We spent more than 20 hours researching shower curtains and interviewing two interior designers and one professional house cleaner. Of the seven curtains we tested, the Threshold Waffle Weave Shower Curtain White is our favorite. It offers the best balance of a great price and an easy-to-wash, durable cotton blend (it withstood abuse from a steak knife and cat claws!), and its bright white color and textured weave will look good in nearly any bathroom.
For this guide we couldn’t account for all design tastes; instead we wanted to find shower curtains that would look good in the widest range of bathrooms. That meant focusing on white or neutral-toned curtains. And the Threshold Waffle Weave was the best of the under-$40 ones we looked at. If you want to dress up your bathroom with a more decorative curtain, check out the suggestions in our design section.
We also like the Threshold Light Stripe Shower Curtain Grey & White for its neutral stripe pattern, which we also think will look good in most bathrooms. At around $20, this model is the cheapest 100-percent cotton shower curtain we tested. The soft, almost linen-like feel stood out among the polyester and heavy cotton curtains we tested. Note, though, that the color of this curtain is more of a tan than gray. If you’re looking for a bolder patterned shower curtain, we recommend checking out the rest of the Threshold line. Decorative shower curtains can be surprisingly expensive, but Threshold has some great patterns at the most reasonable prices we’ve seen. Several of our staff members own shower curtains from the brand and like them.
Hookless curtains have a somewhat industrial look, but they’re especially convenient thanks to grommets that attach directly to the curtain rod and a snap-on fabric liner. The one we tested, the Hookless Waffle Fabric Shower Curtain, features a soft polyester waffle weave that we think will look good in most bathrooms (and it comes in 18 other color options). It also has a semitransparent panel along the top of the curtain, great for shower stalls that lack an overhead light or window.
To get an idea of what makes a good shower curtain—including how to care for them and how to account for subjective design issues—we spoke to three experts: Jan M. Dougherty, a house cleaner who has cleaned thousands of bathrooms and shower curtains; Annie Hall, of Annie Hall Interiors in West Newton, Massachusetts; and Jeff Schwartz, of J. Schwartz Design in Boston. We also combed through a bunch of buying guides, fabric resources, and customer reviews to identify some of the basic requirements, as well as a few dealbreakers.
Everyone who does not have a glass-enclosed or doored shower needs, at the very least, a shower curtain liner. People sometimes get confused about the difference between a liner and a curtain. A polyester or vinyl liner, which sits inside the tub, is absolutely necessary to prevent water from leaking into or spraying all over your bathroom. A shower curtain, which sits outside the tub, makes your bathroom look more polished than it would with a liner alone.
If you have a clawfoot or stand-alone tub, you might need two curtains and liners. The curtain and liner should trace completely around the outside and inside of the tub, respectively. “You should measure their length to allow for a bit of overlap of the curtains and of the liners to trap water within while allowing easy entry and exit—so not too long or too short of an overlap,” Jeff Schwartz told us.
The first measure of a good shower curtain is whether you like the way it looks in your bathroom. Design is subjective, and shower curtains are essentially a “design” purchase. With that in mind, we looked for curtains that would look nice in the largest variety of bathrooms, focusing on those with either a white/neutral tone or those that came in a few solid color options. We based our decision partly on the advice of designer Jeff Schwartz, who told us that a lot of people want their bathrooms to be a clean, “spa-like” environment rather than a “riot of color.”
“If that’s your preference,” Schwartz said, “we recommend choosing a neutral off-white, soothing gray, or cool pastel and using it for all your accessories.”
We focused on standard-size shower curtains, which tend to measure about 72 by 72 inches. Other sizes typically fall into the long (72 by 84 inches) or extra long (72 by 96 inches or larger) category; a standard shower measures around 72 by 54 inches.
We looked at curtains that you can find for less than $40. Unless you’re going for a specialized look, you have little reason to spend more than this.
The experts we spoke with agreed that machine-washable, cotton or polyester curtains are ideal because they’re easier to clean. We also think they look better than vinyl plastic alternatives (PEVA/EVA/PVC). While all shower curtain fabrics are susceptible to mold and mildew, vinyl really needs manual scrubbing to remove built-up soap scum and mildew.
Most shower curtains have 12 button-hole slits along the top of the fabric for attaching the hooks that hang from the rod. Some curtains have small plastic or metal grommets in place of those holes to reinforce the fabric and protect against tearing. “Hookless” curtains have large grommets designed to slip right over the curtain rod itself. We don’t think one style is necessarily better than another, although we did find that larger grommets make hanging a curtain easier.
To find the best curtains to test, we scoured online retailers for the most popular and best-selling shower curtains that came in neutral and solid color options. This search included big-box retailers like Amazon, Home Depot, Target, and Walmart, as well as more high-end sources such as Bed Bath & Beyond and Pottery Barn. We looked at more than 30 different curtains, comparing prices, owner reviews, availability, and fabric type, and we eventually winnowed our list down to seven contenders:
We subjected our top pick to an extra abrasion test by running a steak knife across the fabric more than 50 times, after which I had my cat cling to the curtain while I dragged him around the kitchen.
The Threshold Waffle Weave Shower Curtain White is the best option if you’re seeking an affordable shower curtain that will look good in nearly any bathroom. The heavy waffle-weave fabric drapes nicely, doesn’t wrinkle, and looks better than any other white shower curtain we saw at such an affordable price. The material is also extremely durable. The curtain’s metal grommets make it easier to hang than competitors without grommets, and they help to reinforce the fabric. All the curtains we tested shrank a little, but the Threshold Waffle Weave, which is made from a cotton/polyester blend, shrank less than the other cotton curtains we tested, and only slightly more than those made from polyester.
The Threshold Waffle Weave curtain in white will look great in any bathroom with a white-trim, pastel, or solid-color scheme—in other words, the vast majority of interiors. The heavy, 100-percent cotton/polyester fabric drapes nicely, and in our tests it was the only curtain that showed little, if any, signs of wrinkling after three runs through the laundry. It’s also the softest curtain we tested, featuring a subtle waffle weave that adds a bit more visual charm than a straight sheet of fabric.
In addition, the Threshold Waffle Weave held up nicely in our durability test. After combing it with a steak knife, letting my cat claw into the fabric, and washing it three times, I found only a single, 1-centimeter-long snag. To be clear, we didn’t find much snagging in any of the other curtains we tested. But because the Threshold is made from a thick waffle weave with raised sections that could theoretically snag easily, we thought it was particularly impressive that this curtain didn’t snag in our tests. If you do find snags, Target has a free return policy, including replacements of defective items—though only unused items.
We like this curtain’s metal grommets, which reinforce the fabric and allow for easier hanging. Only one other curtain we tested had metal grommets (the InterDesign Zeno), and the Threshold’s were larger and felt more durable. While some people may be concerned about rusting grommets, we saw no signs of that problem after three wash cycles (we didn’t find any complaints about it in customer reviews, either).
Every curtain we tested shrank somewhat after three runs through a washing machine and dryer (even the polyester ones), but the Threshold Waffle Weave curtain showed negligible shrinkage. We performed precise before-and-after measurements and recorded shrinkage of 1.4 inches in width and 1.25 inches in height. That’s slightly more shrinkage than the polyester curtains had but less than the cotton ones suffered. Some Target customer reviews claim shrinkage of up to 6 inches, which may be due to unique flaws or manufacturing issues. Overall, though, we didn’t see many complaints about shrinking.
Flaws not dealbreakers
Compared with other tested curtains, the Threshold Waffle Weave didn’t have any particular trouble drying, but because it’s a bit heavier than your average curtain—and made from a 60 percent cotton, 40 percent polyester blend—it will probably retain more moisture than a light cotton or polyester curtain. An effective shower curtain liner should keep this curtain from getting wet. Keep an eye out for mildew, and wash and dry the curtain frequently (ideally, once a month). Also be sure to suspend the curtain high enough that it doesn’t skim the bathroom floor or bath mat; shower curtains should be suspended at least two or three inches above the ground.
Target has many pattern options.
Although we did notice some significant shrinkage after running the gray and white version through the laundry three times (more than five inches in each direction), we don’t consider that a dealbreaker, as the curtain was still large enough to fit comfortably in my shower stall, which is the standard 60 inches wide. The material did feel a bit lighter than the other cotton contenders, especially compared with the Threshold Waffle Weave curtain.
Some customer reviews on Target complain about the color of the stripe pattern. Almost all the negative reviews claim that the stripe is more of a taupe or light brown, rather than the advertised gray and white stripe. I hadn’t noticed this at first, but upon closer inspection I could see that the tone was more taupe than gray. It didn’t bother me—in fact, I think the taupe worked better with my bathroom—but you should take the actual color into consideration before pulling the trigger.
We’ve had a lot of positive experiences with Threshold textiles in the past. The brand makes our favorite budget sateen sheets and budget flannel sheets. I also discovered halfway into the testing process that the shower curtain I currently own is a Threshold, and I’ve had exactly zero complaints after two years of use; it hasn’t faded, frayed, or mildewed whatsoever. While the Light Stripe Shower Curtain Grey & White is a great neutral option, it is almost identical to the rest of the line in terms of price, materials, and construction.
The curtain is embedded with large metal grommets that are designed to slip right over your curtain rod. It’s easy enough to hang, which is why you often see a similar design in hotels. Airbnb hosts may also appreciate being able to skip the tedious process of constantly attaching and reattaching those annoying little hooks. The material feels pretty soft for a polyester fabric—more so than the other polyester curtains we tested. It even has a subtle waffle-weave texture, which is visually more interesting than a straight sheet of fabric. The large metallic grommets themselves may or may not appeal to you; I, personally, didn’t find their appearance problematic in my bathroom.
Hookless is actually a trademarked name for a patented “hookless” rod attachment, so you’re not likely to find a whole lot of aesthetic variety here. You do get plenty of color options (including white) to match any bathroom, but they all pretty much iterate on the same two or three patterns (a border-stripe option, and a solid-color waffle-weave option). You can find these curtains through a number of retailers, and they typically range from $20 to $50. Bed Bath & Beyond offers 19 color options; we found a similar variety at Walmart.
All Hookless curtains come equipped with a snap-on liner; some of the liners are made from a polyester fabric, while others are made from PEVA plastic, which isn’t our material of choice. This version has a polyester liner, but if you buy a different Hookless design, note what the liner material is. We always recommend polyester fabric over vinyl; it looks better, it weighs less, it’s much easier to clean, and it doesn’t smell like plastic.
As far as liners go, we recommend the Maytex Water Repellent Fabric Shower Curtain or Liner. Of the four polyester liners we looked at, the Maytex was the most affordable. It’s machine-washable and better at warding off mildew and soap scum than most other liners. The 100-percent polyester fabric means it can double as a stand-alone shower curtain, in a pinch. The Maytex also comes in four color options—white, off-white, black, and sage—which adds a layer of personalization you don’t often find with liners. It’s cheap enough that you can replace it every couple of months without breaking the bank, but it’s also durable enough that you probably won’t have to.
For this guide we focused on affordable, neutral curtains that would look good in almost any bathroom. If you’re looking for more fanciful or design-forward curtains, we pulled some of our favorites into this Pinterest board:
If you’re doing an entire bathroom overhaul, the designers we spoke to recommend selecting the shower curtain last. It’s just a lot easier (and cheaper) to match your curtains to preexisting wall paint or cabinetry than the other way around. Annie Hall of Annie Hall Interiors even referred to the shower curtain as the “throw pillows” of the bathroom.“The shower curtain is the final accessory that gives the room the punch of color, or pattern, or graphic that pulls the design elements together and can make the room come to life,” said Hall.
Jeff Schwartz of J. Schwartz Design explained that it’s important to consider how the curtain’s color or pattern matches or coordinates with the color of the towels, wallpaper, or bed linens. “If you do choose something bold, like a geometric pattern or a bright color, choose a wall color that complements the pattern of your shower curtain, not the same shade, so that the colors don’t drown each other out,” Schwartz said. “If you do choose a fabric with a more kinetic or colorful design, make sure that it’s not too overpowering if it’s reflected in your mirror.”
The shower curtains we like are easy to clean, and we recommend running them through the wash once a month. The more damp or humid your bathroom is, the more prone the shower curtain is to mold and mildew. Tossing it in with the laundry is the surest way to nip that problem in the bud. All the curtains we recommend are machine washable and can tolerate tumble drying. (If the material is cotton or polyester, the general rule of thumb is that it can take machine washing and drying.)
Another good idea is to always spread out the shower curtain once you’ve showered. A lot of people slide open the curtain after their shower and leave the fabric wrinkled up on one side of the tub. Leaving it this way causes it to hold in moisture, slows the drying process, and increases the risk of mold and mildew forming. Also be sure the curtain itself does not graze the surface of the wet bathroom floor or bath mat, as this too will increase the curtain’s odds of developing mildew.
Maytex Textured Waffle Fabric Shower Curtain (White): We appreciate that this curtain comes in a variety of styles and patterns, including some printed designs, but the polyester waffle-weave version we tested felt (and looked) pretty cheap and transparent.
Hookless White/Brown Polyester Shower Curtain: Most of the things we like about our Hookless pick apply to this one, but this version has a more artificial, plastic feel. It’s considerably more transparent, and it doesn’t have the waffle-weave texture that we like on our Hookless pick.
Madison Park Spa Waffle Shower Curtain: This curtain comes in five color options and is well-reviewed on Amazon, but we don’t love the plastic, polyester feel of it, and we don’t think the pattern options would look good a wide variety of bathrooms.
InterDesign Mildew-Free Water-Repellent Zeno Shower Curtain: The cheapest option on our list, this curtain comes in 12 color choices. Like most of the polyester curtains we considered, it has a rather synthetic feel. We also don’t love the pattern. It would look best in a kid’s bathroom.
(Photos by Michael Hession.)
Originally published: April 5, 2017