My House Doesn’t Truly Feel Clean Until I Scrub My Shower Curtain

The routine that's both saved and taken over my life.

July 10, 2019

Surprising exactly no one, I really do not like cleaning. I dread those weekly marathon sessions of turning over every curio, wiping each surface, scrubbing all the dark and cobwebby crannies. I hate the odor of vinegar and bleach and window cleaner that permeates my apartment for hours and gives me a headache. I can't stand the pruny fingers I develop after spending the better part of the day with my fists clenched around a smelly wet rag.

But even though I abhor these things with a fiery passion, with equal passion I love the payoff. The feeling of finally being at rest in a spotless space after a long day of tidying is simply unparalleled. Cooking in a kitchen that's just been scrubbed opens a new world of dinnertime possibilities. Watching TV in a freshly dusted living room makes me feel more relaxed than the TV show could by itself.

But the ultimate clincher? Taking a shower in a tub with a squeaky clean shower curtain. I make sure to tackle this every time I clean my bathroom. In fact, my house doesn't feel truly clean until my shower curtain totally sparkles.

Listen, I know it sounds a little fussy, nutty, get the idea. But it makes a big difference, and doesn't require nearly as much time or effort as you'd expect (just about 10 minutes of active work!). Don't believe me? Check out my tried and true method below—one I've perfected thanks to a clear plastic (read: very detectably dirty) shower curtain and a lot of practice.

How to Clean a Shower Curtain

1. Remove the curtain from the curtain rod

Yes, I know, this takes forever and is terrible and I'm terrible, but please do this. Seriously—every last hook or ring or clip off the rod, the curtain and its liner (if applicable) completely freed. No need to remove the hooks from the curtain itself, though. This is the only way you can cover every inch of surface area when you...

Before. Photo by Me
The soak. Photo by Me

2. Soak your curtain

Once you've removed your curtain, put it in your bathtub or a bucket big enough to comfortably fit it (plus a good amount of water on top). Fill the bathtub/bucket with hot water on top of the curtain, and add in a generous splash of white vinegar (you can use bleach instead of vinegar if the curtain's made of plastic, like mine is, and especially if it looks really gnarly, like mine sometimes does. Just be sure not to mix the two!). Stir it around with your hand or a big scrubby brush and let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes while you scrub the toilet, clean the sink, wipe down the mirror, etc.

3. Scrub away to glory

After your curtain's soaked and the hot water and vinegar/bleach solution has dislodged some of the soap scum and stains, you'll want to take to it with a brush or scrubby sponge of any size, ideally scrubbing in or above the shower or tub. I spring for a toothbrush to get inside the bottom pockets, where grime and grit can collect. Not gonna lie, it's very gross but very satisfying when clearing out the dirt here.

4. Check the hooks, rings, or clips

And wash or wipe them down as needed. I only bother with this every three or four cleanings—they can collect a good bit of dust, but a rinse or quick soak in the vinegar solution is an easy fix.

Weapon of choice. Photo by Me
Hanging out. Photo by Me

5. Rinse the curtain

This one takes a bit of imagination based on your bathroom setup. I find that a detachable shower head makes for the quickest and easiest work of this task, but running it under a tap in the tub is fine, too (that’s what I do in my current bathroom). You just want to hit the entire surface area of the curtain with high-pressure water to get off all cleaning solution and any lingering residue that you might have scrubbed off during the brush-wielding phase.

6. Dry the clean curtain

I usually do this by loosely hanging the curtain over its curtain rod (without reattaching the hooks, clips, or rings) and letting it air dry. Would it be overkill, you ask, to dry the curtain entirely with a hair dryer and eliminate as many water spots as possible? Not at all, I say, from considerable personal experience.

7. Reassemble and rejoice

You've earned it.

The final product (just about). Photo by Me
Out, damn water spots! Photo by Me

N.B. (aka the alternate method):

Of course, you could always do this in the washing machine: Just remove the curtain (and its liner, if applicable) from the rod; take off the hooks or clips and set them aside; and throw the curtain in the machine with a couple bath towels on the gentle cycle, in cold or warm water, but not hot. You can add about half a cup of baking soda or white vinegar to the mix if you like, in addition to the detergent. Then hang to dry as above.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I find the spray bottle method so much easier than removing the curtain and the liner every time some mildew appears. One more thing: bleach and ammonia do not mix! If using an old bottle from glass cleaner, rinse it well, and spritz out clean water through the nozzle before adding any bleach to the empty spray bottle..”
— Lois B.

However, I myself tend to skip this method because I live in Brooklyn and the laundromat is my personal hell.

How do you clean your shower curtain? Let us know in the comments.
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Brinda is the Director of Content at Food52, where she oversees all site content across Food52 and Home52. She likes chewy Neapolitan pizza, stinky cheese of all sorts, and tahini-flavored anything. Brinda lives in Brooklyn with 18 plants and at least one foster pup (sometimes more). Find her at @brindayesterday on Twitter and Instagram.


MichelleBee February 22, 2022
So much easier just to toss it in the washer with a few towels. Hang to dry if plastic.
Jenny A. August 23, 2020
Wow, just wow, so much time. I had no idea anyone would do this. I love cleaning my bathroom but would not do that. We have a cloth shower curtain and just throw it in the washer. We also keep the curtain open after showering to prevent mold.
Christina C. February 21, 2022
This works for plastic shower curtains as well.
Delta E. March 30, 2020
Brilliant!! Thank you Brinda. Vinegar and hot water in the bathtub was waaaaay easier than our previous method of laying it out on the picnic table, spraying it with some ghastly cleaner then scrubbing scrubbing scrubbing. 😂 Looks lime new now yaaaay!!
DMStenlake March 29, 2020
we had a shower curtain While living with our 1940 bathrooms I’d just toss them in the washer with either cleaning rags because or towels and voila clean shower curtain. And yes even the plastic ones.
Snow March 27, 2020
"The laundromat is my own personal hell" I'm so there.
I switched to a clear liner and got several on sale for just a few dollars each. Before it got too icky, I'd spray the current one with no scrub spray cleaner, rinse it, dry it and give it to my crafty friend that loves big messy projects. She was giddy with joy.
Cookie V. March 26, 2020
I find that the washer set on white clothes cycle with a little bleach does the same thing, without all of the aggravation. This I do once every week with my fabric shower curtain liner. It is the best ever.
Deborah W. March 26, 2020
I throw mine in the clothes washer with wash clothes, and it comes out sparkling.
Karen F. March 26, 2020
I put mine in the washing machine and let it dry outside.
Sue October 24, 2019
Plastic or cloth, throw it in the washing machine with detergent and bleach.....mildew gone. Then into the dryer. You might have to straighten the (heavy) plastic while it's warm
Lois B. August 11, 2019
Easiest way to remove mildew? Fill a spray bottle with dilute bleach (3 parts water; 1 part bleach) and spray on a regular basis. If soap scum is a problem, use dilute white vinegar in a spray bottle. Your bathroom will smell like a salad until someone takes the next shower!
I find the spray bottle method so much easier than removing the curtain and the liner every time some mildew appears.
One more thing: bleach and ammonia do not mix! If using an old bottle from glass cleaner, rinse it well, and spritz out clean water through the nozzle before adding any bleach to the empty spray bottle..
Lois B. August 11, 2019
PS - I keep one bottle of dilute bleach and a second spray bottle of dilute vinegar under the sink in the bath for convenience.
sweetli July 31, 2019
i can’t believe you go through all of that .... put the shower liner in the washing machine...baking soda a little bleach and it comes out glimmering!
Liora August 4, 2019
I do the same.
cristinathebaker July 19, 2019
Where can I buy those beautiful blue bathroom accessories pictured on the cover page, please?
Erin July 23, 2019
They’re in the Food52 shop - search bamboo. 😉
NWvirginia July 18, 2019
Best and easiest, and reaaaaallly feel good clean? Ditch the plastic shower curtain and replace it with a cloth curtain liner. Never deal with scummy plastic again!
Mary T. July 18, 2019
This is a good idea to really deep clean a liner, but we just installed a new rod and boy were we bummed that every ring had to be clipped to the (quite heavy and clumsy curtains) and then, slipped, one at a time, onto the rod. Very annoying and difficult. Will have to clean said heavy liner as we go, which we do with our other shower. The best scrubbies I have accidentally found are the cheap little nylon ones we get with bath soaps etc. They work well since they are gentle but get into all the nooks of the tile, etc. then don’t rot or smell since they are so light. As far the yucky seam at the bottom of the liner, I took some online advice one time and just cut it off. Helped in a pinch!
Pru S. July 15, 2019
Your article made me do a complete blitz of the flat this weekend. We have a bath like a Tardis but out came the toothbrush for the hard to reach areas. Thank you for the inspiration!
Brinda A. July 17, 2019
Pru! So glad to hear this—nothing makes me feel better than a top-to-bottom deep clean (once it's all done, of course).
Valerie N. July 10, 2019
It's cheap enough to buy a new one, dirty shower curtains carry germs and bacteria
Brinda A. July 17, 2019
Bleach definitely kills 99.9% of the bacteria, hence the long soak to get it in every crevice.
RP July 18, 2019
I agree with Valerie N., I found clear shower curtain liners are about $2.50 at Walmart type stores. I just put up a new one when the old one gets grungy. I save the old one to use as a drop cloth.
NWvirginia July 19, 2019
Isn't the goal for our planet and the earth to STOP buying and throwing plastic away? Why would you purchase a plastic shower curtain to only throw it in the landfill (auuugggh!) when it becomes too much of a challenge to clean, and repeat the process. Plastic use and support of plastic production needs to be addressed by each and every household!
Norton July 10, 2019
Eliminate the plastic! Use a fabric liner with your cotton shower curtain, both go in the washing machine!
Brinda A. July 17, 2019
Thanks for reading, Norton—my bathroom isn't huge so I prefer to go with a clear (ie plastic) curtain to help the space feel a little bigger. When I have more room someday (fingers crossed!), plus an in-home washing machine (a girl can dream), fabric will definitely be the way I go.
Delta E. March 30, 2020
I’m in exactly the same boat - clear does make make my bathroom look bigger and apartment pay washers/dryers down the hall so your bathtub method is da bomb. Thanks Brinda!
Tanya July 10, 2019
I put mine in the washer with a load of towels. I hang it up immediately after the wash cycle. Comes out perfect without this much work!
Brinda A. July 17, 2019
Thanks, Tanya! Great suggestion. I'd do that more often if I had a washing machine in my home—schlepping to the laundromat for just a load of towels each week or so might be a bit beyond my bandwidth right now.
Susan July 10, 2019
DON’T MIX VINEGAR AND BLEACH! It releases chlorine gas which is toxic as well as corrosive.
Brinda A. July 10, 2019
Thanks for this note, Susan! I intended to recommend that people can use bleach INSTEAD of vinegar, and not both together—I've further clarified this in the article. Thank you again!
Karen B. October 24, 2019
Honestly, I no longer utilize bleach at all in our home. It's too toxic. The green cleaners we use work just as well at killing bacteria and keeping it clean. I too put our liners in the wash with the towels a few times until it's time for a new one. Hubby uses the old ones as drop cloths at work.