Your dentist may remind you to use floss after every meal, but there are plenty of other reasons to keep a roll handy — particularly the unwaxed, unflavored kind that shoppers often pass over at the pharmacy or grocery store.
Dental floss has been commercially available since 1882, when the Codman and Shurtleft Company of Randolph, Massachusetts, made it out of unwaxed silk. The switch to nylon came during World War II, and wax-coated floss also debuted in the 1940s, according to toothbrush manufacturer Oral-B. Nowadays it is everywhere with U.S. consumers spending more than $1 billion a year on the lightweight, stretchy and surprisingly strong floss.
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Most is likely used to remove food debris stuck between our teeth, but you’ll want to keep a spool in your pocket once you see all the creative and handy ways dental floss can be used. Here are nine ways that it’s become the new duct tape.
1. Cut food
Slicing hard-boiled eggs, a wheel of Brie or even cheesecake can be accomplished with ease using a piece of tautly held, unwaxed floss. It’s also a perfect way to divide a cake into layers, according to Condé Nast’s Epicurious magazine. Position the floss around the outside edge of the cake, hold the ends tightly with both hands, then pull through. A couple of toothpicks placed along the edges halfway up the cake can act as a guide.
2. Save old photos
If you find a photograph stuck in a frame or an old photo album, you can use floss to remove it without tearing. Starting at one corner of the photo, place the floss between the picture and the surface it is stuck to, then carefully pull the floss between the two surfaces until the picture is freed, according to Flintlock Dental in Liberty, Missouri.
3. Hang a picture
Instead of using braided wire, which can mar your wall, tie dental floss across the back of a lightweight frame and then hang it on the wall, according to This Old House.
4. Seal connections
If you don’t have Teflon tape on hand, wrap dental floss around the threads on a leaky connection and then screw it back into place, recommends This Old House.
5. Detach sticky cookies
Similar to separating a picture stuck to a photo album, shimmying floss under each cookie will release it from the baking sheet or wire rack without losing the bottom crust, according to Epicurious.
6. Replace a broken shoelace
If you’re out on a hike and you break a shoelace, dental floss can serve as a substitute. It’s not perfect, but it should be strong enough to keep your shoes on your feet temporarily, according to Kauai Hiking Tours.
7. Make a fishing pole
If you don’t have a fishing pole, you can make a quick one out of floss and a branch, Kauai Hiking Tours claims. Just fashion a hook and tie it to the end of the floss line, which should be strong enough to pull in most fish you’ll find in a pond or stream.
8. As tinder
Waxed dental floss burns easily, so it can be used to start a fire if you ball up the thread into a bundle. Or use waxed floss to tie together small dry twigs for kindling, Kauai Hiking Tours suggests.
9. Fix your glasses
If the frames of your eyeglasses break, a piece of dental floss can be used to lash the separated pieces together. You can also use a piece of floss like a necklace. Just tie the floss around the earpieces so you can carry your glasses around your neck without losing them, according to online magazine LifeHacker.
10. Remove skin tags
It’s best to check with a doctor first, but Susan Massick, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, says small skin tags can be removed painlessly with dental floss. These small outgrowths of regular skin attached to a thin stalk, or base, are usually harmless and often appear as we age. Tie dental floss tightly around the base of the skin tag, and within a few days it should fall off. However, if this is painful, remove the dental floss right away.
Editor's Note: This story, originally published May 11, 2022, has been updated to reflect new information.
Peter Urban is a contributing writer and editor who focuses on health news. Urban spent two decades working as a correspondent in Washington, D.C., for daily newspapers in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Ohio, California and Arkansas, including a stint as Washington bureau chief for the Las Vegas Review Journal. His freelance work has appeared in Scientific American and on Bloomberg Government and CTNewsJunkie.com.