Washing Your Shower Curtain Liner: Either a Brand-New or a Totally Obvious Trick

Posted on August 4, 2011 by Stefanie

The past several years, I have gotten much, much better about doing the right thing as opposed to the easy thing where environmental awareness is concerned. I’m ashamed to say it, but there was a time when I would consider throwing away a mold-riddled jar of forgotten salsa rather than go through the mess and trouble of cleaning it to make it recyclable. No more, obviously. That said, none of us are perfect, and there are still times when my lazy or frustrated side wins out and sways me from a greener choice.

Like when my shower curtain liner starts to get more than a little scary looking. I know the right thing to do is to take it off its hooks and scrub it on the base of my bathtub, but you know what? That’s a giant pain in the keister. And I can get a new liner for less than six bucks. I’m not proud, but I’ll admit it: in the past, the new liner has usually won out. Which is ridiculous, obviously, because a new liner means an unnecessary new giant piece of plastic in my house and an old piece of plastic bound for a landfill. Plus, the last liner I bought smelled so frighteningly of chemicals for the first week or more that I used it that I half expected to grow a third eye (the Blinky the Fish kind, not the spiritual or yogi master kind) before the VOCs dissipated. Not good, obviously. All-around just a bad, bad plan.

Hence, when I started noticing the latest buildup of ugly-looking gunk on my shower curtain liner (despite regular doses of my homemade shower spray), I promised myself I would NOT cave to lethargy. No, I would clean it properly this time, like a good Greenist would.

As it turns out, cleaning your shower curtain liner doesn’t have to be quite the odious task I’ve always considered it to be. Forgive me if I’m the last person here to realize this, but did you know you can actually put your shower curtain liner in the washer?? Dudes, you totally can. Seriously, am I the last person to realize this? Come on, now. A thin plastic sheet? In the washing machine? Maybe it is actually absurd, but I swear that never occurred to me.

If by chance I am not alone and it turns out this is not a “Thank you, Captain Obvious” idea, here’s what you need to do. Just take the curtain off the hooks and toss it in your machine with a cup of baking soda and maybe a couple towels to give the curtain something to roll around and bat up against. If this is just a routine maintenance sort of thing, the baking soda may actually be all you need, but if there are some particularly persistent mildewy spots on your shower curtain, you’ll probably want to add detergent too. After washing, just hang it back in your shower to dry, and voila—clean shower curtain liner; minimal effort. My favorite way to keep house.

Before I go, I should note a few things to save all of you the trouble of pointing them out in the comments. First, yes I know I should never have bought a shower curtain liner that off-gassed such frighteningly persistent fumes in the first place. But when I bought that liner (probably two years ago at this point), I’m not sure I’d even heard the term “VOC” yet. I wrongly assumed that a few days of fumes were an unfortunate but unavoidable side effect of a non-fabric curtain. I also know that ideally I should be using a natural fabric liner instead of a plastic one, but I’ve never been convinced those won’t leak water into the rest of my bathroom while I shower, nor that they won’t attract mold much faster than plastic. So lucky for me, there are lots of no-VOC and low-VOC options for plastic shower curtain liners these days (Tip: Look for EVA, rather than PVC), and I intend to seek out one of those next time specifically. And finally, I should remember that when I do replace my liner, the old one really doesn’t have to be bound for the trash. There are lots of good ways to reuse a plastic shower curtain, so I’ll be sure to keep it around and repurpose it.

So. What kind of liner is in your shower? And have you been tossing yours in the washer for ages now, or do you have another secret for keeping mold and other gunk at bay?

13 Comments +

  1. I miss shower curtain liners. I LOVE my house, but the master bathroom has a shower stall with glass doors. I can’t keep them clean and clear to save my life. I makes me wish I could still use my fabric liners (which work very well!). Excellent advice!

    August 4th, 2011 at 7:23 am
    Comment by Julie
  2. Wow! Great tip… I never knew you could wash them. Will try it for sure!

    August 4th, 2011 at 11:18 am
    Comment by Amy
  3. Great advice! So much easier than pulling it down and finding a place to scrub it by hand.

    I did buy a fabric liner last year, and I absolutely love it. (It does seem like water would leak through to the regular shower curtain, but that hasn’t happened in my case. All the water stays in the shower.) Not only can you throw it in the wash, but it drains a little better than the plastic liners do at the end of the wash cycle.

    Great article. :)

    August 4th, 2011 at 11:36 am
    Comment by Shayne
  4. Get your self a bathroom squeegee … and use it regularly. Every once in a while, spray the door with Windex or “scrubbing bubbles”

    I just bought a “cloth” shower curtain, b/c I liked the idea of being able to wash it periodically. Old plastic liner will be re-purposed (good for painting/ leaf collecting). Never thought to put it the washing machine either. Great minds!!!!

    August 4th, 2011 at 11:39 am
    Comment by Ellen
  5. I’m glad to hear I am NOT, in fact, the only person who didn’t know I could wash my shower curtain liner! I’m also realizing that perhaps I’ve unfairly dismissed fabric liners. Obviously I do try to avoid unnecessary plastic when possible, but shower curtain liners always seemed to me one of those items where plastic unfortunately is the best choice.

    Finally, I just found this, which I may look into further and some of you might find intriguing as well… A polyester liner (so, still not a natural material, but at least not PVC) that actually ZIPS OUT with a zipper, to make cleaning it even easier. Genius!
    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Zippered-Shower-Curtain/54961467425?v=info

    (Note: I’m not endorsing this company or product, as I have no experience with it yet myself, but it looks like a solution worth investigating. Perhaps I’ll report back.)

    August 4th, 2011 at 12:14 pm
    Comment by Stefanie
  6. My roommate in college told me about the whole washing your plastic shower curtain thing, and I immediately deemed her a genius! You do, however, need to wash it in warm/hot water (that will help with any mildew as well). Heating plastic makes it nice and flexible. If it’s cold and still stiff, it can get holes in it pretty quickly. I might have to try a fabric one. I’m intrigued…

    August 4th, 2011 at 1:01 pm
    Comment by Meaghan
  7. The other week, with a new eye toward filth because we were expecting houseguests, I scrubbed the shower curtain. I saw a scrub brush that had been left in the shower and since I was in there anyway decided to knock off the mildew. It only develops along the bottom of the curtain in our shower, so I was able to take it off in a few seconds without even employing any cleaning agents. We have thrown it in the washer in the past as well.

    And yeah, vinyl shower curtains may be the foulest chemically-scented things you can buy. I have one folded away somewhere that probably still smells like a can of paint eight years on.

    August 4th, 2011 at 1:29 pm
    Comment by mickey
  8. do you read minds?

    i’ve been procrastinating on cleaning my shower curtain liner for weeks (er.. maybe over a month?). and even debated purchasing a new one. but with this genius tip, i will no longer be tempted with such a silly, wasteful idea. thanks a million.

    August 5th, 2011 at 4:31 am
    Comment by jorjiapeach
  9. I bought a cotton shower curtain (not meant to be a liner) which is working out fine. I just make sure to stretch it out outside the tub every night. No mess & just a little mildew – so time for a wash. I think the mildew came from not stretching it out on the outside of the tub. Hemp & linen are more expensive, but I hear they work better.

    August 6th, 2011 at 11:13 am
    Comment by Melissa
  10. My mom gave me this same handy tip just a couple months ago after I had spent an hour scrubbing my own. (And I must admit that after all of that scrubbing it was no where near the white color it was when I first bought it). Mothers always know best! Great tip!

    August 15th, 2011 at 7:40 pm
    Comment by Carrie
  11. I had done this for years. Eventually it does still get a little too nasty for use but my last plastic liner lasted me 5 years washing it in the machine. I tried to do it every other month at a minimum just to keep the gunk down.

    I recently just redid my bathroom also (thanks for the shower spray recipe, will be making that as soon as this bottle runs out!) and I bought a fabric liner (TJ Maxx – $5). I actually LOVE it and it will be nicer to wash. It’s chocolate brown so the gunk won’t show up as much so I’ll have to make a conscious effort to remember to wash it.

    August 19th, 2011 at 9:41 am
    Comment by Carrie P
  12. So, just to make sure, you’re talking about the thin vinyl hotel shower curtain ? I always thought they would tear. I work at a hotel and we’ve always hand washed them. I’ll have to give this a try. Thanks

    September 27th, 2011 at 11:28 am
    Comment by Mary
  13. The ones I’ve seen in most hotels are actually a lot thicker than the plastic liners I’ve bought for my home. Mine is pretty thin and washing it worked fine. You’d probably want to test it out with one or two curtains before washing the whole lot of them, though, just in case whatever kind you have doesn’t fare as well. Good luck!

    September 28th, 2011 at 5:54 pm
    Comment by Stefanie

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Tip of the Day

If It Doesn’t Smell, Don’t Wash It

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According to Real Simple, if every American made an effort to launder less — cutting out just one load of laundry a week per household — we’d save enough water to fill seven million swimming pools each year.

So if it looks clean, and it smells clean, call it clean and wear it again. Consider hanging worn clothes out on your clothesline to freshen them up between wearings.


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