The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

May 16, 2011

Eco-Friendly Toothbrush Review

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08/24/2013 Update: My new favorite bamboo toothbrush is called Brush with Bamboo.  Read the full review here.  It wasn’t around back when I wrote this post.

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What toothbrush would you choose? Recycled plastic in returnable packaging or natural wood packaged in plastic? Nylon bristles or natural pig hair? Or how about a stick that you chew on? I’ve been researching toothbrush alternatives and found that they all have pros and cons. How you brush your teeth will depend on your environmental and ethical priorities, I think. There’s no perfect answer. Which would you choose?

Preserve Recycled/Recyclable Toothbrush

Preserve recycled toothbrushMaterials: 100% post-consumer recycled polypropylene #5 plastic and Nylon bristles. Recycled plastic wrapper which doubles as a prepaid mailer.

Origin: Made in the United States.

Why it’s good: I don’t use the word “recyclable” lightly. If a company claims its product can be recycled but doesn’t provide an actual way to recycle it, then I don’t consider it recyclable at all. Preserve DOES provide a way to return its plastic products for recycling (some would say “downcycling) so I give them props for practicing extended producer responsibility.

Preserve toothbrushes are made from recycled yogurt containers and other post-consumer #5 polypropylene plastic that is returned to them through their Gimme5 program. You can bring your used #5 plastics (all Preserve products, other #5 containers, medicine bottles, Brita filters, Tom’s deodorant containers, etc.) to participating Whole Foods stores or mail them back to Preserve. The toothbrush wrapper doubles as a prepaid mailer. When you’re done with your toothbrush, just stick it in the mail. The mailer will be recycled along with the toothbrush. Personally, though, I prefer to save them up and take them to Whole Foods to avoid the extra fuel to ship individual toothbrushes. But I appreciate Preserve’s efforts to make recycling easy for customers.

Less Than Perfect: Keep in mind, though, that Preserve’s recycling program does not actually close the recycling loop. Toothbrushes are recycled into plastic lumber, which does nothing to decrease the demand for virgin plastic to create those yogurt containers, Brita filters, and other packaging, but it does decrease the demand for virgin plastic toothbrushes and slows down the plastic’s journey to the landfill.

Also? This toothbrush is made from plastic. It you don’t want to put plastic anywhere near your mouth, this is not the toothbrush for you.

How it Works: I have been using these toothbrushes since 2007. I like the bent handle and soft bristles.

Environmental Toothbrush

Environmental toothbrushMaterials: Bamboo handle, Nylon bristles, cardboard box, polypropylene inner wrapper.

Origin: Made in Australia. (Correction: Designed in Australia/Made in China.)

Why It’s Good: Most of the Environmental toothbrush and packaging are plastic-free and compostable. And the company cites an article in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, which states that Nylon 4 — the material from which the bristles happen to be made — is also biodegradable in soil:

9.2. Nylon 4
It has been reported that nylon 4 was degraded in the soil [88] and in the activated sludge [89]. The results confirmed that Nylon 4 is readily degradable in the environment. Furthermore, the biodegradability of nylon 4 and nylon 6 blends was investigated in compost and activated sludge. The nylon 4 in the blend was completely degraded in 4 months while nylon 6 was not degraded [90]. Recently, Yamano et al. was able to isolate polyamide 4 degrading microorganisms (ND-10 and ND-11) from activated sludge. The strains were identified as Pseudomonas sp. The supernatant from the culture broth of strain ND-11 degraded completely the emulsified nylon 4 in 24 h and produced γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) as degradation product [91].

Less Than Perfect: The inner white sleeve around the toothbrush is actually made from nonwoven polypropylene plastic, not paper. After receiving a shipment of the toothbrushes for the giveaway, I was curious about the shiny coating inside the wrappers and emailed the company to find out what it was. James Wilson, the company’s International Sales Manager wrote to find out, and that’s when we both discovered that the wrapper is made with plastic. According to the company:

This is as green as we could make the packaging and still pass all health restrictions when packaging a toothbrush.

How it Works: The bristles are a little harder than the Preserve bristles that I’m used to, so I have just been learning not to brush as hard. And I had to get used to the shorter handle. But it’s a basic toothbrush. It works fine.

Life Without Plastic’s Plastic-free Wooden Toothbrush

Plastic-free Wooden ToothbrushMaterials: Sustainably-harvested beechwood handle preserved with vegetable oil, natural bristles made from pig hair, small cellophane wrapper around the head of the toothbrush (cellophane is made from trees.)

Origin: Made in Germany. Pig hair imported from China.

Why it’s Good: The Life Without Plastic toothbrush is the only completely plastic-free toothbrush I have found. If your priority is to completely avoid plastic, this could be the toothbrush for you. And I love that the manufacturer uses such a small amount of packaging.

Less than Perfect: The bristles come from long-haired pigs that are raised for food. If you are vegetarian or vegan, this is not a toothbrush for you. But if you eat meat and see value in using part of the animal that would have gone to waste, this toothbrush might be your best bet. By the way, Jay from Life Without Plastic says they will continue to look for a natural AND vegetarian option.

How it Works: Honestly? I don’t know. I am a vegetarian and don’t want to try it. But if you try it, let us know how it works out for you.

Other Toothbrush Options

The three toothbrushes reviewed above are the only ones I seriously considered for this post. But there are other options that contain varying degrees of plastic, so I thought I would mention them.

Radius Source toothbrush: The durable toothbrush handle is made from recycled materials (flax, wood, or dollar bills.) But the disposable toothbrush head is made from plastic and is not taken back for recycling. What’s more, the toothbrush comes in a plastic blister pack.

Swissco wooden toothbrush with natural bristles: The toothbrush itself is plastic-free (although not vegetarian) but it comes in a hard plastic case.

Acca Kappa toothbrush with natural bristles: The Acca Kappa handle is made from cellulose acetate, which is produced from wood and cotton byproducts. The bristles are not vegetarian. And sadly, the toothbrush comes in a plastic container.

Neem Chew Sticks

And now, for a completely different alternative, I’m considering skipping the toothbrush altogether and chewing on sticks.

In researching toothbrush options for this post, I discovered something called Miswak sewak, used in the Arab world for natural toothbrushing. You peel off the bark at the tip and then chew the end to separate the fibers. Then you use the fibers to brush your teeth, and when they wear out, you cut off the tip and work your way down the stick. I thought it sounded like a neat idea, except all the miswak sticks come sealed in plastic.

Then Jay mentioned they are similar to Neem sticks which have been used for centuries in India. And today, I discovered a company called Neem Tree Farms in the United States, which ships Neem Sticks fresh the same day they are harvested. I was assured they can be shipped without plastic packaging (in fact, the web site recommends not storing them in plastic), so I ordered a batch today to try.

Neem chew sticks toothbrush

Neem Tree Farms has farms in Florida and Mexico.  The company also sells seedlings so you can grow your own, but I have to see how I feel about the sticks first. That will be a post for another day.

And my next oral care dilemma will be finding a good plastic-free toothpaste replacement, now that Tom’s of Maine has switched to plastic tubes. I’ve gotten lots of advice from people, but I can always use more.

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196 Comments on "Eco-Friendly Toothbrush Review"

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Please update to reflect no plastic wrapper on the Environmental Toothbrush anymore(at least not in UK.

My whole family has been using the life without plastic toothbrushes. We like them and we can put them in our compost pile after we are done with them. I have to admit, though, that my teeth are not as clean as when I use the plastic toothbrush from the dentist. something about the way it is designed? It’s not anything major, maybe it gets my teeth clean enough to be healthy, but I can definitely tell a difference. I’ll be getting some preserve toothbrushes to try those as a compromise.

I am 69 years old Indian. My grandfather insisted on our using need sticks taken from need tree in our back yard to clean our teeth. No body had any dental problem. It is slightly bitter in taste. He used to give us young need seeds to swallow, so no one suffered from any skin problem ever in our family. He was a chemistry professor ,well educated but believed in home remedies. We were a family of healthy people till we were under his care. Problems started when we began to ignore his advise.

Ugly by nature toothpaste is all organic ingredients chemical free and cruelty free their website has all the ingredients listed and they have I think 7 flavors

Colgate makes a tooth powder that comes in a tin. I found it in an Indian food supply shop. My grand dad had tooth powder tins, he kept them to store nails/screws. I’m looking to go less plastic, I use Preserve now. Before you do DIY tpastes talk to dentist, different enamels can’t handle some things.

My approach is to consider all aspects of a purchase. So while I am concerned about my individual health and the environment, I also must consider the social responsibility of the company and where the product is produced. Sadly, Colgate does not have a good record in this regard.

My wife and I make our own toothpaste. Coconut oil, baking soda, salt, and spearmint. Simmer the mint in the oil for a while before mixing. A bit salty during brushing, but very refreshing. We keep ours in a jar.

What is the recipe if I may ask? I would love to try it :)

Let the Sun Rise in Your Mouth | Nei Jing Now!

[…] who joined us for the We All Live in Bhopal events of Dec 2014, has done a thorough review of the eco-friendly toothbrushes available. Her favorite now is Brush with Bamboo. Eco-dent, seems to be the winner per Ms. Terry. […]

I just wanted to say that both my husband and myself love the Life Without Plastic toothbrushes. Some bristles do come off the first few times you use it but after that, you’re good to go! I have an extremely small mouth and I need to say that they are a mouthful but I still have no problem brushing with it. If the bristles are too hard for you, you just have to run them under hot water for a few second, no need to soak them. They last long too! I really recommend them.

Fresh Breath & Healthy Teeth Without All Those Chemicals | Break Into Change

[…] can try an eco-friendly, natural plastic-free toothbrush. There are many models on the market. This 2011 post is an interesting review of some options that the author has tried out. All the pros and cons are listed, along with her ultimate fav pick. […]

The neem chew stick do have a name (Datoon, relatively from hindi word for tooth->Daant)

Thank you for your extensive, detailed, article. It was not only a great read but also I have been looking for a 100% plastic free toothbrush for sometime and thanks to you I found it. You made my day :)

Hi, I bought an Environmental Toothbrush today and there was no inner white sleeve that you mention, so I guess they must have managed to convince the health authorities it wasn’t necessary. Or perhaps the regulations are different here in Australia. In any case, it might be worthwhile updating your post.

I only skimmed the comments so I don’t know if anybody mentioned the Green Panda toothbrushes. It’s a bamboo toothbrush with bamboo bristles that are infused with charcoal. So, it’s got the added benefits of the charcoal and it’s entirely biodegradable.

Hello – I know the latest update here was in 2013 – just wondering if the Brush with Bamboo toothbrush is still the favorite? We are looking to add some eco-friendly – really good toothbrushes to our online store…

Any thoughts on WooBamboo

Thank you for your research! Eco friendly and plastic free teeth cleaning products seem to be hard find. I appreciate your hard work.

I have used in the past baking soda (like a decade or more ago) and last year i used just coconut oil during the warmer months. I have been using Miswak sticks for a couple of months now and really like them. In the near future I am thinking about making some homemade toothpaste (I have already started making homemade mouthwash) using a recipe that I got from http://www.thankyourbody.com/all-natural-homemade-toothpaste/ to make a coconut oil based toothpaste that I will use at night while I brush in the morning with my miswak stick.  I will use Raw Coconut oil and Distilled… Read more »

Thanks, I have used just the coconut oil and the dentist is still looking for the cavities that have disappeared. But I like the bentonite clay and spearmint essential oil. So this recipe gives me both. thanks again.

Does anyone know any resources for plastic free electric toothbrushes?
I cant avoid my dentist any longer.
Thanks!

nice article,plastic is not good for our enviorment and to us also.i use neem stick and another stick called timber stick for theeth cleaning instead of a plastic brush.it has a great taste and feels natural.i suggest other people too use neem stick or timber stick,if anyone want i can send them.

Nice article. I have recently started evaluating my plastic consumption and have slowly decreased my intake so far. I was pleasantly surprised at the mention of the Neem tree sticks. I am from India and there are plenty of Neem trees. Infact, as a child, my grandfather would make us brush our teeth with the sticks. We even eat the Neem flowers and the leaves have antibacterial properties!! This post brought back all the memories! Well, on my next trip home, I’m gonna get some sticks for myself :)
Amazing how we take last generation’s things for granted!

I’m allergic to plastic, so your reviews, especially the last option for Neem sticks NOT packaged in plastic, is invaluable information for me. Even contact with plastic by items that I use keeps me hypersensitized, so every bit I can eliminate helps me control the reactions (life threatening if not controlled).

Here’s a recipe for tooth powder I found here:

It’s natural and the whole family can use it!
The Ingredients
-4 parts bentonite clay
-1 part baking soda
-1/2 part myrrh gum powder
-1/2 part ground cloves
-1/2 part ground stevia
-essential oils of cloves and cinnamon
Directions
1. Add all ingredients to a mason jar. Tightly close the lid and shake jar until well combined.
2. To use, apply a small amount of tooth powder to your tooth brush with a spoon and brush as you normally would.

Natural Oral Care | My Earth Mama Journey

[…] seemed  counterproductive to use a plastic toothbrush. While researching, I found this article: /2011/05/eco-friendly-toothbrush-review-and-giveaway/. I’m really considering trying the Environmental Toothbrush! It seems like a good alternative […]

Thriving Toothbrush: 100% Bamboo Toothbrush (including bristles) Compostable and vegan! Shipped from the United States (not known where the product is made) in recycled & recyclable paper. Fairly economical compared to market prices. Uncle Harry’s Toothpaste: This company is located less than 10 miles from where I live, and have let me coordinate with them to refill my mason jars rather than purchasing the product in new container (although the jars are glass with a plastic lid). I love this product, although I am not sure if I would continue if they were not so accommodating to my plastic-free life.… Read more »

Plastic-Free Ericka ModeratorMerleeSherman 
Have you considered ordering larger quantities from them? Next time I
re-fill I will ask what sizing options they have – that way you’re
dealing with less containers.

Environmental toothbrush now has “ecotoothbrush”, there next generation version with charcoal enhanced bristles. They still seem to be distributing from Australia for USA clients, so high shipping prices.

Worldcentric’s says thair bristles aren’t biodegradable.

I ordered both to see which one I like. I’ll try to remember to post back here with any reviews.

Beth, here’s one I came across. Any feedback from anyone?http://worldcentric.org/biocompostables/toothbrushes

Very interesting discussion and valuable information! Well done!
Magnus SE

I hate that Tom’s has switched.  Even apart from the plastic issue, the old ones you could just flatten as you go up and fold it over to keep the paste in place – flexible plastic tubes have to be reflattened each time you squeeze.  More hassle for more waste.  I asked and they said they have recieved requests to package in flexible plastic for years – this was a ‘caving to public demand’ choice.  Unfortunately.

If i’m not mistaken, Tom’s is owned by Kellogs. This is probably the reason why they were “pushed” to used “usual” (read – plastic, plastic and more plastic) tubes for their toothpaste. I don’t use most of Tom’s products.

We have been wondering about what you do in  this department…thank you for this!

Brooks sells a pearwood toothbrush with boar bristles. It does come in a hard plastic travel-type container though.

I make all of my personal cosmetic products, including toothpaste. This is THE best way to take care of ourselves and the planet, in my opinion. Here’s the toothepaste recipe I use : Mix 40 ml of water, 6 tablespoons of white kaolin clay (used for facial masks), 4 pinches of baking soda and 8 drops of mint essential oil. Makes 50 ml total with a pleasant taste and refreshing feeling similar to conventional toothpaste. Put it in a small glass container with a lid and dip your toothbrush in! I just visited the dentist and confirmed that my teeth… Read more »

I knew the guy, who had never brushed his teeth! He has been rinsing his mouth with water on the regular basis all his life.

I just received a pack of the Environmental Toothbrushes, they didn’t come in a plastic sleeve, they were just loose individual little cardboard boxes as pictured. Weh Hey!

I could go on hour long rants about the toxins in shampoo, make up, hair products and everyday objects, but i’ll save you from that and just rant about toothpaste and how it is cheaper and better for you and the environment to use. make your own toothpaste from coconut oil, baking soda, peppermint oil, and stevia. i refuse to use commercial toothpaste because of what is in it, the first ingredient is normally an artificial sugar (sorbitol) and fluoride is dangerous to your own health and the environment (those are NOT the only two harmful ingredients). i make it in a small glass jar, and… Read more »

I heard you are not to swallow it because it has “pulled” all the toxins out of your mouth and you are just putting them in your system.?????

A Fine Line | Is there a perfect toothbrush?

[…] used Beth Terry’s post about toothbrushes to guide me. She talks about three different options: one from Life Without Plastic, one from […]

update on environmental toothbrush from the company: “In our next production run we will be removing the inner sleeve as this has been a challenge for many people, we will not have that stock until early next year.” i still want to see production local to each region – asian produciton for asian clients. north american production for american clients, etc… if i understand, it is possible to source local bamboo. i can’t imagine it is too difficult to find a factory in each region who can make such a simple design if they solved the plastic nylon bristles issue… Read more »

Thank you so much for this post. I’ve been using Preserve, while keeping my eye out for something better. Thanks to your post, I’ve ordered a case of The Environmental Toothbrushes. Not perfect, but as close as I’ve seen, especially since boar hair is not okay with me, for a multitude of reasons (I wouldn’t use a human-based hair bristle in my mouth, either…unless it was my own human hair). Keep up this great work!

I think on this topic it’s of importance to remark that natural fiber toothbrushes (made mostly from pig hair) have been found to not be the most hygienic thing. The hair has a little canal in the middle which will fill with tiny particles from the stuff that you brush away from your teeth. This will naturally encourage growth of bacteria. If you use those, you should change them veeery frequently, or put them in boiling water from time to time. There is a company in Germany that makes toothbrushes and toothbrush-heads from the sticks which seems more practical –… Read more »

Hi Beth, you can make toothpaste from baking soda, xylitol and a tiny bit of water and/or coconut oil. See my experiment here: http://jemsroom.blogspot.com/2011/06/diy-furniture-polish-soap-and.html

#91, 98: I also have a set of the Izola bamboo-handled toothbrushes. I was able to purchase them at a store in the U.S., but you can also order them direct through Izola’s website. As with the other toothbrushes mentioned, this one has its own set of pros and cons. A pack of four toothbrushes is packaged in a cardboard box but is (unfortunately) topped off with a non-recyclable plastic lid. The brushes are designed in the U.S., made in China. As Brianna mentioned above, the bristles are made of regular nylon-6 and have a consistency similar to Preserve’s “soft”… Read more »

I’ve been switching over things gradually and I’m onto toothbrushes and shaving razors. I’m interested in either the Preserve or Environmental but I’m debating over the environmental impact, US Made, less shipping on the Plastic recycled material and downcycling of Preserve over the bamboo, no plastic but shipping from AUS of Environmental, UGH.

Interesting topic.
My favourite toothbrush is a TerraDent. http://www.eco-dent.com/ These are plastic, but the handle is made to be reused by replacing only the head. Did you know that some toothbrushes actually use metal staples to attach the bristles? I would never compromise on a good quality toothbrush, and I am concerned about the amount of plastic discarded.
This company also makes GentleFloss, a fantastic dental floss that comes in a recycleable paper box. It’s vegan too!

@ Yuki: Thanks for clarifying that the aluminum tubes are 100% recyclable. I hope you’ll take the time to mention this in your own letter to Tom’s of Maine;)

@ Sandra

Sorry to disappoint you but metal is not biodegradable. I know you probably put your aluminum toothpaste tubes on the recycling bin but if you put them in the trash it’s no better than plastic. Granted, it will probably not be floating in the ocean among others plastic crap but the thing fun with metal is that usually it’s recyclable an infinite number of times compared to plastic.

i am not against it, I just wanted to point out that it’s not biodegradable.

Seems to me that they are both environmentally friendly to a great degree, now we are just being nitpicky. I think the next question is how healthy is each one for me? I think the plastic one is because it has less porous areas to grow bacteria, therefore being less risky for bacteria growth. It think the bamboo toothbrush could be a health concern with all the little crevices for bacteria to grow.

I like the materials in the Life Without Plastic toothbrush best and would love the chance to try them out. Beth, I’m curious to hear what other options you’ve found to this toothpaste dilemma. I am also sad to see Tom’s of Maine make the change from metal to plastic tubes. I’ve been testing out a couple of different brands (Weleda’s Salt Toothpaste, Boiron’s Homeodent) that also come in metal tubes, but sadly none of them seem to clean my teeth as well as Tom’s Multi-Care toothpaste. Here’s a copy of the letter I sent to the company. I’m hoping… Read more »
Eco-Friendly Toothbrush Review

[…] Source: My plastic free life. […]

The Environmental Toothbrush is by far my favorite.. I was originally attracted to the Swissco, but realized it was purely it’s good looks. I am a huge fan of bamboo.. frankly, I envy bamboo’s tenacity and self-sustaining characteristics.. admirable for sure. I limit my intake of meat but do consume a bit. I am happy to see the bristles being put to use instead of being discarded. My shaving brush is pure boar hair. Would love to see a followup post on all natural toothpaste to go with the brushes (I am a fan of Tom’s of Maine..)!
Hi, just writing in from India to note a couple of things about the neem stick ‘brushes’. I’ve used them as a child, though they’ve steadily lost popularity even in rural populations in the last 3 or 4 decades. Nowadays the plastic toothbrush is far more common I regret. And there’s a few reasons for that: (1) Neem is a bit of an acquired taste — it’s bitter. Not abominably, unbearably so; but distinctly. This is not as much of a problem for Indians (though many people even here really hate bitter things) as we do eat several bitter vegetables… Read more »

Another great research piece you did Beth. I would go with the Environmental toothbrush. When I go to the Dentist he always gives out a plastic bag, with a plastic toothbrush, plastic hard case with floss. I refuse and explain why and they look at me like I am nuts. Any alternatives to floss and mouthwash in plastic bottles? Thanks again for another good post. g

Thank you so much for this! I had been trying to develop alternatives to plastic toothbrushes on my own before I found your articles. I’d love to try the neem sticks! I’m currently using a little bit of loofah with some home-made toothpaste. I know it’s sounds pretty odd, but loofah gourds are edible when they are immature (known as “chinese okra”) and they actually are pretty pleasant to chew on in their mature form. However, I don’t think I could totally replace my toothbrush with it until I can get the little piece of loofa onto the end of… Read more »

I live in Australia so the recyclable Preserve and other US-based brushes aren’t an option.

I use the Environmental ones and am happy with them, except you need to make sure they’re kept dry otherwise mould will develop.

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