That New Shower Curtain Smell Is The Smell Of Chemical Pollutants

A new report says that the smell given off by new vinyl shower curtains is chock-full of dangerous chemicals, reports the Los Angeles Times. Researchers tested PVC curtains purchased at Bed Bath & Beyond, Kmart, Sears, Target, and Wal-Mart, and found that all of them contained “high concentrations” of what’s technically known as “bad stuff”—”One of the curtains tested released measurable quantities of as many as 108 volatile organic compounds into the air, some of which persisted for nearly a month.” Update: the report is receiving criticism from some medical and science experts, including a spokeswoman for the CPSC.

“PVC is just bad from cradle to cradle,” said Martha Dina Argüello, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. “It’s a mess when you create, it’s a mess when you get rid of it, and it’s off-gassing when you’re using it.”

So is it possible to buy PVC-free shower curtains? Yes! Target and Sears/Kmart say they’re phasing out PVC, while Bed Bath & Beyond is increasing the number of PVC-free curtains it offers. However, the authors of the report said that Wal-Mart didn’t respond to repeated requests for its PVC policy—which is odd, considering how quickly it moved to announce it would pull BPA products from shelves back in April.

“That ‘new shower curtain smell’ gives off toxic chemicals, study finds” [Los Angeles Times]
(Photo: Getty)

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  1. flyingphotog says:

    Perfect, we just got a new one from Wal-Mart. A cheap, plastic, and yes – SMELLY liner.

  2. Gann says:

    Same can be said for many products in cars and homes. New carpet can make you pretty ill.

  3. Diet-Orange-Soda says:

    That smell can be pretty noxious. Especially when concentrated within the confines of your shower stall. Good to know I might be shortening my life post-curtain change.

  4. PedroDaGr8 says:

    THIS REPORT IS A FEAR TACTIC. I have read this report it is to be honest garbage scientifically. The test detected levels 1000’s of times less than hazardous (at which the authors claimed they shut the device down to prevent damage). Also, they only tested ONE yes I will say that again they only tested ONE shower curtain for all chemicals, the rest they just sort of tested hodgepodge. The group who did this test has a goal of getting all PVC shower curtains replaced in Canada with cotton ones. Typical, science is evil nature is inherently perfect crowd.

  5. MayorBee says:

    According to [abcnews.go.com] they only tested ONE shower curtain.

    The study found the one curtain which was tested for off-gassing may have released, over the course of the first few hours after it was opened, chemicals that could be toxic if swallowed or inhaled only in quantities thousands of times greater than those found.

    Critics said that the testing was not verified by an independent lab and didn’t account for real-world conditions such as temperature or humidity in a shower stall.

    The study also included estimated results for some of the chemical amounts it reported, and most of the off-gassed chemicals found initially were not detectable after a few days.

    In short, it is a piece of shower curtain research that some experts said just doesn’t hold water.

  6. dorianh49 says:

    I love the smell of shower curtain in the morning. Smells like… whoah, I’m getting dizzy.

  7. quagmire0 says:

    This is why I am slowly drinking myself to death. I’m hoping my cirrhosis will work faster at killing me than my shower curtain. :P

  8. NcSchu says:

    That’s why I have glass shower doors!

  9. snoop-blog says:

    See this is why I don’t take showers.

  10. Jbball says:

    But they smell so goooooooood.

  11. AaronZ says:

    Thanks for the post. I was about to buy a new liner, but now I’ll go the extra step and just (try to) clean the one I have. :)

  12. chicagocooper says:

    This is complete bull. Just a bunch of people taking advantage of soccer mom’s by unscientific scare mongering.

  13. ladycrumpet says:

    I gave up on plastic curtains and liners – while you can get some cool designs, they’re such a pain to clean. Just get a nylon liner and a fabric curtain and then you can throw those in the wash!

  14. Gann says:

    @AaronZ: Buy a new one and hang it in your garage for a couple of weeks to let it off-gas.

  15. My favorite part of this story was watching the Fark headlines for it-

    First this -

    Today’s media fear-mongering brought to you courtesty of your shower curtain. Yes, it WILL kill you. EVERYDOY PANIC, RINSE, REPEAT

    Then this-

    That whole shower curtain scare? It turns out that the researchers only tested one shower curtain. Not one brand, one curtain

    Seriously folks, just stop. Stop with the EVERYTHING CAUSES CANCER crap. It’s getting ridiculous.

  16. chicagocooper says:

    “The claims being made about the dangers of shower curtains are phantasmagorical. It’s ridiculous”
    ~ Consumer Product Safety Commission spokewoman

  17. CityGuySailing says:

    OK – Consumerist Editors. Do you have a review panel to filter for FUD Junk Science? Is there a button somewhere, that we, as participants, can push, labeled “THIS ARTICLE IS CRAPPOLA – LET EVERYONE KNOW”, and if enough people push that button, the article gets a big flashing banner that reads “THIS HAS BEEN REPORTED AS CRAPPOLA” or something like that?

  18. punkrawka says:

    Everyone, everyone, relax, it says the compounds released into the air are ORGANIC! They have to be healthy, right? Technically, they could charge extra for this, if they wanted to follow the grocery model!

  19. crabbyman6 says:

    I never knew there was an anti-shower curtain movement before. I suppose there’s someone opposed to everything in existence, maybe I should start an anti-kitten movement. The cuteness is so distracting, may cause spontaneous “Awwwww”ing.

  20. BloggyMcBlogBlog says:

    I’m more worried about the phthalate plasticizers in the curtain.

  21. GodzillaDad says:

    Just an FYI to the latest article about the shower curtains: [abcnews.go.com]

  22. GodzillaDad says:

    @ MayorBee – sorry didnt see you already posted it, thanks!

  23. I love the way new shower curtains smell. Is that so wrong?

  24. Landru says:

    @chicagocooper: And we all know how reliable and forthright the Consumer Product Safety Commission is.

  25. Chris Walters says:

    I’ve updated the post to include criticism of the study. I wish the LA Times article had provided more criticism; however, the ABC article seems too heavily slanted toward a specific opinion (“this study is wacko”) and I don’t think it should replace the first article–the truth is somewhere inbetween. For one thing, the CPSC may be an official agency but it’s hardly the one and only best source for consumer-related safety news. The LA Times says that all five shower curtains were tested for chemical composition, and one was selected to test for off-gassing. This may not be a comprehensive test, but I think it’s overreacting to say that it’s FUD or 100% junk science.

    The LA Times notes that the EPA corroborates at least some of the study’s findings:

    The EPA has tested vinyl shower curtains and in 2002 said it had found that many of the same chemicals listed in the center’s report.

    Lester said the test drew attention to the lack of government regulations or health-based guidelines governing indoor air pollutants.

    “The EPA does not regulate indoor air, period,” said Barbara Spark, the indoor air program coordinator for the EPA’s Pacific Southwest region. “We have not been given that authority by the Congress.”

    We all know off-gassing isn’t exactly healthful. Bottom line: it’s still probably healthier to go with a non-PVC product, or to air out the shower curtain for a few days before using it in an enclosed environment.

  26. failurate says:

    Definitely nylon cloth for the win.
    Higher upfront cost, but return on investment happens the first time you run it through your washing machine.
    And, if you happen to brush up against it while showering, you don’t get that freaky “ewww! I just touched the icky plastic sheet!” feeling.
    And you don’t have to worry about your kids getting wrapped up in it and suffocating (not sure if that has ever happened, but willing to bet it has).

  27. mac-phisto says:

    further study of marion crane’s corpse indicates that it wasn’t the multiple stab wounds inflicted by her assailant that killed her…it was the shower curtain that she grabbed as she fell to the floor.

    based on this new evidence, norma bates’ attorneys are seeking to have his charges dropped from 1st-degree murder to burglary/aggravated assault.

  28. MayorBee says:

    @GodzillaDad: It’s all good in the hood. Just don’t get me a carcinogenic shower curtain :)

  29. Trai_Dep says:

    I trust the GOP-run CPSC’s claims about household toxins about as much as I trust the GOP-run food agencies to fix poisoned tomatoes or the GOP-run FEMA to fix levee leaks.
    Oh, wait: it’s all the government’s fault. Sorry, my bad.
    Didn’t know it was toxic (and if it is, it’s probably not crushingly so), but it just stinks. So, when I buy a curtain, I string it over the backyard fence for a day to air it out.
    Then I sweep up the dead robins, sparrows and children caught mid-stride while playing Kick The Can into a neat pile, reclaim my curtain and merrily skip away.
    Sure miss the birds, though.

  30. chrisjames says:

    WARNING: This product contains patterns known to the State of California to cause your friends to maliciously rearrange your medicine cabinet.

    But seriously, I can’t get curtains at Walmart anymore because they’re as agreeable to the eyes as they would be to the stomach … if I ate shower curtains. That’s a much better metric, in my opinion. I’m guessing some dumb punk got nauseous from the PVC smell of their new shower curtain (admittedly offensive) and thought a little haphazard experimentation was in order. Reminds me of my mother in law who convinced an entire class to buy a brand of vitamin three times more expensive because every other brand “looks gross when microwaved.”

  31. Trai_Dep says:

    Oh, hey, environmental eagles: is PVC pretty bad for the environment? Would it be greener to use other materials? Nylon, treated cloth, what’s the Green Rank on these? Thanks!

  32. backbroken says:

    I just bought a new cheapo shower curtain from Wal-Mart. I let it air-out on the back deck for almost the entire day before putting it in the bathroom. Don’t know if that helps, but it did not smell nearly as bad as it would have.

  33. wring says:

    but it smells so goooooood!

  34. ewray4381 says:

    IMHO, after reading the ABC article, it sounds like the warning bells were sounded too early. Much more testing and studying needs to be done.

    However, I think that people should be aware of VOCs and alternatives should be more readily available. These are the same gasses that give house paint that awful smell. As someone with asthma who always winds up with a migraine after being exposed to VOCs, I am truly grateful for these innovations. You can now buy non-VOC paints, and since I do need to replace my shower curtain liner anyhow, I’m going with a non-VOC variety.

    Scare tatics suck, but there’s nothing wrong with disseminating information to the masses and letting them make their own minds up.

  35. ShivaniAgdistis says:

    We have always let our new curtain air out for at least a day on the
    back porch before carrying it in the house.
    It’s called “out-gassing” and I read about it long before this newest
    report was released.
    Thanks for the article.
    There are sources for long lasting non-plastic shower curtains—-
    more expensive, but I’m going that route next.

  36. rockstarjoe says:

    Whether or not they are toxic, they sure can be stinky. I hung a new shower curtain in my tiny, poorly ventilated studio apartment once and the smell almost made me vomit, it was so overwhelming. I had to tear it down and throw it out. Wasteful, yes, but the damn thing was trying to kill me!

  37. jonworld says:

    It’s harmful? Dammit! I love the smell of new shower curtain liners.

  38. jonworld says:

    @jonworld:..almost as good as freshly-washed towels

  39. Parting says:

    Mmmmm, smell of fresh shower curtains. Now I know why I like that, probably due to a ”high” produced ;)

  40. cerbie says:

    …not to mention the solid shower curtains take to mold very easily, despite anything said on the package, and are frustrating to remove and clean.

    How toxic are the nylon cloth ones, I wonder? They are nice, because they can be cleaned with relative ease. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen a cotton shower curtain…

  41. anatak says:

    I don’t care how they conducted the study. It’s no big secret that vinyl is nasty stuff, and it doesn’t take a scientist to know that stronger, long lasting odors = not good.

  42. consumersaur says:

    Maaaannn… this is why we should have heeemp curtains man, or like shower under waterfalls.

  43. TechnoDestructo says:

    But that OLD shower curtain smell is MOLD, FUNGUS, and BACTERIA.

  44. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Mmmm….I love the “new shower curtain smell.” I only havv somme nimor dane bramage…

  45. Crrusherr says:

    i believe she meant cradle to the grave not cradle to cradle

  46. planet2334 says:

    I like my cloth one better anyway. It lasts longer, is washable, has cool Eiffel Towers on it, and drawings of fashionable women walking Poodles and Basset Hounds. Who needs plastic poodles? Come to think of it, who needs real ones? Bassets are far superior… And they would not want to smell the plastic curtains.
    The cloth curtain may have come in a plastic bag wrapped around that card thing, I wonder if those cards are toxic? Maybe we should just make our own shower curtains, just to be on the safe side….If I get out my sewing machine maybe I could go in to business…

  47. smackswell says:

    The reaction to this article amazes me. Especially on the heels of the ABC story.

    Most of the crap we use on the daily are manufactured with chemicals that are harmful to us. Shower curtains, drinking bottles, new cars, the next great acne remover, vitamin supplements, the list goes on and on.

    It falls along the same lines of all the pollution that gets strewn around the world. And the crap toys you give your kids. And the food you eat.

    This is the culmination of our society. Cheap crap that is giving you cancer. Ever see pile of snow in the winter that looks dirty? Not in the middle of the street; just the odd pile of snow thats on someone’s lawn that just looks filthy? Ever wonder what that gunk was? Or what it’s doing to your body?

    The advances of our society contribute to our demise. Is there anything you can do about it? Maybe if you all cared enough about your bodies and the bodies of your children you may stand up and denounce this cheap crap that is destroying us. The power of the purse…..

    Until then, everyone can just stay snarky.

  48. LibidinousSlut says:

    uhm how is this news? like I thought it was common knowledge that vinyl offgasses in ways that are not good for humans. PVC curtains are banned in the EU. Or at the very least in Austria and France.

  49. Illiterati says:

    And of COURSE this “study” makes Walmart the evil killer-shower-curtain-peddling monster. How better to call attention to some bullshit study than to accuse Walmart of ignoring it? Considering the bunk science involved in this story, Walmart’s nonresponse actually makes them seem like the only sensible, nonreactionary company in the bunch. Go figure.

  50. yamahagrand says:

    I found out 2 years ago that I have strong allergies so I’m required to take shots in my arms for a few years in an effort to desensitize my body to them. I couldn’t figure out why I sometimes have a headache after taking a shower until I read about this on Google news. I blamed the headaches on mold but we always try very hard to keep mold and mildew out of the bathroom. This includes my wife running to K-mart every few months to replace the shower curtain. The smelly chemicals emitted by those is nasty but I did not think they could be the cause of anything serious.

    I have written K-mart to complain and am anxious for a reply.

  51. jblaze1 says:

    READ the entire story from ABC News. The study is not accurate or statistically significant, so it is false.

    Consumerist, good job on getting people to click on the story, though.

  52. jblaze1 says:

    Key quote: “”It’s a great example of how quickly a sound bite can become dangerous and contagious,” said ABC News medical contributor Dr. Marie Savard.”

    [abcnews.go.com]

  53. @PedroDaGr8: Regardless of the one shower curtain tested I can tell you from past experiences that new, cheap vinyl products make me sick and I avoid them. The companies don’t care about healt effects from their products, they care about their profits and will always put them first ahead of everything else including making people sick.

  54. mrearly2 says:

    And you drink poisons from plastic water bottles…

  55. overbysara says:

    tip:

    when your vinyl shower curtain gets dirty/nasty, put it in your washing machine (alone) with some bleach and a tiny bit of dishwashing liquid or detergent. comes out a bit wrinkled, but brand new! hang to dry and the wrinkles will settle after a couple days.