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The Best Sustainable Floss & Interdental Cleaning Options

Selection of eco-friendly interdental cleaning products

Key takeaways & recommendations

Your dental health comes first and having healthy teeth and gums is the best thing for the environment long term.

Interdental brushes are the most effective tool for interdental cleaning.

Interdental brushes with a reusable handle, such as Curaprox Prime, would be my recommendation for the best eco-friendly option. Only the wire and bristle part needs replacing, minimizing waste produced.

Bamboo interdental brushes are also a good option. In my testing, I found the wire and bristles easier to remove than on plastic ones.

If you have healthy gums and teeth, and a good technique, floss may be sufficient.

If you have active gum disease or cannot use floss effectively, you should prioritize your dental health and use interdental brushes instead.

Keeping your teeth and gums healthy is the best way to reduce your impact on the planet.

Silk based floss is best when it comes to end-of-life options and is “zero waste” because it is compostable.

Bambaw is the silk floss that I recommend.

But the fact that it is compostable doesn’t automatically make it the more eco-friendly option.

Bio-based plastic floss is less energy intensive to produce than silk and requires fewer resources to make, so overall it is probably the better option for the environment.

Georganics and Bambaw are the bio-based flosses that I recommend.

Recycled plastic floss is also a good option because it makes use of existing plastic. At the time of writing the packaging of recycled plastic floss products wasn’t great, but this could change in the near future or you may come across a product yourself that has better packaging.

I would not recommend choosing a charcoal or bamboo dental floss for environmental reasons. You do not gain any additional benefits from the bamboo added to the fibres.

Single use floss picks are the worst option for the environment, but a reusable floss pick could actually improve the eco-friendliness of floss because less floss is used compared to flossing with your fingers.

Please note that the recommendations above and throughout this article are based on detailed research that I have completed. Where possible I have referred to studies and evidence, but a life cycle assessment of interdental cleaning products has never been completed, so it isn’t possible to say definitively which products have the least impact on the environment.

Quick Links

This is a long article, so you may wish to use these navigational links to jump to the sections most relevant to you.

I have included my main recommendations above, but go into more detail throughout the article.

How to pick the most eco-friendly option

In many cases, there is no absolute right or wrong answer. Neither dentistry nor sustainability is “a one recommendation fits all” topic. 

There are many complicating factors that make one choice the best for one person, but not for another.

Choosing an environmentally friendly option for interdental cleaning depends on your own personal needs and what recycling you have available.

It is important to choose an option with a lower impact but which you find comfortable to use, and make sure you are using it properly. 

Use the prompts below to help you choose the most environmentally-friendly flossing option for your personal situation:

1. Your dental health comes first! You need to clean between the teeth for good gum and oral health.

The most environmentally friendly thing you can do is avoid dental treatment, including professional cleaning such as a scale and polish.

If you have gum disease, choose interdental brushes for a more effective clean.

If you struggle handling floss, consider a floss pick or interdental brushes.

Floss may be sufficient if you generally have healthy gums.

2. Consider which recycling options you have available

If you have industrial composting available to you, bio-based plastics have the lowest carbon footprint. However, at the moment it’s unlikely that you will have access to industrial composting because very few of these facilities exist. This is something that could change in the coming years, though.

If you have garden waste collections or home composting, bamboo based products are a good option.

If you do not have these options available you need to be aware the product will end up with other general waste, so pick those with low carbon footprints, such as bio-based or recycled plastic products.

3. Pick reusable products over single use products.

E.g. refillable floss containers/dispensers, reusable floss holders, or reusable interdental brushes.

Avoid single use products that have unnecessary packaging or plastic e.g. individually wrapped products (inside the main container) and plastic flossettes.

4. Check what packaging the product comes in

Ideally choose something with packaging that you can recycle at home, and pick products that come with minimal packaging.

5. Pick products that have more product per container

If you pick products that have more per container, it can reduce the total amount of shipping and packaging needed. For example, longer spools of floss or more interdental brushes per packet.

Buying like this can also work out cheaper in the long run.

6. Consider animal welfare

Consider whether you want to avoid the use of animal based products and pick vegan and certified cruelty free products.

floss tape on scientific model of teeth

Useful notes and recommendations from my testing

Below are some of the most important takeaways from my testing of the various product types.

You can read the full notes from my testing further down the page.

Floss

I found that all the eco-friendly flosses I tried felt different to ordinary floss or tape. They were not as smooth and did not “glide” so well between the teeth. But I could see that they were removing debris from between the teeth.

I was able to compare the same brand of silk and bio-based floss for Bambaw and Georganics (although Georganics now no longer do silk) and found them to be comparable.

In terms of performance, I didn’t find much difference between the various types of floss. Therefore you could pick the floss you want based on things like packaging, dispenser, company ethos, and price.

Please note, if you have active gum disease or periodontitis, I would recommend you use interdental brushes as these are more effective at cleaning than floss.

Jump to the floss section.

Interdental brushes

I tested a few different bamboo handled interdental brushes, and there wasn’t much to differentiate between each of them. Any one of the options can do the job fine.

Really, what you want to consider is whether or not bamboo is suitable for you — and this all depends on what recycling facilities you have available. If you don’t have a garden waste collection or home composting, bamboo may not be any more eco-friendly than plastic based options.

In my testing, I did find the wire and bristles easier to remove than on plastic ones. Once removed, the wire and bristles can be recycled via a TerraCycle scheme.

When it comes to plastic handles, recycled plastic is probably marginally more eco-friendly than plant-based plastic as it is reusing existing materials rather than making new ones.

A reusable handle, such as Curaprox Prime, would be my recommendation though for the best eco-friendly option. Only the wire and bristle part needs replacing, minimizing waste produced.

I would avoid woodpicks and natural floss picks due to limited evidence of their safety and effectiveness at cleaning and preventing or managing gum disease.

Jump to the interdental brushes section.

Reusable floss

I tested a type of reusable floss called Simplyfloss and found it to be easy to use. I found you needed to stretch it quite far to fit between the teeth, but this was easy enough to do. I could see that the floss removed debris from between the teeth so it does have some effectiveness too. It didn’t irritate the gums in the same way that string floss can do when used incorrectly.

That said, I am cautious about recommending reusable dental floss as an eco-friendly alternative for cleaning between the teeth. That is because the material is made from fossil-fuel based silicone, and is difficult to recycle. Additionally, interdental brushes are the most effective cleaning option for anyone who has gum disease.

Jump to the reusable floss section.

Reusable floss picks

Out of the two we have tested, we would recommend the Quip reusable flosser. There are other cheaper options available, but we have not yet tested these and they have mixed reviews on other sites like Amazon.

Jump to the reusable floss picks section.

Single-use floss picks

I wouldn’t recommend one particular product, just because a reusable floss holder is a much better option. Which floss pick product is most eco-friendly for you also depends on your access to composting facilities.

Jump to the single use floss picks section.

Buyer’s guide

In the sections below I explain the challenges of picking an eco-friendly floss products, and answer some commonly asked questions.

The sustainability of products is an area that is constantly evolving, so if you notice something that has changed or have a question, please leave a comment at the bottom of the page.

The challenges of eco-friendly flossing

Cleaning between your teeth is a vital part of your oral care routine. Unfortunately, it also requires the use of a lot of plastic.

Interdental cleaning is the process of cleaning between the teeth in addition to traditional toothbrushing.

The American Dental Association considers it to be an essential part of your cleaning regime

Health Canada and the Canadian Dental Association both recommend daily interdental cleaning.

Interdental cleaning is very important, not only to keep your teeth and gums healthy, but there are some surprising benefits to your general health too.

The challenge comes in finding an eco-friendly way to clean between the teeth. At present there is not much evidence available discussing the life cycle of different interdental cleaners.

Whilst interdental brushes are proven to be the most effective way to clean between your teeth, floss has more potential for zero-waste alternatives. 

In this post we discuss various eco-friendly flossing options, including:

Don’t abandon your current tools

When it comes to cleaning between your teeth, you have a number of different options.

We do not recommend you abandon your current tools to find something more environmentally friendly. Finish off whatever products you are already using while you research an alternative.

Some compromise will be necessary. At the time of writing there isn’t a truly zero waste option for cleaning between the teeth. But the consequences of not doing it can have an even greater effect on the environment. For example, if you need a filling or gum treatment.

Preventing the need for treatment is best

Preventing the need for dental treatment is one of the best ways to avoid a negative impact on the environment.

When comparing the available tools, interdental brushes are the most effective way of cleaning (better than both floss and water flossers, as I explain in my post water flossing vs floss vs interdental brushes).

You should use interdental brushes if you need them. 

But, with a good technique, flossing may be sufficient for some people.

What should you think about when picking an environmentally friendly interdental cleaning aid?

Below are some things to consider when picking an interdental cleaning tool with the environment in mind:

  • The packaging that your tool comes in, and whether it is refillable or recyclable.
  • The use of energy and water when using a water flosser (but that there is no single use plastic outside of the original purchase).
  • Floss is single use per stretch of floss.
  • Traditionally floss is made up of nylon from fossil fuel sources and is not compostable.
  • Alternative materials can be used for floss. These may come from renewable resources to make bio-based plastics, but pose the same issues with breakdown. Compostable materials are normally made from silk and are not suitable for vegans.
  • Avoid single use flossing tools which come with plastic handles. Reusable handle alternatives are available.
  • Interdental brushes can be used more than once.
  • Interdental brushes use multiple materials and are difficult to break down for recycling. Handles can be made from bio-based plastics or compostable materials. Bristles are normally nylon, but again can be made from bio-based plastics.
  • When choosing bamboo vs bio-based plastics, you need to consider what recycling options are available to you. Bamboo may not be the best choice if you don’t have a garden waste collection or home composting.

Why dental floss is bad for the environment

Floss, interdental brush and superfloss

Conventional dental floss, floss picks and interdental brushes are heavily reliant on plastic when making them.

This has a negative impact on the environment because of the resources needed to make the plastic, the difficulty with recycling it, and the potential for harm to the environment if it is not disposed of correctly.

Traditional floss is made from nylon, a plastic normally made from fossil fuels. Flossettes or floss picks have this nylon floss combined with another type of plastic, which makes it even more difficult to recycle. Interdental brushes also have this combination of plastic for the handle then a metal wire with nylon filaments for the brush part.

So much plastic is used, for something which is only once, or up to a couple of weeks in the case of interdental brushes. Fossil fuel based plastics use up a finite resource. 

The Centre for International Environmental Law produced their report on Plastic & Climate. They explain that drilling for these fuels and transporting them disrupts the natural environment and releases greenhouse gases. Just accessing the resources destroys the land around it. Using fossil fuels to produce plastics also produces further pollution.

Disposing of nylon is also very difficult. Nylon in the form of floss and interdental brushes is difficult to decontaminate and recycle. In fact, there is no way to recycle nylon floss at present. Nylon in the form of toothbrush bristles can be recycled at specialist facilities, as we explain in our article on recycling toothbrush bristles.

There are some reports that nylon will break down in 50-70 years, but there is no solid evidence to support this. In any case, a lot of damage can be done in the meantime.

Then there are additional impacts on the environment as waste plastic sits in landfill or ends up in the oceans. Because traditional floss is very strong, it does not break down, so if it is disposed of incorrectly it can cause damage to the environment, e.g. by wrapping around animals and not breaking.

What is the most eco-friendly option?

Bambbo interdental brush, bamboo toothbrush, bio plastic floss and bio plastic floss pick

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to what is the most environmentally friendly floss, interdental brush or floss pick is.

The only way to truly know the impact that a product has on the environment is to do a life cycle analysis (LCA). There are no available studies that compare the LCAs of different types of floss or comparing one type of cleaning aid with another.

Generally speaking, something made without the use of fossil fuels will be more environmentally friendly. As will something that is home compostable at the end of its life.

Floss is possibly the best option in terms of the environment. Silk floss can be composted at home but isn’t vegan, and is energy-intensive to product.

Corn-based PLA floss is made from a renewable resource, but there are lack of studies about whether it can be composted at home, and currently there aren’t the processes and facilities in place to compost it industrially.

However, bio-based flosses like corn-based PLA and castor oil based nylon are better than traditional floss because they are made from a renewable resource. Traditional floss is made from fossil fuels, which are finite.

Interdental brushes produce more non recyclable waste due to the wire and nylon bristles, however they are reusable for up to 14 days. This means one pack could last longer.

Above everything else, it is important that you use what you buy and that it prevents you from developing gum disease or dental decay. The environmental impact from just one dental treatment has much more significance than the cleaning tools you are using on a daily basis.

What about packaging and dispensers? 

Environmentally friendly products are moving towards more sustainable packaging. This could come in the form of:

  • Refillable containers e.g. glass or metal jars for floss. 
  • Refill packs in recyclable or compostable packaging e.g. paper or compostable plastic bags.
  • Packaging made from recycled materials.
  • Recyclable or compostable single use packaging e.g. paper.

Another tip is to buy in bulk or larger packets. Having more of the product (e.g.longer amounts of floss or more brushes) per container reduces the amount of packaging needed as products will be replaced less often.

What is better for my dental health/if I have bleeding gums?

If you have bleeding gums, this is a sign of active gum disease. There are a few other reasons why your gums bleed when flossing, but generally it is a sign that you need to improve your cleaning.

Interdental brushes are the most effective way to clean between your teeth and gums, and to remove bacteria. Removing the bacteria from the surfaces you miss when brushing will improve your gum health.

Make sure you have the right technique for both brushing and flossing or using interdental brushes.

Water flosser vs other flossing tools (in terms of environmental impact)

A water flosser may initially sound like a good option for zero waste interdental cleaning. Apart from the initial outlay, there is minimal waste.

You need to change the tips occasionally, but if looked after properly and disinfected regularly these could potentially last months or even years (although this is not recommended by manufacturers).

And some water flossers even come with tips that do not need to be thrown away.

Unfortunately, the initial production of a water flosser is high in energy consumption. As far as we know there are no studies covering this, so much of this will be based on our own assumptions.

But it is safe to assume a similar energy consumption to that for electric toothbrushes, which is discussed in our article about the eco-friendliness of electric toothbrushes.

There is also a large environmental impact from shipping such a heavy product. But it is hard to say how that compares to throwing out a floss pick every day, or an interdental brush every 1 to 2 weeks.

Possibly the biggest problem with water flossers though is the energy consumption associated with using water. In developed countries, tap water undergoes a lot of treatment to be safe to drink. And water that goes down the sink is also treated to make it “safe”. Consider that water that leaves your house is all treated like waste toilet water.

Tap water is energy intensive to produce, and the processes of storing it, pumping it to households, and treating it after usage, all contribute to greenhouse gas emissions because of this energy use.

Each time a water flosser is used it consumes approx 200 ml of water (although there is a lot of variation). This does not sound like much, but over a year that is 73 litres of water. 

In Canada, it is estimated that water and wastewater systems account for 38% of municipal government energy usage.

Although it is difficult to get exact numbers, this BBC article gives a good idea about the hidden impact of your daily water use.

Further, dental professionals do not advise using a water flosser as the most effective method of cleaning. Interdental brushes are the most effective tool to use.

Is bioplastic more environmentally friendly than traditional plastic?

Bio-based plastic such as corn PLA can often have a negative image. This is because some companies use it as a more environmentally friendly alternative for things that shouldn’t be single us in the first place (e.g. drinking cups). Reusable options are better for the environment than single use bio-based plastic.

But floss is something that is almost unavoidably single use. Due to hygiene reasons, floss shouldn’t be reused multiple times. In this case bio-based plastics can be a better alternative to traditional plastics, even though they are not a perfect solution. 

To be clear, bioplastics is a word used to describe many biological based plastics, and includes:

  • bio-based plastics: plastics which are derived from natural/plant-based resources instead of fossil fuels. The end structure is the same, it is just a different starting block. E.g. castor oil based nylon instead of traditional nylon floss.
  • biodegradable plastics: either fossil fuel derived plastics or bio-based plastics, but which biodegrade. This means they break down with the aid of microorganisms. The broken down material may include water, smaller bits of plastics or toxic residues. Corn-based PLA is a bio-based biodegradable plastic.
  • compostable plastics: either fossil fuel derived plastics or bio-based plastics, but which are compostable. This means they break down, under specific conditions, into biomass, carbon dioxide and water. The biomass remaining after composting will be beneficial to the earth. This is often a protected term so manufacturers have to meet strict guidelines and testing to call it “compostable”.

There are a wide range of different materials available. Each with their own benefits and drawbacks.

Some things to be aware of when choosing bio-based plastics:

From the research I’ve completed around bio-plastics, these are the key things I have learned when scrutinising them:

1. Companies use misleading terms, potentially greenwashing consumers.

This causes a lot of confusion for consumers who are trying their best to have less of an effect on the environment, but who are potentially pulled in by greenwashing claims and buzzwords used by producers. 

For example, manufacturers and companies label products as “plastic free” because they see their bio-based plastics in a different category to conventional plastics. This is misleading.

2. Replacing plastics with bio-based plastics only solves half a problem.

Mostly when discussing bioplastics for flossing, we are discussing bio-based plastics. This means that the same structure of plastic is being made, but the only difference is that a renewable resource is being used instead of fossil fuels. 

This only solves half the problem – the starting point for the plastics is more sustainable by using biomass (crops like castor bean oil) instead of conventional fossil fuels. They have a lower carbon footprint.

This only solves half the problem as there are still problems with disposal of these materials.

3. Biodegradable plastics need different recycling processes

Project Drawdown also explains one of the other biggest challenges for bioplastics is separation from other waste and appropriate processing. 

Biodegradable and compostable plastics need labelling to fully explain what this means. 

These types of plastics need sorting from conventional plastics (for which there are already recycling systems in place). They can damage existing recycling facilities.

Unless the sorting schemes are well organised for disposing of biodegradable and compostable plastics, they are no more sustainable than conventional soft plastic materials. 

4. By using bioplastics we are still relying on single use plastics

Using bioplastics (bio-based and biodegradable types), we do not change our reliance on plastics, especially single use plastics. 

An example of this is when replacing the plastic on single use flossettes. We should be focussing on reusable products rather than changing the material of the handle.

Swapping out one type of plastic for another does not encourage a change in society to reduce the overall amount of waste produced. We will still have the same problems with either detrimental production processes and/or waste ending up in landfill and our oceans.

In this respect, bioplastics are not a good alternative to conventional plastics.

Is bio-based plastic biodegradable or compostable? 

A bio-based plastic is not automatically biodegradable. 

Bio-based just means the original ingredients come from a plant rather than fossil fuels. 

Some bio-based plastic is “biodegradable”. But it is not naturally compostable.

If something is biodegradable, it simply means that it breaks down in the presence of bacteria. This is different from compostable materials.

Biodegradable is vague and doesn’t mean that the material will break down fully and leave no residues.

This suggests that something will break down naturally, like composting. But when it comes to plastics, it is possible for microplastics to be left behind

Biodegradable claims are not normally supported with any independent testing because there aren’t any. If you want to put something on a compost pile (home or industrial), the product needs to be tested to meet compostability standards. 

Some biodegradable materials are compostable. This is what we normally think of when biodegradable is discussed. When looking for something biodegradable, we normally look for something that can be thrown on a compost heap with no problems.

If something is compostable it will break down into biomass, carbon dioxide and water. The biomass remaining after composting will be beneficial to the earth. This usually requires specific environments.

In many countries around the world, compostable is a protected claim and manufacturers cannot label something as compostable without having met strict guidelines and passed independent testing.

As a material, PLA has been certified compostable in industrial facilities. Biosphere (a company that makes PLA) explains:

  • PLA requires moisture and heat over 60℃ to begin the process.
  • PLA does not and will not biodegrade without these environments. 
  • If your home compost pile does not reach  60℃ and lacks water PLA will do nothing.

When it comes to confirming this, individual products should still be tested as things like wax coatings can affect the compostability.

During the research I have done, no companies have independently verified that their floss, handles, or caps meet the standards for being labelled as compostable.

That said, Eorth undertook their own testing of bio-based plastic floss (made from corn PLA) and a silk option. They found that both broke down in home composting conditions, although the silk was much faster than the PLA.

This blog also tested other (non-floss) PLA items and came to the same conclusion. This is not concrete evidence, only at home testing!

These sorts of DIY experiments are why manufacturers can get away with “biodegradable” claims without meeting strict compostable” standards.

Is bamboo the most eco friendly option?

Bamboo interdental brushes

Not necessarily. 

When looking for a more eco-friendly option for your dental products, bamboo can seem like an obvious choice. 

It is available as an option for interdental brushes and flosspicks (as well as bamboo toothbrushes, of course).

It is popular because it is made of a “natural” material – bamboo. Bamboo is a fast growing grass, often it is also grown without chemicals.

Overall bamboo has the lowest carbon emissions compared to other materials.

In fact, Project Drawdown lists bamboo production on degraded land as one of their recommendations for reducing worldwide carbon emissions. They believe that it could help sequester carbon emissions. It is also a very cost effective solution. They recognize that these savings could be even greater where bamboo is substituted for other materials such as aluminium or plastic, such as the case for dental products.

However when researchers looked and compared the carbon emissions and the impact on health, bamboo had mixed results.

One company, Bogo Brush, originally used bamboo as a more environmentally friendly alternative to plastic. They now use bio-based plastic and recycled plastic to make their brushes. They say they moved from bamboo because:

  • Production of bamboo can be inefficient and create product damage and waste
  • Wooden handles can harbour moisture and bacteria
  • Communication with overseas bamboo suppliers can be a challenge for english speaking manufacturers
  • Shipping bamboo from China to local warehouses releases greenhouse gases from transport 
  • It is difficult to have transparency into the harvest and production of the bamboo used 

Also consider that bamboo is not any better waste wise, unless you have the ability to compost the handle. If you do not have a compost pile or garden waste collection, the handles will be disposed of with general waste.

How to dispose of dental floss / floss picks / interdental cleaners

Dental floss is not recyclable, no matter what the manufacturer says! It is contaminated waste. On top of that the material is almost impossible to recycle due to the small amounts.

Silk floss can be added to home compost units or sent to industrial compost facilities. 

Corn based PLA is a bio-based plastic that has been certified industrially compostable, but currently there is a lack of infrastructure to compost it industrially. It cannot be added to household recycling or garden waste collections. A separate collection would be required for it, and currently there is a lack of industrial facilities to compost it.

As discussed above, it’s possible that small amount of PLA could break down in home compost piles. But it will be a slow process and it may not fully breakdown.

Other bio-based plastics may not be biodegradable or compostable, depending on the final structure. This includes bio-based nylon.

If you don’t have access to composting facilities, or if the floss is not made of a material to send to composting facilities, dispose of your floss with your general waste.

Do not flush floss down the toilet or wash it down the sink! It can clog the system and cause blockages in the pipes.

For floss picks/flossettes, remove the floss part and dispose as above. The handle can be recycled separately, depending on the material.

For interdental brushes, remove the wire and fibre part and dispose of as general waste. The handle can be recycled separately.

Some TerraCycle schemes accept flossettes and interdental brushes, but you need to check the individual scheme. For an explanation about these recycling schemes, see our page on recycling dental products.

For floss picks and interdental brush handles, you could recycle them in the following ways (but always check your local schemes to confirm this is correct):

MaterialHow to dispose
BambooCompost pile or garden waste collection or general waste
Bio-based plastic number 5/PPRegular plastic recycling
Corn-based PLAGeneral waste (or test in your home compost)
“Biodegradable” plasticGeneral waste
“Recycled” plasticGenerally accepted in regular plastic recycling.

Product guide — reviews and recommendations for each product type

In the following sections I layout my research and testing for each type of interdental products.

There’s a lot of information here, so use the following links if you’d like to jump straight to a particular type of product:

Floss

Key takeaways & testing summary

Floss is an acceptable form of interdental cleaning if you have a good technique and do not have active gum disease.

Silk based floss is best when it comes to end-of-life options and is “zero waste” because it is compostable, but it is not vegan.

But the fact that it is compostable doesn’t automatically make it the more eco-friendly option.

Bio-based plastic floss is less energy intensive and requires fewer resources to make, and so is probably the best overall option for the environment.

If you have active gum disease or cannot use floss effectively, you should prioritize your dental health and use interdental brushes instead.

I found that all the eco-friendly flosses I tried felt different to ordinary floss or tape. They were not as smooth and did not “glide” so well between the teeth. But I could see that they were removing debris from between the teeth.

I was able to compare the same brand of silk and bio-based floss for Bambaw and Georganics (although Georganics now no longer do silk) and found them to be comparable.

I don’t think there is a lot of difference when using the different types of floss. Therefore you could pick the floss you want based on things like packaging, dispenser, company ethos, and price.

Floss being used on person by dentist

There are two alternatives to regular plastic floss

Dental floss is single use for hygiene reasons. But it is possible for this single use plastic to be replaced with something more environmentally friendly.

We recommend using approx 15cm of floss per session (some people may use more or less than this). With daily use, that is almost 55 metres per person per year. Multiply that across the whole population and there is a lot of used floss being sent to landfill.

It’s important to find an eco-friendly alternative to the conventional plastic floss we are using.

There are now a number of alternatives to traditional nylon dental floss.

However, these fall into two categories:

  1. “Zero waste” / compostable but are made from animal products.
  2. Vegan / non animal product based but which are not certified 100% biodegradable or compostable (at present).

Essentially you have a choice to make about which you would prefer, depending on your own personal ethics and what your environmental priorities are.

Silk is not vegan, and even peace silk isn’t recognized as cruelty free. Bio-based alternatives are still plastic, and don’t let any manufacturers tell you otherwise!

After the core material of the floss, you then need to consider whether you want it waxed or not. Again, the wax could be an animal by-product (beeswax) or plant based. However, when it comes to wax there are 100% biodegradable/compostable options for both.

Here I will outline the different options available, with their pros and cons. I will also give examples and recommendations for each.

Biodegradable‘ is a vague term normally used by companies that do not have tests to verify the compostability of a product.

Technically, unless supported by independent testing, none of these products are definitely biodegradable or compostable, but I will refer to materials as such based on accepted knowledge.

Silk dental floss

Silk is recommended as an alternative floss material. It is a good option because the thread is soft, so it won’t damage the gums, yet has a slight roughness.

Manufacturers say this slight roughness is what gives a good clean, and in theory that is good, but there isn’t much evidence behind this.

There is no clinical research into the effectiveness of silk floss or how it compares to traditional dental floss.

Silk is made from the cocoons of silkworms. The silkworms feed (commonly on mulberry leaves) and then produce the cocoon and enclose themselves in it as they transition into moths. They are an animal by-product.

Collecting the silk also requires killing the moths before they hatch, by boiling them. Ahimsa/peace silk is proposed as a cruelty free alternative to this and I explain more about that below. If you are vegan or against animal cruelty, silk is not the option for you.

The best quality of silk for floss is its end of life options. Silk will decompose when placed on a compost pile.

The amount of time it takes to fully break down depends on many external factors such as the health of the compost pile.

Manufacturers have given estimates of 3-6 months to compost in a commercial facility or 6-10 months in your home compost bin (see the at-home studies done by Treebird).

When using natural silk to floss, you will find that it isn’t as strong as conventional nylon floss. It is more prone to shredding, especially if you keep reusing the same section. This may be a problem if you use it to refill a floss holder. But otherwise, just make sure you move down the line when using it the conventional way.

The compostable and “natural” properties of silk sound great. But there are questions about whether it is actually any better than a plastic equivalent.

There is a lack of research specifically about silk used for dental floss. But studies have been done on silk used for other textiles, and a life cycle assessment of silk shows that silk factories require high energy input and water consumption for the right environment conditions.

They also need a lot of wood (usually mulberry wood) for the silk worms, requiring its own resources.

This article really goes into detail about why silk isn’t as good as we might think it is (using independent measurements too), and the Council of Fashion Designers of America also has good information about the manufacture of silk. Although it relates to the textile industry, the issues in production are the same.

Silk floss pros and cons

ProsCons
“Zero-waste” – decomposes in compost pilesNot vegan — it’s an animal by product
Plastic freeNot cruelty free
Renewable resourceNot as strong as plastic — can shred in tight spots
Fossil fuel freePotentially high environmental impact from production
Many options availableHigh energy requirements to make
High water requirements to make

Silk dental floss products

Radius Natural Biodegradable Silk Floss

Close up of Radius natural silk floss

Radius makes two types of their “biodegradable silk floss” — unscented and green tea jasmine scented. The unscented is coated with candelilla plant wax whilst the scented uses carnauba wax. Whilst the waxes are plant based, the silk floss is not vegan. 

The oils used in favoring are USDA certified organic.

The floss is a 30m spool that comes in plastic free packaging. It arrives in a single use cardboard box.

As a company, Radius is “committed to a healthier planet” and aims to reduce its impact on the environment by using recycled and recyclable materials.

It is an American company, with a factory in the US (although they do say that their floss is spun in Colombia, on a Fairtrade Co-Op).

Where to buy

WooBamboo Silk Dental Floss

Woo bamboo silk dental floss
Woo bamboo floss close up

This floss is made from silk, coated in beeswax and is mint scented. It is not vegan and it is not certified cruelty free. The floss itself is made in Italy, although the company is American.

Woobamboo floss comes as a 37.5m spool in the packaging dispenser. The packaging for the floss is single use bio-based plastic which they say is also commercially compostable. The cardboard used is from post-consumer recycled content. At least the packaging is also the dispenser. As much as it would be great to see no plastic, as a brand, they are certified plastic negative. 

As a company, WooBamboo is clearly focussed on providing environmentally friendly products “Through innovation, inspiration, and positivity-  our mission is to change the world, one healthy smile at a time.” They have a range that includes brushes and interdental brushes too.

Where to buy

KMH Touches Pure Silk Dental Floss / Flosspot Silk

kmh flosspot silk floss

Their Flosspot Silk contains 40m of silk floss coated in a wax, which they do not name. It is not vegan and not certified cruelty free. They do have a vegan alternative, made from bio-based plastic (the Flosspot Gold).

The floss comes in a glass refillable jar, with refills available as a pack of 2 x 40m in a card box. The packaging for the glass jar is a cardboard box. The box for the dispenser must have a clear window (according to Health Canada guidelines), but this is made from bio-based plastic which may be “biodegradable” under the right circumstances.

Flosspot does not have independent testing to support its biodegradable claims, but it does have USDA accreditation (assessed by the USDA BioPreferred®️ Program) for claims about using bio-based materials.

There is not much information about KMH, which is a Canadian brand, apart from the fact that they have been seeking plastic free alternatives to dental products since 2015.

Where to buy

Notes from my testing

I tested out two different silk flosses: Radius and WooBamboo.

The Radius silk dental floss came in a plastic dispenser inside a cardboard box. This use of plastic makes it unsuitable for someone looking for a plastic free option. Although it is plastic 5, so is easily recyclable.

At 30m, this is a fairly average amount of floss per purchase (although others do come at 50m). I had the unscented flavor, so cannot comment on the flavors available.

The floss itself was strong and did not shred between the teeth. The wax coating is light, so there is some friction when moving it between the teeth, but this wasn’t enough to make it difficult to use.

The WooBamboo silk dental floss comes in a card and bio-based plastic packet. This packet becomes the dispenser, and the metal floss cutter is incorporated into it.

There seems to be some wasteful packaging as the top half is thrown away, not needed for the dispenser.

The fact that it is made of two different materials makes it difficult to recycle. Additionally, because it is “biodegradable” plastic packaging, it cannot be recycled in current plastic recycling streams. The dispenser is easy to put together:

  1. Tear off top half of packaging
  2. 2 remove sticker
  3. Open dispenser
  4. Thread floss – make sure it goes up and around the small plastic hook sticking out, this helps later when you want to pull more floss through after cutting.
  5. Thread under cutter
  6. Close dispenser
  7. Replace sticker (helps keep the dispenser closed. 

The spool is longer than average, at 37m, but disappointingly is wrapped around a plastic core. The floss itself is creamy in color with little shine. It has a nice minty smell, although this is not very noticeable when flossing. The floss itself slides easily between the teeth, although I did get some shredding (even between teeth that aren’t very crowded).

Other options that I haven’t tested yet:

Best silk dental floss

Of the options I researched for silk dental floss, there are none that I would recommend.

The downside for both Radius and WooBamboo is the use of plastic in the spool. This single use plastic is something you probably want to avoid if you are looking for a zero waste floss. 

None of the popular brand options come completely plastic free. 

There are better options for peace silk floss (see below). If you are looking for the best silk dental floss, I would recommend buying one of these products rather than the ones listed above, especially as the price difference is minimal.

Peace silk dental floss

Peace silk, also known as “non-violent”, “ahimsa”, or “cruelty free” silk is produced from the cocoons of moths.

It differs from traditional silk because rather than killing the moths during the production process, the moths for peace silk are allowed to complete their metamorphosis and hatch before the silk cocoons are collected.

This means that the moths are not killed in the process of collecting the silk. Some producers believe this is a less cruel method of production.

The term peace silk is not protected, and there is no independent way to validate the claims. It is not vegan, and cruelty free organisations like PETA do not support or endorse peace silk as cruelty free.

Peace silk is typically more expensive than regular silk for textile material. That said, there doesn’t seem to be much of a price difference when it comes to buying dental floss.

Criticism of this form of silk includes that it isn’t much better than other methods of making silk.

CFDA explains more about the moths used for silk, saying:

“After hundreds of years of selective breeding, it is not intended to live beyond cocoon stage and has lost its ability to fly, see, camouflage, and fear predators. So a peace silk moth will most likely live a short life in captivity during which it may get the opportunity to be used for breeding. Which begs the question – how ethical is it really?“.

This blog by a silkworm keeper also does a good job of explaining the potential problems with silk labelled as cruelty free. 

As with regular silk, the biggest advantage of using ahimsa silk floss is the fact that it can decompose in compost. However the same argument remains regarding whether it is actually a more beneficial material when it comes to its impact on the environment.

Peace silk floss pros and cons

ProsCons
“Zero-waste” – decomposes in compost pilesNot necessarily truly cruelty free
Plastic freeNo regulation to confirm it is cruelty free
Renewable resourceNot vegan — it’s an animal by product
Fossil fuel freeNot as strong as plastic – can shred in tight spots
Many options availablePotentially high environmental impact from production
“Cruelty free” (compared to traditional silk production)High energy requirements to make
High water requirements to make

Peace silk products

Treebird Pure Silk Eco Floss

The Treebird Pure Silk Eco Floss is made from ahimsa or “peace” silk. It is advertised as being a cruelty free alternative to traditional silk.

Because it is made from an animal by-product though, it is not vegan. It is coated in a plant-based wax called Candelilla wax. It has a minty flavor from added essential oils, but there are no artificial colors or fragrances.

Treebird explains they expect their floss to decompose on a compost pile anywhere between 3 and 10 months, although this has not been independently tested. 

The floss comes as a 30m spool in a refillable container made of either glass or metal with a stainless-steel lid.

The packaging itself is plastic free, made from a kraft paper box. The refills are 30m long and come in a pack of two or five in plastic free packaging.

North American orders ship from the USA whereas European orders ship from within Europe.

More information is available on the Treebird website

Where to buy

Bambaw Silk Floss

Bambaw is a Belgian brand who have a wide variety of plastic free alternatives for everything from water bottles to makeup pads. They strive towards zero-waste products and to be carbon neutral, as well as supporting a number of charitable causes. Their supply chain and transport are carbon-neutral, certified by the CO2 Logic label. They are verifying their claims with independent assessment where possible.

This floss is made from ahimsa/peace silk made in China. It is not vegan (although they do have a vegan bio-based plastic equivalent). It has a candelilla wax coating and is mint flavored. The refills come as a pack of 2 in plastic free paper packaging.

The 50m spool comes in a reusable stainless steel dispenser, with one spare reel. They are packaged in a kraft paper box which is plastic free. The refills come as 2 x 50m in plastic free packaging.

Where to buy

Notes from my testing

I tested the Georganics silk dental floss in cardamom flavor. The 30m came in a refillable glass jar, in a recyclable cardboard box.

The glass jar has Georganics written in green on the side. The floss is multifilament, and is white in color with a slight shine to it.

The scent itself is very mild. I could barely taste it when flossing with it, only when I opened the lid to the jar.

The floss cutter is built into the metal lid. It works well enough, and when cutting the floss there was no shredding.

When it comes to using the floss, it slid nicely between my teeth with no shredding. Where I have some crowded teeth, the floss flattened nicely and I had no problems getting it between those teeth.

I had no problems using the floss. However I don’t think it’s available any more – the Georganics website and amazon stores now only sell bio-based plastic flosses, with no silk versions available.

Their newer products are also 50m spools with a larger jar. As such, their refills will not fit in the old jars.

I also tested the Bambaw silk floss. It comes in a refillable container, and then refills can be purchased as a pack of 2 x 50m.

50m spool length is very generous and should last several months. The floss came in plastic free packaging (not even any tape or glue to hold the box together).

There is no core to the spool. It is mint scented, which you can smell as soon as you open the package, but this is not overpowering. It does not taste particularly minty.

The floss itself is thin, with only a light waxing. It does glide between the teeth, but there is little resistance, which just feels like it is doing a more thorough job. There is no shredding when using the floss, even in tighter spaces.

Others options that I haven’t tested yet:

Best peace silk dental floss

Georganics would have been my top choice for a silk dental floss, due to the company ethics and the packaging available. It was also widely available in shops and online. However, since writing, Georganics have stopped selling a peace silk version of their floss.

Because of this, my recommendation for the best silk dental floss is the Bambaw silk dental floss. This is because the product was safe to use, and the company itself is also striving to meet environmental targets, whilst also supporting it with verifiable independent testing. In addition to this, it is also widely available online.

Bamboo and charcoal dental floss

“Bamboo” floss is often touted as an environmentally friendly floss. Its name would make you think that the entire thing is made from bamboo. But that isn’t the case. 

In a textbook example of greenwashing, these companies are using advertising to make you believe this version of floss is more environmentally friendly than it actually is.

In all the examples of bamboo floss that I researched, the bamboo is actually about the charcoal that is embedded into the floss. The floss itself can be made of anything from regular nylon, polyester, or bio-based plastic.

Do not be tricked into believing your “bamboo floss” is automatically biodegradable or compostable. 

The touted benefits of using bamboo or charcoal dental floss include:

  • Being able to see the plaque you have removed on the dark floss (true, but you can see it on normal floss if you want to take a look).
  • Bamboo uses less water and energy than plastic floss. This is true. But the bamboo is an unnecessary addition to the existing floss product so is a complete waste of energy and water.
  • Being biodegradable — this depends on the core material of the floss other than the added bamboo charcoal.
  • That the charcoal whitens the teeth. It doesn’t, but flossing may help prevent and remove stains on the tooth surface regardless of whether the floss contains bamboo or not.

This seems to be jumping onto the bandwagon of using charcoal dental products, such as charcoal toothpaste and charcoal toothbrushes. There is no evidence to support using bamboo floss or charcoal floss over any other type of floss.

Bamboo floss pros & cons

The pros and cons of bamboo floss really depend on what the underlying floss is made from and what wax is used. The packaging (or lack of) may also contribute to the pros, but this has nothing to do with the floss itself.

There are no environmental benefits to using bamboo floss that contains normal nylon (or similar) fibres. 

There may be some environmental benefits from using bamboo floss which has a core fibre made from a bio-based plastic such as corn PLA. See below for more information on these.

For all types of bamboo floss, the major con is that it is using unnecessary ingredients. This ingredient requires more energy and water than if it was not added, and does nothing to improve the end of life options for the floss (i.e. doesn’t make them more biodegradable).

Bamboo floss products

I’ve listed the available bamboo floss products in a table to make it easier to display what the main fibre and wax are made of:

ProductMain fibreWax
Life Unpacked Zero-Waste Biodegradable Bamboo Charcoal FlossContains 2% polyestercandelilla
The Bam&Boo Charcoal Dental FlossCan’t find any informationcandelilla
Treebird Bamboo Charcoal floss 19% biodegradable polyestercandelilla
Georganics Dental Floss with Activated Charcoal“Corn PLA Floss”Organic “vegetable wax”

Notes from my testing

Georganics charcoal floss

I tested the Georganics natural floss with activated charcoal. This is from their older range and is 30m long.

The same floss now comes in 50m spools and a new style jar. The old style also used polyester fibre, whereas the new style uses corn based PLA as the fibre.

It’s currently a crossover period, and depending on where you buy from you may get 30m or 50m.

The floss comes in a refillable glass jar, in a recyclable cardboard box. The glass jar has Georganics written in black on the side.

The floss cutter is built into the metal lid. It works well enough, and when cutting the floss there was no shredding. The floss is multifilament but does not easily come apart.

It is black in color. It has a nice minty smell as soon as you pull it out of the box and tastes minty when you are using it. 

When it comes to using the floss, it is quite resistant going between the teeth, although it does not shred or split, which is good.

Where I have some crowded teeth, the floss did get through, but there was a bit of a snap getting it through.

The floss isn’t as pleasant to use as the Georganics silk or Georganics corn PLA floss, but overall I had no problems using the floss.

The charcoal doesn’t offer any additional benefits, and there is non biodegradable plastic (polyester) in the mix, which is a shame.

I have not yet tried the new type corn PLA with charcoal, but have tested other Georganics PLA floss (see below for a review on that).

Best bamboo dental floss

I would not recommend choosing a charcoal or bamboo dental floss for environmental reasons. You do not gain any additional benefits from the bamboo added to the fibres.

If you want to use dental floss with bamboo, look for one that has a 100% silk or 100% bio-based plastic fibre base.

Corn-based PLA: bio-based plastic dental floss

Corn-based PLA (polylactic acid) is a bio-based plastic. Using a bio-based plastic instead of conventional plastic reduces reliance on fossil fuels and has a lower carbon footprint. In some cases, bio-based plastics have more environmentally friendly disposal options than just going to landfill.

To make a bio-based plastic, a sustainable ingredient is used instead of using fossil fuels such as oil. For corn based PLA the base ingredient is fermented and processed corn starch. The final material is considered to be more sustainable because it is not using up finite oil resources. Sugarcane is an alternative base material for PLA.

The use of a plant to create the plastic reduces the overall carbon footprint. It is almost carbon neutral, although this depends on manufacturing conditions and proper disposal. Whilst there is no dental specific evidence, life cycle analysis for several makers of PLA confirm the low CO2 emissions associated with the material, e.g. this paper about PLA from sugarcane.

Bio-based PLA is not accepted in regular plastic recycling facilities and can contaminate current recyclable plastics.

Adding bio-degradable plastics to regular plastic recycling lowers the quality of the final recycled plastic. This is why plastics labelled as compostable or bio-degradable should not be placed with regular household plastic recycling unless you are specifically told it is safe to do so.

If bio-degradable plastics, such as PLA, are added to landfill sites they can release methane. In fact, incorrect disposal of PLA can dramatically increase emissions by PLA.

Bio-degradable or compostable plastics should also not be added to compost piles unless they have been tested and approved to do so.

Strict testing to be able to label bio-based PLA has not been completed for floss products. However some individuals have done their own at-home testing and seem to be happy that PLA will break down on their home compost piles. This is a decision you can make depending on the health of your own compost pile.

More certified compostable products are becoming available. One major problem is that there is a lack of industrial composting facilities world wide. As this article explains, at the moment compostable packaging will need to be processed with other non-recyclable waste.

It is possible that small amount of PLA will break down in a home compost pile, but there is a lack of in-depth studies to confirm this.

Eorth undertook their own testing of bio-based plastic floss (made from corn PLA) and a silk option. They found that both broke down in home composting conditions, although the silk was much faster than the PLA.

This blog also tested other (non-floss) PLA items and came to the same conclusion. This is not concrete evidence, only at home testing!

If you have a home compost pile you could test it to see if a small amount does breakdown. But be aware that it will need the right conditions (see above), will take a long time, and may not break down fully if it fails.

Bite has a good explanation of some of the pros and cons of using PLA for floss.

Corn-based PLA floss pros & cons

ProsCons
Compostable in industrial composting facilitiesCompanies referring to it as “plastic free” – potentially greenwashing
May break down in the right home composting conditionsCannot be recycled with mainstream plastics
Sustainable base material (corn) instead of fossil fuels
Carbon neutral (or close to)
Doesn’t emit toxic fumes when incinerated
Vegan/no animal by-products
Strong – unlikely to tear
Many options available
Less energy to make compared to conventional plastic 

Corn-based PLA floss products

KMH Touches Biodegradable Dental Floss / Flosspot Gold

kmh flosspot gold

The KMH Flosspot Gold is a vegan alternative to the KMH Flossport Silk. It contains 50m of bio-based plastic (corn based PLA). The floss coated in candelilla wax, and flavoured with “ginger mint”. It is a self-certified vegan.

The floss comes in a refillable stainless steel jar, with refills available as a pack of 2 x 50m in a card box. The packaging for the glass jar is a cardboard box. The box for the dispenser must have a clear window (according to Health Canada guidelines), but this is made from bio-based plastic which may be “biodegradable” under the right circumstances.

Flosspot does not have independent testing to support its biodegradable claims, but it does have USDA accreditation (assessed by the USDA BioPreferred®️ Program) for bio-based claims.

There is not much information about KMH, which is a Canadian brand, apart from the fact that they have been seeking plastic free alternatives to dental products since 2015.

Where to buy

Georganics

Variety of georganics floss

All Georganics floss is now made from a bio-based plastic, corn based PLA and coated in “vegetable wax”. There is the option for orange flavored or spearmint flavoring.

They say that their floss is compostable, although they do not provide independent verification for this.

The oil used is COSMOS certified organic. All Georganics products are certified vegan (Vegan Society) and cruelty free (Cruelty Free International Leaping Bunny). It is one of the few manufacturers to have these claims independently verified.

They have recently changed their product, and it now comes in a 50m spool in a refillable glass jar with an aluminium lid. The jar comes in a recyclable kraft paper box. The refills come as a pack of 2 x 50m in a kraft box.

Note that these spools are 20m longer than the previous style so if you have an existing Georganics jar, the refill will not fit.

They have deliberately increased the length of the floss spools to reduce the environmental impact as shipping a new product is required less often.

As a company, Georganics obviously strive to be ethical as they pay a living wage to their workers, and also have charitable connections with 1% for the planet.

Where to buy

Bambaw bio-based floss

bambaw bio based floss

A corn-based PLA (plastic) floss with candelilla wax coating and peppermint flavoring. It is a vegan alternative to their peace silk floss.

Bambaw is a Belgian brand that has a wide variety of plastic free alternatives for everything from water bottles to makeup pads.

They strive towards zero-waste products and to be carbon neutral, as well as supporting a number of charitable causes.

Their supply chain and transport are carbon-neutral, certified by the CO2 Logic label. They are verifying their claims with independent assessment where possible.

This vegan floss is made from a bio-based plastic, which Bambaw says “biodegrades in an industrial compost”.

They don’t have any independent testing to verify the breakdown claims, but PLA is generally accepted to be compostable in industrial facilities.

It has a candelilla wax coating and is mint flavored. The refills come as a pack of 2 in plastic free paper packaging.

The 50m spool comes in a reusable stainless steel dispenser, and a spare spool. It is packaged in a kraft paper box and is plastic free. The refills come as 2 x 50m in plastic free packaging.

Where to buy

Notes from my testing

I tested the Georganics natural dental floss in orange flavor. Confusingly, in some places this is referred to as “ahimsa silk” and “vegan” which is completely contradictory.

This is, however, corn PLA floss. This is from their older range and is 30m long. The same floss now comes in 50m spools and a new style jar.

It’s currently a crossover period, and depending on where you buy from you may get 30m or 50m. The floss comes in a refillable glass jar, in a recyclable cardboard box.

The glass jar has Georganics written in orange on the side. The floss cutter is built into the metal lid. The floss is multifilament, and is white in color with a slight shine to it. The scent itself is pretty much non-existent – I couldn’t smell it or taste it at all.

When it comes to using the floss, it does slide nicely between my teeth with no shredding. Where I have some crowded teeth, the floss flattened nicely and I had no problems getting it between those teeth. I had no problems using the floss and it worked as expected. 

Another floss I trialed was the Bambaw bio-based floss in mint. The 50m spool comes completely plastic free in a metal refillable container.

The container has a logo on the side and an integrated sutter on the lid. The outer packaging is cardboard with no plastic, glue, or tape used to seal the box.

Immediately you can smell the mint, and it does have a minty taste when using it, one of the stronger tasting options I have tested.

The floss itself is a soft, multifilament string. It is white in color and appears slightly shiny. During use, it did shred slightly in very tight spots, but otherwise was comfortable to use.

Other options that I haven’t tested yet

Best corn-based PLA floss

Of those I tested, my opinion was that the best option for corn based floss is the Georganics floss, with the Bambaw option a close second.

The Georganics I found to be slightly better to use, and didn’t experience any shredding when using it.

Both come in plastic free packaging and both companies are promoting sustainable business practices. As a brand, Georganics only sells vegan products whereas Bambaw also sells non-vegan products, if that influences your decision.

Both come in 50m plastic free spools with a refillable container. The Bambaw container is metal whereas the Georganics container is glass – so this might influence your decision as some people have reported glass containers breaking if dropped. Both come as packs of 2 x 50m refills.

Georganics is widely available in shops and online, but Bambaw you will likely only be able to buy online.

Cost wise, Georganics is slightly cheaper in most places I looked.

I have not yet tested Flosspot, but have included extra detail above as, on paper, it is a good option.

Castor oil-based nylon: bio-based plastic dental floss

Bio-based plastics offer an alternative to traditional plastics used for floss. They use a renewable resource as the base ingredient. Here, the plastic is made from castor oil.

The change in base ingredients makes the material more sustainable than conventional nylon, with a smaller carbon footprint too.  This is the same concept as corn based PLA floss and has the same benefits.

Bio-based nylon leaves something to be desired when it comes to end of life options. It is not biodegradable or compostable, and it is not recyclable. It must be thrown away with general waste.

One upside of this is that there is no potential to get it wrong and therefore contaminate plastic recycling or cause methane production at landfill, as is the case with corn based PLA.

Castor oil-based floss pros & cons

ProsCons
Sustainable source ingredient (castor oil) instead of fossil fuelsNot recyclable or compostable
Lower carbon emissions – closer to carbon neutralFew options available
Strong – unlikely to tearCompanies referring to it as “plastic free” – potentially greenwashing
Vegan/no animal by-products used
Less energy to make compared to conventional plastic 

Castor oil-based nylon floss products

Tiofloss

Tiofloss is the only floss I found that uses bio-based nylon to make it. Most flosses use a bio-based PLA.  Unfortunately, the nylon is not recyclable or compostable so needs to be thrown away with general waste.

At the time of writing we I could not find any retailers in Canada stocking it, but it may be available in the future so I have included it for reference.

It is self-certified vegan. 

There are no certifications for the bio-based material claims, but they do clearly state CO2 emissions for their materials.

They state that their bio-based nylon emits 4.0 kg CO2 per kg compared to normal nylon which has an average of more than 9 kg CO2 per kg. This is for the material only, and they say they are waiting to do further LCAs of their actual products.

Tiofloss comes as a 50m spool, wrapped around a bio-based plastic core. The floss is waxed with coconut oil and is mint flavored.

The packaging used is cardboard, with an integrated cutter so the packaging is also the single use container.

The product is made in Europe. As a company, Tio produces environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional plastic dental care products. They compensate for emissions in transporting raw materials by supporting Plant-for-the-Planet.

Notes from my testing

At the time of writing I haven’t yet had a chance to test floss made from bio-based nylon and so am unable to make any recommendations.

Recycled plastic floss

Most dental floss is made using virgin (new) plastic. There are a few options that now use recycled plastic to make their dental floss.

Recycled material requires less energy to make than new plastic (Cocofloss estimates 64% less). It has lower carbon emissions and less water usage when making it.

Ultimately, floss made from recycled plastic still has limited options for when you are finished with it. It is not recyclable, not biodegradable, and not compostable. Because of this, it will go to landfill with other general waste items. 

ProsCons
Less energy needed to make compared to conventional plasticLandfill waste – is not recyclable, biodegradable or compostable
Lower carbon emissions
Less water used
Strong – unlikely to tear
Vegan/no animal by-products used
Prevents the need for new plastic to be made

Recycled plastic floss products

Spotlight Oral Care Floss

Spotlight Oral Care Floss is made in Italy, using 100% recycled plastic bottles. It is self-certified vegan and cruelty free.

There are three “types”, each with a different active ingredients:

  • Floss for tooth decay – fluoride 
  • Floss for gum health – chlorhexidine
  • Floss for whitening teeth – hydrogen peroxide

The website lacks information about the amount of each of these ingredients, so it is difficult to comment whether they will actually have an effect.

The 50m spool comes in a single use cellulose wrapper, which the company says is recyclable (but which is a challenge in the real world!). The cardboard box it comes in also acts as the floss dispenser.

Spotlight Oral Care  is a higher end beauty brand rather than a company solely focussed on environmentally friendly products.

It is a company founded by dentists that focuses on providing products that “combines the latest advances in oral care research with the highest quality of ingredients”.

Secondary to that, they have also tried to produce products which are more sustainable.

I am cautious about recommending them as they have lots of buzzwords like “100% earth”, “clean, toxin-free ingredients”, “zero waste” and “zero harm” products, which they say is backed by science, but don’t link to this on their site.

They also say you can recycle their floss, but this is not true (see our section above for more information).

Where to buy

Cocofloss

Cocofloss have recently made the change to recycled material.

The floss is made from 85% recycled polyester, sourced from PET plastic bottles. There is still some new plastic included. It is not biodegradable and is not recyclable. 

The floss is coated with coconut oil and a vegan microcrystalline wax (which they do not name). There is a choice of flavors — the mint flavor is all natural; the others (coconut, strawberry, orange) contain artificial aromas.

The floss is self-declared vegan and certified Cruelty Free by the Leaping Bunny Programme.

They say that their multifilament approach gives a better clean compared to monofilament floss (but do not provide evidence to support this claim).

The floss comes as a 30m spool on a plastic bobbin. The plastic container is refillable and delivered in a card box. Refills come in compostable plastic packaging.

Cocofloss is made in Italy, and the company is based in the US. As a company, they have partnered with Wildlife Conservation Network and pledged to donate US$10,000 per year.

They aren’t your traditional eco company, and still have a fair bit of single use plastic. But it’s good to see recycled plastic being used as dental floss.

Where to buy

Notes from my testing

I have not yet tested any recycled plastic dental floss and so wouldn’t be able to make a product recommendation.

But, given the plastic used in the packaging of the flosses above, they may not be the best option if you are looking for an eco-friendly dental floss.

However, the packaging is something that should be easy to improve. If you can find a recycled plastic floss that has recyclable packaging, this would be one of the more environmentally floss options.

Other options that I haven’t tested yet:

Waxes used on dental floss

Microcrystalline wax

Microcrystalline wax is made from crude oil. It uses petroleum as a base and so is not an environmentally friendly ingredient in your dental floss. It is not biodegradable or compostable.

Candelilla wax

Candelilla wax is made from the plant Euphorbia antisyphilitica.

It is a natural wax, and is vegan.

As it is made from a sustainable resource, it is seen as an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional wax.

Carnauba wax

Carnauba wax is made from Copernicia cerifera -the Brazilian wax palm tree. 

It is a natural wax, and is vegan.

It is used to help the floss glide between the teeth.

As it is made from a sustainable resource, it is seen as an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional wax.

Beeswax

Beeswax (cera alba) is a natural wax taken from honeycombs made by honey bees. It is not vegan as it is made from an animal by-product.

It both binds flavor and helps floss glide.

As it is made from a sustainable resource, it is seen as an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional wax.

Reusable and refillable floss dispensers

Often floss is supplied in unrecyclable single use plastic packaging. Think of your normal floss packet – this would normally go to landfill. This container is then also packaged up – usually with more plastic.

Wherever possible, reusable packaging is favorable over single use. Using recycled materials to make packaging is also considered to be more environmentally friendly than new raw materials.

Using refill packaging uses fewer materials than having a new container each time. Example refill packaging for dental floss is a spool in a small kraft paper bag (which is recyclable or compostable). The floss is then placed into a reusable glass container which has the necessary sharp edge to cut the floss to length and which protects it in the bathroom or when carried around in a bag.

This lower use of packaging for refills does, however, have to be drawn up against the fact that reusable or refill packaging may well be more resource intensive than lightweight single use packaging. 

There is no study comparing the different types of packaging for floss, but this report looks to compare single use against reusable packaging for a huge variety of products. The report looks at numerous studies across sectors such as soft drinks, food delivery, and cleaning products. They report: “most of the studies point to reusable packaging as the most environmentally sound approach compared to different single-use options”

This study also shows how smaller packaging formats have higher emissions since they require more material per volume of beverage. This is why it is advantageous to buy in bulk rather than multiple smaller refills. Some companies are moving towards having longer floss spools to reduce how often refills are required. The average length seems to be about 30m, but some companies produce 50m and this is a better option.

The material you choose is very much a personal choice.

Glass looks nice, but can be prone to breakage if dropped. Metal options avoid the possibility of breakage.

Examples of reusable floss dispensers include:

GlassMetalPlastic
KMH Flosspot SilkTreebird Pure Silk Eco FlossCocofloss
Treebird Pure Silk Eco FlossBambaw Silk Floss
Georganics Dental FlossKMH Flosspot Gold

Comparison table of different types of floss

MaterialMain ingredientVeganCompostable
Silk dental floss (including ahimsa silk)Silk from silkworms (renewable)
Bamboo & charcoal dental flossPlastic floss (can be renewable or non-renewable)
Corn-based PLA dental flossFermented and processed corn starch (renewable)Compostable in industrial faciltions & maybe in the correct home compost conditions.
Castor Oil based nylon dental flossCastor beans (renewable)
Recycled plastic dental flossPre-existing plastic (typically fossil fuel based and non-renewable)
Common floss (nylon or PTFE)Fossil fuels (non-renewable)

Eco-friendly floss FAQ

Should I choose silk floss or bio-based floss?

If your priority is a compostable material that leaves no trace, pick silk.

If your priority is the lowest carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions, pick bio-based plastic such as corn-based PLA.

What is mulberry silk?

Some dental flosses refer to the material as mulberry silk. There is nothing particularly special about mulberry silk. The name is derived from the fact that it is made by the most commonly used silkworm, the mulberry silkworm (or Bombyx mori if you prefer). The worms are fed on mulberry leaves.

Mulberry silk is not vegan. It is not necessarily ahimsa/peace silk, cruelty free, or more environmentally friendly.

Waxed vs unwaxed floss – which is better?

The benefit of the wax coating is that it helps the floss glide over the tooth surface and can make the process and use that bit easier.

Adding this wax coating impacts the thickness of the floss and means that for some unwaxed floss is better for use in the tightest of spaces in the mouth.

The waxed floss tends to be stronger than the unwaxed. It is often more expensive too.

The type of wax used can affect the environmental impact of your floss. Some waxes are also derived from animal products, some from plant products, and some from plastics or oils.

Traditional nylon floss is normally coated in per-fluorinated chemicals (PFCs) as the “wax”, the health and environmental effects of which are relatively unknown.

Unwaxed floss can often reach or fit in tighter gaps, is cheaper and just as effective. 

Ultimately, It is a personal choice. There is no evidence to support using one over the other. 

Why shouldn’t I reuse dental floss?

Reusing dental floss may seem like an effective way to cut down on waste. If using your floss more than once, you will overall use less of it. 

But reusing regular dental floss — that made of silk, nylon, or bio-based plastic — is not recommended. 

This is because it can fray, causing damage to the gums and is more likely to harbour bacteria.

It will also lose its effectiveness as it is used.

Finally, reusing floss is not recommended as it can deposit bacteria in the mouth.

Should I try DIY dental floss? 

You may be tempted to use a DIY floss from another compostable thread such as cotton, or want to reduce waste by reusing an existing material.

As a dentist, I do not recommend making your own floss from second hand threads and materials found around the house.

There is a risk of bringing bacteria into your mouth and underneath your gums. This could cause infections and abscesses in your gums.

Secondly, materials which are not designed for flossing may break and become dislodged in the gum. I have picked many pieces of debris out of the gum (normally pieces of food) and know that they can cause quite a lot of pain before they are removed.

Interdental brushes

Key takeaways & testing summary

Interdental brushes are the most effective cleaning option.

If you want to prioritize your dental health, you should choose interdental brushes.

Whilst there are no 100% zero waste options, you can reduce your impact on the environment by using reusable handles, or handles made from compostable materials.

I tested a few different bamboo handled interdental brushes, and there wasn’t much to differentiate between each of them. Any one of the options can do the job fine.

Really, what you want to consider is whether or not bamboo is suitable for you — and this all depends on what recycling facilities you have available. If you don’t have access to composting facilities, such as a garden waste collection or home compost pile, bamboo may not be any more eco-friendly than plastic based options.

When it comes to plastic handles, recycled plastic is probably marginally more eco-friendly than plant-based plastic as it is reusing existing materials rather than making new ones.

A reusable handle would be my recommendation though for the best eco-friendly option. Only the wire and bristle part needs replacing, minimizing waste produced.

I would avoid wood picks and natural floss picks due to limited evidence of their safety and effectiveness at cleaning and preventing or managing gum disease.

Close up of interdental brush being used on scientific model

Interdental brushes are the most effective tool, but do create waste

Interdental brushes really are the gold standard when it comes to cleaning between your teeth. I explain it more fully in this article, with all the evidence to back it up too. 

Studies have proven interdental brushes to be more effective at cleaning, compared to floss. They are also easier to use than floss, which really is no better than brushing alone unless you have perfect technique.

The problem is that most interdental brushes are full of plastic. The handles are made up of conventional fossil fuel based plastic, whilst the cleaning part is made up of multiple materials — including wire and nylon plastic bristles. This uses up finite resources in making the plastic.

One good thing is that interdental brushes are reusable, and with the right technique and care they can last up to a couple of weeks.

But, at the end of their useful lives, it is very hard to recycle interdental brushes. Not even TerraCycle accepts interdental brushes in most of their schemes!

If you want or need to use interdental brushes, ways to minimize their impact include:

  • Opting for those that come in recyclable packaging.
  • Switching the material handle to something recyclable or compostable.
  • Using bio-based plastics to reduce the reliance on oil based plastics.
  • Disposing of your interdental brush properly, so that the handles are recycled and only the smallest amount of waste (the bristles) go to landfill.

How sustainable is TePe, the market leader?

Variety of tepe interdental brushes pictured next to each other

TePe are the market leader in interdental brushes. They are probably the brand your dental professional has recommended. 

The handles are plastic and there is a wire and bristle structure that do the actual cleaning.

Whilst these aren’t the most environmentally friendly option available, the company is striving towards eco-friendly practices.

What eco-friendly policies does TePe have?

  • They use 100% renewable energy when making their products.
  • They are aiming to achieve carbon neutral products and packaging in 2022.
  • Using renewable alternatives to plastic – e.g. bio-based plastic for the handles of their interdental brushes.

They have a lot of information about their sustainability practices on their website. And have a guide to recycling all their products on this page.

When it comes to their toothbrushes and interdental brushes they have chosen a bio-based plastic alternative, rather than a biodegradable plastic.

TePe advises that if you take the bristles off, then the handle itself is actually recyclable with other plastics as a part of mainstream recycling facilities.

Bamboo interdental brushes

Bamboo is used as an alternative to plastic for everything from toothbrushes to cutlery.

Its benefits come from being a renewable resource that naturally grows quickly in the wild without fertilisers and with minimal water usage. 

It is promoted as a zero-waste material, popular for people seeking to live plastic free. It can be composted (after the bristles have been removed), although how long it takes to break down will depend on the compost pile and handle size. No manufacturers have tested the handles independently to confirm compostability.

Out of all the material options (plastic, bio-based plastic, metals), bamboo does have the lowest carbon emissions. Project Drawdown lists bamboo production on degraded land as one of their recommendations for reducing worldwide carbon emissions. 

However, there are concerns about whether or not bamboo is the best eco-friendly alternative.

There are concerns about sustainable sourcing and supply chains from China, as well as material wastage. I discuss this in more detail in the buyer’s guide.

In addition to this, bamboo is only truly a zero waste option if you have access to composting facilities, such as a garden waste collection or home compost pile. Otherwise, it will be sent to landfill.

Bamboo interdental brush products

Bamboo Piksters

Picksters bamboo interdental brushes

Bamboo Piksters have a “sustainably grown” bamboo handle. They have a wire and nylon bristle cleaning part, which they say is the only part that is not biodegradable. They advertise that their interdental brushes and packaging are “up to 97.4% biodegradable” for the short handles and 99% for the longer handles.

Each brush in the pack also comes with a bio-based plastic cap. This protects the bristles, but does seem like a waste of material given the emphasis on being more environmentally friendly. The bio-based cap can be composted in industrial facilities, but not everyone has access to this. 

These brushes come with two different types of handle: a short, straight handle, or a longer handle with an angled tip. 

Pack sizes vary, from 4 long and angled handles, up to 32 short handles. Each option comes in a cardboard box. 

The sizes available are a little bit complex (see table), but roughly equate to ISO 0 – 4 (in 8 different sizes). There is a confusing sizing system with very little difference (if any) between their #2 #3 and #4.

Where to buy

Woobamboo

Woobamboo interdental brushes use the patented design from Piksters, and are pretty much identical when looking at the packaging. 

The brushes have a bamboo handle with a wire and nylon bristle cleaning part. Each brush in the pack also comes with a bio-based plastic cap. This protects the bristles, but does seem like a waste of material given the emphasis on being more environmentally friendly. The bio-based cap can be composted in industrial facilities, but not everyone has access to this. 

These brushes come with two different types of handle: a short, straight handle, or a longer handle with an angled tip. 

Pack sizes vary, from 4 long and angled handles, up to 32 short handles, in a cardboard box. 

The sizes available are a little bit complex (see table), but roughly equate to ISO 0 – 4 (in 8 different sizes). There is a confusing sizing system with very little difference (if any) between their #2 #3 and #4.

Where to buy

Best bamboo interdental brushes

Bamboo interdental brushes together

The Piksters and woobamboo brushes offer a similar style with fine handles. They also narrow bristle options available – these may be a good option if you have smaller gaps or a bit of crowding of the teeth. 

Piksters offer bigger packs (32), which is more economical than smaller packs of five or six. The downside is the unnecessary waste that comes from having a cap for each individual brush.

Reusable handle interdental brush

One way to reduce waste from interdental brushes is to create a reusable handle, so that only the wire and bristles need to be replaced. This would minimize the amount of materials needed, and would also be easier to dispose of as the non recyclable part (wire and bristles) can easily be separated. If possible, you could actually collect the tips and send them to specialist recycling facilities, such as TerraCycle.

Using these you would still get the advantages of a more thorough clean of an interdental brush, with a convenient handle to make them easier to use.

Unfortunately there are not many products available at this time, and they can be difficult to source. Because of how unique they are they can also be more expensive than more mainstream options.

Curaprox Prime with interdental brush refill system

Curaprox prime reusable interdental brush handle

Curaprox Prime has an “interdental brush refill system”. With their brushes, you replace only the wire and bristle part, keeping the same handle.

The handle options include plastic or metal. It’s available to buy here on the Curaprox website or here from Amazon.

Each new wire and bristle part has just a small amount of plastic on it, so there is much less waste overall. All the refills fit all of the handles. 

There is the option for a short handle which has a unique “o” design, or a longer handle that allows the bristles to be angled at the end. 

Packaging wise, the original sets and the refills come in recyclable card and clear plastic packaging.

Other products available include:

Recycled plastic interdental brush handles 

Using alternative materials for handles can also greatly influence the carbon footprint of the products we use. Using post-consumer recycled material for the handles would reduce reliance on making new materials (bio-based plastic or otherwise), and recycled material is often praised as the best for the environment.

Opting for interdental brushes with recycled material handles gives you the cleaning benefits of the brush, whilst minimizing the carbon footprint. Having a handle also makes them easier to handle and a more effective cleaning tool.

The downside of such a product is that it still needs responsible disposal when you are finished with it — be that through systems like TerraCycle, or dismantling the brush to recycle the handle and dispose of the bristle part separately.

Products available include:

Interdental brushes with no handle

Taking waste (or lack of) to the next level, you can use an interdental brush without a handle. You will still get the cleaning benefits of the bristle part, but will need to hold on to the wire rather than a handle. Or you could fashion your own handle at home.

Interdental brushes without handle

Products available include:

Woodpicks as interdental cleaning aids

Wooden floss picks, or sometimes called woodpicks, are small sticks made of some sort of wood. They can be round or triangular in shape. These may be seen as a plastic free alternative to other types of interdental cleaning.

Whilst they are plastic free, it is important to note that these offer limited benefits in terms of the environment unless you have the ability to dispose of them via composting waste. If, after using them you cannot recycle them, they will still be sent to a landfill site (or similar).

That said, the use of a renewable resource to make them is better than oil produced plastics, so long as the wood is sustainably managed e.g. with FSC accreditation.

When it comes to whether or not wooden interdental aids actually provide any benefit to your gum health, a review of the evidence showed that in some cases they may reduce bleeding gums over a short period of time. 

But as an ineffective cleaning aid, their usefulness is limited — testing showed that they do not actually remove any more plaque than brushing alone.

It is better to avoid using items which aren’t proven to provide a benefit. 

They can only be used in gaps which are large enough to fit them in, and users can find it difficult to get to the back teeth as they cannot twist or bend the woodpick.

ProsCons
Renewable source materialOnly fits some gaps
“Natural” materialDifficult to clean back teeth with them
Plastic freeNo evidence to support their effectiveness for removing plaque
CheapRisk of splintering and damage to gums
ConvenientLimited availability of professional products
Generally easy to use

Available products

Professionally made wooden interdental cleaning aids include:

My recommendation for woodsticks

I have not tested any of the woodsticks listed above. As a dentist, I wouldn’t recommend woodsticks for interdental cleaning due to their lack of effectiveness at removing plaque, and also because of the risk for harm coming from the wood splintering. 

That said, of all the choices above, the Humble bamboo interdental sticks are probably the best choice available. This is because there is plastic free packaging. And, as a well known dental brand, Humble will have undertaken strict testing to ensure the safety of their product.

Natural floss picks

Natural floss picks
Photo from Reddit

Instead of using man-made options for interdental cleaning, it is possible to buy “natural” flosspicks.

These are the dried stems and flowers of the Ammi Visnaga plant. This is a common plant, also known as Toothpick Weed.

The idea is that you snap off one of the stems from the dried flower and use this to clean in between the teeth.

This is a natural alternative, which is compostable too. Many options on sale are imported from Morocco, although the plant can be grown worldwide.

Although these plants have been used for a long time — possibly thousands of years — for a range of medicinal products, there is not much research available. It does have some benefits in being anti-inflammatory. This literature review by Khalil et al. also explains extracts can have an effect against bacteria that cause oral diseases.

Despite historical use, there is no clinical evidence supporting the safety of their use as toothpicks. It is also worth noting that the plant can cause irritation of the skin. 

I would not recommend using these for interdental cleaning as they are not tested to prove they are not contaminated. This could cause problems when using them on the delicate gum area. There is also the risk of splintering and the splinters becoming embedded in the gums, causing inflammation and infection.

Comparison table of ‘eco-friendly’ interdental brushes

In the table below I’ve compared the various types of interdental cleaning tools.

Due to a lack of studies being completed, it’s difficult to say which choice is definitively the most eco-friendly, whilst also doing a good enough job of cleaning.

Given that the handle can go in compost or garden recycling waste, bamboo interdental brushes are a good choice. Anecdotally, I’ve found the wires and bristles easier to remove from bamboo handles than plastic handles.

Reusable handle brushes such as the Curaprox Prime are also a good choice because they create less waste.

Handle materialLife expectancyCompostable handle?
TePe brushesBio-based plastic7-10 days
Bamboo interdental brushesBamboo7-10 days
Curaprox PrimeReusable – plasticBristle 7-10 daysHandle indefinite
Widom re:newRecycled plastic7-10 days
Vision PerioNo handle7-10 daysn/a
WoodpicksBamboo or other wood1 use
Natural floss picksAmmi Visnaga plant1 use

Questions about eco-friendly interdental brushes

Are interdental brushes zero waste?

No, all interdental brushes will create waste because of the bristle and wire part, which needs to be replaced regularly for hygiene reasons.

Should I use interdental brushes?

If you have active gum disease or periodontitis you should choose interdental brushes over floss as they are more effective at cleaning. Better home cleaning will prevent the need for professional treatment which can create a lot of waste.

How do I pick the right size interdental brush?

The size of interdental brushes varies a lot. Your dental professional will likely have recommended the sizes you need depending on the gaps between your teeth.

I have compiled the table below to help select the right size brush from different brands. If you are unsure, take your brushes with you when you see a dental professional and ask their advice.

Iso SizeWire diameter (mm)TePeHydrophil Bamboo BrushBamboo PikstersThe Humble Co interdental bamboo brushBrushd Bamboo Interdental brushWoobamboo Interdental brushCuraprox
0.34XX fine / #00 / PinkX-small
0.36X fine / #0 / grey
00.4Pink Pink 
10.45Orange Fine / #1 / purpleOrange Small 
20.5Red Fine/regular / #2 / white
Regular / #3 / yellow
Regular/large / #4 / red
Red Medium
0.58Large
30.6Blue Large / #5 / blueX-large / #6 / greenBlue 06 – Blue
40.7Yellow Yellow 07 – Red
50.8Green  Green 08 – Pink
0.909 – Yellow
1.0
61.1Purple 11 – Green
71.3Grey 
81.5Black 
>2.0mmCPS 505, 507, 508, 512, 516

Reusable dental floss

There are some “reusable” dental floss options now available. These are made from silicone and are designed to be used multiple times. 

After each use, simply rinse and allow it to air dry.

In theory, having a reusable option will reduce the total amount of waste produced. Although there is no evidence to support or refute this.

The floss itself is made up of two rings, which are designed to place your fingers into, joined together by a string. The string can also have indentations on it, which manufacturers say helps to “massage” the gums and improve cleaning.

One question surrounds how environmentally friendly the use of silicone is.  Yes, it is durable, so it lasts longer. But it is made from oil (fossil fuels). It is also hard to recycle, with only specialist schemes accepting it. This means end of life options are limited, and it contributes to landfill waste.

The silicone itself can be quite thick, but is stretched out between the fingers. This is easier to do than with regular floss. However, it would still be too thick for crowded teeth and some people may struggle with this.

Reusable floss pros & cons

ProsCons
ReusableSilicone produced from fossil fuels
Less packagingQuestionable effectiveness
Less wasteCannot be used for narrow gaps
Strong – unlikely to tear or shredNot recyclable or compostable
Vegan/no animal by-products usedFew options available

Reusable floss products

Below is a summary of the reusable floss products I have tested or researched.

Simplyfloss

Simplyfloss reusable floss being stretched between fingers

Simplyfloss was designed by a Canadian dental hygienist as a reusable floss option. The website does not give guidance on how long you can expect it to last, although I would expect at least a couple of months.

It’s also designed to be easier to use than regular floss as you simply slide your fingers into the preformed loops.

The company says that it is medical-grade silicone, but does not validate this or explain this more fully anywhere on their site.

The silicone will be a challenge to recycle with household facilities, but simplyfloss says they have “partnered with offices that use the TerraCycle Program”, but does not offer a returns system themselves. Most likely is that this will end up with general waste when you are finished with it.

The silicone is thicker than regular floss, which could potentially provide a better clean at the gum level (although there is no evidence to support this). But it does mean it could be difficult to pull down between crowded teeth.

The company itself doesn’t have any specific sustainability or environmental policies on it’s website, but does advertise simplyfloss as “planet friendly”.

My testing and recommendation for best reusable dental floss

I tested simplyfloss and found it to be easy to use. I found you needed to stretch it quite far to fit between the teeth, but this was easy enough to do. I could see that the floss removed debris from between the teeth so it does have some effectiveness too. It didn’t irritate the gums in the same way that string floss can do when used incorrectly.

That said, I am cautious about recommending reusable dental floss as an eco-friendly alternative for cleaning between the teeth. That is because the material is made from fossil-fuel based silicone, and is difficult to recycle. Additionally, interdental brushes are the most effective cleaning option for anyone who has gum disease.

Other options I haven’t tested yet

I have not yet had a chance to test these, but other reusable floss options icnlude:

Floss picks

Key takeaways & testing summary

Single use floss picks should be avoided because of the amount of waste they produce.

A reusable floss holder may help you improve your flossing technique and also reduce the amount of floss you use on a daily basis, so could be a good environmentally friendly option for flossing.

Out of those that I’ve tested, I rate Quip’s as the best reusable floss holder.

Floss options are only suitable for people who have a good technique and no active gum disease, otherwise you should prioritize your dental health and use interdental brushes.

Floss pick being used on model teeth

The problem with floss picks

A floss pick is a device to hold the floss. Whilst flossing is not necessarily the most effective way to clean between the teeth (see our post on water flossing vs floss vs interdental brushes), there are some pros and cons to using flossing tools to clean between your teeth.

They make it easier to get the right technique, help you to reach the back teeth, and help create a regular flossing habit

Many options are disposable after one use. The problem is that:

  1. There is heavy use of plastic, which uses up finite resources (oil used to make plastic). 
  2. They are usually deemed single use (such a short stretch of floss should not be reused for hygiene reasons).
  3. They are impossible to recycle with the floss still attached. 

One option is to still buy single use flossing tools, but choose more sustainable material to make them. Although there are some now being made with “biodegradable” materials, there is still a lot of waste for a single use item.

An alternative is using a reusable handle. You only need to replace the floss after use, keeping the holder. This minimizes the waste produced every day. In fact, these may be better than using just string floss in the long term as you use much less floss each time (compared to wrapping it around your fingers).

These reusable holders can come in a variety of materials and designs, and require less plastic in the long run. You can pick your type of floss or tape depending on your preferences, out of the categories described above.

There are no studies directly assessing the environmental impact of different ways of cleaning between your teeth, but it is fairly safe to assume that the several grams of single use plastic is worse than something reusable.

There is also no evidence to suggest one type of holder is better than another for your gum health.

How reusable floss picks work

Reusable floss picks are dental floss holders. They consist of a handle and two “arms”. 

You stretch some floss between the two arms. Sometimes the floss is provided with your original purchase, but you can use any floss. Once you are finished, you remove the floss and dispose of it.

The handle itself can be made of a range of different materials, with common options including durable plastic, or metal. 

A plastic option should not necessarily be avoided for environmental reasons, as it is not single use. There are many benefits to using plastic, especially if it is made in an eco-friendly way. They last a long time, are easy to clean, and are lightweight (good for travel).

Metal options may be slightly heavier but are very hard wearing. Often they can be cleaned in a dishwasher.

One good thing with using a holder is that it will actually reduce the total amount of floss you use. Only a small amount is needed between the arms, and this is significantly less than the amount of floss needed to wrap around your fingers. In some ways this may be even more environmentally friendly than not using a holder.

Reusable floss holder products

Quip resuable floss holder

Quip reusable floss pick in case
Quip reusable floss pick

The reusable floss pick from Quip comes in a case (with a mirror) and floss refill store too. The handle itself is made of plastic or metal (you choose) with a wide handle. The metal handle comes in a choice of colors.

The floss and the available refills are made of polyester, are mint flavored, and are vegan. Polyester is not the most environmentally friendly material option for floss, but there is no reason you can’t use an alternative (although it won’t fit in the dedicated space in the case).

It uses very short amounts of floss – about 2.5 cm per usage.

Both the floss handle and the floss have been awarded the ADA Seal of Acceptance, an indicator of its safety and that it does what they say it does.

Where to buy

Durapik

Blue DuraPik Flosser

Durapik is a reusable floss handle. We have published a full Durapik review, and at present we do not rate it very highly. 

The environmental aspects are good with a handle made from recycled surgical grade stainless steel, and is available in a choice of colors. At the base of the handle is a reusable silicone interdental pick.

It comes with a self-certified compostable floss. You could use any floss with it though.

Durapik has only recently launched and availability is currently limited. When testing it, Jon found it didn’t measure up to expectations.

Best reusable floss pick based on our testing

We have tested the Quip reusable flosser and the Durapik.

Out of the two, we would recommend the Quip reusable flosser. There are other, cheaper, options available, but we are yet to test these and they have mixed reviews on Amazon.

Other products we are yet to test:

There are a few other reusable floss picks that we are aware of but are yet to test. These seem to have mixed reviews on Amazon, but are cheaper than Quip:

Are there any environmentally friendly single use floss picks?

Humble co floss picks

We would advise against using single-use disposable flosspicks (also known as floss harps or flossettes) because of their environmental impact.

They produce a lot of waste per use, regardless of the material used. 

These floss holders come with the floss already attached. You do not need to buy separate floss and floss it yourself. They are convenient to use.

However, because they are already pre-flossed you do not have so many choices when it comes to which type of floss is used. There is a chance that the floss is not so environmentally friendly.

However, there are now some slightly more environmentally friendly options for the handle itself:

  • Bio-based plastic – also called plant-based material or corn-based material – see this section for a discussion about these “biodegradable” materials.
  • Bamboo handles – uses bamboo to make the handle (which should then be compostable, although the floss may need to be removed).

Available products

ProductHandle MaterialFloss MaterialPackaging
Humble Co Floss PicksBio-based plastic mixed with regular plasticplastic floss (PE)Card box or paper bag
Hydrophil Floss Sticks Made Of BambooBambooNylonRecycled cardboard box
NFco Friendly FlossersBio-based plasticPlastic flossIndividual paper packets in cardboard box
Piksters Eco Floss PicksBio-based plasticunknownCardboard box
TePe Good Mini FlosserBio-based plasticplasticPlastic bag
Wisdom re:new floss harpsrecycled plasticunknown
Recycled cardboard box

My recommendation for single use floss picks

I wouldn’t recommend one particular product, just because a reusable floss holder is a much better option. Which product is best for you also depends on your access to composting facilities.

Questions about eco-friendly floss picks

Should I pick a reusable floss pick or a biodegradable single use one?

A reusable floss pick is the better option for the environment. There is less waste generated with each use.

Why can’t I reuse floss picks?

The floss on the floss picks shouldn’t be reused.  This is because it can fray, causing damage to the gums and are more likely to harbour bacteria.

It will also lose its effectiveness as it is used as it becomes less taught.

What floss can I use with a reusable floss pick?

Any floss can be reused with a reusable floss pick. You might want to pick the most eco-friendly floss based on our recommendations above.

About Dr. Gemma Wheeler, BDS (Hons)

Gemma qualified from Cardiff University School of Dentistry in 2015. She went on to complete her Foundation Training and a further two years in the Armed Forces, primarily based around Wiltshire. She now works in a private practice in Plymouth.

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