Shower Curtain Liners

The Best Eco-Friendly Shower Curtain Liners

The shower curtain market is estimated to grow by over a billion dollars by 2025, which means a whole lot of curtains, and a heck of a lot of resources. Let’s take a look at what to keep in mind when it comes to people and the planet when shopping for a new shower curtain.


Shower curtains are one way to spice up a bathroom – against that white tile or white walls, they can really add a pop of color. Unfortunately, they can also have unintended (but serious) environmental impacts when made of certain synthetic materials like PVC, nylon, polyester, PEVA, and EVA. If choosing a synthetic material, look for one made from recycled materials. Alternatively, opt for organic materials like hemp, cotton, linen, and buckwheat, and keep an eye out for certifications to ensure that your curtain is doing the least damage.


Synthetic Materials 


PVC, or polyvinyl chloride (sometimes vinyl for short), is a commonly used building and construction material. It is considered a ‘commodity plastic’, which means that it’s used in our everyday lives – including in our clothing, synthetic leathers, and… shower curtains. Unfortunately, PVC has some very serious health and environmental concerns associated with its production and use. 

The production of vinyl (putting the vinyl in polyvinyl) is responsible for about 40% of global chlorine production, and is the largest single use of chlorine gas. Chlorine itself does not pose significant environmental harm, but, when combined with other materials, can rapidly form chemicals that can pollute waterways and bioaccumulate (aka build up over time) in ecosystems. Additionally,  the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) identified vinyl chloride as a known human carcinogen. Similarly, many of the byproducts from producing PVC are considered global pollutants – which have been shown to cause a range of health hazards including birth defects, cancer, endocrine disruption, impaired development, neurotoxicity, reproductive disruptions, and immune suppression. Yikes. 

PVC is also often mixed with other additives, like metal stabilizers, such as lead, cadmium, and organotins. These additives do not degrade in the environment and have also become global pollutants. For example, PVC pipes have been shown to release lead into the water flowing through them, which then enters the waterways and can cause developmental, neurological, and reproductive damage to both humans and marine life. 

Another unfortunate reality is that very little PVC is recycled. This is largely due to the fact that PVC contains a variable mix of additives, which makes each material made from PVC require a different recycling process. Additionally, post-consumer recycling of PVC is extremely difficult and, because it degrades over time, recycled PVC does not function as well as virgin PVC. Even in the EU, where there are more advanced systems for PVC recycling, less than 3% is recycled and it is more often down-cycled than upcycled – creating no real reduction in the overall production of virgin PVC.


EVA, ethylene-vinyl acetate, is a flexible, rubber-like plastic, and is a material commonly used for shower curtains because it is light, cheap, and translucent. In comparison to PVC, it emits fewer VOCs, which is a plus. Unfortunately, it’s also a much more complex plastic and is widely unrecyclable. 


As we were mentioning before, there are a lot of ingredients added to PVC to give it the qualities we know and “love”. For example, plasticizers are added to PVC to give it flexible elasticity and strength. Unfortunately, phthalates are a common plasticizer used in PVC to make it flexible and transparent. Phthalates are found in a vast array of products, including toys, wrappers, and even shower curtains. One specific phthalate found in PVC products like raincoats and shower curtains is DEHP, di-(2-Ethylhexyl) phthalate. DEHP is known to leach into the environment because it is not covalently bonded (aka strongly attached) to the polymers of PVC products. It’s been shown to cause endocrine disruption and is a testicular toxin. DEHP can be metabolized into human tissues and can even reach fetuses in utero. Similarly, DEHP is considered an environmental toxin and poses a significant risk to ecosystems it leaches into. 

Nylon and Polyester

Nylon and polyester are two of the most widely used synthetic fibers in the US, and are both made from petroleum. Petroleum is crude oil, which means it is tied to the fossil fuel industry. The manufacturing of nylon emits nitrous oxide -- which can deplete the ozone layer. No, thanks. Polyester has the cute nickname of the "workhorse fiber" of the textile industry because it is so commonly used. Polyester, unlike nylon, can be recycled -- and this reduces the environmental impact and pollution associated with virgin polyester. In fact,when polyester is recycled, it is estimated to reduce associated air pollution by as much as 85%.  Recycling polyester requires two-thirds the amount of water it takes to produce virgin polyester and can cut down on energy use by 59%. Not too shabby. Opt for recycled polyester over virgin polyester or nylon. 


PEVA, or polyethylene vinyl acetate, is a plastic that is a popular alternative to PVC. Because it is a plastic, it does require crude oils (which contribute to significant emissions). Unlike PVC, it is chlorine-free, which limits the off-gassing that can cause those harmful environmental impacts we discussed above. Want another win? PEVA does not contain phthalates! However, studies show that PEVA plastic can have adverse effects on living organisms. One study of worms exposed to PEVA showed that the material changed their social behaviors, limited their ability to intake oxygen, and altered their normal activity. While more research is needed to evaluate the impact on human health, PEVA is not the “sustainable” option some brands tout it to be. But, in a showdown between PVC and PEVA, opt for PEVA. 

Organic Materials 


Hemp is a byproduct of the Cannabis plant that does not contain THC, the cannabinoid that can get you high. Hemp is a fiber, and can be used to make materials like clothing and shower curtains. Hemp can grow in many different types of soil and environmental conditions, making it a hearty and weather-resistant crop. It also has been identified as a lower-impact crop relative to other crops, like cotton. 


In general, plant-based materials like cotton require less energy to manufacture compared to petroleum-based options like polyester. However, the production and maintenance of cotton products require a lot of water in comparison. Luckily, some cotton is grown in ways that can be kinder to our planet. In an LCA looking at the differences between organic cotton and conventional cotton, the Textile Exchange found that organic cotton is 46% less harmful to global warming, creates 70% less acidification of land and water, the potential for soil erosion drops 26%, surface, and groundwater use falls anywhere from 48% to 91%, and the demand for energy can drop by as much as 62%. Organic cotton is grown without relying on harmful chemicals for fertilization, leaving the soil, air, and water with fewer contaminants. It also produces around 46% less carbon dioxide compared to conventional cotton. Conventional cotton can also contain nasty pesticide residues that can lead to endocrine disruption and cancer. 

Comparing cotton and hemp

As always, there are environmental trade-offs when considering hemp and conventional cotton, though hemp wins in most impact categories. Throughout the production process of hemp, it creates, on average, less carbon dioxide emissions than conventional cotton. However, the total energy consumption of hemp is nearly three times higher than that of cotton. When compared to hemp, conventional cotton requires three times more water to produce 1kg of the final fiber product. And, when it comes to the cost of products made with these materials, hemp will often be less expensive because hemp has a relatively low total agricultural activity cost – meaning it is more productive. When compared to cotton, the cost reduction is nearly 78% lower than the agricultural activity cost of cotton. Opting for organic cotton can reduce its environmental impact significantly, so when choosing between cotton and hemp, look for GOTS-certified organic cotton or opt for hemp. Shower curtains made from cotton or hemp are harder to find and are often more expensive than their synthetic counterparts, which is noteworthy when considering accessibility. 


Linen is one of our favorite materials. It’s incredibly durable, gets softer over time, and though it is usually more expensive than cotton, it tends to last longer. It’s made from the fast-growing plant flax, which is primarily grown in boreal forests unassociated with deforestation. Plus, linen uses far less water over its life cycle than cotton. While pesticides are hardly used in flax cultivation, it’s better to get linen that is certified organic by the Global Organic Textile Standard. 

Buckwheat Hull

Currently, roughly 90% of the world's production of buckwheat is of the common variety of the plant found in China and Russia. It grows best in cool, moist climates, but can grow in poor soil quality – even sandy or acidic ground. This means that the plant can be cultivated on land that might otherwise be considered unproductive. Buckwheat is also often used as a cover crop – meaning that it is planted in soil between the rotation of more economically valuable crops to rehabilitate the soil (by protecting it from runoff or retaining nutrients). It is also used to attract honey bees and wild pollinators because of its abundant flowers. As a result, buckwheat has very beneficial impacts on the biodiversity of plants and pollinators alike. 

The part of the buckwheat plant that is used in textiles is actually the husk – or the outside layer of the grain. This layer, like husks and shells, is often agricultural waste (i.e. they don’t end up being used). But buckwheat hucks, because of their ability to function as a soft filler and textile, do not go to waste. They are used as a low-cost, organic textile material that comes with added environmental biodiversity benefits. Go buckwheat!


When we’re in a bind or overwhelmed by greenwashy-messaging, certifications can help us make choices that keep the environment and social good in mind. Here are some certifications to look out for on shower curtains. 

Global Organic Textile Standard Certification

GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard)

When looking for organic cotton, check out the GOTS certification. The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is a certification for textiles made of organic materials. To get this certification, a product must contain at least 70% organic materials and meet all of the ecological and social well-being criteria outlined by the certifying agency. This includes, but is not limited to, workplace safety, wage gap assessments, wastewater treatment, and limitations on conventional fiber products.

OEKO-Tex Certification

OEKO-TEX Certification

When buying any product made with textiles, look for the OEKO-TEX certification. While it’s not as stringent as GOTS since it doesn’t require the materials to be organic, it does require the avoidance of harmful substances in textiles.


Shower curtains can be made from synthetic materials and plastics like PVC, PEVA, nylon, and polyester, some of which contain ingredients, like phthalates, that can harm both human and planetary health. When looking for a shower curtain, opt for hemp, linen, buckwheat hull, or certified organic cotton if you’re willing to throw a little extra money toward this product. 


How can I make my shower more environmentally friendly?

While there is no such thing as an “environmentally friendly” shower, because all showers have some impact on people and the environment, you can make choices to reduce your impact – especially when it comes to the products you use. Check out Finch’s Chrome Extension to see how different shower curtains chalk up against each other, for a more environmentally friendly shower. 

What can I use instead of a plastic shower curtain?

If you’re looking to ditch the plastic shower curtain, look for one made of hemp, linen, buckwheat hull, or certified organic cotton. Check out our Top Products page to see our faves.

Is PEVA eco-friendly?

PEVA is a common alternative to PVC. While PEVA is still plastic, it does contain fewer environmental and human health toxins compared to PVC. Unfortunately, this does not make it “eco-friendly,” because it still has impacts on people and the planet. In a showdown between PVC and PEVA, opt for PEVA, but choose hemp, linen, buckwheat hull, or certified-organic cotton over both!