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10 things you might not know about LISTERINE®

Here’s everything you need to know about the incredible history of the #1 dentist-recommended mouthwash brand.

Listerine foursome

How much do you know about the fabled history of LISTERINE®? It might be time for… a refresher. There are more than 100 years of pioneering science behind the #1 dentist-recommended mouthwash brand.

From insights into LISTERINE®’s formula to a deep dive into how the antiseptic mouthwash got its name, here’s everything you need to know about the incredible history of LISTERINE®.

1. The man behind the name LISTERINE®

Portrait of Sir Joseph Lister

What’s in a name? When it comes to LISTERINE®, plenty.

The antiseptic mouthwash is named after Sir Joseph Lister, a British doctor and surgeon who broke serious scientific ground back in 1865.

Inspired by the theories of French chemist Louis Pasteur — theories that suggested infections were caused by invisible germs — Sir Lister became the first surgeon to perform an operation in a chamber sterilized by pulverized antiseptic.

As you can imagine, this was a literal lifesaver in the 19th century: His successful experiment led to a gigantic drop in mortality rates among patients, hence why he’s considered the “father of modern surgery.”

So yeah, Dr. Joseph Lister was kind of a big deal … but why was a popular mouthwash named after him?

2. LISTERINE® history goes back more than 130 years

Fast-forward to 1879, when a St. Louis-based doctor named Joseph Lawrence created a unique formula that worked as both an antiseptic liquid and a disinfectant with germicidal properties. He named his formula LISTERINE® to pay homage to Dr. Joseph Lister.

Lawrence bought the ingredients for LISTERINE® from Jordan Wheat Lambert, a local pharmacist. Lambert subsequently licensed the formula from Lawrence, forming the Lambert Pharmacal Company as a result.

Lambert knew he had something special on his hands, though, it didn’t quite catch on with the general public. At least, not at first.

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3. LISTERINE® had a bit of an identity crisis

Jordan Wheat Lambert clearly had an important formula on his hands… but what exactly was it supposed to be used for?

Although Dr. Joseph Lawrence had created a surgical disinfectant with germicidal properties — a disinfectant that was neither harsh nor irritating— the ultimate purpose of his formula wasn’t immediately clear, to him or anyone else for that matter.

Lawrence believed his product would be beneficial to doctors, who could use the antiseptic to improve public health. That’s one reason LISTERINE® proudly touted its ingredients on the label. While that sounds like business as usual today, it was a game changer at the time: According to a November 1952 issue of Modern Packaging magazine, LISTERINE® was one of the first products to prominently display a list of ingredients on the packaging, if not the first.

By 1895, Jordan Wheat Lambert was marketing LISTERINE® to dentists as an oral antiseptic.


4. LISTERINE® and the history of “halitosis”

There’s a common misconception that halitosis, aka the condition of having bad breath, was “invented by LISTERINE®,” but that’s not true; the first use of the word appears in an obscure 1874 tome by physician Joseph William Howe titled The Breath, and the Diseases Which Give It a Fetid Odor.

Interestingly, it was Jordan Lambert’s two sons who were responsible for plucking the word out of obscurity and thrusting it into the mainstream, turning LISTERINE® into a massively popular product in the process. They requested that the chemist at Lambert Pharmacal Company list every possible use for LISTERINE®, which they scoured for the best marketing angle.

One benefit included the ability to eliminate “halitosis,” a word the Lambert brothers began to use in marketing materials, likely because it sounded legitimately scientific and faintly terrifying — a societal scourge that could be remedied by LISTERINE®.

Needless to say, no one has ever been jazzed about the idea of having bad breath, so this advertising strategy proved incredibly successful. A 1928 ad, indelicately graced with the slogan “Halitosis Makes You Unpopular,” isn’t particularly subtle, but it gets the job done:

“No matter how charming you may be or how fond of you your friends are, you cannot expect them to put up with halitosis (unpleasant breath) forever. They may be nice to you – but it is an effort.”


5. LISTERINE® ads were truly next level

Over the years, LISTERINE® has rolled out more than a few memorable advertisements.

As Bustle reports: “By positioning itself as a beauty tool that a woman couldn’t afford to risk skipping, LISTERINE® sales boomed. It rose from around $100,000 in 1921 to over $4 million in 1927...”

Over the years, advertising for LISTERINE® even found its sense of humor. One particularly memorable campaign featured a bottle of LISTERINE® beside a gargoyle statue on top of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. The caption? “Gargoyle with LISTERINE®.”

In a more recent campaign from 2021, LISTERINE® invites consumers to “Feel the Whoa!” so they can fully enjoy “the intensity, the joy and the clean.” The campaign is all part of the brand’s ongoing effort to reach consumers and remind them that the product goes beyond fresh breath to leave you with cleaner and healthier mouth, which is essential to your overall health.

No argument there.

6. Plastic bottles were only introduced in 1994

LISTERINE® was sold in embossed glass bottles for almost the entire life of the product. And while the early cork stoppers were eventually replaced by a more contemporary screw-on cap, the packaging really didn’t change too much until 1994, when plastic bottles were introduced.

7. LISTERINE®’S formula has stood the test of time

Listerine bottle evolution

LISTERINE®’s formula revolves around four essential oils that provide powerful protection against plaque and the germs that cause bad breath:

  • Eucalyptol: Derived from trees usually found in Australia, this essential oil acts an antibacterial agent.
  • Menthol: Identical to menthol found in natural corn mint, this essential oil is known for its germ-killing properties.
  • Methyl salicylate: Identical to the methyl salicylate in natural wintergreen, this essential oil is also often found in chewing gum due to its refreshing flavor.
  • Thymol: Identical to the thymol in natural thyme and ajowan herb, research continues to demonstrate this essential oil’s effectiveness in fighting bacteria.

This unique formulation of four essential oils penetrates plaque biofilm, killing germs in almost 100% of the mouth.

The most interesting part? According to Michael C. Lynch, DMD, PhD, Director, Fellow, Global Scientific Engagement—Oral Health at Kenvue:

“The four essential oils have been at the same relative levels since Listerine was first formulated. … That combination has basically remained unchanged since it was first created over a century ago, which, personally, I think is absolutely fascinating.”

8. New data about LISTERINE® and plaque reduction

While flossing plays a role in removing plaque and food particles and reaching below the gumline, new clinical studies show that regular use of LISTERINE® Antiseptic offers patients five times more sustained plaque reduction above the gumline between dental hygiene visits than brushing and flossing alone.1

Following more than 350 subjects with various levels of gingivitis, these long-term studies were supervised by a dental professional at an external clinical research facility. The breakthrough results demonstrated that adding LISTERINE® Antiseptic to your daily oral care routine offered significant reductions in interdental and whole mouth plaque.

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9. Supporting diversity in dentistry

LISTERINE® is committed to closing the oral health equity gap by supporting communities most in need through greater education, access and advocacy in oral care.

Studies show that more than 12% of the nation’s population is Black; however, less than 4% of dentists identify as Black. There is also major disparity in oral health care access, with a reported 40% of Black adults in the U.S. living with untreated dental cavities.

LISTERINE® has partnered with cultural agency Compound to work with prominent Black artists and engaged culture curators to develop a limited-edition bottle design, an original musical track, digital and social content and endowment. A portion of the proceeds from The Whoa Collection will be donated to the Increasing Diversity in Dentistry pipeline program (IDID), a nonprofit organization that provides a solution to the racial disparity in the dental workforce by cultivating, nurturing and mentoring underrepresented minority pre-dental and dental students.

By improving Black representation and increasing this percentage of practicing Black dentists, LISTERINE® hopes to positively impact the understanding, behaviors and access around oral healthcare.

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In 2023, LISTERINE® has more than 100 years of experience in pioneering science and high-quality ingredients, providing an invigorating and effective product that kills 99.9% of germs that cause bad breath, plaque and gingivitis. The brand’s fluoride mouthwash helps maintain your oral health with proven efficacy and clinical science for superior health outcomes.

As the #1 global mouthwash brand® and the #1 dentist recommended mouthwash in the U.S., LISTERINE® continues to expand its offerings, each of which has found a permanent place in millions of bathrooms and medicine cabinets around the world. From gum therapy to tartar control to total care, there’s a LISTERINE® that’s right for everyone.

Today, LISTERINE® isn’t a step you can afford to skip in your oral care routine — whether you’re starting the day or winding down before bedtime. Here’s to another 100 years of protecting teeth, promoting healthy daily routines and improving oral health.

1. compared to a 500 mL Bottle2. *Sustained plaque reduction after a dental cleaning. Rinse is not intended to replace brushing or flossing. Use product only as directed.