Update: Death of a Plastic Shower Curtain, Part 3

Last updated on February 4, 2021.

A couple of years ago, I wrote about the death of my vinyl plastic shower curtain liner, and my decision to never buy plastic liners again. Plastic liners off-gas toxic chemicals in your home and the curtains can end up in the ocean after disposal. I tried using the fabric curtain without a liner, but it quickly grew mildew and mold and after washing it several times, it started to fall apart. So in my second post, I repaired it and then coated the bottom half of the curtain (where the most moisture accumulates) with Otter Wax.

This, however, was a complete failure.

The cloth curtain grew mildew and mold even quicker, and to the point that I could no longer clean it. I don’t know if I spread the Otter Wax unevenly or if I just didn’t apply enough of it onto the fabric. It seemed that the nooks and crannies of the fabric weave held in moisture easier. Perhaps Otter Wax was not meant to prevent mold growth in fabric that is constantly in a warm, moist environment.

Cloth shower curtain with mildew growth

Cloth shower curtain with mildew growth

No More Plastic

I refuse to give up and go back to vinyl/plastic shower curtain liners. Since first writing about my shower curtain pursuit in 2018, I have learned a lot about the chemical compositions of plastics and how they adversely affect human health. Captain Charles Moore wrote about this subject in his book, Plastic Ocean:

“Who doesn’t know that potent ‘plasticky’ smell that somehow we’ve come to associate with ‘new’ and ‘clean’?”

He cited a 2008 study that quantified fumes off-gassing from PVC shower curtains, in which they logged 108 chemicals, mostly volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and phthalates. “Prolonged exposure to these chemicals is associated with respiratory irritation, headaches, nausea, and potential harm to the liver, the kidneys, and the central nervous system. They can also cause cancer.” There are now many studies about off-gassing plastics and they all indicate the same health problems.

Failing Forward

If you’ll recall from my second post, the gray cloth shower curtain was intended to be used with a plastic liner and not meant to withstand daily use without one. So I learned to invest in a better cloth shower curtain, one intended to be used solely. The lower cost of plastic shower curtains is not worth the environmental consequences nor the risks to my family’s health. I decided to purchase a hemp canvas shower curtain from lifewithoutplastic.com. Hemp fabrics inhibit mold and mildew growth which makes them a great option for shower curtains. It was expensive but it was the best option for our home. I’ve had it for just over one year now, and I will share my trials and errors with you.

Hemp shower curtain in package

Cloth shower curtains require special care

Overall, I like this shower curtain, but it is not perfect. We adjusted the curtain rod because this curtain was much longer than our old shower curtain. But then the first time I washed and dried it, the curtain shrunk by about 7 inches! So again, we had to adjust the shower curtain rod, which again marked up the walls. I learned that it is best to simply wash it in the machine and rehang it to dry.

The hemp shower curtain came with specific care instructions, and although they appeared unprofessional, I tried to follow them. We draw the curtain outside of the shower to let it dry out after every shower. But I do not launder it weekly. I have had some mold growth so I have boiled it in hot water to kill it per the instructions and that seemed to work.

Hemp shower curtain instructions

However, upon writing this post, I discovered that the instructions have been updated on the website and are different from the ones I received in the package. They now recommend washing it every few weeks instead of weekly. If mold appears, they suggest washing the shower curtain with half a cup of Borax and/or oxygen bleach in the machine on the delicate cycle. Last, they indicate to hang dry it – I wish I’d known that before drying it in the dryer and thus shrinking it that first time!

Hemp shower curtain in bathroom
This is the hemp curtain as of this writing. You can see slight discoloration at the bottom but I don’t find it all that noticeable.

Shopping for Shower Curtains

Obviously, stay away from plastic shower curtains, including plastic-derived fabrics such as polyester, nylon, and microfiber. These synthetics can cause as much environmental damage as vinyl, especially when laundered. Some of these “fabric” polyester curtains even contain chemicals to make the plastic fabric water repellent. Ingredients such as perfluorooctane sulfonate, a chemical known to cause cancer and has a Proposition 65 warning, is just one example I found on Kohls’ website. If you do happen to find a cotton and “chemical-free” shower curtain at a department store, these almost always recommend using a liner with the curtain, defeating the purpose of switching to a fabric shower curtain. I’ve found examples of those on Target’s website.

Look for hemp or a hemp cotton blend. If you can’t find a hemp curtain in your price range, get a cotton curtain so that you can wash it regularly. Read the fine print you know exactly what type of fabric it is. Check the details as some fabric curtains have a disclaimer such as, “recommend using with a shower curtain liner.” This often indicates that the curtain cannot withstand constant water exposure and will not last very long. Also, read the reviews to help determine durability and quality.

Another option is reclaimed sailcloth, which I mentioned in a previous post. This is what I’d like to purchase someday as long as I can find one made of authentic, reclaimed sailcloth. These generally run in the $200-$300 range and I frankly cannot afford one right now.

Reclaimed sailcloth shower curtain
Reclaimed sailcloth shower curtain, from Etsy. Photo by seller

Conclusion

Other than having glass doors professionally installed, I’m not sure that there is a perfect replacement for a plastic shower curtain. Although a better option than plastic by far, the mold-resistant hemp canvas shower curtain is not perfect. This curtain does not round or cover the ends of the shower the way a plastic curtain does, so some water gets out and we have to clean up small amounts of water on the walls and floors after each shower.

Unfortunately, the curtain has begun to deteriorate the fabric on the bottom section where it gets the wettest and where mold grows. I think I’m going to hem it where the holes are rather than trying to patch it. It might be my fault for not laundering it often enough. But I guess I was hoping for more durability for the amount I paid for it. Still, this is the best solution I have at this time, so I will continue with this curtain. If I have to do something different, I’ll be sure to update this post with a Part 4!

Corner of curtain, falling apart
One corner of the curtain is starting to fall apart. It is also not very noticeable.

I hope that this short series has been helpful and saved you some time and effort. Thanks for reading and please subscribe. I’d love to hear about your experience so please leave me a comment below!

 

Disclaimers: This post contains one affiliate at lifewithoutplastic.com. All photos by me except where noted.

 

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.