A Small Domestic Victory: The Mildew on the Shower Curtain

I don’t know what the statistics are in re: how many American households have shower curtains, and what those shower curtains are made of, but I am confident about one thing, which is that probably 98% of the people who have shower curtains have really disgusting shower curtains. The other two percent are people who buy new shower curtains once every three months, in all likelihood made of plastic that puts off fumes that make the bathroom smell weird and can’t be recycled.

I have spent most of my nearly five decades as someone who thinks a great deal about shower curtains and I arrived, a long time ago, at the conclusion that a fabric shower curtain is preferable to plastic, for a lot of different reasons; the big hitch is that good ones are really freaking expensive. If I ever get really rich, I am going to invest heavily in them, however, buying a supply of six which I will rotate frequently and wash religiously with no-screwing-around laundry supplies so that they always remains perfect.

Until that day comes, though, I have to put up with the kind of semi-mediocre fabric ones I can afford, which are made of a tightly woven nylon of some kind. The one I have is okay. I shouldn’t really complain. It’s fine. But it’s, like, my dream shower curtain — and yes, I have one.

So the shower curtain I have, which I bought online a couple years ago, has held up fairly well, but it does require laundering to keep it from getting quite vile at the bottom inch or so. It’s really the bottom hem that suffers the most. I launder it once a month or so and for quite a while that was sufficient to keep it in nice shape but I must have spaced my routine for a while. Last summer I became aware that genuinely vile black mildew had grown on the hem. I muttered some oaths to myself and took a vow to be more diligent about laundering. At the time, I soaked the hem in bleach and managed to get most of the mildew to fade away; after laundering, it looked pretty good again. Not perfect, but okay. (I wear glasses, and my standard is this: if I notice the stains while I’m standing in the shower with my eyesight blurred, then things are not good.)

This morning, I noticed the black stains had really come back with a vengeance — and I know I’ve been good about laundering — but I suddenly had a flash: maybe there was a better way to attack the stains. I remembered my bar of Fels-Naptha and the spray bottle of vinegar I now keep in the bathroom (because I often rinse my hair with vinegar, okay? what’s it to you? I also use it to clean the bathroom mirror).

On the Peg Bracken theory of Clean It While It’s Annoying You, I sprayed the hem of the shower curtain with the vinegar, really dousing the bits that were most gross. Then I took the bar of Fels-Naptha and rubbed it all down the hem, again, hitting the really vile parts the hardest. Then I took an old toothbrush and began to scrub my way down the hem. When I use Fels-Naptha on clothes, the toothbrush trick works just fine, but it was not really doing much for the shower curtain. My eye fell on the heavy-bristled scrubbing brush I use to clean the shower tiles, and I grabbed it and used that on the shower curtain hem, thinking, “This is a little crazy.”

But damn: the crud just faded out of that hem like nobody’s business. I applied more vinegar, and rubbed more Fels-Naptha on, and kept scrubbing. In about six minutes, it looked good.

The next step is obviously to throw it in the washing machine, but as I don’t have enough laundry piled up to warrant running the machine it will have to wait another day or so. Still: there is no question that this small amount of effort has just extended the useful life of my shower curtain significantly. Victory is mine. And now, when I win the lottery and can buy all the lovely cotton duck shower curtains I’ve ever ever wanted, I know exactly what to do to keep them from looking gross. I will be part of the 2% of Americans who do not have vile shower curtains! I will be a member of the elite! Thanks, Fels-Naptha!

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