The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

April 26, 2010

Plastic-Free Dental Floss? Not Quite.

DenTek plastic floss pick

Cool photo, huh? It’s a plastic DenTek floss pick. I see them all over the streets around here. Our litter bugs have good oral hygiene. Anyway, this one did not come from the gutter.  It is MY plastic floss pick. The Teflon (boo hiss!) tape finally broke last week after many, many uses. No, I wouldn’t buy plastic floss picks myself, but in a moment of desperation, having forgotten my own dental floss, I begged one from a coworker. I’ve kept it in my desk drawer at work and cleaned and reused it over and over again.

Now that it’s broken, I won’t be going out to buy a package of plastic picks with their toxic Teflon floss, even if they can be washed and reused over and over again. And I’m also not going to wash and reuse regular dental floss, as some uber-greenies have suggested. Any floss that’s tough enough to stand up to repeated uses is probably made of some scary material that I don’t want in my mouth anyway.

Here’s a rundown on the choices out there:

2017 UPDATE:  I have an updated post with newer, more plastic-free and zero waste dental floss choices.  Please visit:  https://myplasticfreelife.com/2017/06/searching-for-a-plastic-free-zero-waste-dental-floss/

Eco-Dent dental floss in a cardboard boxEco-DentMy choice, after weighing all the options, is Eco-Dent dental floss. It’s what I’ve been using for the past two years, and I really like it. Unlike any other brand of dental floss I have found, it comes in a recyclable cardboard container. That was the deciding factor for me. While there is a very thin plastic wrapper inside the box and two protective plastic stickers on the outside, the amount of plastic packaging is minimal compared to all other brands.

What’s more, the floss is waxed using 100% vegetable waxes rather than beeswax or petroleum-based wax. The Gentle Floss contains enzymes that help break down food particles between the teeth. The Vegan Floss does not, as those enzymes are grown on a dairy substrate. Either sounds great, right? Well…

The floss itself is made from Nylon. Plastic. But I’ve compared Eco-Dent to other brands of floss, and to me, it’s the best choice currently offered.

Radius: Radius natural dental floss is made from silk. If you’re vegan, forget it.  If you’re not (I’m not), you still have to consider the packaging. The outer cardboard box can fool you. Inside is a regular plastic dental floss container.

Tom’s of Maine: The floss is made from Nylon with a hard plastic container inside the cardboard box.

DenTek Natural Floss Picks: In addition to their plastic floss picks, DenTek has created an “eco” option: individual disposable floss picks made from compostable starch rather than petroleum-based plastic. According to the company, they will break down in 180 days at a commercial compost facility. And the FAQ on the web site includes a link to instructions for building your own compost bin if you don’t have a commercial facility nearby. It seems like a green idea. But when you dig into the reality of it, you find just more greenwashing.

  1. Most commercial facilities process their compost at a much faster rate than 180 days. At Jepson Prairie, the facility that handles San Francisco’s compost, the material is “cooked” for 60 days and then “cured” for 30 days. Would DenTek picks break down in that short of a time?
  2. The floss picks come in a big plastic bag, so there’s really no plastic savings there. The company advertises the bag as recyclable, but unless they are willing to take back that bag and recycle it themselves, it’s not likely to get recycled anywhere.
  3. The floss itself is Nylon, so where is the benefit over regular Nylon dental floss?
  4. The “natural” picks don’t work well. In short, according to reviews on Amazon.com and Drugstore.com, they suck. Users complain that the floss doesn’t slide well and breaks too easily. So the argument can’t even be made for washing and reusing them over and over again like I did with my toxic Teflon pick.
  5. Way more materials and energy go into producing floss picks with their plastic handles (regardless of what the handles are made from) than plain dental floss. Unless there is some reason why you can’t use regular dental floss and must use a pick, I’d recommend skipping these.

Bryton picksBryton Picks: Okay, this option just seems weird. I had to post the picture from the site because I couldn’t even figure out how to accurately describe these things. Bryton picks are not floss. Instead, they are made from flexible stainless steel strips that you slide up and down between each tooth. The handle is made from plastic. On the plus side, the device can be cleaned and reused for up to a month, probably longer. But I simply can’t imagine them actually working in the way that dental floss is supposed to work — below the gum line and around the teeth.

I’ll ask my dentist and get back to you.

Glide and other mainstream flosses: They’re made from Nylon or Teflon (worse), come in plastic containers, usually inside plastic blister packs, and are synthetically waxed. So why even consider them?

One Final Word

I’d love to hear your solutions for greener, less plastic dental hygiene. But I’m not willing to go to extremes to get the plastic out at the expense of my mouth.  Part of my goal with this blog/project is to find out just where my limits are — to learn what I am and am not willing to give up. The changes I make don’t have an expiration date. They have to be sustainable for a lifetime.

And one more word after that.

My dentist founded the Eco Dentistry Association, which supports dentists everywhere in finding greener ways to practice dentistry, from reducing unnecessary disposable plastic to finding less toxic treatments. Refer your dentist to the organization’s web site for more information.

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124 Comments on "Plastic-Free Dental Floss? Not Quite."

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Not having a good option to buy, I’m currently using a DIY floss. I bought a spool of organic cotton thread in the heaviest weight I could find. I pop open the plastic container from store-bought floss and put it on the bobbin winder of my sewing machine. I tried just using a stainless bobbin, but my machine uses a smaller hole than the floss box. Once it’s wound, I put a couple of drops of peppermint essential oil on the spool, which distributes throughout the spool on its own, then I reload it into the emptied plastic container. This… Read more »

I don’t know how far this is interesting. My dad always uses rubber bands to floss. Washes them well after each use and use it up to a week or two. Not as abrasive as thread from spool, they are gentle on your gums.

I just found your, blog in search of an eco-friendly floss minus the plastic and unfortunately I am unable to afford the Eco-Dent, but stumbled on this brand WooBamboo! Eco-Awesome Floss from Bridgeable Silk, waxed natural mint flavor. Have you ever tried or heard of it ? What are your thoughts, also thought of a gum stimulator but they all come wrapped in some plastic .:(

Reading the section of floss made me remember something. When I was young, we never bought floss, I just use regular cotton thread from the spool, I actually felt it scrubbed better, but it was harder to hold and prone to breaking xD.

great to see people still reading this,even in 2017! I’m on the hunt for the ‘best’ ethical, sustainable, eco-friendly floss as well :)

I am also looking for alternatives for dental floss but I couldn’t find a more organic one here in my country (Philippines). But then I discovered this portable water flosser, called Pocket Flosser, in Kickstarter and I think it’s a great alternative! Water flossers works just as good, or even better, than dental floss. It’s basically water pressure pushing food debris (and even plaque) off. What’s great about this is that it doesn’t need any electricity or even batteries so you don’t have to worry about energy. It only requires easy manual hand pump to accumulate pressure then it’s just… Read more »

We have a product here in Australia. 100% biodegradable and vegan, haven’t looked in to it more closely though. Pearl Bars make them :)
http://www.pearlbar.com.au/product/pearlbars-planet-loving-floss-picks-2/

STIMUDENT-Wood, minimal plastic packaging. Unsustainable point of interest: wood grown in USA, made in China.

That’s what I use. But they can’t get further up the tooth. I’ve been unsuccessfully looking for a floss holder made of stainless steel, bamboo etc. instead of plastic. None exist.

You are environmentally conscious about plastics but not vegan? So the environment doesn’t matter if a personal preference of taste (since it is NOT a necessity to eat meat) comes to question?

Your message will reach further when you focus on positive messages about what people are doing to further their journey to help improve life on Earth. Focusing on the negatives helps no one and turns people off.

Plastic does very specific damage to the environment that is not equaled by anything else. There is no such thing as “responsible plastic usage.” Meat eating is damaging to greatly varying degrees, from very little damage to very much. As consumers we can make choices about what kind of meat we buy that greatly minimizes that damage. The same cannot be said of plastics. Also, animals are a very integral part of sustainable agriculture, so going vegan doesn’t actually address the role that animals must play in growing sustainable food.

oh, and as far as toothpaste, this stuff is amazing, except going the wintergreen route is by far the best, b/c it’s got that rootbeerish taste while still being minty, but isn’t so harsh on the tastebuds, so you can actually eat food right after no problem. you can use the recipe below as a starting point, and just look at the photo of the earthpaste container online to see what ingredients are in the wintergreen flavor. it really is the best. the xylitol does come in a plastic bag, but it lasts a long time. or maybe someone knows… Read more »

has anyone ever tried just using cotton sewing thread? i saw someone online mentioning it. i am still using regular dental floss, but thinking maybe i can switch to cotton thread… i bet that it being more abrasive is actually helpful. now i just wonder if i can get it between my teeth without it breaking? hmmm… even if i can’t, and had to use the polyester sewing thread, it’s still a lot less packaging than dental floss. oh, and i am going to switch to using licorice root as my toothbrush!

i have since discovered radius floss. it’s far from perfect, but at least its packaging is recyclable (in theory). the floss itself is silk. works great. there’s a similar floss sold in europe that comes in a metal tin, that’s obv way better for recycling. but i’d have to find a distributor here in the US and i don’t know of any. so, radius for me for now.

Have you considered Stim-u-dent? They are biodegradable wooden picks made from managed US forests and even the packaging is compostable/recyclable. No plastic involved whatsoever :)

Argh! So I just received my order today, and, instead of receiving the refill spools packaged in cardboard boxes that I ordered, I received 200-yard spools in plastic dispensers! >:[ They didn’t even call me before shipping to let me know about the change. Made in China, too, so probably extra toxic. In the future, I will buy POH’s refill spools since POH specifically aims to reduce plastic packaging (so I know they won’t switch things out from under me). Their floss is made in the USA, too.

Dental floss are not good for your gums, they can harm them and They are not necessarily doing a good clean up.I use a device calles “Silonit”, it’s a local product in my country (but I’m sure there is other companies that manufacture such a product). basically it cleans your teeth with the water pressure, “Silonit”=jet. And it is an excellent cleaner and you can see and feel a difference. but .. there is waste of water and it is made out of plastic (although I’m with my Jet years!)

Why can’t floss be made out of cotton?

Shortly after I posted my previous comment, I decided to buy 200-yard spools of unwaxed nylon floss (the kind typically used in dentist offices). It’s nylon floss, but that’s the same as any other floss (unless you buy silk floss) and better than toxic PTFE floss. I buy unwaxed floss, so I don’t need to concern myself over whether it was coated with plant- or petroleum-based waxes. Additionally, each spool is packaged in a cardboard box, and I reason that I am reducing packaging by buying 200-yard spools. It’s cheap, too!

I just discovered POH NoWax floss. It’s a nylon floss that comes in a hard plastic case with a metal screw top. You can buy refill spools though, so you don’t have to worry about discarding plastic/metal cases every time you need to replenish your dental floss. The refill spools are sold in a cardboard box (three 100-yard spools per box). According to The Soap Dispensary’s September 2012 review, each refill spool is wrapped in paper tissue, but I think it’s possible that “paper” could be polypropylene. I am not sure about that or the cylinder around which the floss… Read more »
You can buy or make an essential oil blend that is a very healthy option to replace toothpaste (use oil blend straight on your toothbrush) and mouth rinses (use with a mouthful of water or whatever other liquid you prefer) and to enhance the effectiveness of any floss or toothpicks you are using (just touch the dropper lightly to your finger and rub the floss or pick). If making your own, remember that it is important to store them in either dark brown or (to be super-protective) to use a Violiv purple glass bottle, and a dropper top. If you… Read more »
I make my own toothpaste using bentonite clay, arrowroot powder, coconut oil, and a few drops of peppermint, cinnamon and eucalyptus oil, plus a little birch xylitol. I ignore the recommendations about toothbrushes and use mine until the bristles start to seem broken, dipping it in Everclear to keep it germ free. Lasts about a year. I’d be willing to switch to the recycled plastic one you mention, imho the other options are just a lot of green hype. I don’t bother with mouthwash, and use doubled cotton thread for dental floss. Does come with a plastic spool these days,… Read more »

There are 100% Biodegradable and Vegan toothbrushes readily available on the market, most commonly Bamboo-based! :)

Thanks for a great blog idea. May I suggest a few ideas: Using a miswak (a tree twig-wiki) instead of a toothbrush. Using toothpowder instead of a toothpaste, I suppose since they’re not pre-mixed with water they come in smaller packages with more # of uses. Using Hydrogen Peroxide (mix 1:1 with water) instead of mouth wash. I hear mouth washes can harm the digestive and immune systems by killing too many good bacteria and H2O2 is supposed to be healthier (I haven’t actually verified this rumor). And about dental floss I’m in the search myself, but did you know… Read more »

It’s not hard to make your own toothpaste. If baking soda is too harsh you can use bentinite clay or salt instead or just leave it out all together. I’m using a mixture of calcium carbonate, coconut oil, baking soda, and essential oils. It’s cheap to make and so far been very effective for me.

Right now, I’m using baking soda with added essential oils: peppermint, tea tree, cinnamon, and clove. After brushing, I mix some with water to rinse and gargle. It’s great.

As usually very good information i used to use A. Vogel Herbal Mouth Wash besides being in a glass container it was great mouthwash but the last time i check it is no longer available so will check out https://www.dentalherb.com/. i have used Eco-Dent floss for years and love it. But i had avoided bamboo toothbrushes because of the boar bristles. i am sure you are very busy but hope you will update this blog to promote the great work of Brush With Bamboo as other vegans might be more open if they saw an alternative without boar bristles (i… Read more »

Hi. Sorry… I know this comment is a few months old, but I just discovered it in my spam folder. Anyway, I wanted to let you know that since this post was published, I did review Brush with Bamboo. Here is the review: https://myplasticfreelife.com/2013/08/brush-with-bamboo-is-my-new-favorite-toothbrush/

As far as mouthwash goes, I use coconut oil once a day, swishing for roughly 5 or 10 minutes and have noticed a definite improvement in my teeth since I started. Coconut oil is known for having great antibacterial and antifungal properties.

This may not be as effective, but one alternative I’m used to floss is Stim-U-Dent plaque removers. They are small wooden flexible sticks.
https://www.walgreens.com/store/c/stim-u-dent-plaque-removers-mint/ID=prod6015932-product#descriptionNamedTab

So, I”ve read that the fluoride and the glycerine in many toothpastes actually prevent a tooth from remineralizing; and some who used nice, healthy oils in their homemade tooth cleaners found better tooth healing after leaving them out. And easy does it on the baking soda, per some, as you don’t need to scrape off any more enamel. Google Dr. Judd or Dr. Phillips on “blotting technique” and “good teeth from birth to death.” Fascinating. Saliva and a tiny touch of essential oil may be all that is needed on a daily basis, with weekly or monthly baking soda polishing.

Plastic-Free Ericka Moderator

Interesting, thanks for sharing!

Thanks for the post..It is really great. There are also non-toothpaste brushes called ionic brushes that use
titanium dioxide to kill bacteria around it. Kind of amazing if they
work like the tests show. anyone could tell me about

Here’s a study comparing sonic toothbrushes and ionic toothbrushes. These researchers found the differences to be insignificant.

As for floss, possibly consider something like the sonicare airfloss? it’s expensive and plastic, but you’d be able to use to for a long while

Hi there, I am from Germany and have found a plastic-free dental floss in an online shop that also ships internationally. It is rather pricey in that particular shop but there are others that sell it cheaper, at least here in Europe. Maybe there are shops like in the US as well who carry that brand. It’s called “Le Negri” dental floss. It is natural finish and comes in a metal tin.
I am not sure if I can post links here but if so this is what it looks like: https://www.manufactum.com/dental-floss-p1402108/

Hi. Do you know what the actual floss is made of? The page does not say if it is Nylon or cotton or some other material.

Hey Beth, it is made from pure silk.

Please update on the Bryton Pick. I’m looking into getting them since my boyfriend uses those ‘hard to reach angle’ floss picks 10+ times a day. Please review them, or at least let us know if your dentist thinks they’ll work like floss. Thanks!

Hi, Allison… sorry I forgot to check with my dentist. But I’m guessing that different dentists might have different opinions. Want to check with yours too and see what they say?

Hello. I found this post while searching for some way to cut down on the huge amount of plastic floss casings I use that I seem to drown in sometimes. It’s sad that there aren’t that many options out there…barely anyone who doesn’t use them. Thank you for making such a comprehensive post and helping out my search.

Is there a problem with beeswax? I was planning on making some beeswax coated cotton sheets to use instead of plastic wrap this weekend

Beeswax is not vegan, that’s all. I personally use beeswax, but other people do not.

Instead of using the plastic throw away floss pics I find that using a re-usable floss holder is a great solution. Their are a few of them on the market, but I find the E-Z Floss brand to work well for me. It’s small enough so easy to travel with but I can still get to the back of my teeth. It doesn’t solve the “floss problem”, but it can be used with any kind of floss. I have a friend who recommended this one who claims that he has been using it daily for more than 10 years. To… Read more »

I am also considering green dental floss, and am going to experiment with sinew/cured animal tendons.

I was trying the baking soda toothpaste recipes and they didnt work for me as well – too hard on my teeth and taste is bad. I ended up making the toothpaste out of white clay powder – it is much softer and healthier basis. I just add tea tree and mint essensial oils for desinfection and smell/taste. Thanks for the floss review!

Hi, I have been searching forever to find a good natural or reusable floss. I love the idea of harvesting floss from Agave plant. The leaves can be stripped to make strings that are stringer than dental floss and totally natural, if someone marketed this it would be amazing, I would buy a pack every month. Video of someone flossing with Agave strings https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmT3LTQ6Q88 Also Miswak sticks from the neem or peelu tree are a time tested natural way to clean your teeth, I wishIi could find some that are not individually wrapped in plastic. Also check out these brushes..they… Read more »

My solution to the the dental floss problem is to reuse. But, my husband refuses to do so. We find dental floss at church rummage sales at the end, when it’s fill a sack for $1. By that point, if the floss hasn’t been purchased by someone else, it would likely be pitched anyway. When the floss is finished, we pull off the metal cutter and recycle it, and recycle the plastic case. We haven’t had to buy floss from the store or take samples from the dentist in many years.

I have a nail brush with bristles apparently made from cactus thorns. The bristles are surprisingly soft, and really gentle on my sensitive skin.
If they can use them for nail brushes, surely they would work for toothbrushes too…

Anyway, you should consider making your own toothpaste. There are recipes online!

Hi Jay. That’s really interesting about the cactus brush.

Since writing this post, I have written another one about various toothpaste alternatives here: https://myplasticfreelife.com/2011/08/searching-for-the-perfect-all-natural-plastic-free-toothpaste-or-powder-or-soap-or/

I use the “Environmental Toothbrush” ….made from bamboo and polymer, which they claim is totally biodegradable. They come wrapped in paper in cardboard boxes. I stopped using any toothpaste and haven’t noticed a difference in whiteness. For a mouthwash, tea made from fresh thyme leaves is ok (and not as awful tasting as I thought it might be).

My dentist here in France laughed at me when I mentioned using floss everyday, saying that that is so American. Flossing is not common in France! My dentist doesn’t use floss himself. There are just some practices that we, Americans, have gotten so used to, we don’t even question them anymore. Same goes for mouth wash; if you want to use one, make your own with some water and a few drops of tea tree essential oil (or another antiseptic essential oil like lavender).

How do you buy the dental herb tonic? is it possible to do so without a dentist? it’s just mouthwash, right?

I was also skeptical about using the Butler gum stimulator in place of dental floss, as recommended by the Zero Waste Home. In the hopes of reducing waste, though, I decided to give it a try. After six months, and a follow-up visit to the dentist’s office, I have to say that it really does work. My dentist even marveled that my gums were healthier this time around. There’s a trick to using the stimulator tool correctly as a floss substitute: you have to remember to guide the rubber tip around the entire gumline (front and back of each tooth),… Read more »

I don’t think the rubber doodad mounted on a holder is for flossing – I think it’s for stimulating the gums. I love that thing with a passion, but still need to floss.

Damn those bad tooth genes!!

Check out the zero waste home bathroom. She had plastic free alternatives. Also read the comments someone talks about a compostable toothbrush.

Why not just use a heavier thread for dental floss. You can buy it at a sewing store on a wooden bolt.

My husband and I have been using Tooth Soap for years, and just recently we tried the (more accurately named) Tooth Shreds (from Rose of Sharon). Tooth Soap comes in reusable brown glass jars with plastic lids. Tooth Shreds comes in metal tins. Both are bits of soap, already shredded. You take out one shred and bite it, then scrub it with your toothbrush until it foams up. Because they’re already shredded, there’s little or no hygiene problem. Using soap is a different experience from using toothpaste, but it’s one I’ve come to prefer. I don’t mind the slight soapy… Read more »

Floss is something i use regularly but completely overlooked in my weekly challenge total.
thanks for the less plastic ideas, although i will use up what i already have first.
i have tried Tom’s toothpaste (and originally picked it for it’s non-plastic tube) but my husband complained about the taste.
We are currently using Jason Sea Fresh, but will probably switch back when it’s gone.

yea, but what about the plastic box that the preserve toothbrush comes in….seems like a big bummer and waste….is it recycled also, is it recyclable?

i struggle with this one myself as a person striving towards a plastic free life.

and i do pretty well.

toothbrushes are hard, i think, if only i could grow neem then i could do like they do in india and simply use a twig to brush my teeth…no waste.

I make my own toothpaste and keep it in a glass jar with a metal lid…..at first it took a while to get used to the flavor(because of the baking soda) but after just a couple of weeks I was in a situation where I had to use regular toothpaste and you know what?….it was disgusting. I found that I could hardly stand the taste of regular toothpaste because it tasted too sweet to me. I love my toothpaste, it’s plastic free, doesn’t have any odd or ingredients, fast and easy to make, and cheaper in the long run too!!… Read more »
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