Is Floss Bad for the Environment?

Last Updated on August 29, 2023 by Krystine

Flossing daily prevents cavities and gum disease.

But could this hygiene staple also be harmful to the planet?

Understanding floss components and eco-friendly options illuminates impacts.

Is Floss Bad for the Environment?

Dental floss thrown on the sidewalk
Dental floss is a cord of thin filaments used in interdental cleaning to remove food and dental plaque from between teeth or places a toothbrush has difficulty reaching or is unable to reach. Image Credit: Philadelphia Magazine

Yes, most conventional nylon dental floss is detrimental to the environment since it cannot be recycled or easily biodegraded.

The plastic accumulates indefinitely in landfills and ecosystems when improperly discarded.

However, sustainable natural floss options like silk and bamboo avoid plastic waste and compost quickly.

So choosing compostable materials is key to minimizing floss’s ecological impact.

Key Points

  • Standard nylon floss does not decompose for decades and piles up non-recyclable plastic in landfills.
  • Floss contributes substantially to plastic pollution, with thousands of tons entering ecosystems annually.
  • Natural compostable flosses like silk break down within years and prevent harm to the planet.
  • Water flossers reduce waste but contain some plastic parts and require electricity to operate.

Why Can’t Traditional Floss Be Recycled?

Most conventional floss contains nylon and polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), commonly known as Teflon.

This blended composition resists breakdown and cannot be effectively recycled.

Nylon’s tough durability and water resistance also make floss hard to compost. The small size of used floss pieces further complicates sorting for recycling. So used floss ends up in landfills.

However, some companies now offer floss made solely of polyethylene, enabling recyclability.

Consumers should check labeling before purchasing.

Does Floss Contribute Significantly to Plastic Pollution?

The sheer volume of floss purchased annually makes its unrecyclable plastic a notable issue.

Americans alone buy roughly 2.5 million miles of floss yearly.

That’s enough to circle the Earth over 100 times.

Global floss consumption produces thousands of tons of plastic waste each year.

Most of this piles up indefinitely in landfills or escapes into the environment as litter.

The tiny size of the floss makes it easy for remnants to enter waterways too.

So floss does contribute significantly to unnecessary single-use plastic pollution. Preventing this requires switching materials.

Can Floss Harm Ocean Ecosystems?

Floss found in beaches
Traditional dental floss is usually made from nylon, which is a type of plastic. While nylon is durable and strong, it is not biodegradable, meaning that it will sit in landfills for centuries after you dispose of it. Image Credit: GreenHive

Yes, floss debris can accumulate in marine environments and harm ocean life.

The small strands resemble food for birds, fish, and invertebrates who consume them by mistake.

This causes gut impaction with potentially fatal results.

Additionally, nylon floss never biodegrades and concentrates environmental toxins onto its surface over time.

If ingested, animals absorb these chemicals.

Washing down sinks, nylon floss also enters wastewater systems and flows untreated to seas, contributing to ocean microplastic pollution long-term.

Are Natural Flosses More Sustainable?

Natural floss options like silk, bamboo, and GMO-free corn starch are compostable and biodegrade much faster than nylon.

This keeps them out of oceans and landfills.

However, these alternative fibers may lack nylon’s strength and must be wrapped in compostable paper packaging to maintain integrity when wet.

This reduces portability compared to plastic floss containers.

Still, swapping to biodegradable natural floss slashes plastic waste significantly.

And advances in plant-based materials boost strength and water resistance.

Do Floss Alternatives Like Waterpicks Have Lower Eco-Impacts?


Water flossing requires electricity but eliminates disposable waste.

However, most waterpick units contain some plastic parts.

And there are concerns about potential bacteria buildup within the devices.

Interdental brushes also swap plastic for reusable stainless steel or bamboo.

But bristles still shed into the environment eventually.

Overall, biodegradable dental floss combined with reduced use of water and electricity offers the lowest eco-impact oral care.

How Can I Floss More Sustainably?

Using biodegradable natural floss from bamboo, silk or plants is best for the environment.

Seek strong, unwaxed varieties to avoid microplastic beads shed from wax coatings.

When possible, opt for floss sold in paper versus plastic containers.

Be mindful of portion size when purchasing to reduce waste.

Lastly, skipping a rinse and directly tossing used floss in the trash prevents it from washing away into waterways.

A little extra care protects ecosystems.

What is the most sustainable way to floss?

The most sustainable dental floss options are made from biodegradable materials like silk, bamboo, or plant-based fibers instead of nylon plastic.

These decompose quickly when discarded properly, avoiding decades of accumulation in landfills and ecosystems.

Unwaxed natural floss is optimal to prevent microplastic beads from shedding from coatings.

Buying floss in paper packaging minimizes waste versus plastic containers.

Using only the needed length prevents excess.

Lastly, responsibly discarding natural floss while avoiding rinses prevents it from entering waterways.

Overall, biodegradable natural floss combined with eco-conscious usage habits makes flossing much gentler on the planet.

How long does it take for floss to biodegrade?

Standard nylon floss takes decades to fully biodegrade, persisting indefinitely in landfills when discarded.

But natural silk floss breaks down through composting within just 1-5 years.

Bamboo and plant-based floss biodegrade even quicker, within 6 months in industrial composting facilities.

So while conventional plastic floss remains for generations, natural options decompose rapidly when properly composted.

However, regular landfill conditions significantly delay biodegradation.

Proper composting and sustainable materials prevent floss from lingering endlessly after use.

Key Takeaways:

  • Switching to compostable natural floss helps ensure this essential hygiene staple no longer plagues ecosystems.
  • With small sustainable swaps, we can prevent tens of thousands of tons of plastic from polluting nature each year.


What is dental floss made of?

Conventional dental floss is made of nylon, a plastic material, and polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), commonly known as Teflon. Some brands use waxed coatings as well. Recently, compostable natural options made of silk, bamboo, or plant fibers have become available as eco-friendly alternatives to plastic floss.

How does flossing your teeth help the environment?

Flossing helps the environment indirectly by protecting oral health and avoiding the need for plastic-heavy dental procedures like fillings or implants that use energy and resources. But floss only sustains ecological health when made of biodegradable materials like silk that avoid plastic pollution from standard nylon floss. Proper flossing prevents tooth decay and gum disease.

What is the proper way to floss your teeth?

Properly flossing involves wrapping 18 inches of floss around the middle fingers, gripping it tightly to make a “C” shape, and guiding it gently between teeth using a zig-zag motion. Floss each tooth thoroughly from base to tip, taking extra care around the molars. Don’t snap floss forcefully between teeth. Finish by gently curving the floss around the teeth’ sides to remove plaque.

The team at GreenChiCafe is passionate about our natural world and preserving our planet for future generations.

Please check out our website for more content on living sustainably.

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