My shower curtain smells like pee...the internet says it doesn't.
March 8, 2018 7:18 PM   Subscribe

I've googled "shower curtain” “urine” and the results all list a bunch other reasons why my bathroom might smell like urine. I know for certain that it's my shower curtain - that's it on the inside of the curtain.

I don't urinate in my shower, my toilet is not near the shower and when I replace the curtain, it goes away for a while. The smell is up at face height, where the water is hitting it. I haven't ever had this problem before moving it to this apartment (Swansea area of Toronto) I can spray bleach based cleaner but it only ends up smelling like a mixture of bleach and pee. I've been replacing the curtain every six months but that seems wasteful and if anyone has any ideas, I'd love to hear them. Please believe me...I'm not confused about where the smell is coming from.
posted by bonobothegreat to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
...also, I'm the only person living in my apartment. No one is peeing in the shower without my knowledge.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:24 PM on March 8, 2018

Are you using a shower curtain liner? If not, is your shower curtain made out of fabric?
posted by xyzzy at 7:27 PM on March 8, 2018

Do you put the toilet lid down when you flush? Because if not, that is 100% the problem right there.
posted by jbenben at 7:28 PM on March 8, 2018

The current curtain is vinyl. I used some kind of plastic curtain with a liner when I moved in but took out the liner, and then the curtain when each got stinky. Then a fresh liner by itself and now the vinyl one I'm about to replace. I always put the lid down before flushing. PLEASE believe that there is no urine travelling between my toilet and the shower curtain interior. The exterior of the shower curtain smells fine ... the interior, at nose height, smells like urine.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:35 PM on March 8, 2018

Some types of plastic smell weird. I now use a cloth shower curtain from Ikea, I think. Polyester. Keeps the water in the shower, easy to wash, no vinyl off-gassing, has lasted years.
posted by theora55 at 7:43 PM on March 8, 2018 [9 favorites]

Do you go to the gym, or otherwise exercise and get to a heavy sweat? My exercise sweat can start getting very ammonia or urine smelling. Have you tried different bath products when this has happened? And finally, what if you get a cloth liner and curtain, and run them through the washer and dryer?
posted by kellyblah at 7:46 PM on March 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

Could be some type of mold or mildew.
posted by xyzzy at 7:47 PM on March 8, 2018 [6 favorites]

You say the smell is where the water hits the curtain, so the culprit might be some kind of mold in your shower head. I was going to suggest the possibility of a small dead animal in the head or in the pipes but if I'm reading correctly you've had this problem for well over a year now so it's probably mold.
posted by the webmistress at 7:55 PM on March 8, 2018

Have you put the liner through a washing machine? Most instructions recommend washing it with 2-4 towels so they help scrub it. You can spritz it with Lysol periodically, once it's clean, to keep the mold/mildew to a slow colonization between washes.

Mildew/mold is difficult to distinguish from urea by scent.

Do also clean your shower head, just in case. And if you have the ability to improve airflow in your bathroom, even with a fan but maybe just keeping the door open and the curtain pushed back slightly at each end so air goes into the shower enclosure, do that.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:03 PM on March 8, 2018 [4 favorites]

It's a low-flow shower head with a special retainer so that it can't be removed. I'd prefer a hand held shower head, so maybe I'll look into getting whatever tool I need to replace it.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:07 PM on March 8, 2018

Try a nylon shower curtain. I won't buy vinyl because it's prone to weird smells, in addition to being intrinsically smelly. The nylon ones are just cloth, and can be laundered.
posted by HotToddy at 8:33 PM on March 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

Can't help ID'ing the cause of your problem but, like HotToddy, I just use a single, plain, white, *fabric* shower curtain. I think the style I've been using is billed as a liner (from Target). Throw it in the laundry with the white towels every couple weeks (detergent and bleach) before any mildew or soap scum gets a good start and it comes out as fresh as new.
posted by ClingClang at 8:57 PM on March 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

Yes it’s mildew. I’ve had this issue, either throw away or clean it. I think I have a sensitive nose because I can smell lots of things my family can’t and some of them do smell kinda like pee and my husband thinks I’m crazy LoL.
posted by photoexplorer at 9:08 PM on March 8, 2018

To follow up on kellyblah's comment, are you possibly hanging sweaty clothes or towels over the shower rod to dry? That could transfer odor to your curtain, and would explain why the odor would be face-height.
posted by vignettist at 9:26 PM on March 8, 2018

Thanks for all the replies. I'd like to believe it was some kind of mildew but the ammonia-ish pee smell is totally unlike any kind of mould or mildew I've ever dealt with. I have a towel drying rack in another, well ventilated room, so rarely hang a towel over the curtain rod.

I'll try different synthetic fabric curtain and install a handheld shower head.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:22 PM on March 8, 2018

Whenever you put anything down a drain, you displace air in the drain system; normally that sewage scented air goes up a stack and vents outside through a pipe that pierces the roof.

But there are circumstances where it can come back up through a drain instead, such as when the stack is plugged or pinched, or when a particularly powerful bathroom fan reduces the pressure in the bathroom so much that the path of least resistance is through the water in the u-joint of the sink or shower and up into the bathroom.

Since the smell is only on the inside of your shower curtain, I suspect gas from the sewer system is bubbling back up through your shower drain. To test this you could turn on the fan with the bathroom door closed, flush the toilet and listen for bubbling from the shower drain.
posted by jamjam at 11:13 PM on March 8, 2018 [4 favorites]

So, I hated the wastefulness of replacing a plastic shower curtain liner every 6 months or so, so we bought washable cotton/polyester liners for both of our showers. We throw them in the washing machine with a load of towels every 2 or 3 weeks and it is amazing. I feel like I'm not destroying the environment with more plastic waste, and it's not like I'm doing a special machine wash; I'm washing them with towels I would already be washing.

As for the shower head, I know you're going to get a handheld shower head, but just for posterity: you can mix a mildew cleanser (or a lime/rust remover) with some water, put it in a baggie, and rubber band it on to the shower head without having to remove it. Let it sit for a while and then rinse it really well. It works!
posted by cooker girl at 6:15 AM on March 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

I vote for something in your showerhead. Black mold is famous for smelling like urine.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:26 PM on March 9, 2018

Before you replace the shower head - say this weekend - you might want to clean it. The way to clean a non removable shower head is to put a cup of vinegar or three in a plastic bag and attach that to the shower head pipe with string, so that the shower head itself is immerse in the vinegar, in the bag. Just use ordinary white vinegar, full strength and a grocery bag with handles to make it easier to attach.

Doing this might be enough and is a lot less trouble than actually replacing the thing with a hand held.
posted by Jane the Brown at 3:36 PM on March 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just throw the liner in the washing machine with bleach, the regular amount of washing powder/liquid on warm water. Just don't put it in the dryer. If you have access to some way to dry it outside in the sun, do so. If not, just shake it out and hang it back up. It works, really. I wash mine on a regular basis.
posted by PJMoore at 5:38 PM on March 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thanks again all.

I replaced the both shower head and the curtain and for the last month have noticed no funny smells.

The only fabric shower curtains I'd previously looked at were expensive and heavy, so I was happy to learn from Theora55 that Ikea sells cheap, lightweight curtains made with recycled polyester. It's great not having that new vinyl stink to contend with.
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:32 PM on April 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

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