
As described above, teeth whitening strips work by placing chemicals on your teeth. Each product includes its own set of directions for application and use. Be sure to follow these directions precisely. Here are some additional safety concerns to understand:
The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends a limited concentration of chemicals in whitening strips. Specifically, the strips should contain 10% or less of hydrogen peroxide or 35% or less of carbamide peroxide. The product box or literature should provide information about the concentration of the chemicals.
Strips aren’t your only at-home option for teeth whitening. Whitening toothpastes and gels are available, too.
The chemicals used on teeth whitening strips can be dangerous if used improperly.
For example, they shouldn’t touch areas of the mouth other than the teeth.
Avoid touching your gums with whitening strips for extended periods of time.
Even though modern strips are safe to use and provide benefits, they must be used properly. Always read the directions, and follow them to the letter.
If your teeth are normally sensitive to cold or heat, they’ll probably react to whitening strip chemicals, too.
Teeth have different layers that protect the dentin layer and the root. Enamel and cementum are the primary protective layers. If these layers are damaged through cavities, micro-fractures, or gum disease, the dentin layer is exposed, causing pain.
Reports of sensitivity to the chemicals on whitening strips is a common problem for these products.
Whitening strips are more effective against yellowish stains than they are against brownish or grayish stains.
Don’t exceed the prescribed amount of wear time for these strips. You can find the recommended amount of wear time in the packaging.
Excessive whitening strip use could damage the tissues of your mouth. Do not use whitening strips more than once per day, and do not wear them for too long. You could permanently damage the enamel on your teeth through overuse.
Understandably, some people don’t feel comfortable with their ability to apply the strips as per the instructions on the box. If this describes you, you may want to spend the extra money to have the process performed at the dentist’s office.
The short answer to the question of whether whitening strips work is yes. However, consumers should take the following factors into consideration:
Staining on teeth occurs for different reasons. Drinking tea, coffee, and red wine can lead to staining of the teeth, for example. Tobacco use can also cause significant staining. And sometimes, teeth become stained as you age.
Whitening strips should provide at least some benefits for people with these types of stains, but they’re not necessarily a cure-all.
Overusing teeth whitening strips could lead to damage to the gums or other tissues in the mouth.
Although whitening strips work for most people, they don’t work for everyone. It depends on the type of discoloration your teeth have.
For example, if you have suffered a significant injury that damaged the dentin layer of a tooth, it may turn gray. This type of stain isn’t fixable with a whitening strip.
Additionally, some medications can cause a permanent staining that strips cannot alleviate.
Whether teeth whitening strips work for you depends, in large part, on the reason behind your discoloration. Some discoloration problems cannot be corrected with strips.
When comparing the cost of one type or brand of whitening strip to another, don’t just look at the price on the box. Instead, we urge potential buyers to “do the math” to determine the cost per strip.
When you read the box, look for the following key information to determine your overall cost:
Teeth whitening strips use chemicals to break down stains on the teeth, making them appear whiter.
Number of Strips
Different products carry a different number of strips per box or pack. The box should display the total number of strips it contains. Remember that if the box contains 20 strips, that means there are 10 strips for upper teeth and 10 for lower teeth.
Days of Usage
Sometimes, the product packaging will list the number of days’ worth of strips it contains. So if the box has enough strips for 10 days of application, that means it has 20 total strips.
Once you’ve determined the number of strips included, divide the price of the box by the number of strips so you can compare the cost of different brands. For example, if a box with 20 strips costs $25, the cost per strip is $1.25, and your daily cost would $2.50.
Whitening strips will not work on crowns, dentures, or fillings. They only whiten teeth.
Each brand of whitening strips prescribes its own application technique. So even if you’ve used other strips before, read the directions carefully for the best results.
If you have had problems with your teeth in the past, such as odd staining or sensitivity, check with a dentist before using these products.
Do not apply strips to dental work.
Do not use the strips more often or longer than prescribed. Overuse could lead to damage to the gums or other tissues.
Q. How fast do strips work?
A. It’s possible that whitening strips will work very quickly for some people. You may even notice some whitening benefits after one or two treatments. For example, the Crest 3D White Professional Effects strips on our shortlist usually work very quickly.
However, with some strips and some types of teeth, multiple applications are needed before you’ll see a difference.
Q. Are the whitening effects of strips permanent?
A. Because staining occurs naturally from food and drink, the whitening from strips isn’t permanent. Over time, the teeth will yellow and stain again. You’ll most likely want to repeat the whitening process at some point down the road.
Q. Why do some teeth whitening strips have different directions for use?
A. The instructions for use on any given package relate to the chemicals on the strips. Some strips use a lower chemical concentration, so they need to adhere to the teeth for longer periods to be effective. This type of low-concentration strip may also require a 20- or 30-day regimen for best results.
Strips with a higher chemical concentration may provide maximum whitening within seven days. Read the product directions carefully to understand the time period you must wear them.
Q. How do I know if a teeth whitening strip product is safe to use?
A. Teeth whitening strips have undergone quite a few changes in the past ten years or so. Early whitening strips posed safety concerns, as some products harmed the enamel on the teeth with chlorine dioxide. However, most modern products use a safer mix of chemicals than chlorine dioxide. (Note to buyers: don’t buy a whitening product that uses this chemical!)
And don’t panic if your whitening strips don’t carry the American Dental Association (ADA) seal of approval. As a matter of fact, no whitening strip products are on the ADA’s list at the time of this writing.
The FDA doesn’t regulate teeth whitening strips products, either.
Q. What is the biggest problem with using whitening strips?
A. One common problem people experience with these strips is pain from a sensitivity to the chemicals. A messy application or removal process is another common complaint. Some strips don’t stick well to the teeth, making it difficult to talk while using them. Others stick so well that they’re difficult to remove without making a huge mess. Some strips must actually be scraped off the teeth.
Reading customer reviews is one of the best ways to gain insight into how well a particular brand stays in place or comes off of the teeth.
Q. How do at-home whitening strips differ from those at the dentist’s office?
A. The strips and gels at a dentist’s office typically have a higher concentration of chemicals than at-home strips. This allows the whitening product at the dentist’s office to work faster. Dentists use these highly concentrated chemicals because they are able to protect your tissues from the chemicals.
If you were to use higher concentrations of chemicals on your whitening strips at home, you could damage your gums. It’s just too difficult to exactly align the strips on the teeth without touching the gums. This tedious act is best left to the pros.