If you’ve been on the fence about switching to a bamboo toothbrush, you’re not alone. Many people are switching to bamboo toothbrushes as an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional plastic toothbrushes. But is a bamboo toothbrush the right choice for you?
Some of the more obvious advantages of buying bamboo toothbrushes is their sustainability. Unlike standard plastic toothbrushes, bamboo toothbrushes can be composted or easily upcycled. On the other hand, it’s important to understand that there are some disadvantages, too.
In order to make it easier for you to make an informed decision, we’ve done a deep dive into the pros and cons of bamboo toothbrushes. Ultimately, the decision to switch to a bamboo toothbrush lies with you, and depends on your values and preferences.
What are the pros of bamboo toothbrushes?
Bamboo toothbrushes offer an alternative to the plastic toothbrush, but does it stack up in terms of performance? Let’s start by taking a look at some of the advantages of bamboo toothbrushes below.
Less plastic waste
Following dentist guidelines, we brush our teeth twice a day, every day, for the entirety of our lives. Dentists also recommend changing toothbrushes about every 3 months to maintain efficacy (worn toothbrushes are less able to remove plaque) and proper hygiene.
Following these recommendations, the average person goes through about 300 toothbrushes in a lifetime! If millions of people discard 3-4 plastic toothbrushes each year, this contributes to a significant amount of plastic waste.
Unfortunately, much of our plastic waste ends up in the environment instead of the landfill. Scientists are finding microplastics in all areas of the globe due to plastics breaking down but never decomposing. Plastic has been found in almost everything, including the stomachs of many animals.
Fortunately, the handles of bamboo toothbrushes are both recyclable and compostable, which cannot be said for any plastic toothbrush. Bamboo is biodegradable, and you can discard the handle in your compost bin or use it as a plant marker in your garden. Doing our part to reduce the amount of plastic we produce and discard can be as simple as switching to a bamboo toothbrush.
Bamboo is a sustainable material
Bamboo is widely considered a sustainable material, which leads many people to believe that the bamboo toothbrush is a sustainable alternative to the common plastic toothbrush.
It’s a common misconception that using bamboo toothbrushes will devastate pandas, who famously consume bamboo. The bamboo most commonly used to produce bamboo toothbrushes is known as Moso Bamboo (Phyllostachys edulis). This isn’t a type of bamboo that pandas are attracted to, which means that cultivating it doesn’t remove the panda’s food source.
As a member of the grass family, bamboo grows very quickly. In ideal conditions, some varieties of Moso bamboo can grow over 3 feet (1 meter) in a single day. Unlike trees, bamboo can grow incredibly quickly, with minimal effort and farmers’ interference.
Bamboo toothbrushes are hygienic and long-lasting
People might suspect that the strength and durability of bamboo toothbrushes may be weaker or less hygienic. On the contrary, bamboo toothbrushes are quite durable. They’re naturally anti-bacterial and rot-resistant, making them hygienic for oral care. Moreover, they’re also a nontoxic material.
Bamboo has a reputation for being stronger or as strong as other materials such as timber or steel. Despite this, bamboo is also incredibly lightweight. This makes the material ergonomic and easy to use, particularly as a dental hygiene tool that requires some hand dexterity and precision.
Many dentists attest that manual bamboo toothbrushes are as effective as their plastic counterparts. Bamboo toothbrushes with nylon bristles are practically the same as other toothbrushes, only the handle is made of bamboo instead of plastic.
When using a manual toothbrush, it’s important that you can navigate the brush around your teeth so you can effectively brush the nooks and crannies of your mouth. If you find the adult-sized bamboo brush too bulky for your mouth, you can opt for the children-sized bamboo toothbrush, which may be more comfortable for brushing.
Right now, minimal, trendy, and natural décor and products are very much in style. People are reducing visual clutter in their homes by removing labels, loud colours and packaging from their household. Bamboo toothbrushes are lightweight, minimal, and a welcome contrast to multicolored plastic toothbrushes.
Whether you keep your toothbrushes in a cabinet or on display, choosing a bamboo toothbrush is very much on trend. More options are also available in terms of color and personalization if that’s important to you.
What are the cons of bamboo toothbrushes?
Now that we’ve gone over the main advantages offered by bamboo toothbrushes, it’s important to be aware that like any other product, they’re not a perfect solution. For example, nylon bristles are still the norm for bamboo toothbrushes, so while the handle is compostable, they’re not 100% biodegradable.
It’s clear that the waste produced by bamboo toothbrushes is less than a generic plastic toothbrush. However, when making decisions regarding a sustainable product, people often don’t consider whether the production and manufacturing are sustainable.
Products usually undergo a long journey before they end up in our homes, and bamboo toothbrushes are no different. From harvesting to production, the manufacturing of bamboo toothbrushes requires manpower, energy, water, and other natural resources. So the sustainability of a bamboo toothbrush isn’t clear-cut.
Most bamboo is harvested in Asia. Regardless of manufacturers’ various sustainability practices, bamboo toothbrushes still have to travel around the world, increasing their carbon footprint. Furthermore, as bamboo becomes increasingly more popular and, therefore, profitable, there’s rising concern that farmers will mow down other crops or natural forests in favor of growing bamboo.
Further research is required
If you’re considering switching to bamboo toothbrushes solely for sustainability purposes, make sure you’re purchasing from a seller with good intentions. With the rise in greenwashing, there are many cases of false advertisements from brands pretending to be eco-friendly in order to make more sales.
Therefore, when switching to a bamboo toothbrush, research the brand to ensure that the company you buy from is transparent about its sustainability practices and where they source its product.
Nylon bristles aren’t biodegradable
Until technology catches up with a bristle that can be sustainably made and effective for oral hygiene purposes, there aren’t many other options available. So while the bamboo handle itself is more environmentally friendly than its plastic counterpart, it’s important to remove the nylon bristles before disposing of your bamboo toothbrush.
Some manufacturers claim that their bamboo toothbrush is 100% biodegradable, inferring that they use Nylon-4 bristles, which are reported to be biodegradable under certain conditions. However, most companies still use Nylon-6 bristles. The best way to determine whether or not the bristles are biodegradable is to look at the instructions on the packaging and whether you should remove the bristles before composting.
There have been efforts to find more sustainable alternatives to nylon bristles, such as boar’s hair bristles. Unfortunately, while these bristles are not made of plastic, they aren’t vegan. This adds another concern if using vegan products is important to you.
Depending on where and how you purchase your bamboo toothbrush, it may come in packaging that isn’t sustainable. Since toothbrushes are hygienic items, plastic packaging may be used to prevent contamination. While this is important for oral care purposes, if you’re purchasing a bamboo toothbrush for sustainability purposes, that may be a concern for you.
You may need to explore options and sellers to find a bamboo toothbrush with more sustainable packaging such as biodegradable cardboard. There are some brands that will use sustainable packaging, you may just need to research the right one.
The cost of an individual bamboo toothbrush may be slightly higher than a standard plastic toothbrush simply because plastic is cheaper to produce and distribute in high quantities.
As bamboo toothbrushes become more popular, the prices may stabilize, but until then, you can expect to pay a little bit more for a bamboo toothbrush than a comparable plastic toothbrush.
Bamboo is a more porous material than plastic products, which means it can expand when wet. For example, if you brush your teeth in the bathroom, your bamboo toothbrush may become wet quite easily unless extra care is taken to ensure that it’s kept dry when not in use.
Make sure that you don’t store your bamboo toothbrush in water. It will naturally air-dry between uses, but leaving it on a wet sink or in your shower may cause the material to expand or warp from excessive moisture levels.
No frills or fancy features
Bamboo toothbrushes are still relatively basic, aside from the option to choose different colors. If having a toothbrush with all of the bells and whistles, such as tongue scrapers or rubber grips, is important for you, you may not find those options in a bamboo toothbrush.
Ultimately, the appeal of bamboo toothbrushes arises from sustainability and their minimal appearance. Likewise, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an electric bamboo toothbrush. It isn’t impossible, but keep in mind electric toothbrushes rank lowest in terms of overall sustainability.
Is a bamboo toothbrush the way to go?
As a consumer, choosing a personal hygiene item like a toothbrush can be a big decision. While bamboo toothbrushes have come a long way in introducing a much more eco-friendly way to brush our teeth, it isn’t perfect.
If sustainability is top of mind for you, look for a bamboo toothbrush from a company that is committed to sustainability and is transparent about their production and distribution practices.