The Poor Man's Soft Bristle Toothbush

When you leave your comfy Western nation for a long stint in China, there are certain things you might want to take with you because you can’t buy them over there. I’m talking dental floss. Deodorant. Size 13+ shoes.

toothbrush selection

Chinese toothbrushes

“Toothbrushes” used to be on my list. This is not because you can’t buy toothbrushes in China; you can buy one at any supermarket or convenience store, and you can even find brands you recognize, like Crest. The reason is that I find Chinese toothbrushes to have ridiculously stiff bristles. I guess I have wussy gums, but Chinese toothbrush bristles tend to fall in two categories for me: hard and gum-shredding. (Seriously, if I wanted that kind of scrubbing power in my toothbrush, I would use steel wool.)

So, I had been importing my soft bristle toothbrushes from the States in order to keep my brushing sessions pleasant. But now I know a better way.

Take a typical Chinese toothbrush. Pour a little bit of extremely hot water over the bristles. Apply toothpaste, and brush. The hot water softens the bristles just long enough for you to brush your teeth comfortably. Toothbrushes and big thermoses of boiling water are fairly ubiquitous in China, so the trick works basically anywhere.

Enjoy this technique, my tender-gummed friends, and may you not lose a single tooth in China.

we love cleanliness


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Thats funny – I always find Chinese toothbrushes to be ridiculously soft, so soft in fact, that when I scrub my dirty yellow British pegs (have to keep to the stereotype) the bristles fall out.

    I always buy brands I recognize now, like Crest, just to stop from me pulling bristles out of my teeth all day.

  2. Your still using a toothbrush? How 20th century. Get an Oral-B rotating plaque removal machine. It’s the future.

  3. You use hot water to make the bristles soft? Oh no! It brings on some chemical change and produces poisoners.

  4. Every dentist in America just twitched when you made this post. From what I know soft bristles are preferred over stiff ones. Still bristle brushes can damage your teeth. i.e. Wear them down.

  5. I’ve got only a few basis of physics but I know that when you soften a plastic at high temperature you also release some components of the plastic. The dangerousity of the components depends of the type of plastic and the temperature.
    Just place an empty plastic PCV bottle (Polyvinyl Chloride) under very high water temperature and smell it … it’s not parfum !

  6. Those rotating oral b battery-powered toothbrushes are the #1 best. Before I leave China I want to buy like a dozen.

    • No, they aren’t actually. Any dentist will recommend a Sonicare over an Oral B rotating brush, they’ve been proven to damage your teeth and gums more often and recede your gum line.

      The Sonicare is safer to use on your teeth and cleans your teeth a thousand times better than any rotating brush.

      I know price is an issue with these brushes but they are worth every penny and you can find them fairly cheap now. Sure they are still expensive compared to a extremely cheap Oral-B rotating brush but your teeth should be the main priority, not saving money on a cheaper less effective and more harmful tooth brush.

      Be my guest to look it up, many dentist have done studies with these brushes and Sonicare wins every time.

  7. Dental floss and deodorant are easy to get in China. not sure about size +13 shoes.

  8. Deodorant has gotten easier to get nowadays. Some years ago it just didn’t exist.

  9. Hey John: for those of us with huge feet, here’s another trick:

    Take size 12 shoes, and fill them with boiling hot water, then put your feet in and you’ll notice they are just like size 14s. Trust me: it works!

    The only problem is that you have to take them off before the water cools, or you have to cut the shoes off of your feet.

  10. Ben,

    Some years ago if you went through Beijing airport with the spray on deodorants in your luggage the guards would swarm your suitcase after it had been through the Xray and make you open it as though you had grenades in there. Then they would take out the cans and spray them, giggling and sniffing the air as if they’d never seen such a wondrous invention.

  11. I saw something interesting last week here near downtown Taipei– an old shop where they make pig hair toothbrushes by hand. I assuming that was aproduct that was more popular a couple of generations ago. Anyway, it’s 100 natural.

    Ask around, you might find a similar shop in Shanghai.

  12. Marco,

    I have never seen real deodorant for sale in China (at least not something I could accept). I don’t use spray deodorant.

  13. Steve,

    Ha ha, I’ll have to try that trick…

  14. There is plenty of deodorant in most Carrfours – both in Shanghai and elsewhere. Its roll-on as opposed to gel, and several of the scents are rather “floral” but they definately have deodorant and have for 5 or 6 years at least.

    Once I aksed for the dictionary defintion of deodorant in a regular supermarket, and the fu-wu-yuan brought me to the aisle with scented candles 😉

  15. Don’t you guys have problem with the door height in China? I think it is similar to that some asian women have to pick some children shoes in Europe or USA.

  16. I imagine that the Europeans are use to it.

  17. Seems to be a male-dominated comment page, so I thought I’d add one more essential item that’s surprisingly difficult to find here: tampons. Almost non-existent. Why? Not sure, but lots of theories…

  18. Hey Rachel, both of the supermarkets I shopped at had “ob” brand tampons packaged just like in the US except in Chinese. They were always available, but that was the only brand.

    I bought a toothbrush that said oral-b on it, it looked authentic. Seemed to have decent bristles but I can tolerate non-soft bristles.

    I never found deodorant or razors, but then again I didn’t make an effort to go to Carrefour or Walmart so perhaps they were available there.

    I asked a Chinese friend where I could buy dental floss, and a few days later she gave me some, not sure where she got it.

  19. Watson’s has dental floss 😛

  20. Hi Rachel,

    Here’s a whole Cpod podcast on the topic of ‘finding what you need.’

    Hi John,

    I thought I was the only one that realized there was no dental floss in China. At least besides OralB at exorbitant prices. (The equivalent of 4-7 US$ each, Y35-60) You think we could fill up a few suitcases and become floss-n-aires in China?

    I also thought it was just my wussy gums that couldn’t take it. A whole aisle full of toothbrushes and I am trying the Mickey Mouse kid’s brush. It’s a real tragedy that I can’t take full advantage of the Y1 brushes!

  21. Zambezini Says: December 3, 2015 at 2:03 am

    I am not sure what the people are on about here in the comments or on this site, Seems like a lot of American ignorance.

    People on here claiming that Asian people don’t use tampons and inferring something retarded as if Asian women don’t even have periods (Don’t be retarded guys).

    As far as claiming that doorways are all so small and that Asians are the sizes of white children like many of you are claiming on here.

    Umm actually the average height in the USA for men is only 2 inches taller than men in Japan. Only 1 inch taller than Men in South Korea etc.

    No they are not all 5 foot midgets like you claim they are and from your racist cartoons you make and stupid stereotypes.

    Yes in China they sell deodorant (antiperspirant is hard to get though, but that’s like expecting to find sunblock in African stores)Asians genetically have less sweat glands and don’t stink as much. So they generally just use perfumes and like deodorant things to add smells, they don’t have the antiperspirant deodorant that is sold so commonly in western countries.

    No the USA is not a wonderland (It actually has a huge crime rate, huge prison population, huge obesity rate, low life expectancy, low national IQ, huge debt to China lol).

    No the USA did not invent Aerosol, no Aerosol is not an amazing thing to Chinese that they will have guards there spraying one of your cans looking like it’s magic. Get a grip guys. Aerosol perfume and other things are common in China, so stop with BS fake stories.

    Aerosol was actually invented in Norway, not the USA. Many Aerosol products have been in China for as long as they have been in the USA. sigh

    Lastly when you people are talking about “China” and making out it’s some backwater where you are transported back in time where you can barely buy any modern products invented after the 50’s or something. ummmmm…… Are you sure you guys are not talking about Rural China?

    Because actually modern developed eastern China is if anything ahead of the USA in many ways. It has the most billionaires of any country, city architecture ahead of the USA, China even makes the products you buy.

    You can also buy many things in China that are hard to get in the west, most of the new technology reaches China before countries like the USA.

    China also has better education rates and higher national IQ than the USA. Sorry

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