How to Clean a Shower Curtain

The reason most people ask how to clean a shower curtain is that they come in various sizes, colors, fabrics, and levels of thickness. Obviously, each curtain will have its own recommended instructions on how to clean it.

But does that mean that there are no general guidelines on dealing with mildew on shower curtains? No. Whatever type of curtain you have, some cleaning rules will always apply.

And, luckily, there are only two practical ways to tackle mold and mildew on shower curtains. This means that you won’t have to memorize a long list of dos and don’ts, nor will you have to scour stores and online shops for special cleaning equipment and cleaning agents. Most of the time, you can do a great job with everyday household products.

The Two Cleaning Methods

Using the Washing Machine

This is obviously the most convenient method of cleaning a shower curtain or liner. It is also the trickiest method because different materials have different requirements when it comes to water temperature, washing time, cleaning agent, and so on.

The first thing to do before putting your shower curtain in the washing machine is to check the manufacturer’s recommendations for temperature. Most plastic curtains will require either a cold cycle or a warm cycle at best. You almost never use hot water because it could damage the integrity of the plastic.

Secondly, you should remove all hooks, accessories, and anything else that’s not machine washable or may cause rips and tears during the washing cycle.

It’s probably best to use either just water, baking soda, or some distilled white vinegar to wash your shower curtain. Mild laundry detergents will work too but you would have to spend a lot of time researching the ingredients and their effects on the fabric.

No matter how dirty your shower curtain is, it will clean faster than clothes. Therefore, try to avoid using long washing cycles. A rinse cycle would almost always suffice.

Another thing to remember is that putting the shower curtain by itself in the washing machine is not recommended. The fabric can stick to itself or get ripped apart in the machine. It’s important to include some softer fabrics at the same time, as they can take the bulk of the punishment from the spinning cycle.

Use towels or sheets that react well to either baking soda or white vinegar.

If you decide to use detergent, don’t avoid adding in some baking soda too. Make it 1/2 to 1 cup, depending on how big the shower curtain is.

With that in mind, the cleaning agents will differ depending on how dirty the shower curtain is. For example, you could also add half a cup of bleach during the rinse cycle. Just make sure you don’t do this for non-white and non-transparent curtains.

Washing by Hand

If you prefer to clean a shower curtain by hand, get ready to exercise patience. You can use a damp cloth to wash off all the stains.

Use a combination of water and baking soda. Scrub the entire shower curtain with this mixture. This should remove most of the mess that’s on the surface. To remove hard stains, you’ll have to switch to a new cleaning agent.

Remove the remaining baking soda from the curtain with a warm damp cloth. You could also put the shower curtain in the bathtub and use the handheld shower head to rinse off the baking soda.

After that, create a new mixture of baking soda and water. You can go a little heavier on the baking soda as this time you’ll have to really scrub the stains away. Don’t forget to give the curtain a final rinse.

Where to Focus Your Cleaning Efforts

Most shower curtains get dirtier at the bottom because that’s the area that takes in most of the soap, which makes it susceptible to mildew and soap scum buildups.

If you’re washing your shower curtain by hand, take more time cleaning the bottom part. It should be easy to spot from the beginning to end, since a horizontal dirt line will surely form after a few days.

The reason why most of the damage is done to the bottom area is because of the water-repellent coating. This causes soap water to slide down the curtain.

Don’t Forget About Pretreatments

Now that you know how to clean a shower curtain, how about learning to prevent soap buildups? You won’t be able to avoid washing a shower curtain every now and then, no matter what you do.

That being said, pretreating a plastic shower curtain can minimize the amount of maintenance and cleaning needed. Before hanging a new shower curtain, consider washing it first.

Don’t use detergents or special solutions. Use some distilled white vinegar instead. Wash the curtain in warm water to avoid melting the plastic. And, if you’re not sure about the quality of the plastic, just a rinse cycle will suffice.

The vinegar pretreatment will improve the plastic’s ability to fend off soap scum and other buildups. This will make it easier for you to maintain a clean curtain and a clean-looking bathroom for longer.

As an alternative, you could also use a spray bottle and spray the bottom of the curtain every day or every two days with a half and half mixture of water and distilled white vinegar. This would add extra protection from day to day. And, it will prevent wear and tear associated with machine washing.

It’s All About the Fabric and Willingness to Clean

Some shower curtains will simply get dirtier than others. Unlike shower glass doors, very few curtains come with amazing protective coatings. And, even with a high-quality coating, shower curtains take the most beatings on a daily basis.

You won’t be able to prep in advance a cleaning schedule until you’ve actually cleaned the curtain a few times. You need to see how well it responds to your cleaning agents and its usage rate. But as long as you remember to pay attention to pretreatments as much as cleaning it after the fact, you should be able to enjoy your fancy curtain for a long time.


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