** I just couldn’t do a blog about shower curtains and not use a picture of Janet Leigh’s shower scene in Psycho. I mean, yes, she had plenty more to worry about than a dangerously off-gassing PVC shower curtain, but when you read about how toxic PVC is, you might just want to scream as well.
I don’t know about you, but I could spend an inordinately long time in the shower if given the option. Of course, with 4 kids and a nutty schedule, I don’t usually get the chance, but I’d take it if I could — with one exception. Put me in a shower that has a PVC curtain and I’d be outta there in no time flat.
So, what’s the big deal about PVC (polyvinyl chloride, with the recycling symbol #3) — the plastic that gives your liner that “new shower curtain” smell? Well, if things like dioxins (known carcinogens), phthalates (known hormone disruptors) and lead (a known neurotoxin) mean anything to you, listen up (well, read on…).
According to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), vinyl chloride, the chemical used to make PVC, is a human carcinogen and the actual PVC product, according to the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ), is “toxic from start to finish,” posing real hazards in its manufacture, use and disposal.
When PVC is manufactured (which it is, in great amounts), dioxins – which are scientifically linked to cancer and endocrine disruption – are released into the environment, and make their way into air, water, wildlife and, ultimately, into us.
But what happens in your actual bathroom? Well, for months, and even up to a year and well beyond after you hang that new liner, your bathroom – especially when it warms up (which is what happens when you take a shower) – will be a soup of many dangerous VOCs (volatile organic compounds), including the neurotoxic toluene, that will be inhaled by whomever is scrubbing clean at the moment. And that’s not all. Hormone disrupting phthalates, plasticizers added to PVC, will be off-gassing as well. In addition, lead and other heavy metals such as cadmium, which can contaminate PVC, will be hanging around too. All in all, we’re talking respiratory toxicants, nervous system toxicants, carcinogens, endocrine disruptors…nuthin’ good.
And what about the disposal of PVC? Most PVC products cannot be successfully recycled and even interfere with the recycling of other plastics. Because of all of its additives, PVC has been labeled a contaminant that just doesn’t go away.
Check out this important video from CHEJ on the dangers of PVC.
So, now that you know about this poisonous plastic, you might be wondering — is there any good news for bath time? Of course there is and it’s as easy as replacing your shower curtain or liner with a readily available, more healthful, option.
- As far as liners go, PEVA ( polyethylene vinyl acetate), while still a synthetic material, is not chlorinated and therefore does not have the same health hazards as PVC. It doesn’t off-gas, is inexpensive, and can be found in many stores, such as Bed, Bath and Beyond.
- Washable fabric shower curtains, even ones made from synthetics such as polyester or microfiber, are much safer than PVC and are easy to find at local stores. You can combine a fabric curtain with a PEVA liner or just do the fabric alone. If you don’t use a liner, you’ll want to wash the curtain in the machine a little more often.
- If you’re interested in avoiding synthetics, an organic cotton shower curtain, like this one from Pottery Barn, will do the trick for you and is priced well, to boot. If you’re looking for a bit more luxury in a cotton curtain, try one of these great seersucker numbers from Coyuchi.
- You can also go the hemp route. Hemp is safe, resists mold and bacteria and dries quickly. Hemp can be a bit pricier, but a hemp curtain will last a very long time. Check out Rawganique.com and grab a beautiful organically grown, chem-free shower curtain that can be used with or without a liner.