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.
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
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:
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.