simple stuff: toothbrushes.

March 15, 2021

What I’m after here is admittedly niche and of small consequence in the grand scheme of things but then so are lots of things that wiggle under my skin and stay there.

I am on an multi-year hunt for a simple toothbrush that fits three main requirements:

  1. It’s nice to look at.
  2. It fits inside the built-in vintage ceramic toothbrush holder above my sink.
  3. Its afterlife will be relatively low-impact on the planet.

You would not imagine this would be so difficult and yet here we are, without a perfect toothbrush, but with a few options to consider, and an open call for innovation on this front.

Bamboo Toothbrushes

This is the type of toothbrush my family tends to use. They look nice, feel nice, and if they have plant-based bristles, they’re relatively low-impact on the planet. (Greenwashing caveats abound.) They also tend to come in sizes designed for children and absent the licensed artwork or bells and whistles typical of kids’ brushes. They do not, however, neatly fit into the ceramic toothbrush holders of yore. (We keep ours in a cup in the bathroom and rinse out the bottom when it inevitably gets sludgy.) There are many (many) different brands making and selling these brushes, but Brush With Bamboo is probably the one I see most often. Save some variations in bristle materials and colors, bamboo brushes tend to be remarkably similar in design, which is to say, that none of them fit in vintage built-in toothbrush holders. Still, when I occasionally gripe about the dearth of brushes that fit retro holders, people inevitably recommend them. I’m left to assume that one of three things is happening here: 1.) Reasonably, there might different built-in ceramic toothbrush holders of varying sizes and shapes and some of them, somewhere, fit the relatively slim handles of bamboo brushes. 2.) Our definition of “fit” is different. Technically, the very end of bamboo toothbrushes fit into our toothbrush holder, as shown above. If we could all manage to be very careful and never accidentally knock them over into grubby corner between the sink and bathtub, we might be in luck (and also superhuman). 3. Hope springs eternal and folks are very eager to help, but woefully mistaken, in their assuredness that slim bamboo brushes will fit into vintage toothbrush holders. It’s a mystery.

–> If you’re on the hunt, Fill More Waste Less sells both adult and kid’s sized bamboo toothbrushes.

Recycled/Recyclable Plastic Toothbrushes

The Preserve Plastic Toothbrush fits in our toothbrush holder and the white brush meets my standards for relative beauty in toothbrushing. The brushes are also made from recycled #5 plastics and once you have a small collection you can send them back to the company for recycling. All-in-all, they’re an improvement over standard-issue toothbrushes. The downsides are that the barrier to recycling is relatively high with the needing to save up and ship off for recycling. And that up until very recently, each brush came in its own plastic box which felt like a not terrific solution for a product touting its eco chops (though they seem to have made some very recent improvements). My most superficial quibble is the choice of colors: Grass Green, Berry Red, Purple, Orange, and that particular bright blue always associated with all things bathroom. (Would that they came in the pleasing color selections of Hay’s Tann Toothbrush.)

Other options:

+ Beechwood Handle Toothbrush: I was *very* excited to see if this Iris Hantverk toothbrush might be a candidate for the job, but while quite slender front to back, the base of the brush is still too wide across to fit our holder. When I tell you I’m tempted to whittle this brush into the proper size, please believe me. But as with butter, I think the realities of regularly whittling the whole family’s toothbrush selection might be taking things a bit too far.

+ Aluminum Handled Toothbrush: A few folks have recommended Grin Toothbrushes, made with a reusable aluminum handle and replaceable plastic toothbrush heads that can be mailed back and recycled with the company. While slim, I feel confident in saying these handles would not fit into the micro-slots of a vintage toothbrush holder, but if that is not a thing you worry about, they might be worth taking a look. A bonus would certainly be the anti-sludge nature of an aluminum handle.

What else? What have you found? Did you stop reading when you saw the word toothbrush?

PS. Special thanks to two kind readers who went above and beyond the call of reader duty the last time I talked about toothbrushes to 1. Draw me a schematic of how I might retrofit my retro holder to better accommodate modern day toothbrushes and 2. Point me in the direction of Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd’s My World, which has a very stellar illustration of a toothbrush hook solution.

PPS. No thanks to the reader who suggested I halt my search for open-air toothbrush storage because cockroaches are attracted to toothpaste. (!)

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  • Reply Lexie March 15, 2021 at 4:34 pm

    For YEARS every time I went to the dentist, I was hassled and harangued about getting an electric toothbrush. By three different dentists in three different states! I caved and finally got one. I can’t help with your conundrum, but I am curious if they really make that big of a difference or are dentists just now in the pocket of Big Toothbrush (ha)?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 15, 2021 at 4:51 pm

      I feel you! I also got harangued and convinced to get an electric toothbrush! The whole family shared it (minus the heads) but those got so frequently moldy I couldn’t deal anymore and i gave it away on buy nothing!

    • Reply Lilya Horowitz March 15, 2021 at 10:32 pm

      Hi! I’m a dentist and I like using an electric tooth brush. I really feel like they are superior at cleaning teeth and managing stain from tea, coffee, wine etc but it is a personal choice. I even got my children the kids sonicare brush and it think it does a great job at getting out all the sticky carbs (I’m looking at you cheddar bunnies). I do not sell them at my office and most dentists that offer them do not really make money they just have it to make it easier for the patient and set them up for success. If you are happy with how your teeth look and feel with a manual then you should use it. One thing I will mention though is flossing between all your teeth every single day is the most important thing!

    • Reply Lotte March 16, 2021 at 6:23 am

      So good to read your comment. This was also my initial thought!

      We moved a lot around Europe and no matter where we stayed (Netherlands, Germany or Switzerland) all of our dentists highly recommended using an electric toothbrush.

      And I have to admit I did notice a positive difference – even though I have to hide them in our cabinet for obvious reasons.

    • Reply Susanne March 16, 2021 at 10:05 am

      I have started with a regular electric toothrush about 20 years ago and did absolutely not like it. About 10 years ago I discovered the sonic versions of electric toothbrushes, tried one and ever since have used one of them. Yes, they get dirty on the bottom and yes, I have to clean them because hubby doesnt bother, but I love them and feel that my teeth are cleaner. Also, dentists always comment about my super clean teeth (and I am sure this is not due to my superior handling of the brush but due to the brush itself). However, I hate the plastic that comes with it and would immediately go for a more environmentally friendly electric toothbrush if there ever would be one.

  • Reply Emma March 15, 2021 at 5:30 pm

    I have to confess my love for my quip toothbrush, since I also was aggressively advised to go the electric route and it was the most cost effective, pretty, and low-waste option…. (And it has made a difference for me!) But it does make me sad that my bathroom’s toothbrush holders are going unused. The Grin toothbrush looks lovely… Perhaps worth a try!

  • Reply Jessica March 15, 2021 at 5:58 pm

    Perpetually searching for the right toothbrush, perpetually checking back here in case you have any updates! I’m indifferent on fitting into the little holder in my bathroom, but I do want one that does an effective job at cleaning and feel mostly like I have no idea (maybe!). I’ve been using my radius brush (recommended by you!) for a few years until the latest brush head snapped off, leaving a piece of plastic in the little holder so that it will never be useable again. So, again on the hunt! Thanks for this post!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 15, 2021 at 7:05 pm

      Oh man! Yes! After a few years the same happened to us!

  • Reply Alix March 15, 2021 at 6:31 pm

    How about these? They’re definitely still plastic, but they’re made in the U.S., come in kids’ sizes and are very affordable.

    I love a good product research challenge! I’ll keep looking for more eco-friendly options…

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 15, 2021 at 7:06 pm

      Yes! I feel like there’s a big market (me!!!!) for an eco-friendly, plastic-free, plain and simple toothbrush!

  • Reply Dee March 15, 2021 at 6:56 pm

    Have you checked out Boka toothbrushes? They are generally pretty and work well!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 15, 2021 at 7:06 pm

      Will check them out!

  • Reply Janean March 15, 2021 at 7:08 pm

    I believe the bamboo Bass brushes offered by OraWellness would fit those holes but, since the handle is straight, they would end up resting on their bristles. The thought of which makes me shiver. 😉 I truly wish you the best in this search!!

  • Reply NK March 15, 2021 at 7:28 pm

    Possible option could be these OraWellness brushes! Thin + straight handles, look decent and are my favorite manual brushes

  • Reply Betsey March 15, 2021 at 7:34 pm

    Hahaha, my immediate solution was so whittle the ends of the wooden toothbrushes too! I look forward to you finding a more sane solution 😉

  • Reply Maria March 15, 2021 at 10:27 pm

    These are the bamboo toothbrushes my kids and I use and they fit through the holes of our similar vintage toothbrush holder (our toothbrush holder is white versus your pink… though the rest of our bathroom is full on pink). There’s 3 color options for the bristles which helps us keep track of whose toothbrush is whose!

  • Reply Lauri March 16, 2021 at 12:23 am

    Tooth powder, while potentially a hard sell, might at least solve the cockroach conundrum. 🙂

  • Reply Janett March 16, 2021 at 4:18 am

    There is a promising mechanical toothbrush which hopefully will finally will be mass-produced this year. The “Be.” brush works like old watches which you could charge up by turning a little knob.

  • Reply laura March 16, 2021 at 10:15 am

    I use a Quip because I do find oral health is SUPER important to your overall health and for me, an electric toothbrush is a must. I like it because my brush head regularly gets replaced when it needs to without my thinking about it and I’ve had the base for two years now and still going strong.

    Also very into keeping toothbrushes under the cabinet since I am afraid of what kind of ahem, particles, land on it when its en plein air! Sorry, gross I know!

  • Reply Gerry March 16, 2021 at 12:59 pm

    For toothbrush srorage: Fold a wash cloth or hand towel about 2/3. Stitch the edges. Then stitch parallel lines at regular intervals to the edges creating pockets for each family member’s toothbrush. Attach loops for hanging.

    I came up with this idea, because I was searching for a way of managing toothbrushes without having to wash the crud out of the bottom of a holder or cup. I like our brushes to air dry and I like them not to touch one another. It may not be the prettiest solution, but it was tidy and easy to maintain when my kids were younger.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 16, 2021 at 1:34 pm

      Love it!

  • Reply Rebecca March 16, 2021 at 1:11 pm

    If it needs to fit in the toothbrush holder, you could always sand down a wooden/bamboo handle to help it fit. But I also go for the electric. My teeth always feel like I have just left my dentist’s chair.

  • Reply Maggie March 16, 2021 at 6:08 pm

    Still feeling so invested in this journey! Redecker has one listed on their site that looks like it might work but I don’t see any stockists yet and the details on the materials are slim. Saw some wheatstraw toothbrushes but again, material details slim. Iris handverk + a carving knife/hand saw/sandpaper block might be your best bet for now. Know anyone with a belt sander? Maybe the knife truck man can help 🙂

  • Reply LIndy March 17, 2021 at 1:16 am

    Yes.. eyes did nearly glaze over at toothbrush depth— however am now terrified of the open air and cockroach smorgasbord.. and I HATE the revered vibrating brushes.. I steel myself against the onslaught of spray.. so said .. no more.
    Mine are from the dentist.. I just can’t torture myself on every level. Saving money first ( your hated scarcity rears it’s head) and I’ll recycle everything else.

  • Reply Marine March 17, 2021 at 9:50 am

    I also recently switched to an electric toothbrush at the behest of my dentist, and the clean feels superior, despite the ugliness of the toothbrush and the fact that it takes 24 hours to charge… (but let’s be honest, I’ve never been the best or most regular of teeth-brushers…) But before I switched, I was using a Boie toothbrush! They have slim handles (that maybe will fit in your holder!), replaceable heads, and they’re 100% recyclable, with the option to send them back to Boie for a closed loop system. They have a subscription service so that you never have to worry about remembering to order the heads, and I did notice a superior clean compared to the plastic toothbrushes I was using for years prior. Definitely worth looking into!

  • Reply Elizabeth March 17, 2021 at 6:55 pm

    How about these?
    my husband swears they are the best ever!

  • Reply Maddy March 20, 2021 at 12:27 pm

    Not eco-friendly persay, but I have a hunch that MUJI’s toothbrushes would fit your toothbrush holder! They are also very beautiful and I love them because the bristles are the exact softness that I like.

    They’re also made of one piece of plastic rather than the several different ones that many big brand toothbrushes are made of, which my googling has led me to believe might contribute to greater ease in recycling them.

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