Your shower curtain could be a source of health-related problems, not to mention a few eco-ills, too. But a guilt-free, healthier shower experience is on its way with eco-friendly alternatives like hemp, organic cotton, and PEVA!
What to look for in a non-vinyl shower curtain
There are several alternatives you could explore when looking into a vinyl-free shower curtain:
- Hemp: Likely one of the more popular shower curtain alternatives, hemp is a great choice because of its natural resistance to mold and bacteria and its ability to dry quickly. Shower curtain liners are not normally required with these options.
- PEVA: It's a PVC-free, phthalate-free, biodegradable, lightweight plastic that's made without chlorine and other toxins. It won't off-gas like vinyl, but still resists mildew.
- Recycled materials: Some shower curtains are now made from recycled post-consumer PET plastics (water bottles, for instance). These not only keep used plastics from being trashed, they require less energy to make, are easy to care for, and won't shrink or get moldy.
- Organic cotton: Made with no chemical pesticides, organic cotton is far superior to conventionally-grown cotton. It may, however, be more prone to mildew or mold, so if you live in an especially humid climate, a liner is recommended.
Now, if you've already got a vinyl shower curtain and have been using it for some time, it's likely off-gassed completely, so should be safe to use from here on in. If that's you're situation, try to keep your vinyl curtain in good shape (to avoid purchasing a new one) by washing it on a regular basis. Simply take it off its hooks and soak it in a bucket filled with warm water and a cup of vinegar. Then run it through the washing machine with 1 cup of baking soda (gentle cycle in cold or warm water).
But when it is time to retire that old vinyl thing, what do you do? Well, reuse it for other jobs around the house instead of trashing it, or course!
Find it! Vinyl curtain alternatives
Using a non-vinyl shower curtain helps you go green because…
- You cut down on waste by choosing an option that's either more durable or biodegradable.
- You help keep PVC-related toxins out of the earth.
Regular vinyl shower curtains are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a soft plastic used commonly in consumer products that poses severe environmental risks throughout its life cycle. The manufacture of PVC creates toxic pollution, threatening the health of both factory workers and the communities surrounding factory sites. It also contains health-threatening phthalates. In fact, 90 percent of phthalates in production are used to make PVC.
Because they easily become moldy and are difficult to clean, many consumers replace them frequently rather than cleaning them, adding to the more than 200 million tons of trash that end up in landfills every year. If just a quarter of the nearly 116 million housing units in the United States threw away one standard-sized shower curtain per year, that would equal the equivalent of over 32,000 miles of PVC — enough to wrap around the earth more than once.
Recycling is not an option with PVC plastic, and when discarded, PVC releases potentially dangerous chemicals like lead and other toxic additives that can leach into the ground and drinking water supplies from landfills. PVC waste has contributed to rising lead levels in the environment, which have increased by 1,000 times in the past few hundred years. Incineration is no better since it produces dioxins and furans, which are among the most toxic environmental contaminants and are known carcinogens.
Related health concerns
A study conducted by the US-based Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) on five PVC shower curtains revealed that 108 different volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were released by the curtain within the first 28 days of use. Although the levels drop off over time, many of these VOCs and several other chemicals (including ethylbenzene, methyl isobutyl ketone, and cyclohexanone) pose serious human health concerns.
PVC contains lead, which can cause developmental and learning problems, lower intelligence, behavioral problems, cancer, strokes, high blood pressure, kidney problems, anemia, cavities, and delayed puberty. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that lead exposure may be linked to almost 300,000 cases of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children. PVC also contains phthalates, which can cause reproductive problems, premature birth, early onset of puberty, impaired sperm in men, genital defects, and reduced testosterone production.
- phthalates: A group of chemicals used as plasticisers in PVC plastics that are known to be testicular toxins and can disrupt hormones.
- Update on the Environmental Health Impacts of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) as a Building Material: Evidence from 2000-2004, by Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D. Distinguished Visiting Scholar, Ithaca College
- Center for Environmental Health - Target Agrees To Reduce Use of PVC, a "Poison Plastic"
- Charity Guide - How To Make A Difference In 15 Minutes: Clean Up Your Trash
- Bath Enclosures Manufacturing Association - Make Your Bathroom More Environmentally Friendly
- The Center for Environmental Health - An Unnecessary Poison: Babies, Bibs, and Lead
- Environmental Defense - Vinyl Shower Curtains Release Toxic Chemicals: New report shows as many as 100 chemicals released from PVC shower curtains