How to Clean Your Shower Curtain: A Complete Guide

Dawn M. Smith
Written by Dawn M. Smith
Reviewed by Asya Biddle
Updated September 21, 2022
A blue tiled bathroom with a flower shower curtain
Photo: coralimages / Adobe Stock

Scrub-a-dub-dub, you don’t need a new liner for your tub

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So, your shower curtain and plastic liner have developed a colony of mold, mildew, and soap scum, and now even your rubber ducky is giving you the side-eye. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t always need to shell out the cash for a new shower curtain when it turns an unsightly color. Instead, follow this guide to learn how to clean your shower curtain and liner and put that dough toward your next vacation.

Why Do I Have Mold and Mildew on My Shower Curtains?

If you notice dark spots on your shower curtain or liner, that’s a clear sign that mold or mildew is present. Mold and mildew thrive and spread in warm, dark, wet, and unventilated spaces. Your shower is the perfect environment, especially the shower curtains, because they trap water in the folds and creases, plus they’re exposed to the most water spray. 

How to Identify When to Wash Your Shower Curtains

Not sure whether you need to wash your shower curtain? Inspect it carefully for signs of mold, mildew, and soap scum. If you notice gray flecks and specks dotting your shower curtain or pink spots spreading on your liner, you know it’s time to stage a cleaning intervention. It takes a while for the telltale signs of mold and mildew to show, so you might notice soap scum first, which looks like a white, cloudy film. 

How to Prep to Clean Your Shower Curtains

If you’re ready to clean your shower curtains, the first preparation step is to gather the necessary cleaning supplies. Luckily, you probably have these items in your bathrooms. 

Here’s what you’ll need to clean your shower curtain or liner:

  • Baking soda

  • Laundry detergent

  • Tea tree oil (optional)

  • Traditional or color-safe bleach

  • Sponge

  • Rubber gloves

  • Vinegar

How to Clean Your Shower Curtains in the Washing Machine

Despite having more folds to worry about, cleaning a shower curtain or liner is easier than cleaning a shower door. In most cases, after removing it from the shower rings, you can chuck it in the washing machine with enough laundry detergent for the smallest load and let the machine do the grunt work. Then, use cold or warm water and toss in a couple of towels to prevent excessive wrinkling. This tactic should take care of any built-up mold, mildew, and soap scum. 

When cleaning your shower curtains and liner, the rule of thumb is to always air-dry because the heat damages plastic liners and shrinks fabric curtains. After the wash cycles are complete, simply hang everything up on the rod and wait for it to air-dry. Save money on your utility bill and let your dryer sit this one out.

Washing a Fabric Curtain 

Since your fabric shower curtain doesn’t come in direct contact with the water, you won’t need to clean it as often. You can usually throw it into your washing machine every few months and wash it with warm water on the gentle cycle. 

  1. Follow the curtain’s care instructions before machine washing.

  2. Add your regular laundry detergent and ½ cup of baking soda. 

  3. Use one cup of vinegar during the rinse cycle. 

  4. Let the fabric curtain air dry completely.

Washing a Plastic Curtain or Liner 

  1. If your plastic curtain or liner has excess grime build-up, leave it on the rod to start the cleaning process.

  2. Combine equal parts of bleach and water in a spray bottle.

  3. Spray the mixture onto the plastic curtain or liner.

  4. Let it sit for 10 minutes.

  5. Wash it in the washing machine using cold water. 

  6. Let it air dry completely.

How to Hand Wash Plastic and Fabric Shower Curtains

Detail of a white shower curtain
Photo: donikz / Adobe Stock

Sometimes it makes sense to hand wash your shower curtains, like if your washing machine is too small or if the fabric curtain says to avoid a machine wash. 

Quick Clean Plastic and Fabric Shower Curtains 

  1. Leave your shower curtain on the rod and thoroughly spray them with one part vinegar and four parts water.

  2. Saturate visible mold or mildew growth and the areas closest to the water spray. 

  3. Leave the solution on for 10 minutes.

  4. Rinse everything with warm water. 

Deep Clean Plastic and Fabric Shower Curtains

  1. Pretreat with the vinegar spray solution.

  2. Add 1/4 cup of baking soda and one tablespoon of liquid laundry detergent to a warm tub of water. 

  3. Massage your curtains so suds form, and spend extra time scrubbing a sponge on the heavily stained areas like the hem. 

  4. Mix in one tablespoon of bleach if the plastic curtains' stains are stubborn. 

  5. Rinse your curtains in a drained tub with a handheld shower wand or continuously dunk and swish all the suds away in clean water. 

How to Prevent Shower Curtain Build-Up 

Even though it only takes about 20 minutes to clean your shower curtains, you’d probably rather have that time to do just about anything else. So, to avoid cleaning a dirty shower curtain as much as possible, use these preventative measures. 

Keep Curtains Closed and Ventilated 

Now that your shower curtain and liner are squeaky clean, it's your job to keep them that way. First, always run your bathroom fan during your shower and about 10 to 15 minutes after to clear the moisture. Then, close the curtains after every shower so there aren't any folds. This daily habit will help keep mold and mildew from setting up shop since they love the damp, warm atmosphere. 

Create a Spray for Busting Future Mold and Mildew

Using this DIY spray regularly will keep mold and mildew at bay. Add an equal ratio of vinegar and water to a spray bottle, along with a few optional drops of tea tree oil. Then, spray your plastic shower curtain or liner with this mixture every week. Rinse it with warm water and set a reminder for your next spray-down. As a bonus, you can also use this spray to keep the shower tile grout and showerhead clean, too. Your rubber ducky would be proud. 

Avoid Using Too Much Cleaner 

We know you want soap scum, mold, and mildew gone, but don’t overdo it. A deluge of cleaning products like laundry detergent and bleach is harder to wash away and likely to leave a residue. The excess isn’t great for your lungs, the drain, or waterways. 

Maintain a Regular Bathroom Cleaning Schedule

The best way to prevent difficult cleaning jobs is to stay on top of cleaning your shower curtain and all other bathroom areas. Use our quick daily bathroom cleaning tips to develop a routine that makes sense for your household.

DIY vs. Hire a Pro

While cleaning your shower curtain and liner isn’t a complicated DIY project, it can feel tedious to keep up with preventative maintenance in between cleanings. Luckily, a local house cleaning service can help keep your showers and bathrooms totally spotless. 

If you hire a house cleaner to service your house regularly, talk with your pro about adding the task of cleaning your shower curtain and liner to their monthly to-do list. Most professional house cleaners cost between $30 to $50 per hour.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you proactively avoid grime build-up by using the DIY vinegar spray and spreading the curtains, you can clean the shower curtains as needed. Or, for fabric curtains, you can get by with a wash about every three months; for plastic liners and curtains, every three to four weeks. 

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