Friday, July 11, 2014

Toothbrush hack

Brian and I both use Fuchs Ekotec toothbrushes. The main reason I like these is that they have replaceable heads, so instead of having to replace the entire toothbrush every three months, I can replace just the part that's actually worn out—the bristles—and keep using the same handle. They're also a bit cheaper to use in the long run than most other toothbrushes, since the replacement heads cost less apiece than a whole new toothbrush. But there's a third thing I really like about them that has nothing to do with ecofrugality: they're practically the only toothbrush you can find these days that fits into a standard toothbrush holder.

Look in the bathroom of any house built before, say, 1980, and you'll probably find a built-in ceramic piece mounted next to the sink that holds a cup and anywhere from two to six toothbrushes. Back when these houses were built, this was a really useful feature, because it made use of wall space to store the toothbrushes and freed up much needed surface space on top of the sink. The problem is that, in the intervening decades, toothbrushes have become much more "advanced," with angled bristles and big, chunky, ergonomic handles that no longer fit in the holders. Thus, in most of these older houses, you'll see the built-in toothbrush holder sitting unused, just taking up space on the wall, while the family toothbrushes sit out by themselves or in a cup of some sort, taking up counter space.

Every six months, when Brian and I go to the dentist, he gives each of us one of these new, modern toothbrushes for free. And every time, we come home and stick the new toothbrushes the linen closet, while our Ekotecs retain their place of honor in the toothbrush holder over the sink. Over the years, we've accumulated quite a collection of these freebies, and it's gotten to the point where we've both started muttering, "We really need to find a way to get rid of these." We could, of course, just throw them out, but there's not much point in buying toothbrushes with replaceable heads in order to reduce waste and then throwing out a bunch of perfectly good toothbrushes, head, handle, and all. I found myself wondering: is it really ecofrugal to keep buying replacement heads for our Ekotec toothbrushes when we have a bunch of brand-new, free toothbrushes sitting unused? And I must also confess to a tiny bit of curiosity about whether maybe these sophisticated modern toothbrushes might actually do a better job.

So finally I decided to give one of these free toothbrushes a try. It felt a little gentler on the gums, maybe, but aside from that, it didn't really seem to have any significant advantage over my old Ekotec. However, having used it once, I figured there was no point in discarding it until it was worn out. The problem was where to keep it. It wouldn't fit in our toothbrush holder, and because of its curved, molded handle, it wouldn't like flat on the vanity either. And if I tried to stand it up in the drinking cup, it would just fall over.

For a while I just kept the toothbrush in the plastic package it came in, but it wasn't the most attractive solution. I kept thinking there must be some way to modify our toothbrush holder so that one of these chunky modern brushes would actually fit in it. Simply making the hole bigger, even if we had a way of doing it, wouldn't really work, because the head isn't much wider than the handle; any hole wide enough to accommodate the handle with ease would also be wide enough for the whole toothbrush to slip through completely. Finally, it hit me: the only way to hold this kind of toothbrush upright is to slide it in from the side, just like the glasses in this stemware rack Brian built for me.

Once I had the idea, it was just a matter of figuring out how to make it. I tried wrapping a wire twist tie around the existing toothbrush holder and it sort of worked, but it wasn't terribly sturdy. Finally, Brian hit on the right material for the job: coat hanger wire. He cut a straight piece of wire, bent it double, and then bent the middle of it in on itself to form an indentation the right size to hold a toothbrush handle. Then he threaded the cut ends through one of the holes in the built-in toothbrush holder, bent them up to run flat under the bottom, pushed them back out the hole on the other side, hooked them in place, and snipped off the excess.

Thanks to this simple and inexpensive hack, our toothbrush holder can accommodate my chunky modern toothbrush for as long as it remains useful, and it still has plenty of room to hold my old Ekotec toothbrush while it waits patiently to come back into use. Because frankly, having tried the new one, I think we're just as well off sticking with our Ekotecs and donating the rest of these free toothbrushes to the food bank. Yes, they'll still end up in the waste stream eventually, but they'll be used by people who would probably have been using a regular disposable toothbrush anyway.

Post a Comment