Is Your Shower Curtain Safe?

If you’ve got a shower curtain, you might want to consider if getting clean in your own home is safe—and green. “Most vinyl shower curtains are made out of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is often called the “poison plastic,'” says Alex Scranton, Director of Science & Research at Women’s Voices for the Earth, a nonprofit focused on getting the unhealthy toxins out of our environment.

“PVC needs a lot of chemical stabilizers and plasticizers to make it useful, including toxic chemicals like phthalates and heavy metals like lead and cadmium, which are linked to reproductive and developmental problems,” Scranton continues. “The production of PVC is also highly toxic for the communities that live close to the manufacturing plants.”

In fact, a recent study from CHEJ revealed that PVC shower curtains off-gas up to 108 volatile organic chemicals into our homes. “Some of them lingering for as long as 28 days after the shower curtain was unwrapped and hung in the bathroom,” says Scranton, who adds that these chemicals have been linked to developmental damage as well as damage to the liver, central nervous system, respiratory, and reproductive systems. VOCs can also cause cancer in animals.

Other highlights from the study include:

• 108 different VOCs were released into the air over the course of the study.

• 40 different VOCs were detected in the chamber after 7 days; 16 VOCs were detected after 14 days; 11 after 21 days; and 4 after 28 days.

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

• 7 of the chemicals released by the shower curtain are classified as hazardous air pollutants by the EPA.

• 2 of the chemicals detected—toluene and ethylbenzene—are on California Proposition 65 list, which prohibits companies doing business in California from exposing individuals to chemicals known to cause cancer and reproductive toxicity without first giving clear and reasonable warning.

Is there a healthier option?

Fabric shower curtains, crafted of materials like cotton, polyester, rayon, or nylon, are the clean and green choice for your shower. These materials function well and they don’t off-gas concerning phthalates or heavy metals. Bonus: Fabric shower curtains are effective at holding back the shower’s spray—and they can be tossed in the washing machine every couple of months so they stay clean and fresh.

Erinn Morgan


After a 10-year career as an award-winning New York City-based editor launching and redesigning urban, style-driven magazines, Erinn Morgan left downtown Manhattan after September 11th, 2001, in search of a less encumbered, freelance lifestyle. A two-year-long trek around the country eventually landed her in Durango, Colo., which she now calls home.

Her writing has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, Outside, National Geographic Adventure, Bike, Skiing, Delicious Living, American Cowboy, and on

Erinn is also the author of the eco-focused book, Picture Yourself Going Green, Step-by-Step Instruction for Living a Budget-Conscious, Earth-Friendly Lifestyle in Eight Weeks or Less.

She was previously the editor-in-chief of 20/20 magazine, a special projects editor at Playboy (overseeing the launch of a new, custom magazine), and the founding editor/editor-in-chief of SoHo Style, a much-lauded, avant-garde magazine that covered the culture and style of downtown New York and its reach around the world.

More posts from this author →