Keep water in its place
Shower curtains are all about bathroom preservation. Without them, water can wreak havoc. The area around the edges of the shower stall--where the tile meets the wall--needs particular attention. That's where water can easily get under the tile and cause dry rot inside the walls, forcing you to replace tiles at the very least, and rebuild the bathroom at worst. Inside the walls, the damage is often not noticeable until tiles start falling off or a nasty mold starts blooming.
Plastic seems like a logical choice for keeping water at bay--it's waterproof, convenient, durable, and inexpensive. But not all plastics are Earth-friendly. Other alternatives, such as fabric or glass, have their own pros and cons. Here's how to make the best choice.
- Dry thoroughly. Make sure the shower curtain dries between uses by placing the bottom edge outside the tub. This is even more important if you have a cloth curtain.
When shopping look for
- The right plastic. If you are short on time for laundry, you may want a plastic curtain. But be selective. Most are made from what's commonly called "vinyl," which is polyvinyl chloride or PVC. When it is manufactured or thrown away the chlorine in PVC can produce highly toxic dioxin. A new, inexpensive chlorine-free plastic called polyethylene vinyl acetate or PEVA is a better choice.
- A sturdy fabric. If you can wash your shower curtain frequently and use extra care when showering, you can go greener by using a fabric curtain. Possible choices range from polyester to cotton to linen to hemp, and blends of these. As renewable resources, heavy-weight cotton and hemp are best, and will dutifully block water when used without a liner. However they tend to mold, so they need laundering every other week. Hemp is the more durable fiber and will stand up to mold better.
- Gleaming glass. If you have a spare hundred dollars or so you can purchase a glass shower door that's even better. With a water-tight seal around its edges, glass offers better protection against moisture leaks, and lasts as long as your house. Beautiful, crystal-clear glass is high maintenance; if you want to keep them sparkling, you'll have to use cleaning products more often. Frosted glass, while less sexy to look at, may be friendlier all around.
Shower curtains are a relatively recent invention. In times past, and in places like Japan today, the entire bathroom is tiled, with a drain in the middle of a sloping floor. No curtain needed. Often these traditional ways are best of all. Some modern showers go halfway: they are made with walls that partially surround the shower for the same effect. If you are remodeling and have the space, this is a great way to go.
...to your wallet
Over time, you'll spend less on a glass door than you would on a succession of cloth or plastic curtains. But any good barrier will make your bathroom last longer, and help you avoid expensive remodeling.
...to the Earth
PEVA and cloth curtains help keep dioxin out of Earth's ecosystems. But glass doors or fully tiled bathrooms are the most effective and long-lasting solutions--and will dramatically reduce your long-term consumption of curtains and bathroom remodeling materials.
Forgetting the fan. Make sure your bathroom is well-ventilated during and after every shower or bath to lessen condensation and mold.
One of the first steps in bathroom preservation is checking to make sure that the spaces between your tile, tub, and (if you have one) shower door are well sealed. Use a bathroom sealant with the lowest possible amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).