When you hang a new shower curtain and its plastic-y odor almost knocks you over, that can give you pause. It's a not-so-subtle reminder of PVC and other toxic ingredients that are in the liner, offgassing into your home. The good news is, there are alternatives out there that repel water just fine, and last much longer than vinyl:
1. Polyester Fabric While polyester is not perfect (it is a plastic itself), polyester fabric liners are are great alternative to vinyl: they contain no PVCs, perform well, are easily washable, and are inexpensive. My favorite is easy to find at Bed Bath & Beyond.
2. Hemp Hemp is naturally resistant to mildew and bacteria, making it a great candidate for a material for shower curtain liners. Machine washable and unbleached, these liners will biodegrade if disposed of (which can't be said of any plastic liner). The hemp liners I have seen are heavy in weight, which helps them to block water from escaping from the shower and onto your bathroom floor. The shower curtain pictured above is made of hemp and comes from Emily Yellingwood on Etsy. Here is another one available through Overstock.
3. Linen Linen is another option similar to hemp: it's a natural material that is durable and earth-friendly when its usable life is up. There's a much-loved version from Gaiam that's not the most expensive liner we've ever seen at $58.
4. Cotton Believe it or not, there are also cotton shower curtain liners that do help keep shower water in the shower. (They're heavyweight, made of cotton duck.) Easily washable, cotton is another great option for avoiding plastics. This one at Amazon is fairly priced.
5. Beeswax Of course, you can't hang a shower curtain made only of beeswax. But this is an ingenious tip we heard recently for making fabric shower liners more water-repellent: coat the fabric with beeswax by rubbing the wax over the surface of the fabric, and occasionally recoat as needed. This would allow for using lighter-weight natural fabrics for liners (even repurposed bed sheets!).