The mouthwash, Listerine®, was compounded in 1879 from four essential oils. Later, the oils were replaced by one ingredient per oil with approximately 25% ethanol as a vehicle to keep them in solution. From then on, Listerine® was no longer a medicinal plant product. In 2003, a review by the FDA Subcommittee on Oral Health Care Drug Products for Over-the-Counter Human Use concluded that the product is effective and safe, and a review of studies published in the meantime showed that Listerine® fulfils the consensus criteria for an effective antigingivitis/antiplaque product. However, concerns have been raised about the long-term safety of some of the ingredients, particularly the ethanol content, and in the light of these concerns, the evidence has been re-examined for both the efficacy and safety of Listerine®. In summary, the studies support the claim that Listerine® shows benefit for oral health, but the concerns over its safety remain to be clarified. Until these have been addressed, high risk populations (children, alcohol addicts, patients with genetic deficiencies in ethanol metabolism) should use alcohol-free mouthwashes for the maintenance of oral health. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.