Baby Steps: Shower Curtains

Baby Steps is a series about making small, gradual changes to reduce plastic and move towards a healthier body and planet. Remember, the most important step is to be kind to yourself. Big changes can seem overwhelming. But, the little steps you can take now eventually add up to big progress.


Step 1: Rethink Your Shower Curtain.


• 108 different volatile organic compounds are released from a PVC / Vinyl shower curtain into the air.

• The level of Total VOCs is over 16 times greater than the recommended guidelines for indoor air quality established by the U.S. Green Building Council.

• VOCs can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination; nausea; and damage to the liver, kidney, and the central nervous system. Some VOCs can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.

• Seven of the chemicals released by the shower curtain are classified as hazardous air pollutants by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Clean Air Act.

• Manufacturing PVC releases vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen, into the air. Once VC enters the atmosphere, it’s blown around the world.

• PVC will never decompose. Incinerating PVC releases dioxins, another substance suspected of causing cancer.

• PVC is recyclable, though not easy or affordable due to a high chlorine content and the plasticizers added to turn it into flexible vinyl.

• The CHEJ suggests this disposal method: “PVC should be treated as a hazardous material. As an interim measure, PVC could be disposed of in “secure” triple-lined hazardous waste landfills.”




You can purchase many types of fabric shower curtains online and in stores. Hemp is a good choice for fabric curtains. It’s antibacterial/antimicrobal properties will resist mildew. However, commercial hemp curtains can be quite expensive. I easily made a lightweight, fast-drying shower curtain from sheer cotton window curtains and  clips from Ikea. This solution cost about $15 for three curtains – I use one for a month and then wash and dry. Works great, and after 5 months, I haven’t had any mildew growth at all.

You could also buy and hem organic cotton or hemp fabric and hang with grommets or hooks. Of course, you can easily find PVC-free plastic EVA Shower Curtains (ethylene vinyl acetate) or Nylon curtains. But, why wait for the study on the dangers of those materials to be released – go with organic, natural materials now and invest in your health and the health of the planet.



Volatile Vinyl: The New Shower Curtain’s Chemical Smell

Pink, Putrid & Plastic

Are Plastics Polluting Your Home?


“Often we can achieve an even better result when we stumble yet are willing to start over, when we don’t give up after a mistake, when something doesn’t come easily but we throw ourselves into trying, when we’re not afraid to appear less than perfectly polished. By prizing heartfulness above faultlessness, we may reap more from our effort because we’re more likely to be changed by it. We learn and grow and are transformed not so much by what we do but by why and how we do it.”


— The Power of Intention, Sharon Salzberg


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  1. Alex
    Jan 4, 2012

    Is it ok to use PVC after 1 month? When it won’t smell so strong any more. I have a curtain that is 2-3 years old now.

    • sdypart
      Jan 6, 2012

      I think that PVC eventually does off-gas less the more it is aired out. The worst time have it near you is when you can smell it. I personally have decided to err on the safe side and stick with a fabric shower curtain. I don’t use a liner and just throw it in the washer if it gets dirty. It’s worked just fine for the past 6 months!

  2. Mary
    May 22, 2012

    I never knew how toxic my shower curtain liner is!!! When I don’t use a plastic liner, water spills out onto the floor – even with a fabric curtain on the outside. Is there a practical solution for that? Do you just tuck the fabric curtain on the inside of the tub? If so, is hemp fairly mold-resistant? Great blog! Thanks.

    • jen
      Jul 16, 2012

      I have heard that the hemp curtains are fairly mold resistant though I’ve never tried one. I still just use a light cotton one from Target and tuck it in. I throw it in the wash every couple weeks and it never molds. Hope this helps!

  3. Melanie Jade Rummel
    Aug 11, 2012

    Great Article!!! I was just wondering about this when my hubby & I were moving into our apartment and needed a shower curtain. I was wondering if the plastic liner was even needed. Thank you for sharing!

    Melanie Jade Rummel


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