The Toothbrush

Jar of used toothbrushes for household chores and crafts

by Liesl Clark

Free Giveaway This Week!

Read on, and if you can provide an innovative use for a worn out toothbrush or a waste-free alternative, we’ll send you a special gift, revealed below.


OK, we’re not going to try to wean you from using toothbrushes…um… sort of. Although most toothbrushes of the world are made of plastic, we have to admit they’re very handy and, for the most part, do the trick. But once we started seeing a lot of toothbrushes lying on our favorite beaches, my children and I had to look into whether there are any environmentally-friendly alternatives. Here are 4 less plastic alternatives to the traditional plastic toothbrush:

1) We first got ourselves some bamboo toothbrushes and have enjoyed them immensely. Combined with our zero waste toothpaste, they’ve been getting our teeth and gums clean in a plastic-free way. When we’re done with the toothbrushes, they’ll be used as kindling for the fire or could even go into our compost!

Toothbrushes Made Entirely of Bamboo are an Excellent Plastic-Free Alternative

2) My toothbrush before the bamboo one was a Radius toothbrush, made of recycled wood with a replaceable head. I love it, used it for years, replacing the head periodically until a crack developed where the head meets the handle. It was a good half-way alternative, but the large size did prove a bit cumbersome for travel.

3) Toothbrush before Radius, and a travel alternative that I used, was the Preserve toothbrush which I bought in a mail-back pouch that I promptly lost. Preserve takes back their toothbrushes when you’re done with them and recycles them along with other #5 plastics through their Gimme5 campaign. Many Wholefoods Markets have bins where you can drop off your toothbrush, along with dairy tubs like yogurt containers produced by Stonyfield Yogurt. These cradle-to-cradle practices are growing and we applaud Preserve, Wholefoods, and Stonyfield for making this a reality.

Our Radius and Preserve Toothbrushes, Another Less Plastic Solution

4) But (you knew I’d say that), plastic is plastic (it’s hard for me to imagine that there are zero health concerns about putting plastic in our mouths, now that I’ve been keeping up with the latest toxicology reports on plastics and the additives put in them.) And once you go down the plastic-free-living path, you start looking around for ALL your options and inevitably discover how people lived and kept their teeth clean long before plastic was invented. Which leads me to….”the traditional natural toothbrush”: Peelu miswaks. Now, these things are cool. And if you want to impress your next guests, rather than handing them a guest toothbrush to use, slip ’em a miswak stick and let ’em start chewing. Just as Native Americans once used bark for teeth cleaning, in Pakistan the peelu tree has for centuries been the traditional teeth cleaner of choice. I won’t pretend to be an expert, here, but after I read this fantastic article by Nourishing Treasures, I had to get me some miswak sticks.

Miswak Sticks are the New Toothbrush in Our Home

The kids and I have been happy ever since. And it’s no wonder since they’re reportedly known to entice the companionship of angels, aid in digestion and even improve eyesight. These things leave my teeth feeling cleaner than they’ve ever been! And then I read this clinical study which proves that the use of the miswak outdistances toothbrushing in terms of removing plaque and over all gingival health. I quote, for you, the study’s conclusion:

“It is concluded that the miswak is more effective than toothbrushing for reducing plaque and gingivitis, when preceded by professional instruction in its correct application. The miswak appeared to be more effective than toothbrushing for removing plaque from the embrasures, thus enhancing interproximal health.”

Now to just get that “professional instruction” and we’ll be laughing all the way to the dentist. Any professionals out there, feel free to provide instruction in our comments section below. For the rest of you, if you have a handy reuse for a plastic toothbrush or a waste-free solution to toothbrushing, please provide it in the comments below and we’ll send you a free hermetically sealed (yes, it’s sealed in plastic, but for argument’s sake it’s less plastic than in a traditional toothbrush) miswak stick to try for yourself!


Unable to throw things out because of our zero waste lifestyle, we’ve accumulated quite a few plastic toothbrushes in our day. But each one has a special use. Here are 25 wonderful things that can be done with that little versatile brush:

1) Use it to clean hard-to-clean places.

Use a toothbrush to clean around the sink and in hard-to-reach places.

2) Pass it on to your dog for brushing his/her teeth. (Yes, sanitize it first!)

3) Keep one with your craft supplies to be used as a special stiff paintbrush for art projects.

A toothbrush is included with our paintbrush collection for a different textured brushstroke.

4) Clean corn.

5) Use as a grout scrubber.

The grout-scrubber.

6) Keep one under the sink for scrubbing around faucets and sink edges.

7) Label another one for use as a fingernail cleaner after gardening.

8) Keep one in the car glove box for emergency assistance like brushing off battery terminals.

9) Put one in your child’s “scientist backpack” for archaeology outings. A toothbrush is a critical artifact cleaning instrument.

10) Stash one in your foyer or mud room for cleaning mud from shoes. Keep one in your shoe shine kit for sprucing up drab shoes.

11) Keep one on your tool bench for assisting in cleaning tools.

12) Store one in your cleaning supplies bucket for spot cleaning carpets and furniture.

13) Save one for the laundry room for spot cleaning grease stains, etc.

14) Put one in with your makeup to brush away mascara clumps and to be used as an eyebrow brush.

15) Another one will be wanted on-hand as a back scratcher.

16) Use one for cleaning your bicycle chain.

17) Save one for cleaning jewelry or silverware.

18) Use one to clean out brushes and combs.

19) Some people swear by them as excellent fish tank algae cleaners to scrub algae off the glass.

20) Here’s a reuse idea from our favorite repurpose/reuse website:  “For all you fishermen, and women out there, cut the head off the toothbrush, and then drill a hole in either end, attach a swivel to one end and then the hook at the other end, make great spinning lures as they are often bright and multi coloured and the bodies make the perfect shape.”

21) Lift the lid and look at the hinges of your toilet seat. Pretty gross. Use an old toothbrush to make it look (and smell) as good as new.

22) Use as a bottle cleaner for those vintage bottles you collect.

Toothbrush as old bottle brush

23) Make a toothbrush bracelet.

24) Make a toothbrush rug.

25) For some serious fun, visit Evil Mad Scientist and learn how to make a bristle bot.

You’ll see the comments section is below. We’re hoping to find some further great ideas, links, instructions, even photos if you have ’em, for toothbrush reuse or waste-free alternatives. We’ll contact the winners on Monday April 16th, 2012 to get your addresses for our mailing (US addresses only, please, but anyone outside the USA, we’ll send you a digital version of our zero waste household guide). I’m looking forward to sending out some of these miswak sticks to convert a few more people into stick-chewing oral hygiene!

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Categories: Best of Trash Backwards, DIY, Plastic-Free Living, Reduce Your Use, Repurpose and Reuse, Trash Pile - All Our Stuff, Upcycle


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30 Comments on “The Toothbrush”

  1. April 10, 2012 at 2:03 pm #

    work great for cleaning up/out the horizontal-sliding window grooves

    • April 10, 2012 at 2:15 pm #

      That’s one we didn’t think of! Thanks, Jessica. You’re our first winner. We’ll be in touch on Monday to get your address!

    • Rebecca Rockefeller
      April 18, 2012 at 7:11 am #

      Jessica, please send your mailing address to rebecca(at)teamcora(dot)com and we’ll get your Miswak in the mail. Thanks!

  2. Lauren Shepard
    April 10, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    I have four glued side by side I use to bruch fleece sweaters and blankets after they are washed. They look and fel like new!

    • Rebecca Rockefeller
      April 12, 2012 at 11:43 am #

      Wow, Lauren – Great reuse idea! Do you happen to have a photo we could add to our post? We’ll be in touch on Monday to get your address for our giveaway.

    • Rebecca Rockefeller
      April 18, 2012 at 7:11 am #

      Lauren, please send your mailing address to rebecca(at)teamcora(dot)com and we’ll get your Miswak into the mail. Thanks!

  3. April 11, 2012 at 5:05 am #

    Bristlebots! (
    Decapitate the toothbrush (off with its head), and affix a teeny, tiny pager motor (the sort that make the gizmo vibrate), as well as a battery (and maybe some LEDs), and of course any googly-eyes you might have lying around and you’ve got yourself a buzzing little bot, bouncing around on bristles.

    • Rebecca Rockefeller
      April 12, 2012 at 11:43 am #

      We love Bristlebots – They’re #25 on our list above! Have you made one? I’d love to know how it worked out.

  4. April 11, 2012 at 5:08 am #

    Also, while this use is entirely beyond my comprehension, my sister has been known to use old toothbrushes (MY old toothbrushes…) as hair-dye applicators. Luckily, the blue tinge of the bristles was enough to warn me before I put the thing back in my mouth.

    • Rebecca Rockefeller
      April 12, 2012 at 11:45 am #

      Great reuse, The Kick-Off – Thanks! We’ll be in touch on Monday to get your address for the giveaway.

      • April 12, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

        Outstanding. And, please, call me Alex.

      • Rebecca Rockefeller
        April 12, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

        Will do – Thanks, Alex!

    • Rebecca Rockefeller
      April 18, 2012 at 7:10 am #

      Alex, please send your mailing address to rebecca(at)teamcora(dot)com and we’ll get your Miswak in the mail. Thanks!

  5. Dawn Ainsworth
    April 14, 2012 at 3:41 pm #

    I use my old toothbrushes to clean my dryer lint trap. They get the nearly invisible residue from dryer sheets off real well.

    • Rebecca Rockefeller
      April 14, 2012 at 5:14 pm #

      Thanks, Dawn – Great specific tip! We’ll be in touch on Monday to get your address for the giveaway.

    • Rebecca Rockefeller
      April 18, 2012 at 7:08 am #

      Dawn, please send your mailing address to rebecca(at)teamcora(dot)com so we can get your Miswak in the mail – Thanks!

  6. Linda
    April 16, 2012 at 6:11 pm #

    I use one to dust/clean the crevices and ledges on hardwood molding.

    • Rebecca Rockefeller
      April 18, 2012 at 7:09 am #

      Thanks, Linda! You were out last winner for the Toothbrush Week giveaway – Please send your mailing address to rebecca(at)teamcora(dot)com so we can get your Miswak into the mail.

  7. July 9, 2012 at 1:08 am #

    Too bad I missed the giveaway! But this is truly a great post! I have just started using Miswak for two months, and I am so amazed by its benefits. When I first started, i had two cavities that were aching really badly. Wanting to reserve the dentist as a last resort, I tried every remedy I could think of, without effect. Then I read about Miswak, then thought, it’s worth a shot. Now, two months later, I’m proud to say my cavities have healed! Amazing! People should really give it a try!

    • July 10, 2012 at 1:51 pm #

      Thank you! We’re always happy to hear from another miswak devotee, and it looks like your site has some great information on it, too.

  8. Talitha
    July 20, 2012 at 7:38 pm #

    As a dental professional, my only concern would be that individuals keep in contact with their dentists and hygienists- use them as a resource. If individuals do not adapt their neem or miswak properly like they would a toothbrush they can cause major gingival recession which can lead to many more problems. Most healthcare professional love to be a resource to their patients.. so don’t hesitate to bring up alternative or non mainstream products or treatments.

    • July 22, 2012 at 4:50 pm #

      Thank you, Talitha! As a former dental assistant, I’m in total agreement with you – Our suggestions here are in no way meant to take the place of a working relationship with each person’s dentist and hygienist, including regular check-ups and open communication. We’re just hoping to add some plastic-free, zero waste options to the mix for everyone to explore.

  9. November 7, 2013 at 8:18 am #

    Hi ! Could I use one of your picture for an article about a dental care center that use Preserve toothbrush ?

    • November 6, 2014 at 12:52 pm #

      Hi Annie: Sorry it took so long to get back to you. If you need any photography I’ve shot, please feel free to get in touch with me at clark liesl at mac dot com.


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