life in a tiny apartment.

August 28, 2013

Tip #76: Use clear shower curtain liners.

If I were to give a simple tip about making a small apartment bathroom appear larger, I’d say use a clear shower curtain liner instead of a fussy curtain. Seeing through a clear liner keeps things open and bright and doesn’t make a tiny room appear tinier.

But not everything can be so simple.

Think of this less as a tip and more as an entreaty. A hope for a public forum wherein each of you weigh in on the Great Shower Curtain Debate so that I might finally make a decision and move on.

What, pray tell, do you do about your shower curtains?

In our tiny apartment, with a bathroom that is only as wide as our bathtub is long, I’ve been relying on clear plastic shower liners since we moved in. Mostly this system works well, but every 6 months or so, the curtain needs a change. The soap scum builds up, the bottom edge blackens, no amount of scrubbing gets it clean and I cave and buy a new one and offer up my mea culpa’s to the Earth. I know I should probably overlook the mold and soap scum and suck it up for the sake of the planet, but I can’t get past the gross-out factor.

This past weekend I bought a clear plastic liner from the local hardware store. Yes, instead of buying the nominally better eco shower curtain I’ve been using, I went to the store that’s two blocks away and filled my home with a toxic version instead. No amount of vinegar or tea tree oil remedied the odor. Just rewards.

All of this got me to researching. What’s the most eco-friendly approach to shower curtains, that’s not also gross? These seem to be the options:

So, what’s a girl to do? More importantly, what do you do?

{Disclosure: I used affiliate links throughout this piece, read more here}.

You Might Also Like


  • Reply pretty little things August 28, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    thats so funny you suggest that about clear curtains — I do the same thing b/c I feel like it makes it lighter and brighter while I shower! xo

  • Reply Lauren Ashley August 28, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    Totally, we've used clear liners solo in all our apartments. I used to get them at target, but whole foods offers up "greener" options. Though lately, I've been considering a cotton washable/reusable option …

  • Reply Sophie August 28, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    you can soak your mildew-y curtain in hydrogen peroxide for a few minutes and then detach most of the gunk with a good, soapy scrubbing. just did it myself yesterday.

  • Reply Drake Collins August 28, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    I've been using the same translucent shower curtain for a few years now. I just pull it down every month or so and run it through my washing machine with some bleach and dish soap. I know bleach isn't great for the environment, but I figure it's better than the plastic going into the landfill every couple months.

  • Reply Ashley August 28, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    I just throw the liner curtain in the wash with a little bleach and all that nastiness disappears! I was skeptical at first.. (Plastic in the washer!?) but it totally works!

    • Reply Libellula Jewelry August 28, 2013 at 4:20 pm

      I do the same thing with oxygen bleach and mine has survived at least 50 washings.

  • Reply Lauren August 28, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    I did a clear shower curtain thing for a while, but I finally broke down (for the same problems you're having) and just bought a fabric curtain with a fabric-y mildew proof liner. It's a trade off…my already small bathroom does look smaller and a bit darker, but I really like shower curtain (it has a bright and cheerful pattern) and I think it gives the room an overall more "finished" look.

  • Reply lisaathome August 28, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    Loving seeing several folks saying you can toss it in the washer… I heard of this but was always nervous to try it. Good tip!

  • Reply omoriala August 28, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    I had the same issues with mildew building up on the hem of our shower curtain liner, and I kept buying new ones but hated the off-gassing smell that came along with new shower curtain lines (even the PVC ones).

    Then, I found the Tyvek shower curtain:

    It's made from a papery-feeling material that has microscopic holes for breathability, but it's still waterproof on the inside. It has no plastic-y smell and you can easily wash it in a washing machine and it becomes soft like linen. We've had it for almost a year, and no problems with mildew since there's no hem at the bottom. Highly recommend!

  • Reply Anonymous August 28, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    I have a somewhat clear plastic one and I put it i the washing machine with some toels and white vinegar. Comes out sparkling!

    • Reply Erin September 2, 2013 at 11:57 pm


  • Reply Anonymous August 28, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    I use a clear plastic one, and wash it in the washer with a bit of soap and vinegar whenever it gets yucky-I can usually make them last a year, year and half. I don't know how long the hemp ones last, but if you eventually have to throw them away in a plastic garbage bag, it won't really biodegrade then either? Unless you have recycle options? I too would go a different route for a better way and will stay tuned

  • Reply What Possessed Me August 28, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    I throw my clear plastic liner in the washer with baking soda and a towel – sort of kills two birds with one stone, since it also deodorizes my washing machine, which gets funky from time to time. I've had the same liner for ages. I also keep a dark spray bottle of diluted hydrogen peroxide solution to spritz on the curtains as an after-shower spray once or twice a week.

    • Reply Erin August 28, 2013 at 3:35 pm


    • Reply Doe August 28, 2013 at 5:01 pm

      Oh dear. Yet another example of absent-minded parenting. I forgot to mention this, I guess! Ooops.
      They come out really soft, actually–and sparkling. I guess you don't remember this from back in the day when we used the vinyl liners. I threw them in the washer at the first sign of "pink," if you know what I mean. And then, out of the washer and up on the rod to drip dry. Sorry I forgot to say so!!! You must have been feeling like Cinderella. Gah.

    • Reply Anonymous August 29, 2013 at 3:01 am

      I actually tried this for the first time a few weeks ago, but was less than pleased with the results. The baking soda and vinegar deodorized my washing machine wonderfully, but the plastic shower curtains were not as sparkly as I hoped. I didn't measure, and I think I skimped on both the baking soda and vinegar. I also did two shower curtains at once.

  • Reply Jennifer Allison August 28, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    I've been a fan of the clear curtains (not liners – I don't think they hold up as well) for ages and they last for years. My trick…whenever needed (every couple months?) I put it in the washer with my whites and some bleach…from the washing machine it goes straight back into the shower to hang and 'drip dry'…scum and mold free.

    This is my FAVORITE BY FAR as it 'hides' scum and water spots like a pro!

  • Reply Jessie August 28, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    I've been using a cloth poly liner I got from target for almost 4 years now. I love it I just throw it in the washer every once and a while.

  • Reply Anna August 28, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    I have used a cotton shower curtain for a few years now. I really like them and haven't had any problems with water getting out of the shower. I recommend using a lighter cotton if your bathroom gets humid. I've only had a little bit of trouble with mildew and I don't wash the shower curtain that often.

  • Reply iarethefoodsnob August 28, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    I use a mildew resistant shower curtain. It may not be as environmentally sound of an option but I have had the same shower liner for 2 years now. When I need to, i toss it in the washing machine with a little bleach and it comes out brand new every time.

  • Reply Julia (Color Me Green) August 28, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    I used a light white polyester one for about 6 months and it worked out fine. Only a little mildew at the bottom and would wash the curtain every 3 weeks or so. However, I don't think they are all made of equal quality, because the new polyester curtain in our new bathtub is letting water leak through, so we also got a PEVA (non PVC) clear curtain to use as a liner.

  • Reply janeray1940 August 28, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    I did the clear plastic curtain thing for years but the environmental thing finally got to me – not to mention the horrible off-gassing plastic smell that every new one seemed to come with. Finally I bought a very thin, machine-washable white shower curtain liner several years ago and have been happy with that as a solution – not quite as light and airy as clear, but it works for me.

  • Reply Emily August 28, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    I have a white plastic one that I wash with towels or a load of jeans. No special cleaners, just my laundry detergent. (Recently though, I've started making my own laundry detergent.) As long as you throw something else that's made of sturdier fabric in the wash with it, your curtain will clean up nicely. I've had my white plastic curtain for about two years now, and it isn't dingy.

  • Reply Anonymous August 28, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    I have used the same clear plastic curtain since I bought my house seven years ago. I keep the soap scum and mold down by spraying it with white vinegar and running a scrub brush over it. I solved the black edge at the bottom with scissors–I cut that edging off and now there is no crevice for mold to grow in.

    • Reply Erin September 2, 2013 at 11:56 pm

      Good thinking, anon!

  • Reply Raquelita August 28, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    I'm afraid our method isn't particularly eco-friendly but it does work. Ours are the cheap white opaque liners from Target or WalMart. Every 3 months or so, I fill the bathtub with water and add about 2 capfuls (more like 2 glugs!) of bleach. I let the curtains sit for several hours, then I rinse them with the aid of a scrubbing brush. That takes care of the smell and the stains.

    • Reply hannah August 28, 2013 at 6:19 pm

      edited for typo, sorry:
      I do this with vinegar, not as stinky/scary as bleach (I'm clumsy and whenever I use bleach I'm terrified I'll get it in my eyes or at least all over my clothes) – just fill the tub halfway up with hot water and a few glugs of white vinegar, and let the curtain liner soak in there for awhile. Bonus: it makes any soap scum in the tub a lot easier to scrub off! I'm actually too lazy to for-serious scrub the curtain, I just sort of moosh it around against itself a bit before rinsing it, but it still takes care of most of the scum – if I actually scrubbed it I think it would be sparkling perfection.

  • Reply Sarah August 28, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    Wow I'm so glad you brought this up! I just bought a new shower liner (I miss the glass doors from the shower in my old apartment!) and I was beginning to feel the weight of the idea of buying new liners every 3-6 months. It really does get super gross and I feel bad wasting all of the plastic and money switching them out. So glad others have suggested throwing it in the wash! I'm going to try that for this one!

  • Reply Kari August 28, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    I disagree with the clear curtain being the best option in a small dwelling. When you have four people and only one bathroom, you want an opaque curtain so more than one person can use the bathroom at the same time. Go to Restoration Hardware and get their white nylon hotel shower curtain. No horrible smell, you can chuck it in the washing machine every week with your regular stuff, it takes up no room in the machine, takes 10 minutes to dry hanging up (if that), and lasts about 10 years. No better option in my mind. And if you are worried about it taking up visual space in your bathroom, just open the curtain once it's dry after your shower. If will help your shower to dry out faster too, which is better for it.

    • Reply Erin September 2, 2013 at 11:55 pm

      Luckily, this tiny space is only home to two (marrieds) so privacy isn't a concern per se (bathroom's too small for two)!

  • Reply Debs August 28, 2013 at 6:56 pm

    Shower door?

  • Reply dervla | the curator August 28, 2013 at 7:27 pm

    sad to say we use the clear shower curtain (behind a fabric one) and then i change it once a year probably. Can't stop that stuff from building up. Was wondering if two fabric layers would stop the water from spraying out, i'd rather go that way if i can. Hate the stench of the plastic one.

  • Reply Niamh Roisin August 28, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    JUST had these feelings when I had to get plastic bin bags – no Eco ones left 🙁 someone needs to make better options!

  • Reply Drew Frohn August 28, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    Do you use a liner? Only my liner gets scummy, and once it does I just throw it in the wash. One cycle with hot water and it's good as new.

    • Reply Erin September 2, 2013 at 11:54 pm

      So awesome. Yes, we have just the clear liner…no true curtain.

  • Reply Abby August 28, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    Like many here, I put it in the washer with some bleach and that does the trick. But I probably wait too long out of sheer laziness.

  • Reply Neurotic Workaholic August 28, 2013 at 11:04 pm

    I live in a rental apartment too, so mine didn't come with shower rods; instead, they came with sliding shower doors that I don't like very much.

  • Reply Claire August 29, 2013 at 6:54 am

    I can't believe how often some people wash their shower curtains! (Sorry, I can't add anything useful to the discussion)

    • Reply Erin September 2, 2013 at 11:53 pm

      Ha! I'm just amazed that I never knew a clear vinyl curtain could be washed!

  • Reply My Little Bungalow August 29, 2013 at 9:44 am

    We have a white polyester liner, which goes into the washing machine with a little bleach when it gets yucky. I've been using the same liner for over a year now. No smell, nice soft fabric, and lets light through (though we also use a shower curtain on the outside).

  • Reply Little Miss Know-it-all August 29, 2013 at 9:59 am

    I also use a clear curtain in our showerroom, for the same reason. I think it came from Ikea (this one has a few white leaves along the bottom). After showering, I drape it over the shower head to dry. Soap and limescale are easy to remove with a vinegar solution and any mouldy bits (which I don't have) I would use bleach (eau de Javel).
    Over my bathtub, I have a softer, washable vinyl curtain, but I treat it the same way, allowing it to dry after use and washing it monthly (as it says on the label). It's a Swiss Spirella curtain, pretty much all we get here, and the quality is excellent.
    I think ventilation is the key, not always easy in a bathroom, but I believe you have a window in there, too, right?

  • Reply Little Miss Know-it-all August 29, 2013 at 10:06 am

    PS you'd be surprised what can go in the washer – I came home one day to find my 18 yr old had put a suede jacket (!!!) in the washer AND dryer.
    It came out perfect, as new… :O

  • Reply Suzan August 29, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    I've had both the clear plastic and the polyester and they both wash fine. Put either in with a load of towels in hot water – vinegar helps, too – and the towels will scrub it clean. You can't put the clear plastic in the dryer, so you'd have to deal with it dripping all the way home from the laundromat. The polyester can go in the dryer on high heat with the towels; don't believe the label that tells you to treat it like some delicate lace doily.

  • Reply e. August 29, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    I've usually had luck just throwing it into the machine, with regular detergent, and giving it a warm wash. And then I just hang it back up to dry. I hate having to buy them, as I always go through the what is eco-friendly, what is affordable, what is practical and what isn't going to smell toxic debate.

    • Reply Erin September 2, 2013 at 11:52 pm

      So flabbergasted that I never knew these things could be washed! Amazing news!

  • Reply Anonymous January 15, 2014 at 11:46 pm

    I have the same sized bathroom and do the same as e. above but also added a lux, slightly glossy hemp silk shower curtain in a creamy ivory, same color as the walls, and I feel like it makes the tiny room feel clean and spacious. Also, a curved curtain rod allows a bit more elbow room in the shower. It's the little things…

  • Reply Rachael Saxer April 11, 2014 at 6:31 am

    Why don't you just wash your lines when it gets yucky?

  • Reply sk April 16, 2014 at 3:27 pm

    This is something that bugs me alllll the time. Aesthetically, I don't like plastic stuff in my home. And when it comes to the shower I am even more adverse to plastic. For some reason plastic shower liners ick me out in a big big way. They are gross, hard to clean, smelly, chemical-y, etc. I've been using the RawGanique hemp shower curtains for years, but I live in extra-humid Florida and we end up having such issues with mold (and, yes, such poor cleaning habits) that our curtains basically degrade after a few years. And they are expensive! I dream of the day when I'll live in a home with a shower stall that doesn't require a curtain!

  • Reply Anonymous November 7, 2014 at 3:21 am

    Use the Method shower cleaner! I spray it on my shower curtain after every other shower or so and I've never had mold or soap scum! It smells nice too. 🙂

  • Reply Kelly January 16, 2016 at 6:10 pm

    Or fit a glass shower door? If you have to re-buy every few months anyway, the expense is justified… I loathe shower curtains. They always seem to want to stick to my legs.

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 17, 2016 at 11:00 am

      ah, difficult to arrange for that in a rental. but we haven’t bought a new curtain since i wrote this post! we just toss the curtain in the washer per everyone’s suggestions!

  • Reply Rachel January 21, 2018 at 4:25 pm

    Hi Erin! Can you give an update with a link on what you are using for a shower curtain? Thanks so much!

  • Reply Rand October 6, 2020 at 9:25 pm

    Cotton curtain won’t keep big splashes in so not for kids, but for a reasonable adult they work as good as anything, and if you get white then you can use bleach, hydrogen peroxide, and any other harsh cleaner you can think of to get rid of any buildup without discoloring. And they hold up fine in the wash.

  • Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    Comments are moderated.