Philips Sonicare Brushing Modes Explained

Sonicare Brushing Modes Explained

Choosing an electric toothbrush is far from simple.

You see, some brushes come with just 1 cleaning mode, but the most premium models come with as many as 5!

Here at Electric Teeth, we try to make that process a bit easier.

In this article, I explain the different cleaning modes available on Philips Sonicare electric toothbrushes.

Just which ones do you need and why are they important? Let me explain.

What are the cleaning modes available on Sonicare toothbrushes?

At the time of writing, there are up to 8 different cleaning modes offered on different Sonicare electric toothbrushes.

These available modes are:

  1. Clean Mode
  2. White/White+ Mode
  3. Deep Clean/Deep Clean+ Mode
  4. Gum Health/Gum Care Mode
  5. Sensitive Mode
  6. Tongue Care Mode
  7. Refresh Mode
  8. Massage Mode

Whilst I have listed 8, of these, 2 (Refresh and Massage) are being phased out by Sonicare and you tend to see these only on their older electric toothbrush models.

The names of particular modes have also changed or updated over the years.

For example, on some models, you have ‘White’ as a cleaning mode, whilst on others, it is labelled as ‘White+’.  They are the same mode, just with a different name as far as I understand.

Why the new or different names for the same mode?  Your guess is as good as mine!

Which modes do I need or should I opt for?

Any electric toothbrush is going to come with at least 1 cleaning mode, and the default is ‘Clean’.

For the vast majority, this 1 mode is perfectly adequate and you will not need extra modes.

In fact, in our electric toothbrush buyer’s guide, I rate the various cleaning modes as having low or medium importance only.

Yes, as strange as this might sound in reality there is little actual need for all of these extra modes.

Each of these extra cleaning modes does offer something different and can potentially have benefit for you. But, don’t strive to buy a brush that might be outside of your budget, just because it has White mode for example.

Out of all the other modes available, it is the gum health and/or sensitive mode that in my opinion will be the most beneficial.

Therefore, if you can get a brush that fits your budget and requirements and has this mode, then it is a bonus.

What does each cleaning mode do?

Philips Sonicare themselves seem to alter the description and explanation behind each cleaning mode, depending on what documentation or user manual you are reading.

The explanation of the mode can be quite brief or not particularly clear on what it does, how it works and why you would want to use it.

For example on the Sonicare DiamondClean Smart product page, ‘Clean’ mode is described as ‘for exceptional everyday cleaning’, whilst ‘Deep Clean+’ is described as ‘For an invigorating deep clean an invigorating deep clean’.

Therefore I hope the following is a little more useful.

Clean mode

  • This is the standard mode for daily teeth cleaning.
  • The cleaning cycle lasts for 2 minutes.
  • Ideally suited to most users, to use on a daily basis any time of the day or night.

White/white+ mode

  • The cleaning mode lasts for 2 minutes and 40 seconds.
  • During the first 2 minutes, the brush alternates the speed of the motor from a low to high power as you complete regular brushing.
  • The additional 40 seconds is to be spent polishing the outer surface of upper and lower teeth. Spend 20 seconds cleaning each.
  • The polishing motion used in the last 40 seconds of this mode will feel and sound different from the first 2 minutes.
  • Ideal for those wanting to get the best shine and really do away with any surface staining.
  • Some models refer to this mode as just White, whilst on others, it is labelled as White+.  It is the same cleaning action, just with a different name.

Deep clean/deep clean+ mode

  • The cleaning mode usually lasts for 3 minutes.
  • If the brush handle has Bluetooth connectivity and is connected to a smartphone the mode will last for just 2 minutes.  If there is no active Bluetooth connection, the mode will run for the longer 3 minutes.
  • The motion and speed is adjusted to really massage the teeth and gum tissues and push the cleaning motion through bacteria and stubborn stains that may exist
  • Ideal to use when you want to spend a bit of extra time on your teeth and really make sure you are doing the best you can to keep them clean and healthy.
  • Some models refer to this mode as just Deep Clean, whilst on others, it is labelled as Deep Clean+.  It is the same cleaning action, just with a different name.

Gum health/gum care mode

  • The cleaning mode usually lasts for 3 minutes.
  • On some models, notably DiamondClean Smart, the mode runs for an additional 20 seconds.
  • During the first 2 minutes, the brush runs the standard clean mode.
  • The remaining minute uses a slower and less powerful sensitive/massage mode to stimulate and massage the gums, to improve their health.
  • It is a bit of a crossover mode between Clean and Sensitive.
  • Ideally suited to those who have mild sensitivity in their gums, with occasional bleeding and are getting or recovering from gum disease treatment.
  • A useful mode to also use fairly regularly to give your gums a little extra attention and keep them in good shape.
  • Some models refer to this mode as just Gum Health, whilst on others, it is labelled as Gum Care.  It is the same cleaning action, just with a different name.

Sensitive mode

  • This cleaning mode lasts for 2 minutes.
  • It uses a lot less of the brush motors power to be more gentle on the teeth and gums.
  • Ideally suited to those with very sensitive teeth and gums, but want to benefit from the additional cleaning power and efficacy of an electric toothbrush.
  • Those experiencing gum disease or gum recession will likely find this mode most useful.

Tongue care mode

  • This cleaning mode lasts for 20 seconds.
  • Designed to provide adequate time to brush the tongue.

Refresh mode

  • This cleaning mode lasts for 1 minute.
  • Touch-up for a quick clean.
  • Ideally suited for those who want to freshen up and are cleaning their teeth at additional times during the day.
  • This mode is being phased out.

Massage mode

  • This cleaning mode lasts for 2 minutes.
  • It uses a lot less of the brush motors power to be more gentle on and to stimulate the gums.
  • This mode has essentially been replaced with the Sensitive mode.
  • Ideally suited to those with very sensitive teeth and gums, but want to benefit from the additional cleaning power and efficacy of an electric toothbrush.
  • Those experiencing gum disease or gum recession will likely find this mode most useful.

You should note, that with most Sonicare electric toothbrushes the brush will turn itself off automatically at the end of the cleaning cycle.

The vast majority of brushes also have a quadpacer/30 second timer built in that works in conjunction with the 2 minute timer to encourage you to brush evenly around the mouth.  For longer cleaning modes, this pacer may kick in at different times.

Most Sonicare brushes will when turned on default to the last cleaning mode used on the brush unless you manually change it or the fitting of a BrushSync compatible head forces a mode change.

Sonicare cleaning mode comparison chart

The following image (click to enlarge) compares the brushing/cleaning modes available from Philips Sonicare.

The chart summarises the information provided above and you can see which models of toothbrush offer which cleaning mode.

Power delivery – the number of brush strokes and movements

Sonicare electric toothbrushes use a ‘sonic’ cleaning action, which is slightly different to the oscillating-rotating technology that the likes of Oral-B use.

This kind of toothbrush uses 2 methods to clean the teeth.

The first is a mechanical side-to-side cleaning motion of the bristles to remove plaque by essentially sweeping and scrubbing the surfaces, like a manual brush (although the motor moves the bristles, not you).

The second is a non-contact approach that uses the sonic technology to disrupt plaque beyond the tips of the bristles.

To be a sonic toothbrush, the motion or vibration from the brush has to be quick enough to produce a ‘humming’  sound that is within the audible range of the human ear (20 Hz to 20,000 Hz).

This intense vibration agitates fluids that surround the teeth and can loosen and remove dental plaque in locations that are beyond the physical touch of the toothbrush.

It was Philips, under the Sonicare brand, that first brought this to market in 1992, although others like Colgate & Omron now use this technology too.

In theory, the more speed the motor has the more effective the clean is, because the bristles move more frequently over the tooth and gum surfaces.

However, it is not all about speed, the technique has a big part to play, but that is a different topic, for another article.

31,000 movements/62,000 brush strokes

A really important point to pick up on and explain is the 31,000 brush strokes and 62,000 movements. Sonicare often refers to these when they talk about the speed and performance of their brushes.

For many years Sonicare stated 31,000 brush strokes, but in more recent times there has been a movement towards quoting 62,000 movements within their sales documentation.

Click here to see a document where Sonicare refer to both movements and brush strokes.

62,000 sounds better than 31,000 doesn’t it?

I wouldn’t blame you for thinking it was better and maybe a newer technology.

However, you should note that they are the same thing.

Just because Sonicare quotes 62,000 movements, does not mean it is better or more powerful than those brushes with 31,000 brush strokes.

1 brush stroke is equal to 2 movements. (31,000 x 2 = 62,000).

To explain this further you would count 1 movement as the bristles moving from the top to the bottom of the tooth.  Imagine a pause, the 2nd movement would be from the bottom back to the top.

A brush stroke, on the other hand, is counted as the bristles moving top, to bottom and back again.

If you are thinking this is confusing and perhaps a little misleading, I agree. I can confirm this is correct having spoken to Sonicare staff.

With very few exceptions, all Sonicare electric toothbrushes offer both 31,000 brush strokes per minute and 62,000 movements per minute.

Whether you get that full power depends on the cleaning mode selected.

Power delivery and cleaning modes

From my very own hands on testing, that depending on the cleaning mode selected, the power from the motor used varies.

Sonicare themselves acknowledge that the ‘Sensitive’ cleaning mode, for example, is more gentle.  This is because the full power of the brush motor is not being used.

I was therefore keen to know if the clean mode makes use of all the power from the brush motor (31,000 brush strokes per minute/62,000 movements), how much power do all of the other cleaning modes use?

To me, it seems like Sensitive mode operates at about 15,000 movements per minute.

I am unable to confirm exactly how many movements/brush strokes each cleaning mode offers.

Despite the clear hands on evidence that each mode does use or alternates the speed or number of movements Sonicare themselves are not able to tell me this.

I have asked on multiple occasions to try and get a clear and more thorough understanding.  But, each time I am told that the difference was primarily the amount of time the cleaning mode lasted for.

Here is an extract from the last chat I had on 12th October 2018.

Sonicare rep: Regarding the sensitive mode our product specialist could not further inform us on the movements per minute.

Electric Teeth: Thanks for checking. But what you are saying is the product specialists do not actually know the number of movements per cleaning mode?

So there is a claimed 62,000 movements but you can’t say how many movements are offered on the different cleaning modes?

Sonicare rep:

We cannot tell you for sure how many movements per mode indeed. Our product specialist can only inform us on the differences between the modes.

Electric Teeth:

I see. And those differences are the amount of time each cleaning mode lasts for, is that correct? Or are there other differences I should be aware of?

Sonicare rep:

They are the differences in the time. I believe my colleague has informed you about those differences in your previous contact.

Brushing intensity

It should be noted that some Sonicare models have the option to change the intensity of the brushing motion.

Depending on the model this can vary between 2 or 3 different power intensity settings.

You will either have a low and high setting or a low, medium and high.

Many models will have an LED indicator to help clearly show what intensity has been selected.

  • Low: 1 LED indicator light.
  • Medium: 2 LED indicator lights.
  • High: 3 LED indicator lights.

The user manual will advise what intensity achieves the best effect on each cleaning mode.

In the case of BrushSync handles and heads, the intensity will automatically be set for you.

However, you have the ability to change the intensity allows you to find a brushing sensation that is best for you.

Depending on the model, depends on how exactly this is done. There is often a separate intensity button, or the power button is used to change this, once powered on.

Easy-Start

A very neat feature, that appeals to new electric toothbrush users, is the Easy-Start technology that Sonicare builds into brushes.

The Easy-start feature gently increases the power over the first 14 brushings to help you get used to the brushing with the Philips Sonicare toothbrush.

Providing each of the 14 brushing sessions last for at least 1 minute, the brush will properly advance through the Easy-start ramp-up cycle.

At the end of the 14 days, the brush will operate at full intensity, unless you alter this, or switch off the easy-start feature sooner.

Do I need to use special brush heads?

No.

Theoretically, you can use any Sonicare brush head on any of the cleaning modes.

Technically there is nothing stopping you using the Tongue Care+ brush on the Deep Clean mode or a DiamondClean brush head when using the Tongue cleaning mode.

Most brush heads on any mode are going to deliver a good standard of cleaning and be far better than a manual brush or nothing at all!

However, certain brush heads are better suited to certain modes.

For example, the W2 Optimal White brush head will deliver the best results when used on the White/White+ cleaning mode.

Check out our ultimate guide to Sonicare brush heads to learn which heads are best suited to white mode, but the following graphic gives you a quick reference point.

You should be aware that if you are using a Sonicare toothbrush that has BrushSync technology depending on which brush head is fitted, the brush will automatically select the ‘best’ mode unless overridden by you as the user.

Cleaning mode labels

Unlike Oral-B who use a series of icons on their brush handle as labels for their cleaning modes, Sonicare brush handles usually have the name, written in text on the brush handle.

As the mode is selected, it is normally lit up/illuminated by a light within the handle, so it is very clear and easy to see exactly what mode you have switched on.

Which brushes have clean mode?

Which brushes have white/white+ mode?

  • HealthyWhite+
  • FlexCare
  • FlexCare Platinum
  • FlexCare Platinum Connected
  • ProtectiveClean 5100
  • ProtectiveClean 6100
  • DiamondClean
  • DiamondClean Smart

Which brushes have deep clean/deep clean+ mode?

  • FlexCare Platinum
  • FlexCare Platinum Connected
  • ExpertClean
  • DiamondClean
  • DiamondClean Smart

Which brushes have gum health/gum care mode?

  • 5 Series
  • FlexCare
  • FlexCare+
  • ProtectiveClean 5100
  • ProtectiveClean 6100
  • ExpertClean
  • DiamondClean
  • DiamondClean Smart

Which brushes have sensitive mode?

  • FlexCare
  • FlexCare+
  • DiamondClean

Which brushes have tongue care mode?

  • DiamondClean Smart

Which brushes refresh mode?

  • FlexCare+

Which brushes have massage mode?

  • 2 Series
  • FlexCare+

How can I compare the Sonicare electric toothbrushes?

The following Philips Sonicare electric toothbrush comparison chart shows the main brushes available and how they compare.

You can see which brushing modes each toothbrush has as well as checking whether or not it has a two minute timer and pacer.

Click the comparison table below to enlarge.

Your comments

Do you like or make use of particular modes on your Sonicare toothbrush?

Have you got something you want to share with others about the modes and the way they work?

Perhaps you have a question that I have not answered.

Leave a comment or question below.

Jon Love

About Jon Love

Jon is a leading voice on electric toothbrushes and has been quoted by mainstream media publications for his opinions and expertise.

Having handled & tested hundreds of products there really is very little he does not know about them.

Passionate about business and helping others, Jon has been involved in various online enterprises since the early 2000s.

After spending 12 years in consumer technology, it was in 2014 that he focused his attention on dental health, having experienced first-hand the challenge of choosing a new toothbrush.

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Leave a comment or question

4 thoughts on “Philips Sonicare Brushing Modes Explained”

  1. Hi,
    My Sonicare brush (HX8920B) has `clean` and `gum plus` modes written on the front of it.
    I cannot work out how to enable `gum plus` I have looked at manuals online; nothing.

    Reply
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