It’s strong, it’s stretchy, it’s lightweight. Sometimes, after a dentist’s visit, it’s even free — and it can do a lot more than prevent cavities and halitosis. Turns out, dental floss isn’t just for removing plaque, spinach, and those blasted popcorn kernels. With many unique uses, from gardening and sewing to fishing and leaky faucets, it’s the ace in the hole you didn’t know you needed around your house.
First introduced in 1815 by Dr. Levi Spear Parmly, a New Orleans dentist who encouraged his patients to floss with a waxed silken thread after each visit, modern floss was patented by Johnson & Johnson in 1898. In the 1940s, when the price of silk soared during World War II, it was replaced by nylon, a more durable material less resistant to shredding. The presence of nylon is what makes dental floss not only a pillar of oral care, but a handy tool with myriad practical applications we bet you’ve never thought of. Behold, some of dental floss’s lesser known, but no less amazing uses.
Slice soft foods
A string of floss can cut soft foods with a cleaner, straighter edge than many knives can. Take a piece of unwaxed floss longer than the item you want to cut, pull it taut, and press down firmly to create mess-free portions of cake, soft cheese, jello, dough, or hard-boiled eggs — when no one’s looking. And check out this dental floss goat-cheese-cutting hack.
Repair ripped fabric
While you may not want to use it on black items, for lightly coloured garments or button replacements, dental floss serves as an excellent mending material when the right-coloured thread isn’t available. (Its strength and durability also makes it a boon to heavier fabric repairs such as backpacks, beach bags, and mesh laundry bags.)
Use dental floss in a pinch when you need to repair a ripped umbrella, a missing coat button, or a detached tote bag handle. Simply string it through a needle and sew as usual. Bonus: Its relative firmness will make it much easier to get through the eye of a needle than traditional thread, and its durability will make your efforts last longer.
Due to its strength, dental floss is an excellent substitute for braided wire or twine when hanging lightweight picture frames and other home accents. With a tensile strength of up to 25 pounds, and a smooth surface that won’t damage painted walls, it makes a great hanging material for frames and paintings that aren’t too heavy. Also, a piece of floss loosely strung between two small nails or Command hooks makes an excellent hanging line for the many dozens of your child’s artistic masterpieces (that you surely would never throw away).
Support your plants
Floss is an excellent addition to any garden with climbing plants that like to grow upwards, like tomatoes, pole beans, cucumbers, and peas. Stick a wooden dowel or two in the soil that they can wrap around, then use dental floss to gently tie plants to the dowels as they grow to keep them from breaking off the vine. Floss works to support nascent seedlings, as well.
Use as a clothes drying line
Did you know a piece of floss can serve as a clothes-drying line? While you probably shouldn’t hang multiple pairs of water-soaked jeans, when tied up between two stable objects like a wire shelving unit, shower head, or curtain rod (or if you’re camping, two trees), a line of floss is more than capable of supporting socks, underwear, t-shirts, bathing suits and other lightweight items for air drying.
Silence a dripping faucet
Wait, wait. Dental floss can help you sleep better? When there’s a leaky faucet involved, it sure can. The next time an infernal “drip, drip, drip” threatens to keep you awake all night, tie a piece of floss around the faucet head and leave it long enough to reach the drain. That way, when those errant drops prepare to drip, they’ll glide noiselessly down the floss into their final resting place rather than free-falling 10 inches to a loud, annoying death.
Replace kitchen twine
Unwaxed, unflavored floss is a viable alternative for binding food when you run out of kitchen twine. It will tie up your bird or roast securely and be a breeze to cut off after it’s been properly roasted. Just make sure the floss has no flavoring or wax coating, so there’s no risk of minty chicken or a surprise oven fire when the wax melts.
Make a fishing pole, start a fire
If you forget, or simply don’t have a fishing pole (or you have a small child who might enjoy making their own rod with found objects), a piece of dental floss tied tightly around the end of a sturdy branch makes a viable fishing pole for catching small to medium-sized fish. When camping, floss has numerous applications, from tying down a tent or tarp, creating makeshift rope by braiding a few strands together, and stitching up a fishing net.
While you’re recreating this Bear Grylls survivalist nature experience, you can also use waxed dental floss to start a fire. Since wax is flammable, tying some floss round your kindling will enable it to alight more quickly.
Make DIY home decor
If you enjoy making your own home decor, dental floss is a must-have addition to your crafting closet. Use it to make a flower or popcorn garland, support heavier Christmas ornaments, or hang balloons, gummy candies, doilies, banners, marshmallows — whatever your decorating heart desires. In the springtime, wrap dental floss around hard-boiled eggs before submerging them in dye for creatively patterned Easter eggs.
Safely remove pictures from photo albums
Printed pictures have a tendency to stick to transparent photo album pages due to heat or the passage of time. The next time you need to move memories that have gotten stuck in the wrong place in your old-school photo albums, slide waxed dental floss behind the photos to quickly lift them without tearing. Your Great Aunt Edna thanks you.
Create your own sewing kit (or pill box)
When you’ve used up your floss, convert it into a convenient tiny plastic home for other small items, like an emergency sewing kit or pill box. To create a compact portable sewing kit, remove the empty spool, wrap it with thread, and replace. (You won’t need scissors, because the thread-cutting device is built-in.) Pack the empty spaces with needles, safety pins, and spare buttons. Alternately, remove the spool entirely and use the empty container as a travel pill box for aspirin or multivitamins.
Temporarily repair eye glasses
If your frames fall apart and you find yourself lacking a proper eyeglass repair kit with those minuscule screws, use a string of trusty floss to re-attach the eyeglass rim to their “temples.” (Yes, I’m as surprised as you that the things I’ve never really called anything, but would probably, if pressed, dub “handles” or worse, “shafts” are, in fact, called temples.) String a piece through the screw hole, double knot the floss, cut off any excess, and wear until you can have them properly repaired. (But also, this is your reminder to pick up an eyeglass repair kit the next time you’re at the drugstore.)
String up jewellery
Dental floss is a budding jewellery designer’s dream. Rather than buying a bevy of ropes and cords of varying colours and textures for the amateur jewellery-maker, provide them with a fresh roll of dental floss. It can be used to string up macaroni, beads, and charms with ease. (It can also be used as a temporary repair for a broken chain on a beaded necklace or bracelet you hold dear.)
Slide fresh cookies off the baking sheet
If you’ve ever tried to get fresh cookies off a baking sheet when they’re still warm, you know it can quickly turn into a crumbly, mushy mess (especially if one area sticks like glue). Dental floss can work better than some spatulas to easily lift delicate warm cookies prone to breakage.
Make a tiny, kid-safe bow and arrow
Just for shits and giggles, dental floss can make a surprisingly effective miniature “bow.” After making four small notches in a popsicle stick with a pocket knife (one on each side of both ends), soak the stick so it won’t snap. Wrap dental floss around the two notches on one end, pull it tight and gently bend the stick before repeating the wrap on the opposite end. Now you have a perfect kid’s bow that can be used to shoot highly non-lethal Q-tips. See here for full instructions.