Want cleaner indoor air? Keep vinyl out.
Phthalates are hormone-disrupting chemicals (see "word of the week" at http://www.greenerpenny.com/) used to disperse synthetic fragrances in air fresheners and personal care products. As plasticizers, phthalates are used to make soft, flexible PVC vinyl toys, flooring, wall-coverings and shower curtains. Scandinavian studies have found that phthalates readily migrate out of vinyl flooring into the air of a home, and have contributed to respiratory problems, including asthma, in children.
Unfortunately, vinyl shower curtain liners are cheap and thus widely viewed as disposable. For instance, my local YMCA replaces the vinyl drapes in the women’s shower stalls every month, picking a different lurid or cloying color each time.
Vinyl is also the least recyclable and most toxic plastic. Its production and incineration create dioxins, which are carcinogenic, hormone-disrupting chemicals that collect in animal fats and disperse far and wide in the environment, having been found in the fat of polar bears and the breast milk of Inuit women.
If you want to freshen up your bathroom with a new shower curtain, you might want to make sure it’s not vinyl. You can find healthier alternatives in cotton duck ($26-26), organic cotton and hemp (about $60 for each) and a sturdy nylon pack cloth liner ($50) at pristineplanet.com.
But if the problem is mildew, you may not need a new curtain at all. Just spray the blackened spots and smears with a vinegar-based cleaner such as Eco Friendly Window Kleener, or a strong mixture of white vinegar, water and a couple of drops of dish soap, leave on for at least 2 hours, and wipe clean with a rag. Add baking soda for scouring as needed. It worked fine on our four-year-old green "Honu" (Hawaiian sea turtle) nylon curtain. Please forward this tip from firstname.lastname@example.org to any interested friends.