- The best teeth whitening kits are easy to use and cause minimal irritation to your gums or teeth.
- Our top overall pick, Crest 3D White Professional Effects Whitestrips kit, is effective, simple, and fairly affordable.
- We interviewed four dentists to inform our choices and explain the ingredients and efficacy of each pick.
- This article was medically reviewed by Dr. André V. Ritter, DDS, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Cariology and Comprehensive Care at the NYU College of Dentistry.
Some of the most delicious and beloved foods – red wine, coffee, soda – are not the best for keeping your pearly whites spotless. And that’s exactly why teeth whitening is a $3.2 billion worldwide industry. Consequently, there are thousands of options out there, including expensive services at your dentist’s office.
If you’re interested in whitening your teeth at home but don’t want to drop serious cash, there are several effective at-home teeth whitening kits. (You can also try a whitening toothpaste.) Below, we rank a few of the best options on the market with insight from four dentists: Dr. Ania Mohelicki DDS, Dr. Ira Handschuh DDS, Dr. Patrick Campbell DDS, and Dr. Charles Sutera DDS, FAGD.
Experts say that whitening kits are safe when used as directed. However, gum irritation and tooth sensitivity are common side effects even when you follow the directions. For more input on how to whiten sensitive teeth, see the FAQ section at the end.
We undertook hours of research combing through both consumer and expert reviews and ratings and did personal testing before settling on the whitening kits we’ve included in this guide. Each of the teeth whitening kits below are effective, easy to use, and less likely to irritate your teeth or gums.
Here are the best teeth whitening kits you can buy:
If resting a tray on your teeth doesn’t sound appealing, Crest 3D White Professional Effects Whitestrips are an effective, dentist-recommended way to get whiter teeth.
Pros: Produces results in four or five uses, recommended by dentists, low peroxide levels
Cons: May irritate the gums
The Crest 3D White Professional Effects Whitestrips kit comes with 40 strips for 20 treatments (each treatment consists of a strip on the upper teeth and one on the lower teeth.) You are supposed to wear the strips for half an hour once per day.
Crest’s “Advanced Seal Technology” offers a no-slip grip, which allows you to drink water and talk while wearing the strips. Crest claims that after the 20 daily treatments, you can remove 14 years of tooth stains. Hydrogen peroxide is one of the active ingredients in the Whitestrips.
The Reviews team interviewed Dr. Hadaegh DDS to get his recommendations for the best whitening products. He recommended Crest’s strips because the hydrogen peroxide levels are relatively low yet still effective.
But, one drawback of using strips is that they don’t offer the custom fit of trays, which means you may notice some increased sensitivity if your gums come in contact with the whitening strips.
Best for sensitive gums
If you’re looking for more precision in your application to avoid gum sensitivity, your best bet is combining teeth whitening gel with mouth trays or guards like in the Opalescence Go 15% kit.
Pros: Effective, greater control over application, potentially less gum sensitivity
The benefit of using a mouth tray or mouth guard with gel is that, unlike white strips, you aren’t as likely to miss spots on the teeth or irritate your gums.
If you don’t have whitening trays and want as close to professional results as possible, Dr. Hadaegh DDS has recommended Opalescence Go 15% to Business Insider in the past. “Like Crest 3D Whitestrips, the whitening gel comes in ready-made trays that adapt to your teeth all the way to your molars,” he wrote. “They have 15% hydrogen peroxide, which means you only need to wear them for 15 to 20 minutes a day for five to 10 days. It also contains potassium nitrate and fluoride to help reduce sensitivity while strengthening enamel.” Because the concentration of hydrogen peroxide is so high, there’s a chance you may still experience some sensitivity, in which case it’s best to switch to a less concentrated alternative like Crest Whitestrips.
The prefilled trays can be worn right out of the package, but the kit is more expensive than other reusable options on this list. It’s convenient, but you could save yourself money by buying reusable trays (or asking your dentist’s office to make you some) and replenishing your whitening pens when they run out.
Best LED kit
If you don’t want to use strips and are determined to use an LED light, the SmileDirectClub Teeth Whitening Kit is the way to go.
Pros: Few reports of sensitivity issues, more precise application of whitening gel, reusable mouth guard
Cons: Expensive, dentists agree the LED light will not make a noticeable difference
SmileDirectClub, like many of the more expensive direct-to-consumer teeth whitening kits on the market, includes a mouthguard with an LED light inside that’s meant to act as a catalyst for the hydrogen peroxide that whitens teeth — ideally, giving you professional results faster than other options. It also only requires 10 minutes of use each day.
However, studies don’t seem to agree with the marketing claims that LED lights make teeth whitening more effective, and most of the dentists we interviewed agreed that they don’t speed up the process. Dr. Campbell DDS put it succinctly: “Frankly, these products are not worth the money.” But, they do come with whitening pens that allow you a bit more control in terms of the application so you can avoid your gums and any increased sensitivity. There’s also the option to buy only the whitening pens and invest in whitening trays for safe and precise application.
If you don’t want to deal with whitening strips or buying gel and trays separately, or you’re committed to trying the LED light system, then SmileDirectClub’s Teeth Whitening Kit is one of the most convenient choices.
It’s built to last you through one full year of treatments and includes nine whitening pens (enough for two full treatments, according to the company’s estimates, plus one bonus pen) and the LED light mouthguard. Unlike most LED options that need to be plugged in overnight before you can use them, SmileDirectClub’s version can plug right into your smartphone (Android or iPhone) and requires minimal battery power.
The company recommends using the device for five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the evening every day for a week, once every six months. I tested the device and found the company’s estimates to be conservative — I got more than double the use out of the pens than expected.
Best natural kit
The Miswak Club Natural Teeth Whitening Kit is your best alternative if you’re looking for a natural, chemical-free approach to whitening your teeth.
Pros: Inexpensive, easy to use, no added chemicals
Cons: Takes some getting used to, smells weird
Teeth-cleaning sticks known as Miswak have been used for thousands of years in what is now Pakistan, India, many African countries, and other parts of the world. And, a meta-analysis in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine found that the Miswak was just as effective for oral hygiene as the toothbrush and toothpaste used by Western cultures.
The Miswak Club Natural Teeth Whitening Kit features two Miswak root sticks with two carrying cases. Each stick will last for three weeks of daily use. Miswak comes from the Arak tree, and this product contains no pesticides or chemicals. Miswak Club offers a 120-day money-back guarantee if you do not have noticeably whiter teeth after using their kit.
Several expert sites reviewed the Miswak Club kit because of the novelty of it. Bustle liked that it comes with two sticks in the kit, doesn’t make a mess, and is easy to bring along when traveling. Subaholic found that the root works great, but thought the taste was terrible. And, Apartment Therapy was put off by the “sweetly musky” smell of the root but found that when you soak it in water with some peppermint oil, it is much more bearable.
Some reviewers have noted that it may take a few weeks of daily use to notice effects and that the smell may be a bit off-putting.
What else we considered
- GLO Teeth Whitening Kit: Glo Science sells a similar device to SmileDirectClub; both use an LED mouthpiece to reportedly act as a catalyst for hydrogen peroxide. But SmileDirectClub is a better value at half the cost. We still recommend strips over gel and mouth trays over LED light options, though.
FAQs about whitening your teeth
What types of teeth whitening products exist?
There are essentially two types of kits: ones that bleach your teeth to take stains off and ones that physically scrape off the stains. Whitening trays and strips have been the standard for decades and generally rely on carbamide or hydrogen peroxide. Activated charcoal powders had a spike in popularity recently, but the dentists we interviewed would tell you to nix the powders. Dr. Handschuh and Dr. Mohelicki told Business Insider that they don’t recommend these because they can be abrasive and only remove surface stains.
There is a third type of teeth whitening product that simply blasts your teeth with LED light, which typically claims to speed up the process and achieve more intense results. However, most of the dentists we interviewed agreed that any gains from this treatment are short-lived or nonexistent. “Most studies show some difference detected by computers, but no visual difference detected by the human eye. For the studies conducted in actual patients (in vivo), most found no added benefit for light-activated systems,” says Dr. Sutera.
Only the SmileDirectClub system in our guide uses this technology, but it is used in conjunction with a whitening gel and a mouthguard that may offer better control over your placement and avoid increased gum sensitivity in comparison to strips.
Which teeth whitening products are most effective?
“Shopping for teeth whitening products is very simple.” Dr. Sutera explained. “There is only one active ingredient in all teeth whitening products: hydrogen peroxide. It’s the same agent whether it’s prescription use or over the counter. Any other ingredients in the product are inactive fillers needed to create the right consistency of the product.” If you see carbamide peroxide on your ingredient list, it’s just a derivative of hydrogen peroxide.
“The key is to understand that whitening can be effective at any percentage, but what differs is the time of use. A high percentage of hydrogen peroxide typically is only kept on the teeth for 20 minutes maximum, while a lower percentage can be worn for 6 hours or overnight.” Dr. Sutera explains. “Much of the selection comes down to personal preference. If you have a tendency to develop tooth sensitivity or if you want to minimize the risks of irritating your gums, that’s when you’d select a lower concentration.”
A few warnings about teeth whitening kits
Peroxide is effective, but it comes with several warnings. Pregnant or nursing women may want to stop using peroxide-based whitening products. It also isn’t suitable for children under 14 years old. And, you should not use peroxide for longer than two weeks of daily use without the supervision of a dentist.
The FDA does not recommend using any whitening gels with a peroxide concentration of higher than 18%. Two of the kits we recommend use peroxide (Crest Whitestrips and SmileDirectClub) but they should be safe for most people.
Again, you should always consult with your dentist before starting a course of treatment. For instance, if your darkened teeth are due to the natural thinning of tooth enamel that comes with aging, whitening kits will not help you. Also, they cannot whiten fillings, dentures, veneers, crowns, or caps.
Most importantly, Dr. Mohelicki says the biggest concern is wearing whitening kits for the right amount of time. “Over-the-counter options are inexpensive when compared to in-office whitening, but they offer no gum protection. With no gum protection, users can experience increased sensitivity and even burns in severe cases.”
How to use teeth whitening kits effectively
Before using a teeth whitening kit, brush your teeth so your whitening agent can make contact with the surface of your teeth to improve efficacy, and so it doesn’t accidentally create an uneven white. “Any buildup of plaque or food debris will not allow for the whitening agent to contact the tooth and therefore not allow the whitening agent to do its job,” Dr. Campbell explained. “You could end up with a speckled, uneven whitened appearance.”
And, after you’ve whitened, try to avoid food and drinks that stain your teeth.”I recommend that my patients stick to a ‘colorless diet’ just after whitening,” Dr. Handschuh told Business Insider. “Meaning, avoid highly-staining food and drink such as coffee, red wine, tea, sauces, etc.” But, if you really want to, he recommends using a straw to bypass your teeth a bit.
As Dr. Sutera explained, whitening your teeth and then having a glass of red wine is like “two people in a canoe paddling in different directions. The whitening products open the pores and clean them out. If you have coffee, tea, or red wine within 72 hours of whitening your teeth, your teeth are more likely to absorb dark stains and adversely impact your whitening results.”
Does teeth-whitening damage your enamel?
“Most studies show that whitening does not damage enamel,” Dr. Sutera said. Though, there has been recent research that shows teeth whitening can affect proteins deeper in the tooth, though researchers are not currently sure if the damage is temporary or permanent, according to Dr. Sutera.
How can you prevent tooth sensitivity?
“It is common for the majority of people to experience increased tooth sensitivity after having teeth whitening done.” Dr. Mohelicki says. “However, for those who already have sensitive teeth, I recommend starting out by trying a whitening toothpaste. This takes significantly longer than trying an over-the-counter product or having teeth bleached in-office, but it can be significantly less painful.”
For whitening toothpaste, Dr. Sutera recommends patients with sensitive teeth use a toothpaste with potassium nitrate and fluoride and also use a fluoride mouth rinse. According to Dr. Sutera, potassium nitrate is the primary ingredient that helps with sensitive teeth, and fluoride a secondary option that has also been shown to help.
If you have sensitive teeth and want to use a teeth whitening agent, you may just want to avoid higher concentrations of hydrogen peroxide. “The suggestion I would make is to use a lower concentration of whitening agent to get their desired whitening outcome while minimizing the risk of tooth sensitivity.” Dr. Campbell said. “Although anecdotal, I’ve found that brushing with Sensodyne toothpaste before and after whitening has helped me avoid sensitivity.”
Why do you feel increased sensitivity after you whiten?
The bleaching temporarily weakens your enamel so the bleach can pass through it and further lift those stains, explained Dr. Mohelicki. “When [our enamel] is weakened during the bleaching treatment, many patients find that it can be hard to consume hot beverages, ice-cold beverages, or even eat certain foods. This typically wears off within 72 hours of ending treatment.”