We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What Is Chlorhexidine?

By M. Haskins
Updated May 17, 2024
Our promise to you
WiseGeek is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At WiseGeek, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Chlorhexidine, also known as chlorhexidine gluconate or CHG, is a chemical substance with antimicrobial properties that is able to both kill and inhibit the growth of microorganisms such as viruses, fungi, and bacteria. This substance is used in various products as an antiseptic, meaning it is applied to skin, and other tissue like mucous membranes to avoid or fight infection. For example, chlorhexidine is used in both human and veterinary medicine as a disinfectant in pre-surgery hand scrubs, to clean wounds, and to swab skin before the use of syringes or other needles. It is also used in topical acne treatments, as an over-the-counter wound wash, and in both prescription and over-the-counter mouth rinses to help fight gum disease. In general, chlorhexidine does not cause serious side effects but it can stain teeth when used as a mouth rinse and can cause irritation when used on the skin; it is also not recommended to apply this substance to the ears or eyes without medical supervision.

Different kinds of antiseptics work in different ways to kill microorganisms and prevent them from multiplying. Chlorhexidine is a chemical antiseptic that works by membrane disruption, meaning it is absorbed by the cell membranes of microorganisms such as viruses and bacteria, causing the membranes to leak and killing the organisms. It is effective against both major categories of bacteria — gram-positive bacteria and gram-negative bacteria — and studies show bacteria do not become resistant to it even after prolonged use. One disadvantage of chlorhexidine is that its effectiveness can be reduced by the presence of blood, pus, or soap.

A common use of chlorhexidine is as an ingredient in oral rinses to treat mouth infections, reduce plaque buildup on teeth, and treat and prevent gum disease, also known as gingivitis. The substance is proven to reduce the presence of bacteria in the mouth, but prolonged use can cause staining of tooth enamel. Its antibacterial effects can also be neutralized by some toothpaste ingredients, and it is recommended to not brush one's teeth 30 minutes to two hours before or after using these oral rinses.

Chlorhexidine is proven to promote wound healing and prevent infection when used topically, meaning on the surface of the skin. It is often used to disinfect skin before surgery and other medical procedures, such as the insertion of intravenous needles and for drawing blood for blood samples. In some cases, it can cause serious skin irritation, hives, itching, and difficulty breathing. One should seek medical assistance if experiencing these symptoms.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By turquoise — On Apr 26, 2013

I know from my dad's farm that chlorhexidine solution is used often while caring for animals. My dad will use it to clean cows and some of the other animals to prevent infections.

By bear78 — On Apr 26, 2013

@fify-- I've used chlorhexidine mouthwash several times in the past after dental procedures. I don't think it's dangerous unless you really swallow some.

I don't rinse my mouth with water after I use it, it's not meant to be used that way. As long as you spit out all the excess, it should be fine.

Don't worry about it.

By fify — On Apr 25, 2013

I heard that accidentally swallowing chlorhexidine is very dangerous and it can even cause anaphylactic shock.

Is this true?

My dentist prescribed chlorhexidine mouthwash for me a few days ago. I have been using it without problems but after I gargle with it, I don't rinse my mouth. Should I be rinsing afterward? Will the little amount of mouthwash left in my mouth harm me?

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.