Zero Waste Dental Floss


(Updated October 23, 2017)

Regular dental floss is just waxed nylon, rolled up in a small plastic box. Just like plastic, nylon is derived from crude oil. Unlike plastic, it does not take 500 to thousands of years to decompose, but “only” 50 – 80 years. #notimpressed Pretty much everybody who is interested in Zero Waste knows about bamboo toothbrushes, tooth powder and homemade toothpaste. However, when it comes to dental floss most of us are at a loss.

Let me cut to the chase. If you are searching for a completely cruelty-free option, well, there is none. Well, at least not the way I see it, because I personally don’t think it is ethically correct to label plastics as “cruelty-free”.

Your options are either

  • Compostable, nylon- and plastic-free silk floss. Not cruelty-free because silk worms are boiled alive in the silk manufacturing process, or
  • Nylon floss without the plastic case. A thread of nylon is extremely tear-proof! Here is one gruesome example of a seal caught in some tear-proof threads.

So here are your options, yay…

Silk Floss (Radius)

Radius is probably the best-known brand and can be found in health food stores across the UK and North America. You can find them at Whole Foods and other health food stores. However, even though they seem to love to advertise how “Good for the earth” their floss is (“Not only is our floss 100% vegetarian, it’s also 100% biodegradable”), they still don’t mind putting their floss into a plastic case. On the package I could find information on the floss (biodegradable in 60 – 90 days), on the paper packaging (recyclable), but none whatsoever on the plastic container. As if it didn’t exist.

They also sell their floss in sachets, which I fand rather wasteful. I wasn’t able to open the package to check as to what kind of material the sachets themselves are made of. Seems like the sachets themselves are plastic-free, at least I remember something on the packaging stating “100% biodegradable packaging”. Still, not impressed.

Compared to regular floss it is quite expensive, with 30 m for £3.90 at Whole Foods UK ($5.12 US), but OK when you think about the fact that it’s silk, a material generally more on the expensive side.

Radius also sells vegan floss made from regular nylon in a plastic case, so there is no real gain compared to regular floss.

Silk floss with beeswax (Vömel)

Zahnseide Vömel

If you live in Europe and are on the lookout for a completely plastic-free floss that does not have to be shipped from overseas, this is it.

Vömel is a German manufacturer selling plastic-free silk floss coated with beeswax. The floss is either sold in a tiny, yet very classy vial or as refills in small paper bags. Most zero waste bulk stores in Germany carry it, but you can also order it online, e.g. at my favorite plastic-free online store monomeer.de or the Zero Waste online store Zero Waste Laden, opened by the Zero Waste Blogger Olga and her husband Gregor. Zero Waster and British TV presenter Kate Arnell bought the same floss from a Spanish plastic free online shop Sin Plástico, as she explains in her Non-Toxic + Zero Waste Personal Care youtube video.

The floss itself is a bit pricey. 10 m with vial cost 3.95 € (= £3.14 or $4.46 US). 2 x 10 m without the vial are 4.90 € (£3.89 or 5.53 US$).

Silk floss with (vegan) candellila wax (Dental Lace)

If you live in North America and are looking for a plastic-free silk floss, give Dental Lace a try. They are based in Maine in the USA, and I appreciate that they coat their floss in vegan candellila wax instead of beeswax. It doesn’t make the floss completely vegan, obviously, but at least it shows that they do try to minimize the impact.

Dental Lace is a lot more affordable than the Vömel floss that we used to use back in Germany! It is only $7 (US) + taxes for 66 yards (= 60m) + the glass vial. The refills are only $5.70 (US) + taxes for 66 yards. The same amount of Vömel floss costs 14.70 € (=$17.30, taxes included)!

If your local health food store doesn’t carry it, don’t be shy, ask them to! I have even heard that this floss has been spotted in a bulk store in Australia!

Unravel a piece of silk fabric

Béa Johnson’s go-to method, is to unravel a piece of silk fabric, twisting a couple of threads together, and to use that to floss.

Update: I was just told that there is at least one producer of “peace silk” who lets the silk worms hatch! So if you can get your hands on a piece of peace silk, that might be a very eco-friendly option that might or might not count as vegan, also depending on your motivation for being vegan.

Update Oct 24, 2017“Peace” silk isn’t as cruelty-free as it sounds if you learn about the whole process. Yes, the caterpillars are allowed to hatch, emerging as moths. However, due to thousands of years of domestication, the moths cannot fly despite having wings, are blind, and cannot eat because they have no mouthes. They only live long enough to mate and to lay eggs, which translates to only a few days. Each female will lay an average of 500 eggs. This new generation will not be fed, as the population—metaphorically—explodes. Because silk worms are so highly domesticated, they cannot survive without humans feeding them under very careful conditions. So instead of killing one caterpillar in its cocoon, around 200-300 embryos or hatchling silkworms will die a slow death of starvation later. Read more here.

Vegan floss without a plastic case (Ecodent)

I contacted Ecodent a couple of months ago, because I couldn’t find any information on the material and whether or not their floss was biodegradable. Their live-chat customer service agent was unable to answer my question, and when the reply to my email arrived, what it said was: “We have not tested the floss for the amount of time it would take to biodegrade but I did find online that dental floss can decompose in 1-5 years.” Um, right…

So I googled “How long does it take for dental floss to decompose.” The very first hit said 1-5 years in the preview. I clicked on the link, that led me to some handout for some summer camp. Right in the list it also said a plastic bag needs only 20-40 years to decompose, instead of the usual number in the hundreds. Somebody really went out of their way to find some reliable information.

Well, it is true that they use cardboard packaging, don’t have a plastic case, and provide 100 yards (91.44 m), but they failed to mention that there is another plastic wrapper inside the cardboard packaging, and that there is also 2 plastic stickers on the outside.

At least it is really affordable with only 5.49 US$ for 100 yards (= 91.44m).

So what is the right decision when you live vegan and zero waste?

I’m afraid there is no right answer to that question. It’s the choice between boiling silk worms alive or something derived from crude oil that might also end up strangling animals. Great.

I have tried cotton threads, but they tear really easily, even when you twist multiple threads together. I have really thick hair, so I also tried flossing with hair. Pre-historically humans are said to have used horse hair to floss their teeth. When you think about it, it is not really more absurd than using fibres that came out of a worm, coated in bee discharge to floss… Unfortunately, hair didn’t work for me at all because my hairs would tear so easily I couldn’t even get them in between my teeth.

In the end, it was this photo that made me choose silk floss. Nylon threads look so benign, but they are tear-proof, which is a huge problem.

(More here 😢)

We had been using Vömel silk floss and composted it in our very own worm bin along with our kitchen scraps for more than two years. It was very important to us to know the floss was compostable and, most importantly, where the floss would end up. The sad truth is that even if you dispose of your trash properly, it can still end up in the ocean.

We switched to Dental Lace a few weeks ago because we live in Canada at the moment. Our local zero waste refill shop the Soap Dispensary even stocked Dental Lace floss after I told them about it.

However, we still hope that one day innovation will give birth to a compostable or at least fully biodegradable* vegan option.

Interestingly, I have been contacted by a person telling me that they would soon get their hands on floss made from corn starch based bioplastics. No company name, no more information, just asking if I was interested in their product.I asked them for more information, but haven’t received a reply (yet?). That was two weeks ago.

Luckily, I know of at least one (credible!) company that is working on it, so fingers crossed!

*Please note that plastics do “decompose” after a couple of centuries or a millennium, but this means the plastic items will only break down into smaller and smaller pieces (= microplastics). Usually, when I use “biodegradable”, I am talking about about a desintegration on a molecular level into components that are not harmful anymore.

45 Comments

  1. Hello :)!

    I have a comment on using horse hair as floss :D…. I have a horse – an icelandic – and when I am at the stable and got something stuck in my teeth I always “borrow” (not using a scissor or something, just use the hair while it is on the horses tail) one of her tail hair to floss (already got some weird faces from stable colleagues for that :D) and I would say that it works better than any floss available on the market :)….. Just the right texture and feeling…. (want to add that I shampoo the tail regularly!!! so it is not disgusting at all 😀 )
    So now that I have seen this horrible photo of the poor seal I am seriously thinking about cutting some of my horse tail hairs and use it as floss when I used up my Gentle Floss (my horse is an icelandic, she has lots and lots of tail hair, she want miss it :)…)

    I am aware that this comment does not really help you because you do not have a horse buddy waiting to give you some of his or her hair to floss, but I just wanted to mention it :)….

    All the best, have a nice day!
    Franzi

    • Hi Franzi! It’s really cool you have a horse! I’d have killed to have one as a kid lol! Well, do go for using it as floss! I know I would if I had a horse ;)! Btw, I have tried my own hair, but even twisting multiple (of my really really thick black Asian) hairs they tear almost instantly :(. Some readers on the German version of my blog have recommended thicker tear-proof cotton threads and it works for them. However, when I tried they were too thick. And when I untagled the thick thread into 3 thin ones and used these, they also tore almost instantly. I guess the gaps between my teeth are just too narrow? I have put coconut oil on the thin thread, but it didn’t work. When I put on beeswax it didn’t tear as easily, but still tore quite often. Sighs, I’m not really sure I want to continue using beeswax though. I’m vegan and it’s not a long-term solution for me. Oh well XD… #zerowasteproblems right ;)?
      Have a great weekend!
      Shia

  2. Hi! I’ve heard that oil pulling everyday works great and that you don’t need to floss anymore after that. Why not try this? 🙂 I personally rarely floss -which is not very good- but think that then the one time you get something really stuck in between you teeth, you can then either use your own hair or a wooden toothpick? If you oil pull regularly, of course!

    Thank you for all the information and research! I love your website

    • A lot of people have recommended oil pulling to me actually :D. I want to give it a try, but since I have had severe gum issues I don’t think quitting flossing is an option for me. As my dentist has explained, 40% of our teeth’s surface can only be reached by flossing. Not mouthwash, and probably not oil either. But I will definitely give it a try, just not as a substitute for flossing :). Thanks!

      • Anonymous

        Sesame oil penetrates the teeth right into the bone and prevents cavities and gum disease. Ayurveda advises swishing it in the mouth for several minutes each morning.

  3. Thank you for this awesome post, I will definitely be sharing this with my friends who refuse to accept that something as tiny as floss can cause that kind of damage to animals and the environment I recently started using the radius brand silk floss, and it comes in a little cardboard box so they must have changed their packaging? The sachets inside are anoying because it kind of turns it into a single use item, but they are compostable at least. Next time I’m in Germany I want to order some of the vomel kind!

    • Especially small pieces of plastic can be very harmful! Microbeads for example:

      Radius silk floss comes either in a plastic case or in these ridiculously wasteful sachets :(…

  4. Losing my natural floss was the main reason it took me so long to cut my hair . I thought it was so convenient to run my fingers through my hair and get “floss” from my hair that would have simply fallen out on its own. Now that I have short hair, I’m still on the search for the best option here in the states. I’ve been eyeing my mother-in-laws hair, long Japanese hair would be perfect to use… But she doesn’t get my ZW efforts and would probably be grossed out if I asked her for some strands haha.

    • LOL, I’d LOVE to see your mother-in-law’s reaction XD! I have really thick Asian hair too, but seems like there isn’t enough space between my teeth. Even twisting multiple hairs they tear almost instantly when I try to use them to floss… Or maybe you have a friend with a horse ;)?

  5. Why don’t you purchase a Philips air flosser?
    It’s small and easy . I realize that it is made of plastic
    But it lasts a long time . Then you won’t need to floss . I’m a dentist who is also in search of a
    Compostable floss with compostable packaging
    .

  6. The picture of the seal that was heartbreaking 🙁 Was that floss that was wrapped around the seals neck? What if I cut the floss string into small pieces until I’m done with it and then I want to try stim u dent picks. Have you heard of them, their little sticks used as floss and there vegan, also have you tried the miswak toothbrush which is made from a tree.

    • Hey Nicole,
      I don’t use dent picks since I can’t get these between my teeth. You can of course cut the floss, but either way – plastic in the ocean is a bad idea. I have a miswak twig but also a bamboo toothbrush :).
      Shia

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  8. Shea Dalziel

    We have the Radius floss, but I was thinking about the plastic container while using it this morning and a quick search brought me here. I think animal hair would be a great option, if I knew where to et some, lol.

    I also wanted to share my oral hygiene routine that I started about a week ago. It really works for me. Instead of using a toothbrush, which holds onto a lot of plaque-causing germs, I scrub my teeth with a washcloth. 100% cotton cloths are easy to find, and I can wash it however often I feel the need. I’ve noticed, because I’m not sticking the same bacteria back into my mouth every time, my teeth build up plaque more slowly. I use the edge of my cloth, which is thicker with stitching, to get the tops/bottoms of my molars. I want to add oil pulling to my routine, but haven’t yet, and I find that flossing is still the best way to get between the teeth.

  9. Jay tilley

    Maybe this is a silly idea or too simple to work– i am going to test it out and see– and please tell me if you have tried it yourself: what about buying the most durable vegan floss and reusing a strand of it repeatedly by disinfecting in with a simple, enviro-friendly agent like vinegar. I feel awful about using my floss now that i just discovered it is teflon, but since i already have the product, maybe i can take its longevity to new extremes. If you find any new ideas please keep posting. Peace and love, packaged only in 100% compostable human.

    Jay

  10. Hello From Australia!

    Oh dear I didn’t realise a lot of rubbish in Germany gets incinerated! that cannot be good for the environment!

    Is Ecodent floss made of nylon?

    • Hey Sarah,
      yes, Ecodent floss is made of nylon. I even emailed them and asked if they could tell me how long their nylon takes to decompose. They told me they do not know :(. And yup, a huge part of our trash gets incinerated. It’s better than landfills and at least it prevents plastic from ending up in the ocean (landfill trash very often gets blown into rivers), however, it is still very far from eco-friendly…
      Warm regards from cold, cold Germany lol,
      Shia

  11. I am also looking for alternatives for dental floss but I couldn’t find a more organic one here in my country (Philippines). But then I discovered this portable water flosser, called Pocket Flosser, in Kickstarter and I think it’s a great alternative! Water flossers works just as good, or even better, than dental floss. It’s basically water pressure pushing food debris (and even plaque) off. What’s great about this is that it doesn’t need any electricity or even batteries so you don’t have to worry about energy. It only requires easy manual hand pump to accumulate pressure then it’s just as good. While this doesn’t necessarily fit in your pockets (as the name may suggest, the pocket actually refers to spaces in between the teeth), I still think it’s a better alternative to those pricey and stationary water flossers, and it’s very still handy when traveling. While the pump may be made in plastic (the developer didn’t specify the exact material), at least it’s BPA-free. It’s also better because it’s only a one-time purchase and you don’t have to worry about running out or disposing anything. 🙂

    If you love this product, you can get them here and help the developer produce this awesome invention:
    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1781019896/pocket-flosser-flossing-made-simple-and-pain-free/description

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  13. What about…
    RADIUS
    Vegan and Biodegradable Floss Sachets with Natural Xylitol, Mint, 10 Count
    ?
    It says it’s both vegan AND biodegradeable. I haven’t ordered it yet. I’m not sure if the packaging is eco friendly.

    • Unfortunately it is only the packaging that is biodegradable and not the floss itself, which is nylon.

  14. I was shocked when I saw the poor seal, and couldn’t take my eyes off the poor little guy – then I realized, that can’t possibly be floss – it’s way too thick – not to mention incredibly long to be able to do that. Hope that might be a (sort of) comfort to some,. I doubt flossing is hurting animals like this – but the garbage is.

    I hope everyone remembers to check with their dentist in regards to any diy floss, just to make sure they’re not hurting their gums. Otherwise, may as well not floss. Thanks for the post.

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  18. Hi there,
    I bought silk floss in biodegradable packaging when I lived in France 5 years ago. I’m now back in my home country of Australia, and just starting searching online for a replacement (While I’ve been using a nylon floss I accidentally acquired, I clearly don’t floss enough). I sadly tossed the packaging from the packet I had a year or so ago, without noting any details, thinking I’d just hop online and replace it. I can’t find that brand in particular, however if you’re willing to forgo the no-silk rule, but have biodegradable packaging, I have two options that might interest you!
    http://woobamboo.com/our-products/natural-floss/
    https://www.nourishedlife.com.au/natural-toothpaste/7177/dr-tungs-natural-dental-floss-smart.html

  19. i love this so much. sometimes you have to choose what will cause the least harm. it will definitely be a personal decision. and it’s not always perfect.
    ox

  20. Christina Petro

    Thank you for this article! It is heartening to know that someone shares the same ethical struggles as I do! I think maybe a good option is to cut the floss after using it. It wold probably be fairly easy to wind it around your fingers and make one cut across multiple loops thereby making the floss into several pieces too short to get tangled around an animal. Still not perfect because the pieces could still end up in the digestive tract of an animal.

    I read an article about peace silk and ahimsa silk and it’s still not a perfectly ethical option.

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  22. Have you heard about Noosa floss? I think it’s fairly new. Made of bamboo?? I’d love to try it but I live in the US and having a tiny floss shipped all the way from Australia seems extreme. But I’m curious if any companies over here will catch wind and make something similar. CMON GUYS! The silk worm thing makes me too sad. I inherited a water flosser thing that hooks onto your shower head and you can adjust the water pressure. It’s been great. It’s made of plastic but I’m hoping it will last a long time.

    • Hi Amy,
      thanks so much for telling me about it! I have just emailed them asking for more information. I am thrilled and willing to order enough to last me the next couple of years if the floss is truly vegan, compostable, and plastic-free LOL! I absolutely agree with you! Having only one tiny floss shipped from Australia isn’t very eco-friendly. I am honestly torn when it comes to the water flosser. Despite the plastics and the resources that its production must have eaten up, I would love to switch to flossing my teeth with only water. But because I have never used one, I am hesitant to just buy one (secondhand) without being able to try it first. I might just give it a try if I can find one secondhand :).
      Thanks!

    • Thanks, Kelli! I have started using dental lace a couple of weeks ago, but forgot to update my article. I have just updated it now ;).

  23. @Amy, I’m in Australia and I’ve used Noosa Basics – it works pretty well (if you pull hard, it does snap). They even package directly into cardboard. My issue with it is purely the cost. It’s about $33 for the same meterage pay $3 for in regular bad news floss. This is just so out of reach for most. And I wouldn’t even want to think about the shipping from Aus…still, nice to have options, and maybe if volume goes up, price will come down?

    • Thanks, Liz! That is important for me to know before I order big supply to last me multiple years to minimize the shipping emissions LOL! Especially since what works for some people (cotton threads and hair) doesn’t work for me because they snap too easily. Hmmm…

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  25. I am vegan and have decided to find some thin yarn (no wool) that i can use for floss. Have you tried that yet?

    • Yup, I have. Didn’t work for me at all. Even the thick ones that I could hardly even get between my teeth tore very easily. I even soaked it in sunflower seed oil, in coconut oil, and in beeswax that I still had at home.

  26. Hi again Shia. I found something that works! – just plain thread out of my sewing kit. It may not be 100% cotton – it seems like a polyester-cotton blend, i’m not sure (doesn’t say). It’s definitely not nylon I tried all the different threads in my kit and they all work but one. What a relief. Thanks for your blog on this – we need more of this information (about how dental floss can harm animals and the earth) out in the world!”

    About your rye shampoo, i am gluten-free and not sure it would work for me, so i’m trying chickpea flour instead, as well as sage-rosemary tea for changing my grays back to my natural color. I’m so excited about all of these natural remedies. Even though i use the most natural hair color i can find, it still comes in a plastic bottle.

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