Death of a Plastic Shower Curtain, Part 1

Last updated on December 6, 2020.

Torn plastic shower curtain.
This plastic shower curtain liner is beyond repair.

Recently, my plastic shower curtain bit the dust – it’s beyond repair now. My family moved into our house about 3 years ago, and at the time, although I’d always been a huge recycler and I was environmentally conscious, I didn’t really KNOW about the scale of the plastic problem yet. So this was the plastic shower curtain liner we purchased – a standard PEVA (polyethylene vinyl acetate) liner that is found in many homes because of its low cost and effectiveness. It had that new plastic smell that we have all come to associate with new and clean. This was before I knew that that smell was actually the off-gassing of toxins, such as phthalates, toluene, ethylbenzene, phenol, methyl isobutyl ketone, xylene, acetophenone, and cumene. Yuck, what are all of those things? I can’t begin to explain all of the complexity of these chemicals, but I can tell you that research points to illnesses resulting from the inhalation of such chemicals over time.

Mold and repairs

This plastic shower curtain grew mildew and mold consistently! Gross. We have an old house and there is no ventilation in the bathroom, so that’s part of the problem. Over the years, I cleaned it with bleach, Comet, vinegar, Borax, and laundry detergents. All of those worked to clean the curtain temporarily. I’ve even put the whole thing in the washing machine on a casual cycle. But the mildew/mold always came back.

Plastic shower curtains split and break too, and we repaired it over and over again (Beth Terry at myplasticfreelife.com always writes that repairing something as much as possible to extend the life of an item is a great way to reduce waste). The shower curtain had new hole punches, plastic tape, and even staples from different repairs over time. So last week, I put it in the washing machine to clean it again…and it fell apart. It had such large holes and tears that I could no longer tape it together. It is a dead shower curtain. Frankly, I’m ready to get something plastic-free anyway.

And even though newer plastic shower curtain liners are supposedly less toxic, there are still two major problems with them. First, I can still smell that SMELL. Since I don’t really know what my family is breathing and smelling from a potentially new plastic/vinyl shower curtain, I’d just rather avoid it. Second, it is made of PLASTIC! Call it vinyl, call it PEVA, call it whatever you’d like – but the fact is, is that it is a plastic product with no recyclability or afterlife use. [Side note: an undamaged old shower curtain could potentially be used as a drop cloth when painting or doing other tasks where you don’t want to damage or litter the floor. But then it still will have to be discarded at some point.]

Photo of a bathroom shower with a blue and white curtain
Photo by House Method on Unsplash

So what are the alternatives?

The alternatives are organic cotton, hemp, and linen – all cloth materials. Hemp is evidently mold-resistant, so that’s the type I will most likely buy someday. Lifewithoutplastic.com sells hemp shower curtains in two colors. On a discussion board at myplasticfreelife.com, a guest suggested rubbing beeswax on a cloth curtain to repel water and mold. Hmm, that’s a neat idea! I’ve also seen shower curtains made out of recycled sailcloth on sites like Etsy and Second Wind Sails. These are so cool and something I’d also like to try someday, but they are expensive.

Since the dead shower curtain liner was actually just a liner for us, I’m going to simply keep using the fabric shower curtain that I already have and hope that it doesn’t get ruined. I am seriously considering trying the beeswax method, though. If I do, I promise to update this post! (Please read my update here.)

What are your ideas to replace a plastic shower curtain, or what have you tried? I would love to know – please leave me a comment below!

 

Disclaimer: This post contains one affiliate link, at lifewithoutplastic.com.

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