Dear Umbra,

You have successfully instilled the fear of all things vinyl in me. Now the big question is: with what do I replace my old vinyl shower curtain? We have a cotton one at work, but it clings to your legs like a drowning jellyfish. This, and the constant mold, is something I would like to avoid in my own bathroom. Any suggestions?

Flo Miller
Montpelier, Vt.

Dearest Flo,

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I’m always full of suggestions — in a wide range of usefulness and accuracy. Today’s suggestion: polyester. I found, after looking a bit harder than usual — some of you may have noticed that I don’t get out shopping often, so “harder than usual” means I actually went to a store — that my trusty Northwest housewares emporium did carry polyester shower curtains and liners.

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The vinyl countdown.

Photo: iStockphoto.

I now have a duo in the (moldy) Grist Test Bathroom that works quite well. The inner liner is a densely woven but lightweight polyester; the outer, aesthetically pleasing cover is like a sheer window curtain — you could use a cotton one for that purpose. But cotton and polyester aren’t innocent fabrics themselves, you cry! Cotton’s got the old pesticide problem and polyester is PET plastic, so petroleum, noxious chemicals, and massive processing are common to both materials — all three materials, if you count vinyl. I suppose you could look for an organic cotton or hemp liner, or make your own from worn-out clothing, but let’s face it: very few people will spend the money or time to do that. In this “which is better?” dilemma, cotton and PET are preferable to vinyl.

Anyway, the whole ensemble stays put and does not cling to my legs. When the pink mold begins to appear on the curtains, I throw them in the wash and then hang them in the sun. The sun is a definite mold-be-gone. If only I could put the entire bathroom in the sun; perhaps something could be done using mirrors.

When Grist relocates, I plan to move the whole shower rig to my new basement office. Unfortunately, moving the curtain will cost $10,000 — we truly need your donations.

Oh, just kidding, I can carry the curtains over myself. We need the help to support actual operating expenses.

That way, we can run such fabulous articles as an interview with Bill Walsh from the Healthy Building Network, who aptly and succinctly describes the troubles with vinyl. I’ve focused on vinyl’s dioxin/chlorine connections in the past. Another major problem is phthalates, which are used to soften vinyl, but have been fingered as suspected carcinogens and hormone disrupters. From our backpacks to our sex toys to our shower curtains: No on vinyl, and that’s final.