small improvement: a cloth shower curtain.

February 16, 2022

Some of you might recall that we have a very pink, very vintage bathroom that we mostly have left well enough alone. Earlier this year though, I made one small change that’s made a pretty huge difference in the small space. I replaced our damaged plastic shower curtain with a linen-only curtain made to fit for our vintage tub that needs an l-shaped curtain.

I do not regret it. I would absolutely do it again.

The linen curtain is airy and lovely and bright. It doesn’t send a flood of water to the bathroom floor as I feared it might and it dries extremely quickly between showers. Maybe best of all, because it’s light and flexible compared to a plastic liner, it can be easily tied together and pushed to the side during raucous bath times involving three children and one parent in a tiny bathrooom. I have no idea if a cloth shower curtain might be a small improvement for you (and hopefully it won’t be a small disaster) but for me, the switch has been easy and wonderful.

Here are a few things to know:

+ We went with a linen shower curtain because I was able to order it in a custom size to fit our space and because I felt like the linen would be quickest to dry in very small bathroom that doesn’t have a window! Other options for cloth-only are cotton canvas and hemp!

+ When ordering our linen shower curtain I intentionally measured for a curtain that would be relatively taut and not too long, in part because I didn’t want an overly flouncy looking curtain, but more so because I didn’t want a lot of extra fabric to get wet or to get in the way in a cramped bathroom. I regret slightly that I didn’t allow a bit more room for shrinkage. I paid a small extra fee to have the fabric pre-washed through the Etsy shop that made it, but even so, when I washed and dried it on low temp, it shrunk a bit more than I expected. It’s not drastic and nothing I can’t live with, but I’d say the size was perfect before I washed it and ever so slightly less perfect now. If you care about these things, let my experience be a lesson and order a smidge larger than you need, even if you buy it pre-washed.

+ We keep our shower curtain outside of the tub while we shower (and typically tuck it back into the tub once it’s dry). Yes, this is contrary to what I’ve done my whole life and yes I thought this might produce a waterfall effect outside the tub, but unlike a plastic shower curtain, the cloth curtain absorbs any water that hits it and frankly, not much water does. (Even after an especially indulgent shower, there’s never so much water saturating the curtain that we need to wring water out of it.)

+ Our shower head is somewhat unusually placed on the long stretch of tub wall instead of at the head of the shower. When we moved in, we replaced a plastic hand-held shower head with a simpler rain shower. This shower head means less outward spray and more downward spray (and no hose knocking us in the back of the head while we try to shower). The jury’s out on whether this change also makes the cloth-only curtain easier from a saturation perspective, but I’d hazard the guess that particulars of shower head placement, water stream, tub-size, shower habits, etc. all play a role in how the experience might go. These aren’t things I personally obsessed over, but they might be worth a moment of consideration should you decide to go this route.

+ When I first mentioned making the switch to a cloth-only shower curtain, I received a flurry of inquiries regarding mold and mildew and other streaks of black or pink that might require cleaning. I’ll say that we have had our cloth-only curtain hanging for a few months now and that it is doing beautifully. Plastic shower curtains get dirty too, as we all know, and this one is so much easier to take down and wash with a good oxygen brightener if need-be. (Our last plastic curtain needed to be replaced after we washed it at the laundromat and it was badly damaged in a too-small machine.) That said, we do try to do all the things that mitigate cleaning issues cropping up in the first place—leaving the bathroom door open after showering, running the ceiling fan, stretching the curtain out to dry, et cetera. (These steps feel onerous in writing, but are second-nature in practice.)

Success with a cloth-only curtain no doubt comes down to some specifics, but for us, it’s been a totally seamless and very lovely small improvement that means less plastic, more loveliness, and easier cleaning. Win, win, win.

For the curious:

+ We needed a curtain of an unusual size, so I ordered a custom linen curtain through 3HLinen on Etsy.

+ In our last apartment we used a Utility Canvas Shower Curtain that I later turned into a blackout shade for Calder). I wasn’t brave enough then to use the curtain without a liner, but I would be now and they come in lots of bold colors should anyone be looking for a little jolt.

+ Vermont Country Store has been selling classic Duck Canvas Shower Curtains for ages. They come in two-sizes and four fabric choices.

+ As you might notice in the photos above, for the past few months we’ve been using Conscia solid shampoo and conditioner stones. They’ve been incredible and as a result I don’t think our shower caddy will ever see another plastic bottle again. Cheers to a (nearly) plastic-free bathroom.

What else? Anything I missed?

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  • Reply Lexie February 16, 2022 at 2:18 pm

    I have wanted to make this switch for forrrrevvvvver, but I think my climate just doesn’t allow for it. :-/ Maybe linen is the trick though!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 16, 2022 at 2:38 pm

      having spent the last 8+ years living in apartments without bathroom windows, I also thought it just wouldn’t be possible. right now we have the advantage of hot water pipes running through the bathroom which means it stays dry and toasty all winter! fingers crossed for smooth sailing into humid summer months!

  • Reply Ris February 16, 2022 at 3:11 pm

    We have had a cotton cloth shower curtain in our small, windowless, vintage bathroom for, oh, 9 years now and I love it! I wash it every couple months in nontoxic laundry detergent and it has held up beautifully. We don’t use a liner and just stretch it out to air dry between showers. Easy peasy. Every once in a while if it’s looking dingy I soak it in the tub for a few hours with Oxy Clean Free & Clear and then run it through the washing machine on hot and that does the trick. I can’t recommend it enough!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 16, 2022 at 3:12 pm

      yes, totally agreed! v straightforward and easy!

  • Reply Vania February 16, 2022 at 3:40 pm

    Erin, sorry for the unrelated topic, but I was wondering what packaging do you use to freeze food. I have plastic and silicone bags, but I was wondering if you tried freezing with cloth bags…or if anyone has and whether that has worked… thanks!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 16, 2022 at 4:42 pm

      we typically use glass if we’re going to freeze!

    • Reply Becca February 24, 2022 at 10:25 pm

      I freeze food in silicone stashed bags all the time!

  • Reply Adley February 16, 2022 at 4:01 pm

    Thank you so much for writing about this. It seems like an unusual topic that should be common 🙂 I despise the plastic lining of shower curtains and actually just recently got rid of mine (after the 100th time of it getting too much pink slime on it), and just kept the outer cotton curtain. However, my cotton curtain now has all of these kind of yellow streak stains down it, even though I hang it outside of the bathtub. I am curious if this is because it’s just simple cotton and not canvas/hemp/linen. Any thoughts? xo

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 16, 2022 at 4:40 pm

      not an expert, but i think it’s probably a hard water problem! a few weeks ago james washed the kids’ backpacks in the tub and accidentally left a corner of the curtain hanging in the tub. it did get a yellow water line across it, but it came right out in the wash!

  • Reply Tracee February 16, 2022 at 4:19 pm

    As for the shampoo, do you have hard water? I have very hard water so some solid shampoos just won’t work without awful gummy build-up. So I’m always on the lookout for a formula that works better! Thanks, and very curious about trying out your curtain method when we need a new one!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 16, 2022 at 4:41 pm

      i don’t think we have particularly hard water. we’re able to keep these shampoos right in the shower on this caddy and they never get gummy!

    • Reply Alix February 17, 2022 at 10:43 am

      New York has very soft water (at least in the city), but if yours is hard, I’d recommend checking out Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve. They have a million different shampoo bars to choose from and allow you buy sample sizes to test them out. When I travel somewhere with hard water, I simply rinse after shampooing with heavily diluted ACV and it works perfectly. Hope that helps!

      • Reply Addie February 19, 2022 at 3:14 am

        Interesting, I’ve never considered a shower curtain without a liner. I always use a polyester fabric liner (not plastic) that’s water resistant, and machine washable and dryable to prevent mold accumulation and keep my decorative shower curtain clean. The liners are always white, so don’t make the shower overly dark, and last for many years.

    • Reply steph February 17, 2022 at 2:19 pm

      tracee, i feel you! i moved upstate to extremely hard water and it was a tough adjustment. finally found a combo i love that leaves my hair silky and shiny and it’s plastic free/low waste. more here:
      spoiler: you might already have these at home – baking soda and ACV 🙂
      ps. this is such a good topic / we have a tiny bathtub so custom linen might be the route to go

    • Reply Jenny February 17, 2022 at 2:31 pm

      Ethique also has great bars that work with hard water.

    • Reply annie February 18, 2022 at 1:00 pm

      i live in madison wi (home of the hardest freaking water on the planet) (possible exaggeration, but still) and i’ve been using hibar solid shampoo and conditioner bars for about 4 months now. (i found them at my grocery store!) i have a pixie cut and have noticed no gross scalp buildup (and the conditioner is so lovely and not overhydrating!), so i’d highly recommend giving it a try! i’ve had the bars last me a few months, but if you have long hair, i’d say you’d still get at least a month and a half out of them. PLUS, they feature minimal, plastic-free packaging! yay. good luck!

    • Reply Kosta Johal February 23, 2022 at 1:38 pm

      I use these stones and I have very hard water and I think they work great! No gummy build up and they really maintain their shape

  • Reply Hannah February 16, 2022 at 4:39 pm

    I switched to a extra long fabric curtain (we have pretty high ceilings) last summer and have been blown away by how well it works and how luxurious and spa like it feels. Wish I had done it years ago!

  • Reply M February 16, 2022 at 4:43 pm

    Please update us again in a few months. About 15 years ago I spent some of my precious barely-making-ends-meet salary on a canvas shower curtain liner. When I brought it home it was so long it reached the floor. After washing it a few times it shrank so much that it no longer reached the top of the tub and let all the water through that tub-curtain gap. I would very much like to find a fabric solution to a shower curtain liner but I don’t want to waste my money again. If yours survives a several loads in the dryer I am ready to buy it!

    • Reply Vania February 16, 2022 at 4:57 pm

      At home, I simply use old normal curtains that I don’t intend to use again as shower curtains. In my experience, they last as long as the plastic ones and need the same type of upkeep (machine-washing). Hope it helps!

  • Reply Evan February 16, 2022 at 4:53 pm

    I’d love to hear more about the shampoo/conditioner–they look beautiful! I’d been using Plaine Products on your recommendation, so I’m wondering why you decided to switch?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 16, 2022 at 8:36 pm

      I was feeling like my hair needed something a little more nourishing and I’d been using the Plaine Products shampoo for a long time, so I was ready to try something new! I’ve been searching for a solid shampoo that works for me for a long time and is the first one I’ve found to do the trick!

  • Reply M February 16, 2022 at 6:38 pm

    We tried only a linen curtain with our clawfoot tub/shower and after weeks of literally flooding the bathroom, we gave up. I think this was such an issue because there is no wall as it’s not an alcove tub. Back to the plastic inner liner for now but always wondering if there’s a way to figure this out. If anyone reads this and only uses cloth with a clawfoot, let me know!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 16, 2022 at 8:34 pm

      My sister does! I think she has canvas! Will see if she can weigh in!

    • Reply Evan February 17, 2022 at 1:07 pm

      We had a fabric curtain with a clawfoot, BUT we kept it IN the tub while showering (and made sure it was short enough not to hit the bottom, but long enough to stay put). It would’ve made a huge mess if we’d kept it on the outside. It worked fine, didn’t get gross, and since the water gave it weight, it didn’t billow in on us. It also didn’t get sopping, so we could immediately put it outside the tub to dry. Once dry and when not in use, we would scoot it all to one spot, so you barely noticed it (but leaving it outside the tub).

  • Reply Karoline February 16, 2022 at 10:39 pm

    Next time you wash the shower curtain, just let it line dry on the shower rod and you should be able to gain a little size back. We’ve done this with our linen curtains before when they have shrunk in the drier and it works like a charm to reconstitute their original size.

  • Reply Amy February 16, 2022 at 10:59 pm

    This is fantastic information! We are just about to move into an apartment that needs a curtain, and this is what we shall do!

  • Reply Christie February 17, 2022 at 9:05 am

    I’m curious about the shampoo/conditioner. I tried to use solid shampoo and conditioner, but I found that we went through them so fast — the water from the shower and use. So we ended up spending so much more money than a regular bottle of shampoo. How often does one have to replace those? We are a family of 5 with three that have quite long hair.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 17, 2022 at 9:45 am

      So far, so good! We’re still on our first set of them. Definitely going through shampoo faster than conditioner, but luckily we seem to lose very little to the actual shower! I think so much depends on individual habits, etc., but I’m definitely keeping a watchful eye on how quickly we need to replace!

    • Reply Laurie L February 17, 2022 at 10:09 pm

      Hi Christie,
      I have thick, curly hair for which I receive lots of compliments. I wash and condition my hair with baking soda and apple cider vinegar. Yes, you read that correctly! In a teacup I combine 2 tablespoons of baking soda mixed with water to form a thick paste. I fill a cup half and half with apple cider vinegar and cold water. First, I scrub my scalp with the baking soda paste, rinse, scrub some more. Then, rinse thoroughly. Lastly, I pour the cold apple cider vinegar mix over my hair which makes my hair soft and shiny. My senses are awaken by the cold mixture, but that’s optional. This is plastic free, low carbon and very inexpensive, and fuss free! How’s that for checking off several boxes?!

  • Reply Cee February 17, 2022 at 11:21 am

    Admittedly mine is polyester but it still recommends a liner for some reason. Having the single fabric layer which is washable has worked fantastically for years for me now! If I ever need to replace it again though, it’s great to know I can go straight to cotton or linen after all.

  • Reply Anna February 17, 2022 at 1:50 pm

    I’m very into this linen shower curtain idea, but MOSTLY I am excited by the prospect of solid shampoo and conditioner that work well and last longer than a few weeks before snapping apart into tiny barely useable shards that I have to collect in my hand and painstakingly rub through my and my two children’s thick hair while cursing because I don’t want to waste it… is it too much to hope for? Could I also even hope they wouldn’t dry out my scalp and encourage frizz?

    After several years of experimentation I caved and sadly bought shampoo and conditioner in plastic bottles a couple of weeks ago. But hope springs eternal and these look promising…

  • Reply Jamie February 17, 2022 at 2:41 pm

    I regularly waterproof my backpack with a block of Fjallraven wax. Super easy to do the only equipment needed is a hairdryer.
    I’m thinking about waxing a linen napkin and seeing what happens.

    • Reply Sara February 20, 2022 at 7:21 pm

      Here to second the love for Fjallraven G1000 canvas bags/clothing items and the ability to waterproof them with wax.
      PFOAS-free, and good quality items lasting years. <3

  • Reply Mary Catherine Adams February 17, 2022 at 10:30 pm

    Thanks for sharing this! I’m inspired to try a liner-free shower curtain now.

    Question—how long does this shampoo/conditioner last you? I have been interested in it for a while but always wonder about this.

    Thank you again.

  • Reply d February 18, 2022 at 10:40 am

    I recently switched to Conscia and am loving it! They Hydrate one smells a-m-a-z-i-n-g. I was wondering, where did you find your shower caddy? thanks!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 18, 2022 at 1:12 pm

      it does! no idea where we came across this! have had it for years!

  • Reply Emily February 19, 2022 at 9:47 am

    Thank you for this! I am also curious about the bar shampoo- I’ve loved using Plaine Products for a couple of years and have found the cost not bad considering how well it works and long it seems to last. The non-plastic piece is equally as important. Would love to hear more about your reviews on it, especially how your hair feels and cost comparison, as those bars are quite expensive! I wonder if they have sample sizes?

  • Reply Anjana February 19, 2022 at 1:24 pm

    I have toyed with the only fabric curtain idea for so long, but have never gone through with it. I’m going to attempt it now – inspired by another one of your makes – a pojagi type linen shower curtain. Could you tell me how long the curtain is? Does it skirt the floor or just the top of the tub or midway between the floor and top of the tub?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 19, 2022 at 9:10 pm


  • Reply Kayla October 10, 2022 at 5:26 pm

    This bathroom is incredible!!!

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