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Bamboo Toothbrush – Top 23 Questions Answered (2020)

bamboo toothbrushes in tree

Here you will find the most comprehensive list of frequently asked questions about bamboo toothbrushes.

I included the most asked questions about toothbrush bristles, toothbrush cleaning, and various types of eco-friendly toothbrushes.

No need to read this top to bottom. Look through the table of contents and jump right to the question you want answered.

What are you waiting for? Find your answers below.

  1. Are bamboo toothbrushes effective?
  2. Are wooden toothbrushes better?
  3. Do dentists recommend bamboo toothbrushes?
  4. Are bamboo toothbrushes sanitary?
  5. How long do bamboo toothbrushes last?
  6. How do you recycle a bamboo toothbrush?
  7. How are bamboo toothbrushes made?
  8. Are bamboo toothbrushes eco-friendly?
  9. Are bamboo toothbrushes biodegradable?
  10. How long does it take a toothbrush to decompose?
  11. Can you put toothbrushes in the recycle bin?
  12. What is used to make toothbrush bristles?
  13. Why is nylon used for making bristles of a toothbrush?
  14. Which toothbrush bristles are best?
  15. Which is better, a soft or medium toothbrush?
  16. Can a toothbrush be too soft?
  17. What is a charcoal toothbrush?
  18. Are charcoal toothbrushes bad for your teeth?
  19. Can you get sick again from your toothbrush?
  20. How do you kill bacteria on a toothbrush?
  21. What is the best way to clean a toothbrush?
  22. What toothbrushes do dentists recommend?
  23. What is the best eco-friendly toothbrush?

1. Are bamboo toothbrushes effective?

The short answer – yes. The material used for the handle has nothing to do with how effective the toothbrush is. It boils down to:

  • how often you brush
  • brushing technique
  • how worn the bristles are
  • what type of toothpaste you use
  • bristle material

Some bamboo toothbrushes use cheaper nylon bristles made in China. Personally, I find these do not work that well as compared to DuPont bristles. I would recommend finding a bamboo toothbrush that uses American-made DuPont bristles.

The American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth twice a day for 2 minutes. Use a soft bristle brush with a shape and size that fits your mouth allowing you to reach all areas easily.

Take a look at this video from the American Dental Association demonstrating proper brushing technique:

Replace your toothbrush every 3 or 4 months or sooner if the bristles are frayed. I think it’s gross to use a toothbrush longer than 2 or 3 months. I even noticed mouth sores start to develop when I use a toothbrush too long. Also, a frayed toothbrush will not clean effectively.

Frayed toothbrush bristles.

No matter what the handle is made of, the bottom line is you need to use the toothbrush properly for it to be effective.

2. Are wooden toothbrushes better?

If you mean, “better than plastic” then YES! Reducing plastic should be the top priority for everyone. We are drowning in it.

However, if you mean, “Is wood better than bamboo?” then I would say no. I searched extensively for many hours straight and could only find one “wooden” toothbrush. It’s made from beach wood or driftwood. However, my issue is they use pig hair bristles. I do not condone using animal parts in a toothbrush.

Keep in mind that the handle of a toothbrush has more to do with comfort and personal preference than how it cleans. It all comes down to the type of bristles and brushing techniques. 

Bamboo is the best material for a toothbrush handle. Bamboo is a large species of grass. It is sustainably grown, doesn’t require pesticides, fertilizer or lots of water, and grows to the full height in 3 to 5 years. 

Bamboo is very dense and naturally water-resistant. It has antimicrobial properties as well. So, are bamboo toothbrushes better? The answer is:

YES!

3. Do dentists recommend bamboo toothbrushes?

I had the same question, so I asked my dentist. He said reducing plastic is a great idea, but you want to make sure the toothbrush is right for you. Here’s a few things to consider:

  1. A toothbrush needs to be the right size for your mouth. The best head size for most adults is 2.5cm long and 1 cm wide (1” x 1/2”).
  2. Hardness of bristles. Most dentists, including my own, recommend soft bristles.
  3. Brushing technique. Find tips from the American Dental Association here.

I think most dentists can get behind the idea of reducing plastic waste. Ask your dentist what they think and share by leaving a comment below.

4. Are bamboo toothbrushes sanitary?

Yes. The number of bacteria on a bamboo toothbrush versus a plastic toothbrush will be the same. Bamboo is very dense, naturally water-resistant, and antimicrobial. 

The main factor is how you store the toothbrush. If you place any toothbrush in a warm, moist environment (the kind bacteria like) then you will have an issue. If you store your toothbrush in the open air and dry environment, it won’t be a problem.

bamboo toothbrush in open cup

Pro Tip:

Clost the lid on your toilet when you flush!

Flushing a toilet creates and aerosol spray of fecal matter that shoots into the air and will land on surfaces close to your toilet. Possibly even your toothbrush. Gross!
Play video to see why you should close your toilet seat when you flush!

5. How long do bamboo toothbrushes last?

A bamboo toothbrush will last as long as a plastic toothbrush. You should replace your toothbrush every 3 to 4 months or when the bristles become frayed.

Unlike a plastic toothbrush, you should dry your bamboo toothbrush after each use and keep it in an open-air environment. Bamboo is naturally dense, water-resistant, and antimicrobial. But if you keep it in an enclosed, warm, and wet environment, mold may grow. But don’t worry. It’s just surface mold and you can clean it off with soap and warm water.

Pro Tip:

Keep your bamboo toothbrush in an open-air cup or toothbrush holder.
bamboo toothbrush in open cup

6. How do you recycle a bamboo toothbrush?

Take a look at this video below on how to dispose of a bamboo toothbrush:

You don’t actually recycle a bamboo toothbrush. Bamboo is a type of grass and will go back to the earth. However, there is one important thing you need to remember:

Remove the bristles. The bristles of most bamboo toothbrushes are made of nylon and must be disposed of.

Use a pair of pliers to pull out the bristles. When you do this, you will notice a tiny metal staple that is used to clamp the bristles to the handle. Put the bristle and tiny staples in the trash.

I do not recommend recycling the bristles because they get caught up in machinery at the recycling plant and may blow away if placed in your curbside bin.

The bamboo handle can go in your compost pile, in your garden, or just toss it in the forest. It will degrade within a few months in a compost pile or a few years in nature.

7. How are bamboo toothbrushes made?

It all starts in a bamboo forest in China. Specifically, Moso bamboo (aka Phyllostachys edulis). First, bamboo is harvested and cut into specific lengths for transportation. Then the bamboo is carbonized.

Basically, bamboo pieces are placed in a high-temperature and high-pressure chamber to decompose the sugar, starch, and fat in the bamboo. This process forms a hard layer of carbonized particles on the surface – making the bamboo harder, denser, and more water-resistant.

High pressure steam  chamber to carbonize bamboo.
Source

After treatment, bamboo is cut into small strips slightly larger than the final toothbrush size. They are loaded into a milling machine that shapes them automatically. The newly formed handle goes on to be sanded to remove imperfections.

A worker sanding a bamboo toothbrush handle.

Once sanded, the handle receives a light food-grade wax coating and moves on to head punching. This creates holes for bristles to be inserted (which is the next step).

A worker drilling holes in bamboo toothbrush handle for bristles.
Drilling holes for bristles.

An automated machine inserts bristles at lightning speed. After that, they move on to a machine that cuts and shapes the bristles.


Embedding and shaping bristles.

Then it’s off to quality control testing and packaging. If a logo is required, it is burned into the handle with a laser.

Laser logo etching.

8. Are bamboo toothbrushes eco-friendly?

Yes. Bamboo is a sustainable plant that requires little water and no pesticides or fertilizers. When you are done with your bamboo toothbrush, just remove the bristles and compost the handle.

The handle will compost in less than a year. If you just toss it in your garden or the bush, it could take up to 3 years to degrade. But it is a plant so no need to worry. Whatever you do, don’t throw the handle in the trash! It will not degrade in a landfill.

The only real impact on the environment for a bamboo toothbrush is the nylon bristles and transportation. Bamboo has to travel from the forest to the factory. Then from the factory to a distributor or retailer (like Oath) and finally to you, the consumer.

Plastic toothbrushes have a similar path on their journey to you. The major difference is a plastic toothbrush lasts hundreds if not thousands of years longer than the bamboo alternative!

9. Are bamboo toothbrushes biodegradable?

Decomposing bamboo toothbrush
Source

Yes, but not the bristles. (This picture above shows a bamboo toothbrush with animal hair bristles that will naturally decompose.)

Bamboo is a large species of grass. It will naturally go back to the earth. Just make sure to remove the bristles. Most toothbrush bristles are made of nylon and will not decompose. There are some fully biodegradable bristles such as pig hair that will decompose.

I would be cautious about bristles made from corn or bamboo fiber. Some of these are actually mixed with nylon. If in doubt, pull them out.

Just because bamboo is biodegradable does not mean you can throw it in the trash. Organic material does not degrade properly in a landfill due to the lack of oxygen. A landfill is not like a compost pile. In compost piles, the contents are chopped, kept moist, and stirred to add oxygen. This does not happen at a landfill.

Microorganisms in a compost pile are aerobic (oxygen breathing). Lack of stirring and abundance of plastic bags cut off oxygen to these microorganisms in a landfill. Therefore, little biodegradation actually happens.

Always dispose of your bamboo toothbrush handle in compost or nature.

10. How long does it take a bamboo toothbrush to decompose?

That depends on what type of toothbrush you’re talking about and where it’s getting decomposed.

A bamboo toothbrush handle will decompose in your compost pile in a few months. If you leave it in your garden or throw it in the bush, it might take up to 3 years. If you send a bamboo toothbrush to the landfill, it may never breakdown due to the lack of oxygen.

Plastic can last from 400 to 1000 years before completely breaking down. However, if your plastic toothbrush ends up in the ocean, it may break down in less than a year. How can this be?

A piece of plastic floating in the ocean is exposed to a lot of sunlight. When UV rays strike plastic, they break the bonds holding the long molecular chain together. Over time, this can turn a big piece of plastic into lots of tiny little pieces. That may sound like good news until you realize those small bits of plastic are toxic chemical components of plastic. Like BPA and PS oligomer. They end up in the guts of animals or wash up on shore.

A plastic toothbrush in the landfill will rarely see the light of day. Some bacteria may help break down plastic, as Daniel Burd discovered in his award-winning science fair experiment. But in a landfill, there is almost no oxygen to support the growth of bacteria.

It’s safe to say plastic in a landfill will last much longer than plastic sitting in the sun or floating in the ocean. Your best bet is to reduce how much plastic you use and stop contributing to the problem.

11. Can you put toothbrushes in the recycle bin?

It depends.

In most cities, you cannot just throw a plastic toothbrush in a recycling bin. The first thing you should do is call your local recycling service and ask them. They may have an alternate site for toothbrushes and other single-use plastics such as plastic bags, plastic wrap, plastic cutlery, etc.

If that fails, your next best option is to click here. Colgate has partnered with Terracycle to create an oral care recycling program. They take toothpaste tubes, toothpaste cartons, toothbrush packaging, floss containers, and toothbrushes. This program operates in a number of countries.

It sounds like a great idea but there is still pollution generated from shipping garbage. Also, you have to find a box to ship it in. But the shipping is free. I would say save up a year’s worth of oral care garbage from your family and friends and ship it in one big box once a year to maximize the effect of the program.

12. What is used to make toothbrush bristles?

The first-ever design resembling a modern toothbrush was found in China. The bristles were made of Siberian hog hair. Animal bristle was not an ideal material because it retained bacteria and took a long time to dry. Various animal hair bristles are still available today and sold as a biodegradable alternative to nylon bristles.

You won’t catch me using an animal hair toothbrush ever! Luckily, in 1938, the first nylon bristle toothbrush made with nylon yarn went on sale. These bristles were first manufactured by DuPont.

In fact, DuPont invented nylon (aka polymer 6,6) back in 1935. DuPont is known for their high quality, BPA-free bristles, and are used by most major toothbrush brands today.

There exists a 100% plant-based bristle made of corn and tapioca. The downside is they may contain GMO corn and they wear out after 4 uses. Take a look at this:

Worn out bristles on corn toothbrush

There is only one retailer in North America that sells this type of toothbrush. I decided to give it a try and it was a major failure. It starts out too hard but does soften up. The main issue was it wore out after 3 days of use. I am all for plastic-free but this one doesn’t work.

You can also find some toothbrushes made with bamboo bristles. But beware, these may be bamboo and nylon mixed together.

There is a new kind of silicone toothbrush available. However, due to a lack of studies, there is no evidence whether it is effective at removing plaque or more eco-friendly than nylon.

13. Why is nylon used for making bristles of a toothbrush?

Nylon Bristles
Source

It’s no secret:

The majority of toothbrush bristles used today are made of nylon. Nylon is one of the earliest discovered plastic materials that can be split into fibers. Making it perfect for toothbrush bristles.

Nylon is resilient and easily bounces back to its original shape. It also provides better strength than other conventional fibers.

Nylon was invented by DuPont in 1938. DuPont bristles are known for their high quality.

14. Which toothbrush bristles are best?

Do you mean which material is best or what hardness is best?

If you want to know which is better, a soft or medium toothbrush, scroll down to the next question. If you want to learn which material is best for toothbrush bristles, read on.

Nylon 6 is still considered the best material for toothbrush bristles. Nylon is strong, resilient, and easily bounces back to its original shape.

There is a version of Nylon known as Nylon 4. It’s thermally unstable and has been shown in lab studies to biodegrade in the environment under certain conditions. However, lab studies and real-life are not the same things.

No manufacturers have provided third-party proof that their toothbrush bristles will actually biodegrade in nature. It’s questionable whether all of them really contain Nylon 4 in the first place.

Pig hair, horsehair, and other animal hair are still used in some toothbrushes because they are biodegradable. Using animal hair is not an option we would consider.

Boar Hair Bristles
Boar Hair Bristles (Source)

Bristles made with corn and tapioca are of poor quality. This picture was taken after 4 uses:

Worn out bristles on corn toothbrush

Absolutely useless toothbrush. Also, some of the corn may be GMO and no one wants that.

A new type of bristle made of silicon is also available. Marketers claim they need replacing less frequently, as silicon is not an easy surface for bacteria to grow on. Silicon is also considered more body-safe and free of hypoallergenic, BPA, and phthalates.

Silicon Toothbrush bristles.
Source

Silicone is gentler and apparently, still effective. However, silicone bristles are new and no major studies have been done to determine their effectiveness.

Out of all the choices available today, your best bet is to stick with tried and tested Nylon 6.

15. Which is better, a soft or medium toothbrush?

If you talk to your dentist, most will recommend soft bristles. In a study by Franciscan University Center in Santa Maria, Brazil, researchers found that medium bristled toothbrushes remove more plaque than soft-bristled brushes. However, they also found that medium bristled brushes do more damage to your gums.

I personally would not use medium bristles. Sure, it will remove more plaque but you risk a receding gum line over time. If your gums recede far enough, it can expose tooth dentin, which is much softer than enamel.

Dentin is connected to the nerve that triggers pain in sensitive teeth. Take a look at this picture:

Cross section of tooth with all parts labeled.

You can clearly see dentin sits on the nerve structure. Enamel does not go very far beneath the gum line. If you erode your gum line, you will expose cementum, which is softer than dentin. Imagine how fast your medium bristle toothbrush will wear that thin layer away!

If you use a lot of force when you brush, it is best to choose a soft toothbrush. Using a medium or hard toothbrush with a lot of force can be very damaging.

By now, you should be convinced that a medium and hard toothbrush bristles are not worth using. You can get your teeth just as clean by brushing a little longer with the proper technique using a soft bristle toothbrush and save your gums.

Keep this in mind when buying your bamboo toothbrush.

Toothpaste and receding gums:

Here is a study that shows toothpaste plays a larger roll in the abrasion process than the type of bristle used. This study found that when brushing with water only, the medium toothbrush was more abrasive. However, when the toothpaste was added, the soft toothbrush was slightly more abrasive.

Something to think about…

What determines the hardness of toothbrush bristles?

The diameter of the bristle. Soft bristles have a bristle diameter of 0.15mm and medium bristles have a diameter of 0.18mm.

16. Can a toothbrush be too soft?

Yes and no. Extra soft bristles are less common these days. They are used mostly in children’s toothbrushes. They’re also helpful for people with gingivitis, gum disease, receding gums, and bleeding gums.

The downside of extra soft bristles is that they are not efficient and may leave plaque behind. If you use a lot of force while brushing, extra-soft bristles will wear out faster.

I have personally tried all types of toothbrushes and after talking to my dentist, I decided to stay with a soft bristle toothbrush. I suggest you talk to your dentist at your next check-up and discuss proper technique as well as bristle hardness.

17. What is a charcoal toothbrush?

Bamboo toothbrush with charcoal bristles.
Source

A charcoal toothbrush is not a toothbrush made of charcoal. It is a toothbrush that has charcoal infused bristles. What’s the big deal you may ask?

Some people claim that charcoal bristles have less bacterial contamination than non-charcoal bristles due to the presence of activated charcoal. Some even claim charcoal bristles help remove stains. I found 2 studies that test this theory. Here’s what you need to know:

The first study, using 50 participants, compared charcoal bristles to non-charcoal bristles and measured the number of bacteria. The study found non-charcoal bristles had almost double the bacteria as charcoal bristles. Sounds like the claims are true. Well, maybe not….

Another study using 90 participants did the same thing. That study concluded that there were significantly fewer bacteria on the charcoal bristles but the difference was not statically significant between the charcoal and non-charcoal bristles. The author concluded more studies are needed with larger sample size and longer duration.

Do charcoal bristles really work?

If you are worried about bacteria on your toothbrush, maybe charcoal bristles are right for you. But you need to realize there are not enough studies to conclude they actually have less bacterial contamination.

As for removing stains, there is so little activated charcoal in the bristles it would not help with stain removal. Such a small amount of charcoal would fill up with containments fast and lose its effectiveness.

18. Are charcoal toothbrushes bad for your teeth?

No. Toothbrushes with charcoal bristles are no more abrasive for your teeth and gums than regular bristles. Basically, nylon bristles are infused with activated charcoal. But it’s a very small amount. They’re more nylon than charcoal.

What really matters is the stiffness of bristles you use, how much pressure you apply while brushing, and your technique.

In my opinion, charcoal toothbrushes are more of a marketing gimmick than anything.

19. Can you get sick again from your toothbrush?

Short answer, probably not. I found a study where researchers tried to grow Streptococcus, the bacteria that causes strep throat, on toothbrushes in the lab. Bacteria did grow and remained on the toothbrush for at least 48 hours.

Don’t run to throw away your toothbrush just yet! Listen to this:

Next, they investigated whether bacteria would grow on toothbrushes used by children who had strep throat. The sample included 14 patients with strep throat, 13 patients with sore throats without strep, and 27 patients with no infections.

Surprisingly, strep bacteria were recovered from 1 toothbrush, which had been used by a patient without strep throat.

The odds that you’d re-infect yourself are slim to nil. The reason is that when your immune system fights off a bug, it develops antibodies to keep it from coming back. People who share your sink are safe too, as long as they don’t use your toothbrush or store theirs next to yours.

Still not convinced? Watch this helpful video from Health.com

20. How do you kill bacteria on a toothbrush?

This is not necessary. If you read the question above (Can you get sick again from your toothbrush?), you know you’re not going to get sick from your own toothbrush.

There is a study that found soaking your toothbrush overnight in Listerine containing chlorhexidine gluconate (0.2%) is highly effective at preventing microbial contamination. But it may cause bacteria to grow under certain conditions.

If you are concerned about bacteria on your toothbrush, throw it out (or recycle it) and use a new one. If someone in your house is sick, make sure your toothbrush doesn’t touch theirs.

You could also try boiling your toothbrush for a couple of minutes. This will kill the bacteria but may melt the toothbrush so do this at your own risk. I take no responsibility if you try this and disaster strikes.

Whatever you do, do not use dishwashers, microwaves or ultraviolet devices to disinfect a toothbrush. These methods may also damage your toothbrush.

Whether you brush with bamboo or use plastic, the best thing to do is rinse it with warm water after use and let it dry in an open-air environment.

21. What is the best way to clean a toothbrush?

Here is a snippet straight from the CDC website:

There are no published research documents that brushing with a contaminated toothbrush has led to the recontamination of a user’s mouth, oral infections, or other adverse health effects.

Recommended toothbrush care:

  • Do not share toothbrushes.
  • After brushing, rinse your toothbrush with warm tap water until it is completely clean, let it air dry, and store in an upright position. If more than one brush is stored in the same holder, do not let them touch each other.
  • Avoid covering toothbrushes or storing them in closed containers. This can cause the growth of bacteria.
  • Replace your toothbrush every 3 to 4 months or sooner if the bristles look worn out. This is not because your toothbrush might carry more germs but because worn-out bristles may not work properly.

22. What toothbrushes do dentists recommend?

Manual or electric? Soft or hard bristles? Plastic or bamboo handle? It seems there are never-ending options when it comes to cleaning your teeth.

There have been studies about the effectiveness of electric toothbrushes. They concluded that electric toothbrushes with rotating oscillating brushes remove more plaque than manual toothbrushes. But only slightly.

Dentists don’t seem to care if you use a manual or electric toothbrush. What dentist do care about is this:

  • use a toothbrush that is comfortable
  • the correct size for your mouth so you can access hard to reach places
  • soft bristles
  • brush for 2 minutes twice a day with fluoride toothpaste
  • use proper technique

If an electric toothbrush is more exciting and that makes you brush your teeth every day then go with that. If you like the idea of a plastic-free bamboo toothbrush, great! If you consider the points listed above, rest assured that you are using the right toothbrush.

23. What is the best eco-friendly toothbrush?

Let’s go through your options:

Recycled Plastic

Example recycled plastic toothbrushes.

There are a few brands out there selling toothbrushes made from recycled plastic. They also have a take-back program where you send your used toothbrushes back to be recycled into new toothbrushes. Sounds nice but it’s still plastic. How many people actually send them back anyway? There is pollution involved with shipping too. Also, plastic can only be recycled so many times before it’s inevitably trashed. Not the best solution.

Wheatgrass

wheat grass handle toothbrush

Another option is wheatgrass plastic toothbrushes. Some companies flat out lie and say it is just compressed wheatgrass and contains no plastic. It’s actually a 50/50 mix of wheatgrass fiber and PET or PLA plastic. You should just avoid this altogether.

Electric

electric toothbrush

What about electric toothbrushes? They last a really long time and you only throw away the head, which contains less plastic than a manual toothbrush. However, a study was completed showing plastic manual toothbrushes have a less environmental impact over its entire life cycle than an electric toothbrush. Primarily due to the individual parts, batteries, and circuitry contained in electric toothbrushes. There is no such thing as a sustainable electric toothbrush.

Neem Stick

Source

You can get yourself a Neem chew stick. These are traditionally used for oral care all over Asia, particularly in India. You strip about 1 inch of bark off with your teeth and then chew the stick until it breaks into bristle-like fibers. Then scrub your teeth. They are 100% plant but also 100% pain in the neck. In my opinion, these are not suitable for most people in their busy lives.

Bamboo with Animal Hair or PLA Bristles

If you’re looking for a zero-waste toothbrush, then a bamboo toothbrush with bristles made from animal hair, corn or bamboo is the way to go. Unfortunately, animal hair is gross, corm may be GMO and wears out quickly, and bamboo bristles might actually be mixed with nylon. Buyer beware!

Bamboo with Nylon Bristles

bamboo toothbrush with nylon bristles

A bamboo toothbrush is the best biodegradable toothbrush in my opinion. Sure, the bristles are nylon but nylon is still the best material for cleaning your teeth. Bamboo is sustainably grown, the carbon footprint from manufacturing is low, and more than 95% of the toothbrush is plant-based. It’s also vegan and cruelty-free!

As long as you remove the bristles and compost the handle, a bamboo toothbrush will be the best eco-toothbrush you ever own!

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