So let's dig in.
The walls of my tiny house are made of Magnesium Oxide board which works in place of drywall. It does have a problem with cracking along the seams, at least in a tiny house.
MgO board is a cementitious wall board ideal for those with chemical sensitivities. It is non-toxic, VOC-free, and a very impervious to mould. If you have a wood-framed wall it will be easy to attach the board to that. Good brands are Dragonboard (US, and coming to Canada soon), Mag Board (US) and Magnum Board (available in Canada!)
Other cementitious boards that can be used around the shower are Durock (zero-VOC) and Hardibacker (GreenGuard Gold).
You can plaster, paint or tile over MgO. Here are some tips on using plaster. If not painting, the MgO boards would need to be primed. See finishes for a list of suitable primers and paints. I used Mythic primer and paint which was tolerable.
Non-Toxic Shower Stall
- Ceramic are good if the glaze does not contain lead or radioactivity.
- Porcelain - is an inert suitable material.
- All Imported glazed tiles should be tested for lead and radioactivity. A client just tested American made tiles that stated they were lead-free but when tested they showed high levels of lead. So it might be wise to test any glazed tile. And be extra careful when removing them as the lead dust is particularly harmful. Tile over if possible instead of removing.
- You may also want to avoid tiles with Microban fungicide added to them.
- Slate and Marble - make sure they don't have a chemical sealer on them already, and with marble you don't want it to have a resin on it either (which is applied to most marble before it hits stores). Seal with a natural sealer as listed in finishes. (Marble may also need a specific grout, talk to your contractor).
- Glass tiles are inert and totally safe for the chemically sensitive homeowner.
- Concrete tiles - my preference because of the beautiful designs. Look for "eco" brands or ask which additives are used. Needs to be sealed with a non-toxic finish.
There are other concrete sealers that in theory should seal (unfinished) concrete, so that may be an option, and actually it is very much in style right now. I could not find one that was non-toxic and waterproof.
It is a labour intensive finish made from lime plaster and olive oil soap which together produce a chemical reaction that provides waterproofing.
There are builders and artisans who are experts in this technique in BC and their work can be seen at OUR Ecovillage.
The down side of this finish is that you may need to polish it with olive oil soap as often as every month, and like any plaster finish, cracks will likely form, needing touch ups. So, you have to be willing to do a little upkeep with this one.
For a how-to get ahold of this book: Tadelakt.
Metal Shower Stall
I used an aluminum shower stall in my tiny house and this was a difficult aspect of the build to figure out. I have a whole post devoted to my shower stall. Stainless steel could also be used.
Fiberglass may be an option for the not super sensitive if you installed it yourself with a non-toxic adhesive. More info about that in this post.
For a non-toxic shower curtain, I use this EVA one.
For non-toxic bath mats there are two options, natural rubber, which still has a rubbery smell, or TPE plastic, which is non-toxic and odour free but almost always contains Microban which I would avoid. .
Chemical-Free Mortar Grout and Caulk
In order to prevent mould in the grout (I have yet to see grout not get mouldy with time) I would use a AFM Grout Sealer (see finishes), and be sure to stay on top of maintenance and re-seal it every few years. The grout should be replaced when the mould is deeper than just surface.
Don't lay tiles over toxic particle board, or mould prone green board. Always use a cementitious board behind tiles.
Seal well between the sink and the wall, the bathtub and floor, around the toilet (if using a toilet with water) with Silicone. I have a post about finding a tolerable caulk. My top pick is Ecobond.
A fan is absolutely vital to reducing moisture and therefore mould. I would splurge on this item. If your fan is withing a ceiling cavity like mine is use an external mount fan like this one. Otherwise the fan will leak moist air into the ceiling. If you have a composting toilet and don't want to overrun the fan with your bath fan you can use an HRV like this one. It's always good to have a window too, to air things out.
To keep VOCs out of the bathroom - avoid laminates, particle board cabinets, plywood, greenboard, drywall, PVC shower curtains, melamine, conventional wood stains and sealers, conventional tile sealers, grouts with toxic additives, conventional caulk, and conventional paints and primers.
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For natural, cheap, non-toxic cleaning products see: Cleaning Products.
I recommend these organic towels from Amazon or Coyuchi towels.
I have a composting toilet in the bathroom as it is a great sustainable option and makes it easier to be semi-off-grid in a tiny house. This post discusses some issues with composting toilets for the chemically sensitive. The one I recommend is Nature's Head.