Written by Grove Collaborative

Beginner’s guide to natural toothbrushes: How to choose an eco-friendly option.

Last Updated: September 30, 2020


Your conventional plastic toothbrush isn’t doing the environment any favors. Keep your smile sparkling while protecting the environment with a natural, eco-friendly toothbrush.

Here at Grove Collaborative, we’re big believers in the power of natural products — both for ourselves and for the planet. But we know making the switch can be daunting, especially if you’re accustomed to conventional products and are new to the world of natural, eco-friendly alternatives. That’s why we’ve created Beginner’s Guides to Natural. Each week, we’ll give you a primer on the ins and outs of transitioning to a natural version of a common household item, plus a few of our favorite brands for making the switch. Let’s get to swapping!

Brushing your teeth is part of your daily routine, but did you know that, according to National Geographic, 1.2 billion toothbrushes end up in America's landfills every year? The majority of these toothbrushes are made of polypropylene plastic and nylon bristles that will never biodegrade — and which were made using nonrenewable fossil fuels.

Many of the toothbrushes that don't end up in the landfill find their way to our waterways, where they leach toxins, degrade into microplastics, and endanger our aquatic friends. Fortunately, there's a more environmentally friendly option. Here, we look at making the switch to a natural, eco-friendly toothbrush design, ways to give your used toothbrush a second life, and some of our favorite eco-friendly toothbrush brands.


What is a natural toothbrush?

The term “natural” can be confusing, especially when it comes to toothbrushes. If you wanted a truly natural toothbrush, you’d likely be doing as our ancestors did and relying on tufts of pine needles or a pounded hardwood twig — that feels, well, a little extreme. Instead, we like to think of natural toothbrushes as ones that limit their impact on the environment during the construction process or when their time scrubbing your teeth is over (or both!).

We're all familiar with the traditional one-piece design of a toothbrush with a connected handle, head, and bristles, but the major drawback of this design is that the entire thing gets thrown away every time the bristles get worn out. Instead, look for easy swaps for each part of your toothbrush to make the transition to a more eco-friendly teeth cleaner even easier.

Natural toothbrush alternatives, piece by piece

Head

Most toothbrushes feature a round or rectangular head. Round heads are usually found on electric toothbrushes, where they rotate at a fast speed to clean your teeth. Manual toothbrushes typically have a rectangular head, or a variation of a rectangle. Keep your teeth clean without loading up a landfill by choosing an eco-friendly toothbrush with a replaceable head. Only the head will get thrown away, so you can use the handle over and over.

Bristles

Unfortunately, there are few eco-friendly alternatives to traditional nylon bristles. Look for toothbrushes with bristles made from nylon 6, which is produced from a single molecule instead of two, making it slightly more eco-friendly than the standard nylon 6,6. And if you can find bristles made from the rarer nylon-4, a petroleum-based plastic that is biodegradable, even better — just confirm that the bristles have been shown to biodegrade in an environment outside of lab tests.

Handle design

Comfort is king when it comes to selecting a handle design, but there are a number of more planet-friendly alternatives to single-use plastics. Conventional toothbrush handles are typically made of polypropylene, which is generally considered safe but not environmentally friendly. Eco-friendly toothbrushes have handles made of recycled plastic or bamboo.

Grove Tip

Give toothbrushes new life

When you're ready to ditch your worn-out toothbrush, don't throw it in the garbage. Put it in a cup under the sink and use it to deep-clean grout and scrub hard-to-reach places around the house. Once the bristles are no longer useful, toss the toothbrush in the recycling bin — polypropylene is classified as PP, #5. Consider that some toothbrushes are compostable in municipal compost (although it's rare to have access) or are made from recycled plastic, making them a more eco-friendly alternative to your traditional big-name brands.

Natural toothbrush common questions

How often should I replace my toothbrush?

Bristles can wear down over time. Switch out your toothbrush every three to four months to ensure strong bristles and a deep clean.

Should I sanitize my toothbrush?

The best way to care for your toothbrush is to allow it to air dry after every use. That being said, if you get sick, recycle your toothbrush and replace it with a new one.

How should I store my toothbrush?

Store your toothbrush in a cup or toothbrush holder with the head facing up, allowing air to circulate for proper drying. And if your toothbrush shares space with your toilet in the same room, consider storing it in a drawer or enclosed toothbrush holder once dry.

What are natural toothbrush bristles made of?

Natural toothbrush bristles are typically made of boar hair, which — while natural — won’t be appropriate for vegans and may be too rough on sensitive gums. Starting with an eco-friendly toothbrush handle might make for an easier swap, especially if paired with more easily recycled nylon-6 bristles or a removable head that makes composting or recycling the base easier.

Are natural toothbrush bristles recyclable?

It depends on the material, as a natural toothbrush may have a naturally derived handle but still rely on nylon bristles. Only bamboo toothbrushes with boar hair bristles are fully biodegradable, but you can opt for BPA- and chemical-free nylon like nylon-6, which can be recycled, or compostable nylon-4.

How long do bamboo toothbrushes last?

Like traditional toothbrushes, bamboo toothbrushes typically last roughly three to four months. Technically, they can last longer, but dentists recommend replacing brushes when the bristles begin to fray, so if your toothbrush has a connected head, that’s your timeframe. Since, unlike plastic, bamboo toothbrush handles are biodegradable, you can compost the handle if you remove any nylon bristles, making them a more eco-friendly option.

What can I use instead of a toothbrush?

If twigs and pine aren’t your thing (and we don’t blame you), you do have another alternative. Although technically still used similarly to a toothbrush, a miswak brush uses bristles crafted from vegan-friendly miswak wood instead of nylon or other synthetic fibers. Or if you’re still enamored with the idea of a twig, a miswak teeth-cleaning twig might be the ticket: A 2014 study found a chewing stick just as effective as a toothbrush. You chew the wood down to its fibers, which can then be used similarly to a toothbrush to give your smile a scrub.

Shop eco-friendly toothbrushes


Looking for more cleaning how-tos and other sustainable swaps you can make at home? Grove has you covered with our buying and cleaning guides. From timely topics such as our handwashing and hand sanitizer breakdown to evergreen primers like our introduction to natural shampoo and conditioner, our handy guides are here to answer your most pressing questions. And let us know how if you have any natural personal care questions (or share your own tips using #grovehome) by following Grove Collaborative on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

If you're ready to take on eco-friendly brushing, shop Grove Collaborative's toothbrushes for a more natural approach to a gleaming smile.

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