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Have you ever had strong chemical smell coming from your shower curtain? If you have, most likely that shower curtain is made with Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) material. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is the worst type of plastic and it can cause cancer. I certainly do not want to breathe in toxic fumes coming from a shower curtain everyday and also expose my baby to such toxins. So what are safe alternative materials for a shower curtain and a liner? In this post, we will take a look at how a shower curtain and a liner can be toxic and also what safe alternative materials are available. Of course you can use other options to shower curtains and install shower doors instead (navigate here for references), but that’s another story.
How A Shower Curtain And A Liner Can Be Toxic
Many shower curtain is made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) material. PVC is the world’s third-most widely used synthetic plastic. However, PVC is a very toxic, dangerous material. It not only contains toxic chemicals but also emits VOCs (volatile organic compounds). One of the deadly chemicals used to make PVC is the petroleum-derived chemical called vinyl chloride. According to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), vinyl chloride is a known human carcinogen. (Vinyl Chloride) Vinyl chloride can get into our body via inhalation and is readily absorbed from lungs. Due to its toxicity, vinyl chloride has many negative health effects such as central nerve system damage, dizziness, visual disturbances, coma, death, vomiting, diarrhea, birth defects, drowsiness, liver damage, brain and lung tumors. (Medical Management Guidelines for Vinyl Chloride)
Plasticizer called phthalate is also used when making PVC. Plasticizer makes rigid plastic softer and more flexible. However, phthalate is also a very toxic chemical. It can damage the liver, kidneys and lungs. It can also cause severe health problems such as asthma, diabetes, obesity, neurodevelopment issues, behaviour issues, breast cancer, altered reproductive development and male fertility issues. PVC emits phthalate into the air and we breathe in that toxic fumes everyday.
PVC not only releases toxins from vinyl chloride and phthalate but also it contains lead, cadmium, dioxins, ethylene dichloride and organotins which are all dangerous chemicals. Dioxins for example, are formed due to presence of chlorine in PVC. According to World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer and the US Department of Health and Human Services’ National Toxicology Program, Dioxin is a known human carcinogen. It is the most potent carcinogen known to science. It not only can cause cancer, but also can damage immune system, interfere with hormones, cause reproductive and developmental problems. (Dioxins and their effects on human health) I am not going to go over all of the bad chemicals PVC contains here. As you can already see with some of the deadly chemicals it contains, it is the worst type of material for a product. (Phthalates are everywhere, and the health risks are worrying. How bad are they really?)
PVC Alternative – Non Toxic Shower Curtain
Hemp – Non Toxic Shower Curtain
Hemp is one of the best non toxic shower curtain options available. Hemp shower curtain doesn’t need a vinyl liner and it is the only fabric shower curtain that does not require it. When a shower curtain is made from hemp canvas, the fabric is tightly woven so water will not leak through. Hemp shower curtain can be used alone or also used as a liner. Hemp is also naturally resistant to bacteria and fungi. It absorbs water to some degree but dries very quickly. Hemp shower curtain is also strong and heavy. It is free of plastic, toxins, chemicals outgassing and also biodegradable when disposed. It is also machine washable. However, it is a lot more expensive than synthetic fabric or plastic shower curtains.
Cotton – Non Toxic Shower Curtain
Cotton is another great option for avoiding plastics. Cotton duck is a tightly woven cotton fabric and it is durable and heavy. Although tightly woven duck canvas will help water not leak through, cotton fabric in general will absorb water to some degree and dry slower than hemp. Cotton also can develop mold and mildew. Therefore, it will be a good idea to use a shower curtain liner inside. Cotton is machine washable and biodegradable when disposed.
Linen – Non Toxic Shower Curtain
Linen is another natural material similar to hemp or cotton that is biodegradable. However, linen will also absorb water to some degree. Both cotton and linen will develop mold and mildew easier whereas hemp is naturally mold and mildew resistant. Therefore, you will need a shower curtain liner if you choose linen as your shower curtain material. However, hemp, cotton or linen are all natural materials so they will not outgas toxic chemicals like PVC.
Shower Curtain Liner
You can use materials listed below as a shower curtain or a shower curtain liner. The materials listed below are synthetic materials. Because they are man made, they are water-resistant and do not develop mildew or mold.
Nylon absorbs water but it dries quickly. It is machine washable and more durable than polyester. However, if you compare with polyester, nylon absorbs more water so it takes longer time to dry.
Polyester is more water repellent than nylon. It absorbs less water than nylon so it dries quicker between showers. Therefore, polyester is better as a water repellent liner. It is machine washable.
PEVA (polyethylene vinyl acetate) is a chlorine-free vinyl. It has been used as a green alternative to pvc since it doesn’t have chlorine. However, it still uses petrochemicals and has volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Therefore, some people believe PEVA is not a good alternative to PVC. Still it is less harmful than PVC, totally water-proof and very affordable. (When Vinyl is not PVC) (Volatile Organic Compounds of Polyethylene Vinyl Acetate Plastic Are Toxic To Living Organisms.)
PVC is known as a toxic material which can cause a cancer. Therefore, it should be avoided and other non toxic shower curtain materials should be considered. Natural materials are the most non toxic option for a shower curtain. Natural materials include cotton, linen and hemp (also organic cotton, linen, and hemp). Cotton and linen still require a shower curtain liner to prevent mold or water going through a shower curtain. Hemp, on the other hand, is the only natural material that does not need a shower curtain liner.
For a waterproof shower curtain liner, nylon, polyester and PEVA material can be used. These materials can be used as a shower curtain or also as a shower curtain liner. PEVA is the most waterproof, however, it is not the safest material. It is safer than PVC but still can be harmful. If you want to avoid PEVA, polyester will be the best choice for a liner. Polyester is more water resistant than nylon so it dries quicker when it’s wet.
Which material do you like the best? I hope this shower curtain guide has been helpful for you in selecting the right shower curtain for your home!
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