The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

June 29, 2017

Searching for a Plastic-Free, Zero-Waste Dental Floss

For ten years, I’ve been searching for the perfect plastic-free dental floss.  Back when I wrote my first dental floss post, the greenest choices were either biodegradable silk floss in rigid plastic containers (I’m looking at you, Radius) or non-biodegradable Eco-Dent nylon floss in a cardboard box.  (Some brands like Tom’s of Maine or Radius seemed to come in cardboard boxes but actually included a hard plastic dispenser inside the box.)  There was no biodegradable floss in plastic-free packaging.

Times have changed.

Recently, I discovered two more promising brands of floss — one that is plastic-free and another that is both plastic-free and refillable!  Here’s a rundown, comparing Eco-Dent in a cardboard box, Le Negri in a metal tin, and Dental Lace in a refillable glass container, as well as a few more options at the bottom of the post.

plastic-free dental floss options

The Winner:  Dental Lace refillable floss

Dental Lace is the winner not only because it’s the only refillable floss I’ve found, but also because the owner is so responsive to customer feedback.  Read the whole story, and you’ll see what I mean:

Four months ago, I received an email from Jodi Breau, owner of Dental Lace, Inc. in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.  She wanted to send me a sample of her new “fashionable” glass and stainless steel refillable dental floss container with refills of 100% Mulberry Silk Floss in recycled paperboard packaging.  She wrote, “Fashionable because the other stuff is ugly. Refillable because the other stuff creates a huge amount of ugly waste. We are doing our part to eliminate ugly plastic dental floss waste.”

I was psyched to try it out!  However, there was one catch.  The refills were packaged in little plastic bags.

So I wrote back, “I’m wondering if it’s possible for you to package the refills in a plastic-free bag.  That looks like the only plastic involved. Let me know your thoughts.”  It was worth a try, right?

Jodi responded right away.  “Right now the refills are shipped in a poly bag.  Soon we’ll be packaging refills in a biodegradable bag.  I had some kind of brain cramp the day I ordered the poly bags.  Right now we’re encouraging people to reuse the bags until we get better ones.”

In less than a month, Jodi switched to compostable Eco Clear bags and sent me another sample to try.

I thought it was great.  Not only was the packaging nearly plastic-free (there is a plastic label on the glass container, which Jodi says is there to prevent the glass from shattering if it is dropped) but the floss is natural silk, and there is no plastic spool inside, as there is with Eco-Dent.

So, I wrote to my friends Jay and Chantal at Life Without Plastic to tell them about this new floss and see if they’d be interested in stocking it in their online store.  Chantal was very excited and contacted Jodi to place an order.  A few weeks later, as Chantal was creating her store listing for Dental Lace, she noticed the ingredients listed “microcrystalline wax.”  Not knowing what that was, she Googled it and discovered that according to Wikipedia, “Microcrystalline waxes are a type of wax produced by de-oiling petrolatum, as part of the petroleum refining process.”

Chantal decided not to carry the floss after all.  She wrote me, “I’ve removed the item from the website. It doesn’t seem to make sense to encourage people not to use petroleum-based plastic, but then send across the message that dental floss waxed with petroleum-based paraffin is okay to use in one’s mouth.”

As for myself, I was unsure how to feel about it.  I mean, I was already using Eco-Dent floss, which is petroleum-based nylon.  A silk floss in a refillable container has got to be better, even if it’s coated with petroleum-based wax, right?  Or is it better?  I mean, the wax is going to rub off in your mouth; the nylon, not so much.  So I did nothing for a while.  And then, I got a message from Jodi that thanks to input from Chantal, she had changed her product once again, choosing instead to coat the floss with vegetable-based candelilla wax.  It’s more expensive, but she really wants to offer the most eco-friendly floss on the planet.

I asked Jodi to explain how she got into this whole dental floss business in the first place.  Here’s her story:

15 years ago I would eat my lunch in my school library office. One day I grabbed my ugly plastic floss container to run to the ladies room to floss my teeth before my next class arrived.  As I was leaving the library, I said to my staff, ” Someone needs to do something about this. It’s ugly!”   When I returned with freshly flossed teeth, my staff and I started designing pretty floss containers.  I never forgot that day.  13 years and two jobs later I retired to pursue my dental floss dream.  It began with just a pretty plastic container. Then I discovered through Ann Richardson, other bloggers, and you, the amount of plastic waste that is generated from dental floss.  One look at the dental floss section at CVS convinced me I needed to change that.

So I searched and searched until I found a container that met my standards.  I started with the microcrystalline wax because it was the most affordable waxed floss.  My research told me that most people buy waxed/mint flavored floss.  I changed to candelilla as soon as Chantal explained to me that microcrystalline, though food-based, was not the best option.  I agreed.  So I switched as soon as I knew there was a market for Dental Lace refillable floss.

Responding to customer’s requests is the right thing to do.  In this case, Dental Lace became a better product.  Plus I was able to keep the price the same.  I agree that we all must do our part to eliminate plastic waste but businesses must do more too.  I see product manufacturing as the biggest problem here.  Maybe I can show the dental floss manufacturers that it is possible to create a sustainable product and make a profit.

You can support my plastic-free mission by purchasing Dental Lace dental floss and refills from Life Without Plastic.  Each package comes with 66 yards (60 meters) of floss.

First Runner Up: Le Negri plastic-free floss

Before I learned about Dental Lace, Chantal had sent me a container of Le Negri natural silk floss that comes in a recyclable metal tin instead of a plastic container.

I like that the floss is natural silk coated with beeswax and that the tin is plastic-free and recyclable.  I also like that the floss itself does not come on a plastic spool, as Eco-Dent does.  (Here’s an image showing all three brands of floss sans container.)

The other thing I prefer about Le Negri’s container is that the floss is easier to thread through the slot in the top.  Dental Lace’s top has a tiny hole that you must thread the floss through.  Le Negri’s top has a slot that is easier for those of us with poor eyesight and shaky hands.

What makes Le Negri come in second place is that the container is not refillable, which would require less energy than having to purchase and recycle a brand new metal container each time.

Le Negri is made in France and is much more expensive than Dental Lace.  For a higher price, you get 13 yards (12 meters) of floss.

You can also purchase Le Negri dental floss from Life Without Plastic.

Second Runner Up: Eco-Dent dental floss

My second runner up is still Eco-Dent because of it’s compostable cardboard container and the fact that although the floss is made from nylon, it is coated with a natural blend of vegetable-based waxes and essential oils:  jojoba oil, candelilla wax, rice bran oil, rice bran wax, menthol, peppermint oil, anethole (anise camphor), orange oil, lemon peel oil, fennel oil, anise oil, geranium flower oil, bergamot oil, lavender oil, rosemary leaf oil, basil oil, and rose flower oil.

I also like that the nylon floss does seem to be stronger than both of the silk flosses.  I’ve never had a strand of Eco-Dent break, but both of the silk flosses did break on me if I used them too roughly.  I just need to be more careful, I guess.

Also, Eco-Dent is more affordable (100 yards in the package for the same price as Dental Lace) and is easier to find in brick and mortar stores like Whole Foods or Pharmaca.

What I don’t like about Eco-Dent is that it’s made from petroleum-based plastic and comes with plastic packaging on and inside the box.  First, there’s a plastic sticker outside the box:

And then, there is a plastic bag and plastic spool inside the box.

The other thing that drives me crazy about Eco-Dent is that the cardboard container does not travel well.  And you have to be careful around water, which is ironic since it mostly gets used in the bathroom.  This is what mine looks like after many trips:

Other Options

Here are a few other options and why they did not make my top three:

  • Stim-U-Dent wooden plaque removers:  These are plastic-free wooden picks that come in a cardboard “matchbook” type of package.  They were recommended to me as a good alternative to regular floss, but unfortunately, my teeth are too close together for them to fit between.  I couldn’t use them, but they might be a great option for someone whose teeth are spaced further apart than mine.
  • Linen thread:  Lena Mumma of Eco Peaceful, who offers natural linen nut milk bags sewn with linen thread, recommended plain linen thread to me and sent me some to try out.  Unfortunately, without wax, it was difficult to slide between my teeth and broke right away.
  • Silk thread:  In her book, The Zero Waste Home, Bea Johnson recommends unraveling a piece of silk fabric and using the plain silk thread to floss with.  If it works for you, great!  I tried it.  It broke instantly, probably because of my aforementioned closely spaced teeth.
  • Radius silk floss sachets:  They are completely plastic-free, but didn’t make my top 3 because there are only 20 single-use sachets in each box.  From a zero waste perspective, that’s a lot of wasted paper and cardboard, not to mention the exorbitant price for so few.
  • Radius silk floss Comes in a plastic dispenser inside the cardboard box.
  • Tom’s of Maine floss:  Naturally-waxed nylon inside a plastic dispenser inside the cardboard box.

What do you think?

Have you found any other plastic-free or zero-waste dental floss options?  Let us know in the comments.

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26 Comments on "Searching for a Plastic-Free, Zero-Waste Dental Floss"

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I keep forgetting that the silk worm is inside the cocoon pooping and peeing or whatever they do. I saw no mention that the worms were killed by steam, some are killed by insecticide. Why hasn’t anyone tried organic 20wt cotton thread?

It is likely that Dental Lace orders their product from China. Just do a search on alibaba.com for “silk dental floss glass”…

Maybe the ideal alternative would be dental floss made of hemp fiber:
http://respecterre.com/top-5-the-best-eco-friendly-fibres/?lang=en

I’ve been using hemp that comes wrapped around a piece of cardboard. I pull apart strands to make it thinner and put a drop of peppermint oil on it. It breaks apart sometimes but then I just get a new piece. So yes it is more of a hassle but still works.

I like the hemp idea. It really is the most renewable resource without harming little creatures (and all that other shady business of the silk industry). I am inspired to experiment with different hemp threads!

Caught the most recent LWP e-mail and then came here. Thanks for helping to refine the Dental Lace product Beth. You are a rock star! I’m switching from Ecodent, immediately. I just hope my 7 yr old doesn’t break the glass jar.

On the Eco-Dent Web site, it says this: “Silk production involves chemical sterilization and can be dangerous and involve child labor.”

Is that really true?

I had the same problem with LeNegri floss breaking in between my tightly spaced teeth. My teeth are so tight the hygienist sometimes can’t floss them! I decided to try a gentler approach: I gently ease the floss between the teeth until it reaches the gums. After flossing between 2 teeth, instead of twanging the floss back out like I do with nylon floss, I pulled the floss through the gap, releasing one end. My dentist showed me this technique for my porcelain crown. Not hauling the floss back out through the packed teeth meant the floss did not fray… Read more »

I recently tried the Dental Lace and I love it. One of my spools got stuck (so the lead is in the middle, somewhere) but, it’s nearly cheaper than regular floss, works great, and I like it. I figure I’ll sort the broken spool when I run out of other ones.

I tried to buy silk dental floss from this Taiwanese eco-store. https://agooday.com/floss
However the owner told me the silk is from China…I wonder where Dental Lace’s silk is from. Country of origin is an important part of being environmental, in my opinion. Nevertheless, it feels good that so many of you out there care about this issue!

I have no idea why you think, using silk is environmental friendly! Billions of caterpillars (in this case mulberry) are killed for silk production- so you think, this is the perfect catch?

It’s like you read my mind…. Thanks for this post!

Trash is for Tossers blog author uses silk thread that she waxes through beeswax, and I am SO excited by that idea but have yet to try it. Right now, I’m also using Radius silk (I like that their silk is produced with fair trade standards). I compost the silk thread, but I am definitely not happy about the plastic box. I’m excited to see this Le Negri option from LWP! I’ll keep you posted on my DIY floss idea :-P

Thanks for the update Beth! I’ve been using up all current floss in my house before buying anything new (and i don’t accept the “free” flosses given by my dentist). I re-use my floss a gazillion times so it’s taking me a while to go through it. I just ordered some Dental Lace based on your recommendation. I, too, tried Bea’s idea of unraveling silk but it broke too easily in my teeth. Also, I have to find an alternative for Davis’ teeth as his are very close so he hates flossing.

The last time I checked, LifeWithoutPlastic had only the Le Négri brand. Even if I don’t count the shipping, it’s 6 times more expensive than the Radius silk one I can grab at my local health store. There is no way I can justify such a higher cost. I’m really happy to see more and more companies getting on the plastic-free bandwagon but even if Dental Lace is really affordable and almost plastic free, I think I prefer to buy a product that is made from sustainable and fair trade silk even though there is a bit of plastic. Maybe… Read more »

I admit, I’ve been wondering about the floss options ever since I bought your book! And since I floss twice a day, I go through a lot of it. Thanks for the update with good options!

Hi, I’m wondering if you can comment on the thickness of the various flosses? I have closely-spaced teeth as well and many flosses (like Tom’s of Maine) i can’t even get between my teeth. I currently use plastic floss (Glide) and would love to find another option. I’m curious of any of these flosses are on the thin side?

Thank you for the rundown on these flosses. Since I don’t use any animal products, silk and beeswax are out, so I am using Eco-Dent Vegan floss. I’m not happy that there is some plastic in it, but so far it’s the best I have found. And even though the nylon does biodegrade after some time, it isn’t fast enough. I saw a picture of a seal with dental floss stuck around his neck, choking him, which really bothered me, and so now my solution to that is that I save all my used floss in a jar, and when… Read more »

You could also try a water pick. You would have to buy a product with some plastic parts, but there are models that have lots of metal too. It replaces flossing so you are not constantly disposing of something. It is hard to say what is better, since there are environmental effects of manufacturing small appliances too, but it is something to consider.

Beth, this is a cool article but we switched to wooden toothpicks a few years ago and have never looked back. They come in paper boxes and are inexpensive. They appear to stimulate the gums more than dental floss which is a good thing.

This is great info – thank you!!

I agree with you on all points in this article. I was thrilled to find Dental Lace too. It does break sometimes, and I find if I floss a little slower it doesn’t break as often. I also have been working on reusing the floss 2-3 times since since I only need a small bit for my teeth & most is wrapped around my fingers. Thanks for the thorough article, I’m happy to see so many companies making an effort.

I am seriously impressed! My aunt actually re-uses her nylon dental floss….I don’t know how long she’s been using the same string…but the idealist part of me wishes that we could just eliminate making this material in the first place, which we know is so hazardous to wildlife….silk floss seems so much better and nicer. and the refillable container?!?!?!? amazing. no waste. can’t wait till our local “dime stores” are carrying this. I wonder how many time I could re-use one strong of silk floss?

Ooh! Very excited to know about this! I had been using Radius Silk Floss (my thinking on picking Radius silk floss over EcoDent was that at least the actual floss was biodegradable and I could recycle each part of the container, as opposed to the nylon floss of EcoDent just going into the trash), but I had been wishing the container were not plastic and/or that they offered refills. I will be switching to Dental Lace! Thank you very much!

Thanks so much for the update. I’ve been switching off between Eco-dent and Radius so will have to check out Dental Lace. It’s so good to hear about the owner’s response to feedback.

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