Brushing our teeth has been a part of our daily routines for so long that we rarely give it much thought, but thanks to the rising awareness of plastic pollution, more of us are reconsidering our everyday choices.
It’s estimated that 3.6 billion plastic toothbrushes are used worldwide every year, with the average person using 300 in their lifetime. Unfortunately, roughly 80 per cent of these end up in the sea, where they pose a risk to marine life and habitats.
Each toothbrush takes up to a thousand years to decompose, so it’s little wonder that by 2050 it’s predicted that there will be a higher volume of plastic in the oceans than fish.
The only fully biodegradable toothbrushes use natural bristles made from pig or badger hair. Obviously, these are not vegan-friendly, and dentists claim they are too hard and abrasive on our delicate gums.
Dr Mervyn Druian, co-founder of the London Centre for Cosmetic Dentistry, warns that because natural bristles retain moisture, they’re “a breeding ground for bacteria and malodour”, and should, therefore, be avoided for health reasons. He recommends compromising between eco-friendliness and the need for effective dental care by using a bamboo-handled brush with plastic bristles, so we’ve taken his expertise on board for this roundup.
The toothbrushes listed here are all biodegradable bar their bristles, which are made from nylon which is free from BPA (a chemical used to make certain plastics that can seep into drinks, possibly leading to an increased risk of health problems such as increased blood pressure, heart disease and impaired brain development in children). The downside is that they will need to be plucked out with pliers before throwing your brush onto the compost heap.
Dr Eddie Coyle, dentist and clinical director at Bupa Dental Care, supports the rise in bamboo toothbrushes but advises taking extra care to keep yours clean. “Once you finish brushing, rinse the bristles for 30 seconds to wash away remaining toothpaste or food debris, and avoid leaving your toothbrush in a warm, damp case or holder as this encourages the growth of microorganisms,” he says.
There is no hard and fast rule on how often you should replace a toothbrush, with Dr Coyle recommending changing yours every one to four months depending on the frequency of use. “When the bristles start to curve, bend or fold over, it’s time to get a new one.”
We tested the below bamboo toothbrushes over the course of a few weeks, noting how comfortable and easy they were to hold and control, how effective the bristles were at reaching every crevice of our teeth and how clean our mouth felt after use.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.
The Environmental Toothbrush: £2.64, Boobalou
This toothbrush is made from Moso bamboo, which grows a metre a day without the need for fertiliser, making it highly sustainable, safe and eco-friendly. This species of bamboo is dubbed “panda-friendly” because pandas do not eat it or inhabit the area where it grows.
Created down under, this brand employs local farmers and pays them fairly, with the bamboo harvesting helping to control unwanted spread into precious agricultural land. What makes this toothbrush our best buy is the care taken to heat-treat the bamboo to carbonise it.
This process renders it water-resistant, preventing the growth of mould when you leave it in a steamy bathroom, and also gives a higher quality finish. These brushes feel well made and solid to hold and the medium nylon-6 bristles are on the softer side, which dentists recommend to minimise damage when giving your gnashers a good scrub.
Even softer bristles are available for those with more sensitive mouths, as are smaller brushes for children. They don’t currently come in different colours, but you can always get creative and decorate yours to avoid mix-ups.
The Pearly White Club Personal Subscription: £3 a month or £30 a year, The Pearly White Club
Replacing your toothbrush every few months can be a faff, especially when your plaque-fighting weapon of choice is nowhere to be seen on the high street. The Pearly White Club has clocked this common woe and launched the UK’s first bamboo toothbrush subscription service, delivering you a new toothbrush every six weeks.
Unlike most of the ethical but admittedly dull options dominating the eco market, their bristles come in a rainbow of colours, which makes brushing your teeth that bit less boring. The head is slightly smaller than others we tried, making reaching your back molars more comfortable, and the bristles are nylon-6.
There is a choice of soft or medium, with child-size brushes available too. The Moso bamboo is FSC-regulated to ensure that farming it does not damage panda habitats and a toothbrush is donated to the homeless every time someone subscribes.
If you just want the one brush to try, it’ll cost you £3.99 including postage, but note that you can’t choose your colour at the moment.
Save Some Green Bamboo Toothbrush: £2.50, Save Some Green
One of the original bamboo toothbrush companies, Save Some Green use Moso bamboo grown without fertilisers or pesticides.
The bristles are nylon-4 (thought to decompose faster than nylon-6, though this is a matter for debate), and you can opt for soft or medium. We like to chop and change between the two – giving our teeth a really good clean with medium bristles before a few days of using the softer ones to protect our gums.
The handle may feel unsettlingly light at first if you’re used to a heavier plastic toothbrush, but it’s comfortable to hold and easy to control thanks to bamboo’s natural grip-like qualities. Don’t expect these toothbrushes to come in a fancy box – they arrive in simple brown paper packets to minimise waste, but the little cartoon of a panda brushing his teeth put a smile on our faces.
Children will like it too, and there are smaller sizes available for them. Top tip: save 75p per toothbrush by bulk-buying more than eight.
The Humble Co Humble Brush Bamboo Toothbrush: £3.99, Holland & Barrett
Swedish brand The Humble Co’s toothbrushes have been designed by dentists, so you can rest easy knowing that the health issues have been carefully considered. The handles are made from FSC-certified, sustainably grown Moso bamboo and the bristles are nylon-6.
We found these soft bristles on the firmer side and liked how they were longer than usual, allowing for greater reach around our mouth. The ergonomic shape of the brush lets you grip it securely and retain control over your brushing technique.
Though a bit pricey when you’ll likely need 12 a year, we’d happily splash out a few more pennies for the aesthetic, which let us choose between pink, blue, yellow, white or black bristles.
The packaging is made from recycled materials, including the inside wrapper, and for every brush sold, the company gives a child in need one too, as well as educating them about oral care.
Georganics Bamboo Toothbrush with Soft Charcoal Bristles: £3.90, Georganics
This plastic-free oral care company’s claim that bamboo handles are naturally non-slip proves fair, as we never felt like this toothbrush was going to fall out of our hands and make a mess. The nylon-6 bristles are soft and infused with activated charcoal, known to absorb plaque, help whiten teeth and prevent bad breath.
We’ll need to test this brush for longer to notice any real difference in the colouring of our teeth, but the bristles were firmer in action than expected, reaching all corners of our mouth and leaving it feeling minty fresh after brushing. Once it’s left the West Sussex barn where it’s made by a small, dedicated team, your toothbrush is packaged in a compostable and recyclable cardboard box.
There’s a kids’ size available, as well as a medium-bristled brush with a pop of summery mint green on the handle. Natural floss, toothpaste and mouthwash are also available from this natural brand, should you wish to go fully eco with your dental routine.
Mabboo Bamboo Toothbrush: £2.50, Mabboo
Mabboo’s founder Ed Cheney’s bamboo obsession began when he was living and working in China. His bamboo clothing and accessories brand Mabboo (an anagram of bamboo, naturally) is now based in Bristol, where he has a shop.
The soft brown bristles have rounded tips to minimise damage when brushing and the bamboo handle is slender and incredibly light. These toothbrushes arrive in simple brown paper wrappers, again adorned with a little panda (we’re noticing a theme!), and you can save £1.50 by buying a pack of three, ideal for families.
They only come in natural bamboo colour for now, and be careful to dry yours off between uses to avoid the development of mould. Choose the white bristles if you prefer a stiffer feel when brushing and a child size for the little ones.
If you’ve caught the bamboo bug, Mabboo’s range of super-soft T-shirts and socks is well worth a gander, too.
If you’re concerned about bamboo and bathrooms proving a recipe for disaster on the mould front then The Environmental Toothbrush’s heat-carbonised handle should ease your concerns, while we also love The Pearly White Club’s hassle-free subscription model and cheery choice of colours. Save Some Green and Mabboo’s simple but effective offerings are the kindest on your purse strings, but none of these toothbrushes will break the bank and you’ll be limiting the cost to the planet too.