Q: To get in the Halloween spirit, I recently unearthed my collection of horror DVDs — loved your "environmental horror film" recommendations — and started in with one of my all-time favorites: “Psycho.” As I watched Norman Bates yank away the shower curtain and go to town on Marion Crane with a kitchen knife, I couldn’t help but think of the potential horrors in my own bathroom, particularly the shower curtain.

I keep on hearing my more eco-savvy friends praise “eco-friendly” shower curtains, insisting that they’re a must-have in any green home. The thing is, I’m not exactly sure why regular shower curtains are so bad for the environment and for human health. Care to fill me in? And have any non-nightmarish, Mother Nature-friendly shower curtain recommendations?

Looking to explore the eco-friendly “shower scene,”


Lila — Fairvale, Ariz.


A: Hey Lila,

It’s funny that the shower scene in “Psycho” would set you off on this very worthwhile query. The last time I watched it, all that hideous taxidermy in chez Bates is what got me thinking about questionable, non-environmentally friendly home décor.

Anyways, simply put, you should indeed be wary of PVC vinyl shower curtains given that they contain the infamous and ubiquitous chemical plasticizer, phthalates, and a slew of other toxic chemicals that can easily off-gas in a hot ‘n’ steamy bathroom and pollute the air in your home. In various studies, phthalates have been linked to a myriad of health concerns including genital deformation, abnormal breast development, lowered IQs and ADHD in boys; shortened pregnancies in expectant mothers; and damage to the liver, kidney and reproductive system.

I’m not sure if you have children, Lila, specifically boys, but the effects that phthalates can have on them is truly like something out of a horror movie. That is unless you’re keen on the idea of raising a restless, not-very-intelligent son with large breasts and an undescended testicle.

If you haven’t run screaming toward the bathroom to rip down your vinyl shower curtain yet, I should also point out that PVC, a compound of chlorine and petroleum products, is the hardest to recycle of all the plastics and the production of it is highly polluting and releases carcinogenic dioxins into the air.

Mercifully, there are numerous alternatives to vinyl shower curtains made from materials like hemp, organic or non-organic cotton, and non-off-gassing EVA plastic, but be warned, you’ll probably have to pay a bit more. But as evidenced above, I think you’d agree it’s worth it. While perfectly acceptable, non-vinyl shower curtains can be found at major retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond and Target, I’m a huge fan of Grain’s Ty Shower Curtain that’s made from recyclable, long lasting and breathable — less mold and mildew! — HDPE (#2 plastic). For a couple bucks more, Grain also offers a Ty DIY Edition that comes with a permanent marker for shower curtain doodling. I’m also partial to CB2’s killer EVA Barbershop Shower Curtain and Thomas Paul’s cotton Luddite Shower Curtain, which, I have to warn you, sports a rather frightening price tag.

And on the topic of frightening, since you adore “Psycho,” I wouldn’t want to leave out Kikkerland’s Psycho Shower Curtain that’s made from PVC-free EVA. Or perhaps you would prefer the Jaws Shower Curtain?

So there you go, Lila, the lowdown on the horrors of vinyl shower curtains. And while you’re paying special attention to your bathroom, do me a favor and bid adieu to any bath products containing nefarious microbeads. Gotta run now — off to check in on Mother …

— Matt

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

What's so scary about regular old shower curtains?
Matt Hickman knows a few horror stories about phthalates, PVC and ... mold!