Zero Waste Bathroom: Dental Floss

by Rebecca Rockefeller, orginally published at Rock Farmer

REDUCE YOUR USE – An alternative to synthetic floss in plastic packaging

During my search for low impact dental floss during our most recent Month Less Plastic, I had a few simple requirements: no virgin petroleum plastic packaging; no plastic or petroleum-derived components in the floss itself; affordable.

I checked our local natural foods market and found dental floss made from silk in a technically recyclable plastic package that’s not recyclable where I live. I was tempted to buy it since it was an improvement over the floss we’d been using that was packaged in plastic and made from nylon fibers (nylon is a synthetic product made from petroleum). Alas, it was expensive, much more per foot than what I had budgeted for floss.

Stim-U-Dent plaque removal sticks

Luckily, I checked one more store, our local Rite Aid drug store. There, alongside the plastic bags of plastic floss picks holding synthetic floss, and the plastic blister packages of plastic boxes holding synthetic floss, I found a cheerful paper box of The Natural Dentist Stim-U-Dent Thin Plaque Removers. The box said “can be used as an alternative or as a supplement to daily flossing.” I thought we might as well give these rather fancy toothpicks a try.

They’re mint-flavored wooden sticks with one flat side and one tapered to a point, thin enough to fit between teeth at the gum line. I tracked down the company website at home and read more: They’re made from basswood from managed US forests (although the wood is shipped to China for processing), they carry the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance. They are “clinically proven to fight gingivitis by removing plaque from between teeth. Clinical studies support a 52% improvement in gingival health! Better than floss!” I was feeling relatively excited, could this really work? Sustainably grown, biodegradable wood plaque removers that come in entirely plastic-free, recyclable (even compostable) paper packaging, be still my plastic-free heart!

Yes, my search for plastic-free dental floss had a happy ending. Granted, I didn’t find floss, but something that works just as well, so far as I can tell. My kids love them – The directions specify that you must “moisten thoroughly in mouth”, and they adore that part, a bit of sucking on a minty pick. Yes, they’re different from floss, but so long as I help the kids with theirs (just like I helped them with their synthetic floss), we all go to bed with clean teeth, all the way ’round.

Full Disclosure: I am not affiliated in any way with Stim-U-Dent. I just like them and pay my own money to use them.

REUSE AND REPURPOSE – What to do with the plastic floss boxes you already have:

DIY dental floss box sewing kit photo by Rebecca Rockefeller

Don’t toss out those plastic boxes from your synthetic dental floss, though. Now that I don’t have them coming into my life, I’ve learned you can use them for all sorts of things, and I’m always happy to divert any I come across. Instead of sending them to your local landfill or incinerator, they make perfect cases for all sorts of things:

  • Corral the bobby pins, barettes, and small hair bands in your purse in one.
  • Stash your spare change, bus or subway tokens in one.
  • A condom fits perfectly inside an empty dental floss box for discreet transport.
  • Fill one with wooden matches and add a piece of sandpaper as a striking plate for a plastic-free alternative to single-use lighters.

the contents of my DIY dental floss box sewing kit – it all fits inside with the lid latched closed

  • Make your own travel sewing kit. Keep the plastic spool assembly so you can wrap thread around the spool and snip it with the metal floss cutter on top. You can fit up to three colors of thread onto one spool, thread the ends through the top together, then pull on just the one you need. You can lay needles, safety pins, and small buttons across the bottom then balance larger buttons on top of the thread spool when you slide it back into place.

Looking for dental floss reuses? Visit the Trash Backwards app where we have reuses for just about everything.

Click Through for Dental Floss Reuses at Trash Backwards

Click Through for Dental Floss Reuses at Trash Backwards

What about you? Have you found a plastic-free way to floss your teeth, perhaps one with a lower carbon footprint than mine (all that shipping wood to China and back to the US adds up)? A favorite use for empty plastic dental floss cases? Please do tell.

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


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14 Comments on “Zero Waste Bathroom: Dental Floss”

  1. plasticfreebeth
    May 13, 2012 at 7:18 pm #

    I’ve tried Stim-u-dent before — in fact I think I still have some in my medicine cabinet — but as I recall they wouldn’t fit between my teeth. I’ll try it again and see. Also, I’ve been meaning to try plain cotton thread.

  2. May 13, 2012 at 7:45 pm #

    Hi Beth, thanks for reading my post! Stim U Dent recently (very recently, if my Rite Aid’s stock is any indication) reformulated their picks – The ones I bought just last month say “38% thinner” and “THIN” on the package, and they’re definitely thinner than the original version I bought a few months earlier. I think they’ve figured out that thinner is better when it comes to cleaning between teeth; the new thin ones are a bit more fragile (my kids can chew through them easily, although they try to refrain), but I find them much more useful.
    If you try plain thread, please let me know how it works out. When I tried it a while back, it broke or got stuck, or both. I wonder if coating it in natural beeswax would do the trick…

    • plasticfreebeth
      May 13, 2012 at 8:04 pm #

      Ooh, good to know. And they still come in a paper package without any plastic?

      • May 13, 2012 at 8:20 pm #

        Yes! Still packaged in paper w/o any plastic – I could hardly contain my excitement when I found the new thinner ones – It’s funny what counts as thrilling to me these days!

  3. May 23, 2012 at 2:03 pm #

    My wife will love this! As a dentist we obviously have a lot of floss around the house, and she loves sewing. I’ll show her this post later today.

    • Rebecca Rockefeller
      May 24, 2012 at 6:46 am #

      Great! If you come up with new ways to reuse the empty floss boxes, please let us know – We’d love to add more ideas to our list!

  4. mind bird
    July 10, 2013 at 10:53 pm #

    Use cotton quilting thread. The spools are easy to recycle, and hold a lot of thread.

    • July 12, 2013 at 5:30 am #

      Yes, I’ve heard from a few people that cotton quilting thread is a popular floss. Where do you recycle the plastic spools? Our municipality here doesn’t accept them, and I don’t know of any facility that’s set up currently to take hard plastics such as spools – I’d love to connect with a program that does!

  5. Inez
    July 19, 2013 at 5:42 am #

    Wow, great idea.


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