Whitening Pens vs. Whitening Strips: Which Works Better? - Smile Prep (2024)

Whitening Pens vs. Whitening Strips: Which Works Better? - Smile Prep (1)

Choosing to pursue a brighter smile is easy, especially with all the products that let you do it from the comfort of home. Selecting the best whitening treatment for you? That’s a lot harder. Whitening pens and whitening strips are two of the more popular choices, and while they can deliver similar results, they’re incredibly different products.

This guide will compare whitening pens and whitening strips, and, by the end, you’ll have all the information to decide which is ideal for you.

Table of Contents

Whitening Pens vs. Whitening Strips: Treatment Overviews

A whitening pen is a tube of whitening gel with a brush tip. The gel comes in different strengths, and some options are peroxide-free to eliminate tooth sensitivity. You paint the gel onto each tooth and wait 60 seconds for it to dry before closing your mouth. After the recommended treatment time, some brands ask you to rinse your mouth or brush your teeth with water — no toothpaste — while other gels dissolve after a specified time.

Strips have been around for over 20 years and come in various strengths. You can find peroxide-free formulas like whitening pens if sensitivity is a concern. The whitening agent is pre-applied to the strip, so all you need to do is remove the backing and, starting at the center, press the strip onto your teeth, making sure it touches as much tooth surface as possible. Once your treatment is complete, simply remove the strips and throw them away. Most brands recommend rinsing your mouth with water to remove any remaining whitener.

Pens and strips are affordable, easy to use, and widely available online and in most drugstores. After you finish each whitening session, it’s best to wait to eat or drink for at least an hour because your teeth are more susceptible to staining after a whitening treatment.

Effectiveness Comparison

The first question you should ask when evaluating any whitening treatment is: does it actually work? Both whitening pens and strips can be an effective way to whiten your teeth, but each has its drawbacks, and neither will get your teeth as white as an in-office treatment. That said, a few brands are using stronger gels combined with LED lights to whiten teeth up to nine shades when used twice daily. Keeping your expectations realistic will help gauge the effectiveness of each method.

Whitening Pens


Whitening Strips

  • Usually whitens about three shades.
  • Some use LED lights to boost effectiveness.
  • A lot of room for error.
  • Usually whitens 5–7 shades.
  • Some use LED lights to boost effectiveness.
  • Less effective if you have crooked or misaligned teeth.

What Can It Treat?

After a professional whitening session, whitening pens and strips are good for removing surface stains and touching up. You can also use whitening strips as your primary form of whitening, but pens are less effective for this. If used exactly as the directions suggest, both can whiten your teeth several shades.

Whitening strips aren’t effective for people with crooked teeth. The strips must contact your teeth surfaces to work, and if your teeth are crooked or misaligned, the strip won’t touch certain portions of the tooth, causing uneven whitening.

Pens can reach tighter spaces but have a lot of room for error. If you don’t make sure each tooth is dry before you apply the gel, or if you don’t wait until the gel has dried before closing your mouth, it will just wash away.

How White Will My Teeth Get?

Pens aren’t usually as effective as other methods because there’s nothing to hold the whitening agent to your tooth. These results take a few weeks and you need to touch them up at least once a month.

Strips can whiten teeth 5–7 shades on average. Depending on the brand, you may need to wear strips twice a day, and results usually take 1–2 weeks.

Certain brands of pens and strips use an LED light, which increases effectiveness by breaking down the whitening agent and speeding up the chemical reaction that whitens teeth.

Affordability Comparison

Whitening strips and whitening pens are two of the least expensive options for at-home whitening. While the price can vary depending on where you buy them and the number of pens/strips included in each box, pens are often slightly cheaper, but both are affordable options.

  • Prices usually range from $8 to $30.
  • Approx. 15 applications per pen.
  • Not covered by insurance.
  • Third-party financing might be available through some online retailers.
  • Prices usually range from $20 to $50.
  • Number of strips vary in each box.
  • Not covered by insurance.
  • Third-party financing might be available through some online retailers.

How Much Does It Cost?

Most whitening pens cost between $8 and $30. Strips average $20–50 per box, depending on the number included, so both methods are fairly comparable in price, although pens can be the cheapest option. Be sure to break the cost down per treatment to get a clear picture of the value. An LED lamp adds $20 or more to the price, but it’s often worth it since it can boost the whitening gel’s effectiveness.

Will Insurance Cover It?

No, whitening pens and strips are over-the-counter cosmetic products and not covered by insurance. In some cases, you might be able to use FSA or HSA funds to cover the cost but you need to contact your account administrator to find out what their rules are.

Is Financing Available?

Some online retailers may offer third-party financing or allow you to divide the cost into a few equal payments. You probably won’t be able to make payments if you buy them through a retail store.

Quality of Ingredients

The quality of ingredients can vary between products, so be sure to choose a reputable company. If you have any questions about an ingredient, you can call your local dentist and ask if it’s safe.

Since many high-quality ingredients cost more, you may not want to choose the least expensive option. Less expensive choices might include more fillers and fewer active whiteners, which means it could take a lot longer to see results.

Whitening Pens


Whitening Strips

  • Hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide may cause sensitivity.
  • PAP is less likely to cause sensitivity.
  • Can contain alcohol.
  • Contains additional flavoring.
  • May also contain PVP.
  • Uses preservatives to prolong shelf life.
  • Hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide may cause sensitivity.
  • PAP is less likely to cause sensitivity.
  • Uses glycerin as a thickener.
  • Contain additional flavoring.
  • May also contain PVP.
  • Uses preservatives to prolong shelf life.

Most whitening pens and strips use carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide as the active whitening agent. They’ve been around for decades and are considered safe for teeth whitening, when used properly. For some users, gum irritation or teeth sensitivity can be a problem, but switching to a lower concentration or using the product less time each session may help.

If sensitivity is a concern, try using a product with PAP, or phthalimido peroxy caproic acid, which is supposed to whiten your teeth without causing gum irritation or sensitivity. Another common ingredient in most whitening products is PVP, or polyvinylpyrrolidone, which helps prevent new stains from adhering to teeth.

Other ingredients in both products include flavoring agents, thickeners to help the product stay on your teeth, alcohol, and some preservatives to lengthen shelf life — although these vary from brand to brand. Some websites list their products’ ingredients on their websites, while others simply say their ingredient list is a proprietary formula.

Convenience Comparison

For you, convenience might mean the ability to whiten from the comfort of your own home. For others, it might mean being able to whiten your teeth discreetly during the kids’ soccer practice. Or, maybe you want to see results fast. Whatever your definition, both pens and strips have something to offer.

Whitening Pens


Whitening Strips

  • Gel usually sits on your teeth until you close your mouth and the saliva washes it away, but some brands allow for overnight wear.
  • You can whiten twice a day to boost results if the instructions allow for it.
  • Gel either dissolves or gets washed away with water or saliva.
  • May cause tooth or gum sensitivity.
  • You’ll wear the strips for 15–30 minutes each day, depending on the brand, and whether there’s an LED lamp.
  • Some brands suggest wearing strips twice a day for optimal results.
  • Strips are disposable. You’ll rinse or brush away any remaining whitener with water.

Treatment Time

Treatment time varies based on the severity of your stains. Whitening pens tend to take longer because the gel is often less concentrated, and if you don’t apply it just right, it might wash off before it can lift the stains away.

Using a whitening pen without a light can take 60 seconds, but those that use LED lights can take 30–60 minutes. Full results can take up to several weeks, even if you whiten twice a day. Most brands recommend a monthly touch-up treatment to maintain results.

Depending on the strength of the gel, you’ll usually wear whitening strips for 15–30 minutes each session. Full results usually take about 14 days, but you could notice whiter teeth in just a few days.


Both methods offer pretty simple clean-up. If you’re using a pen, the gel usually dissolves over time, and since you apply the gel directly to each tooth, there’s no equipment to clean up. A few brands have you brush your teeth with water to remove the hardened gel.

Whitening strips are disposable, so just toss them when you’re done. Follow the package directions to see if you should rinse your mouth or brush your teeth with water only. If you’re using an LED lamp with either method, you’ll have to rinse it with water and dry it before you put it away.

Comfort Comparison

Whitening Pens


Whitening Strips

  • Dried film feels natural, not bulky.
  • Whitening gel typically won’t affect your speech.
  • Overuse can cause sensitivity.
  • May feel odd at first, but most people adjust quickly.
  • Can affect your speech until you get used to them.
  • Leaving the strips on too long can cause sensitivity.

Whitening pens and strips may make your teeth or gums sensitive if you are sensitive to peroxide (hydrogen or carbamide) or if you use a strong concentration for longer than recommended.

If you use whitening pens, once the gel dries on your teeth, you can go about business as usual. During the first few tries, you may notice your teeth feel a little thicker if you apply a heavier layer of gel, but once you know how much product to apply, the gel should be barely noticeable.

Strips may feel slightly odd at first, but it doesn’t take long to get used to them. The strip should lay flat across each tooth surface without any rough spots or plastic poking the inside of your cheeks or lips.

Which Should You Choose?

Whitening pens and strips are both affordable over-the-counter methods for brightening your smile.

When deciding which method to try, there are a few key factors to keep in mind. Are your teeth relatively straight, or are they crooked and misaligned? Do you want quick results or discreet whitening? Are you touching up after professional whitening?

Pens have the convenience of being portable for quick whitening sessions but aren’t as effective as whitening strips. Whitening strips combined with an LED light can give you near-professional results, but they’re slightly more expensive and create waste, making them less eco-friendly.

Who Should Choose Whitening Pens?

Whitening pens are best for people who want to touch up their smile between professional whitening sessions or who want to whiten their teeth on the go. They are also ideal if you have crooked teeth since you can apply the gel exactly where you need it. However, nothing holds the gel to your tooth, so your saliva is more likely to dissolve it before you reap the full benefit.

Who Should Choose Whitening Strips?

Whitening strips are great for people who want a more powerful at-home treatment and have relatively straight teeth. Strips need to contact your tooth surfaces to be effective, and for people with crooked teeth, it could be hard to adhere them to every surface.

Compare The Best Whitening Pens
Compare The Best Whitening Strips

Frequently Asked Questions

How much do whitening pens or strips cost?

Most pens cost $8–$30, while strips cost around $20–$50, but prices can fluctuate depending on the features and strength of the whitening agent.

Are whitening pens and strips effective?

Yes! You might not see professional-level results, but both methods effectively whiten teeth at least a few shades, if not more.

Will my teeth get sensitive?

They might. If you use a peroxide-based whitener, the chances are greater than if you use a non-peroxide product. Also, if you use a stronger whitening agent or leave the product on for too long, you may also develop sensitive teeth or gums.

What’s in whitening pens and whitening strips?

The active ingredient is usually either hydrogen peroxide, carbamide peroxide, or PAP. Other ingredients vary by brand, but most include alcohol, flavor, and thickeners that help the gel stick to your teeth.

How convenient are whitening pens and whitening strips?

Both options are very convenient! You can take them with you to whiten on the go and they are discreet enough to use if you’re stuck in traffic or running errands.

Can I trust the quality of ingredients in whitening pens and strips?

As long as you choose a company that has a good reputation and positive reviews, you should be able to trust the safety of their ingredients. If you have any questions, reach out to your dentist’s office.

How comfortable are they?

Both whitening pens and strips are very comfortable. The whitening gel is barely noticeable when you use a whitening pen, and while strips might feel a little bulky at first, you’ll quickly get used to them.

How long will it take to see results?

Depending on your chosen method and the strength of the active ingredient, you should see initial results from both whitening pens and strips within a week, but full results may take 14 days.

How can I boost my at-home whitening results?

If you want to boost your chosen method’s effectiveness, try using a brand that uses an LED light, which helps to reduce your treatment time and increase effectiveness.

Does insurance cover whitening pens and strips?

No. Teeth whitening is a cosmetic procedure and not covered by insurance, even if you buy your product from a dental office.

Whitening Pens vs. Whitening Strips: Which Works Better? - Smile Prep (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Chrissy Homenick

Last Updated:

Views: 6377

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (54 voted)

Reviews: 93% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Chrissy Homenick

Birthday: 2001-10-22

Address: 611 Kuhn Oval, Feltonbury, NY 02783-3818

Phone: +96619177651654

Job: Mining Representative

Hobby: amateur radio, Sculling, Knife making, Gardening, Watching movies, Gunsmithing, Video gaming

Introduction: My name is Chrissy Homenick, I am a tender, funny, determined, tender, glorious, fancy, enthusiastic person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.