Why You Should Try Plastic-Free Dental Floss

It offers many improvements over conventional nylon floss.

floss picks

Free the Ocean / Treehugger

In support of Free the Ocean's mission to clean up the ocean and reduce plastic use, each month we feature a product from their plastic-free shop. (Note: We do not make any money from these recommendations.)

Flossing one's teeth is never fun, but knowing the floss you use is eco-friendly and biodegradable might make the chore less onerous. Dental floss may not seem like a significant environmental scourge, but as with so many things, its impact adds up. Over three million miles' worth of plastic dental floss is used and thrown out in North America every year. That's the equivalent of traveling to the moon and back over six times.

This is worrisome because conventional dental floss is made out of nylon, a petroleum-based, non-biodegradable plastic. As Mimi Ausland, founder of Free the Ocean, tells Treehugger, "If everyone in the United States flossed their teeth as recommended, the plastic containers could fill up a football field six stories high each year." 

The plastic waste doesn't stop there. Most floss comes in a small plastic container that's rarely recycled, meaning it ends up in landfill or, worse yet, pollutes the land or ocean. Because of their diminutive size, small plastics that measure under three inches are often lost during the recycling process, literally falling through the cracks of machinery at a material recovery facility (MRF) and ending up as trash.

But don't let this put you off flossing! Some solid alternatives exist that will allow you to maintain optimal dental hygiene minus the plastic waste. Free the Ocean sells two such products in its store.

First is Brilliant Black Dental Floss, a bamboo-fiber floss made with coconut oil and activated charcoal—ingredients that remove buildup and help to whiten teeth. The vegan, fluoride-free floss is coated with candelilla wax and some essential oils for a fresh minty taste. It comes in a 100% recycled paper box with a metal cutter that must be removed prior to recycling.

Next is a pack of Compostable Dental Floss Picks for those people who want or need to make the task even more accessible. These picks feature a thin, tight thread that's perfect for extra-narrow spaces and sensitive mouths and anyone over the age of three. The pick itself can be composted, as it's entirely plastic-free.

This floss is also infused with activated charcoal for whitening and is reinforced to minimize shredding or breaking. It has none of the PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) that are commonly added to dental floss to make it non-stick and help it glide more easily. These "forever chemicals" are known to persist in bodies and the natural environment, and have been linked to liver damage, immune system harm, developmental delays, and cancer.

Ausland gives these products her seal of approval. "I've always had to force myself to floss my teeth. It's not something I get super excited about, especially when flossing used to mean using plastic dental floss, which I knew wasn't good to be putting in my mouth and would have a negative impact on our planet. Now I use our earth-friendly options, which somehow make flossing more fun because I know I'm taking care of my oral health and not harming our earth in the process!"

The products' numerous five-star reviews may also help convince you to make the switch to biodegradable floss. Customer Emma says, "I love using these [picks] for flossing. I'm terrible about doing it and I hate using the single plastic ones. These are getting me to floss more!" Linda, who buys the Brilliant Black Dental Floss, says she loves that "it doesn't contain harmful chemicals... it doesn't break and the black color allows you to see what is between your teeth." 

A good eco-friendly swap does not compromise your daily maintenance habits, but rather elevates them to a new and improved level. Try these flosses to see for yourself.

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