A Healthy Non-Toxic Bathroom

Updated September 2019

I recommend all of the products here, some products have affiliate programs and some do not. Upon purchase, I earn a small commission though affiliate links at no extra cost to you.


If you need assistance choosing the best products for your sensitivities, please contact me for a one on one consultation. 


Non-Toxic Showers


Tiles
  • Ceramic tiles are good if they do not contain lead or radioactivity.
  • Porcelain - is an inert suitable material but sometimes needs to be resealed
  • All ceramic 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 - have a sealer on them already, and marble has a resin (which is applied to most marble before it hits stores). I have not been able to pick up an offgassing odour from it but make sure it is tolerable for you. They need re-sealing so make sure there is a sealer you can tolerate. More info on natural stone tiles in the post on flooring.
  • Glass tiles are inert and totally safe for the chemically sensitive.
  • Concrete tiles - I choose concrete tiles because of  the beautiful designs, though porcelain tiles now come in similar looks. Needs to be sealed with AFM if not sealed already.
Tiles tested to be lead free: Interceramic habitat graphite, Emser tile in Bristol, American olean starting line white subway tile.

For a closer look at sealers that are required for certain tile types see the post on sealers. The post on flooring goes into a little more detail on tile types.

Chemical-Free Mortar Grout and Caulk


For non-toxic thin sets and grouts see my post devoted to this topic. This post covers brands of thin set and grout as well as tile sealers.


Seal well between the sink and the wall, the bath tub and floor, around the toilet (if using a toilet with water) with caulk. I have a post about finding a tolerable caulk.






Shower Base/Pan

I had to make a custom stainless pan for my tiny house because we did not plan the bathroom size around the ready made ones. Shower pans typically come in acrylic which would be tolerable for most people.

They also come in fiberglass (it does offgas and scratches easier), cultured stone (should be tolerable), stone (sometimes with PVC under), solid surface such as Corian (minimal offgassing) and cast iron (very expensive but tolerable).




Tadelakt Showers

Tadelakt is a natural waterproof finish for bathrooms including the shower area, that has been used in Moroccan bathhouses for centuries.

It is a labour intensive finish made from lime plaster and olive oil soap which together produce a chemical reaction that provides waterproofing.

The downside 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 upkeep with this one. I have seen mould grow it in when it was not touched up.

For a how-to get a hold of this book: Tadelakt.


Metal Shower Stall 

I used an aluminum shower stall in my tiny house and was really happy with it. I have a whole post devoted to my shower stall. Stainless steel could also be used.

The galvanized buckets being used in tiny houses are not proving to be durable and leak proof in the long-run.







Fiberglass, Acrylic and Solid Surface Showers

Fiberglass and acrylic showers may be an option for those not super sensitive if you installed it yourself with a non-toxic adhesive such as AFM Almighty Adhesive. Sensitive people find that fiberglass takes a few weeks to a few years to offgas. Fiberglass is low end (not that durable, higher maintenance and not that attractive).

Acrylic surrounds are a step up. There are affordable options as well as high-end option such as those by Kohler. They offgas a little but not as much as fiberglass.

Corian and Swanstone surrounds have almost no offgassing themselves, however, the epoxies approved for install by the companies do, and I don't know of any alternative.


Non-Toxic Healthy Tubs


non toxic, safe, non leaching tub
Cast iron tub
Tubs can be installed with mortar and not glue. Porcelanosa and acrylic can be installed with mortar.

Typical tubs are made of enamelled steel which is tolerable for most people. Cast iron tubs are the tub of choice for many people. New tubs especially if made in the US, Canada and Europe should not contain lead. Some people like a tub with claws so that no leaks can go undiscovered behind the tub.






Accessories - Zero-VOC Shower Curtains and Bathmats


For a non-toxic shower curtain, I use this EVA one.

For non-toxic bath mats there are two options, natural rubber, or TPE plastic which is non-toxic and odour free but almost always contains Microban. Silicone is another non-toxic plastic it does need to offgas when it comes out of the package.







Water Filtration for the Bathroom 


Shower water filter:

This Culligan shower filter is NSF certified. It contains activated granule carbon. This Waterchef shower filter uses carbon block which is a step up. It is also NSF certified. While the NSF certification only address chlorine, we know the carbon block is especially effective at filtering out a wide range of contaminants from chemicals, VOCs to metals like lead.







Bath water filer:

There are not too many bath faucet filters. The Cuzn one, uses KDF and carbon block filtration and this will help with chlorine, some chemicals and some metals.










Lead-Free Faucets:

It's difficult to find 100% lead free faucets for the bathroom sink, tub and shower. Parmir claims to be 100% stainless steel (which would be lead-free in theory), but a 3M swab seemed to show otherwise.

MGS an Italian company makes faucets including shower heads that they claim are 100% lead free. But they are pricey and need to be special ordered.

Nivito and in Canada Bay Castle makes 100% stainless faucets, though I have not been able to get through to Bay Castle about their bathroom faucets. 

Waterstone has some stainless steel options and those ones are 100% stainless.

American Standard makes bathroom faucets with the "Lead-Free" certification, which means they can contain up to 0.25% lead, but at least they have been tested. I have not seen a shower head with this certification yet.

Non-Toxic Medicine Cabinets



You can custom made medicine cabinets with safer materials, or you can buy all aluminum models like this Kohler cabinet.

IKEA sometimes has metal options as well.






Organic Towels


I recommend these organic towels from Amazon (vetted by my most extremely sensitive friend), or Coyuchi towels which are made for the chemically sensitive.







Preventing Mould


Tile Backing Systems 


Don't lay tiles over particle board, or mould prone green board. Always use a cementitious board behind tiles or the Kerdi and Wedi boards.

The Kerdi shower system can be used with cement backer boards. Make sure to test out the whole system including Kerdi Fix caulking (which claims 0 VOC). Though most people do not use the Kerdi thinset.

There are also waterproof boards that are tile backer boards/waterproofing in one: Kerdi Board and Wedi Panels are recommended to produce the most mould-proof shower or bath assembly. Both are XPS foam with a backing, Kerdi is faced with tri-lam facers containing paper, polyethylene, polypropylene, and interlaced polymer adhesive, Wedi is faced with fiberglass mesh (on both sides) and coated with synthetic polymer resin mortar. I would test those against your sensitivities, they are not odourless.

Here are some videos of the Kerdi shower system, the Kerdi Board and the Wedi Panels.

Which Wall Boards to Use Behind Shower to Prevent Mould

Cementitious Boards

If you don't use Kerdi board or Wedi panels (mentioned in the section above), the usual best practice material for behind showers is cemetitous boards. 

Cementitious boards that can be used behind the shower and other wet areas are Durock (zero-VOC) and Hardibacker (GreenGuard Gold). Those two brands are usually well tolerated and well tested. I had some problems with the offgassing of Durock myself and it does not seem 0 VOC to me, but behind tiles or a shower can be tolerable.

Should you use Magnesium Oxide Board Behind Showers?

The walls of my tiny house, including the bathroom were made of Magnesium Oxide board. It does have a problem with cracking along the seams, at least in a tiny house. Some folks are using MgO behind tiles but it is not the norm and we have seen numerous problems with MgO over the years, apart from cracking - false claims about VOCs, and law suits over leaching of salts.

Magnesium Oxide Board claims to be VOC-free, but not all of them turned out to be. This is a cement board that is more prone to cracking than regular drywall. Many people have reactions. There are many new brands trying to fill the gap for well-controlled production, but there are also many problems coming to light.

Brands are Dragonboard (available in the US and Canada) this is an American company with their own factory in China, they claim. They mostly supply subfloor, Magnum Board (available in Canada). Jetboard. This is an American company with a U.S.-patented chemistry/process. The binder is proprietary and it contains fiberglass. Forever Board is a MgO composite which contains fiberglass and proprietary ingredients, the latest claim is that they are made in the US.

Finishing MgO Board

Murco was not very compatible with MgO board. A joint compound/drywall mud that works with MgO is One Pass (0 VOC).You can plaster, paint or tile over MgO. Here are some tips on using plaster and what didn't stick to MgO.

Monitoring Humidity Levels and Leaks to Prevent Mould


Bathroom Exhaust Fans

A bathroom exhaust fan is absolutely vital to reducing moisture and therefore mould. I would splurge on this item. If your fan is within a ceiling cavity like mine is, use an external mount fan like this Fantech one. Otherwise the fan can leak moist air into the ceiling.

In some cases it might be preferable to have an ERV (air exchange) in the bathroom. This Panasonic WhisperComfort is the most popular among builders.

It's always good to have a window too, to air things out.

Monitor Humidity and Leaks 

Every house should have a
humidity meter
I use this Extech humidity meter in the bathroom and the rest of the house to make sure the humidity is within a safe range of around 50%.

Use the meter to check your everyday humidity levels as well as how long it takes the bathroom fan to bring back the indoor humidity level to ~50%.

Check different rooms, comparing their humidity levels, to see if one room has a higher level. This could be the sign of an unseen problem.

You can also use the humidity meter to check the outdoor humidity levels to see when the best times are to open up the house for ventilation and airflow.

Keep an inexpensive moisture meter around to test the moisture content behind walls. I use this General Tools meterHere is a video from architect Cheryl Ciecko on how to check the shower with a moisture meter. Every tiled shower should be checked for moisture, as most showers are not detailed right.

Meters with pins work well on drywall and wood (but not bamboo), for professional purposes like measuring the moisture content of the framing before finishing the house, expensive meters are necessary. For your own investigations you can use the General Tools brand or if you want something a little more accurate, the REED brand.



Non-Toxic Cleaning Products


Now that you have gone through all the trouble to pick non-toxic materials, and taken steps to prevent mould growth, make sure your cleaning and personal care products are all safe. Going with natural cleaning products vastly reduces the chemicals you breathe in in the bathroom. These are the ones I use and recommend.

For natural beauty products I use and recommend see this post.







Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist with 5 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.


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54 comments:

Anna Dawson said...

The solution for not only you and the environment, but your pockets as well, can be natural household cleaners. Products that may already be in your home, or are easy to find and buy, can provide a safe, non-toxic road to cleanliness. Recently I got to interact with a carpet cleaner that claim to be the most greenest cleaner, I must say their services were really awesome. fine more at http://www.oxifresh.com/green-carpet-cleaning

Corinne said...

I would not use or recommend any cleaning product that has VOCs. I only recommend cleaning products with 0 VOCs which I outline on the page on cleaning products. Further, carpet is not recommended for people with MCS.

Barefoot in the Kitchen said...

Great tips, thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

Have you heard of stains and concrete sealers from BRODA? If yes, what are you thoughts on them?

Corinne said...

I don't believe we should be using low-VOC products when there are chemical-free alternatives. Many low VOC or green washed products are not suitable for people with MCS and I certainly wouldn't want them in our soil or water systems either!

Anonymous said...

That's pretty much what I said to the lady selling it to me, cause they are out of the mexeseal. She said it's about knowing which VOCS are bad, and even organic, natural things give off some VOCS. She assures me this line is good. I would of rather had the mexeseal, but I need it soon. Where did you purchase yours from?

Anonymous said...

That's pretty much what I said to the lady selling it to me, cause they are out of the mexeseal. She said it's about knowing which VOCS are bad, and even organic, natural things give off some VOCS. She assures me this line is good. I would of rather had the mexeseal, but I need it soon. Where did you purchase yours from?

Corinne said...

It's true that some VOCs are worse than others but I don't think it matters so much if they are "natural" or synthetic chemicals. The most important thing for you is how much do they bother you and how fast do they offgass. But since it's hard to tell the long term effects/chronic illness effects I avoid chemicals everywhere I can. I haven't ordered sealer yet but I do have a whole posts on sealers with some links. I will order them online.

Anonymous said...

I really love your blog. We are building a house as we speak and trying to do it as non toxic as possible. I don't have MCS, but I don't want my family breathing toxic chemicals for the rest of our lives. Right now, unfortunately Magnum board doesn't fit in our budget because this is a temporary house for now ( we are building in the back quarters of our shop, I call it our "shouse", living there for 5-10 years, then building a house.) Anyways is there a cheaper, non toxic option for the walls in a bathroom you would recommend? If we put moisture resistance drywall up, will covering it with non toxic paint seal in toxins? Any info on this will help. Thanks

Corinne said...

Hi, I have heard of DensArmor Plus and some other low toxic wall boards. Not sure of the price. One of the AFM primers on the post about Finishes will seal in most toxins but is not 100% VOC-free itself. Plaster or tiling will also mostly seal in VOCS.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. Funny you mentioned the DensArmor Plus. I just found it at Lowes :) I look forward to reading the rest of your blog. Lots of great info. Your links take me to Amazon.com, and they dont wanna seem to ship to me :( In Alberta.

Anonymous said...

What kind of bathtub did you go with? Do you know about any concerns of cast iron or acrylic leaching any chemicals?

Corinne said...

I only have a shower but it's been a challenge. I haven't decided yet. I am wary of fibreglass. For a tub cast iron would be the best option I think.

Anonymous said...

Ya that's what I was thinking, some say they are painted though. I guess I gotta make sure its porcelain enamel.

Livia Koronko said...

Hi
thanks so much for this great site for building non toxic homes
I have gone thru quite a bit as well trying to source out safe products for a kitchen and bathroom renovation in my existing home, wow it's quite time consuming. I am now looking for grout and sealer for the kitchen and vanity areas. You mention Potland cement, did you mean Portland cement?? I have also seen a product called Quartzlock. The AFM grout sealer looks pretty good. I did have some problems in the past tolerated the hard seal for some furniture pieces. I hope that this is better for me.

Corinne said...

Hi Livia, I know, it's so much to research and test. Yes portland cement is what I am using on my tiles. I tested a lot of the AMF products and the grout sealer smelled totally benign to me even when wet. The penetrating waterstop is a better sealer for cement though so that's the one I will use and it is also zero voc and to me had no chemical smell at all. I was impressed because Im used to so many zero voc products taking me completely out. They have sample sizes that you can buy.

Livia Koronko said...

Thanks!
Now I'm trying to find a non toxic drywall that would be good for a kitchen backsplash area. I'm having a difficult time finding the magnum board as we are in BC Canada. I would like to use mosaic 12" mesh 1"x1" tile. I've ordered the AFM 3 in 1 adhesive, Mapei grout and AFM grout sealer. Now I'm wondering if I should have gotten the AFM penetrating waterstop as you've mentioned. Thank you so much for having this blog available, it has been so useful!! I read that MgO board comes from China. This is a bit worrisome with all the stories of the toxic drywall that has been coming from there. The product itself sounds really good though. Dragonboard sounds good too. We're just trying to find some of these products here in Canada.
thanks again =)

Corinne said...

http://www.propublica.org/article/american-made-drywall-emerges-as-potential-danger drywall may give off calcium oxide, sulfur dioxide, calcium sulfite. on the MSDS sheet for dens armour plus it states it does give off those in decomposition

Mary Lamb said...

Hello,
Thank you for all your helpful information, it has guided me along the way to a healthier home. Need some advice. We are doing a partial bath renovation and need to do some retiling over hardibacker board on a shower wall. Can you give a recipe for a non-toxic grout? I can't find any that use lime. Also, the tiles lines will be very thin so I've read not to use sand in this case. Can I leave the lime out or is does it help with mold? A good mudset recipe would also be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much.

Corinne said...

The contractor should know the right proportions. the lime is optional. the sand can be very fine or crused. If using thinset you can use c-cure foormix 900, thinset 911, wallmix901 or laticrete additive free. Those are synthetic free. For vinyl additives: c-cure multicure 905, or c-cure permabond 902. For grout free of additives c-cure AR sanded grout 922, c-cure supreme grout 925, hydroment, mapei or summitville-700 summitchromes. use AFM safecoat grout sealer

Mary Lamb said...

Thank you. I was going to use Laticrete 317 but the Laticrete rep said that Hardibacker requires a modified thinset. Is there a way around this? I really would like to avoid any toxins and harmful vocs. Thanks again.

Corinne said...

I would call Haribacker. Unmodified thinsets should be used on concrete slab, concrete board and mortar beds. Without synthetic additives the thinset is prone to cracking. That is all according to Paula-Baker Laport. Thinsets with additives that are low odour and offgas quickly are c-cure multicure 905 and c-cure permabond 902. But those both still specify over ply or concrete board.

Mary Lamb said...

Thanks again for taking the time to address my concerns! I've found a tile guy who can lay tile with thick set mud the old fashioned way. We will see.. Thanks again!

Somebody said...

Hello. You said "Don't lay tiles over toxic particleboard or green board". To do tiles one usually has to put toxic ply underneath. Even if its toxic, the toxins will be sealed underneath the tiles and can't travel through. So why do you say not to do that? Thanks

Corinne said...

Hi, tiles should be over cement board in order to not get mouldy. Grout is vapour permeable as well so would not seal in toxins.

Emma Shulman said...

Hi Corinne
Do tiles typically emit high levels of VOCs if they have been treated? I am deliberating if I buy conventional tiles and just go for a VOC free adhesive and grout instead - seems a bit easier! I am based in the UK and we seem to be less eco friendly than in the US!
Thanks.
Emma

Corinne said...

Ceramic, porcelain and glass tiles do not emit VOCs.

Carol said...

Hi Corinne,
Thank you for this great website and all the work that you have put into it. I am concerned about tiles with Microban on them. I also noticed the tub mat you recommended a while ago has Microban on it. Do you have any information on Microban?
Thank you,
Carol

Corinne said...

Thanks for noticing that Carol. I wouldn't recommend Microban. I will look for a better bathmat tomorrow and update.

Unknown said...

Hello, thanks for this article!
I have a question - I am looking for non-toxic lead-free backsplash tile. Glass subway tile was my top pick, based on this article. However, I stumbled across another article which mentioned that lead is commonly used in glass tile? Not sure if there is any truth to this? Any insight would be greatly appreciated. I really need to pick a backsplash tile soon, and I am stressing over accidentally picking something that contains lead since I have small children. Thank you SO much!!!

Corinne said...

Hi, I don't believe glass tiles have lead but with tiles always ask the manufacturer. They don't always disclose their lead levels so if you are very concerned, your next step is to ask for a sample of the tile and test it. I also would not be super concerned as you would almost never touch backsplash tiles.

Help said...

Thanks so much for the reply! I really appreciate it! I think I should have mentioned that my husband will be installing the backsplash so I gues I'm concerned about lead dust generating from cutting the tiles to size and during installation, etc. I will follow your recommendation to test in advance. Maybe I'll get my husband to do a test cut and then we can test the dust generated. Thank you!

Sabrina said...

Hi! I am finding your site so helpful in screening materials for our remodel. Thank you for your exhaustive work in making all you've learned public!

I have a quick question: here in California they use asphalt to "hot mop" seal the shower floor. Do you know of any equally-effective and non-toxic alternatives? I am concerned about long-term offgassing issues from the VOCs in the asphalt.
Thanks!!!

Corinne said...

That tends to be quite regional doesn't it! I have only heard of that in CA. I would look into the Ditra system.

Sabrina said...

Thanks, Corinne!

Unknown said...

Hi, I know you posted non toxic grout and thin set, but now I can't find it. Can you direct me. Also I know you mentioned putting down a net over subfloor, what is that again? Please email me jnewmaster21@aol.com thanks

Corinne said...

Here is the grout post http://www.mychemicalfreehouse.net/2015/10/non-toxic-grout-and-thinset-mortar.html

Not sure what you meant by net but I think the info you are looking for is in that post.

truth naked said...

This is such an awesome blog, but I spent an hour trying to find my previous posts and still can't.

Corinne said...

What do you mean? Your previous comments?

Ms.Dig said...

And recs on plumbers caulk, tape, solder, glues etc for sealing pipes?

Rebuild said...

Hi- Trying go choose the most nontoxic but reliable tile backing system for bathtub/shower tile rebuild.
What are your thoughts on toxity in regard to

1st option: Kerdi board, kerdi membrane, kerdi-schlutler do tra -basically kerdi tub surround/shower system?
2nd option:Wedi board?
3rd option:Hardie backer board usung Laticrete ggold certified hydrobarrier for waterproofing?

Final step-Mortar: Finally, the Platinum Laticrete gggold certified thin set mortar for all 3 systems prior to tile application?

Rebuild said...

Hi, I also researched the Laticrete shower/tub tile system as well, however there is not much information or feedback regarding reliability durability etc

Corinne said...

I would love to hear a report on sniff tests of Kerdi and Wedi board. I have not tested them.

Unknown said...

Hi Corinne! Thank you for an amazing site! You wrote "If you are buying new wood-framed windows, the wood will likely have been treated with fungicides, and should be sealed with AFM Safecoat Safe Seal, AFM Safecoat Transitional Primer, or B-I-N Shellac Base Primer & Sealer (all low-VOC themselves)." Do you recommend using a sealer on the wood BEFORE we paint it? Would the sealer affect the type of paint we can use? Thanks!

Only natural said...

I had a really bad experience with green planet paints in my bathroom. I have a window, but no fan. With just a month of applying their primer and paint over many layers of existing paint that was there from years prior, the walls are having mildew form on them in the area close to the ceiling. I keep the window open and the door is slightly open when I shower.
Now I have to clean all the mildew and repaint. It seems like most natural paints are not really suited for the bathroom. Can you suggest a paint and primer I can use for such a high moisture area? I have tiles around my tub that only go up about 5 feet. From then on its gypsum that was used when the building was first buit with many layers of paint over the last 60 years. Also what kind of fan can I use since there is no ceiling cavity?

Corinne said...

Thanks for the reminder. I do know that clay and many mineral paints should be avoided in the bathroom. Some people might get away with it with a good fan and short showers. It sounds like your humidity is way too high in there. Have someone come out who installs fans/ERVs and see what they could rig up. Check out the post on paints for more paint ideas.

Corinne said...

I would use the Transitional Primer if you are going to paint.

Amy Richardson said...

My contractor wants to use a WEDI shower pan that is guaranteed against mold, BUT it requires the use of an adhesive. He gave me a sample and it still smells after weeks of curing on a piece of cardboard. Not sure if it's giving me symptoms, but I don't like the smell for sure. He thinks it will be fine since it's under so many layers. What do you think? And thanks so much for your detailed information. It's so helpful.

Corinne said...

That's a hard call without knowing more about how you have tolerated and reacted to many other things.

Truly Green said...

I live in 6 story building. Had a leak in one of the pipes beneath my bathroom vanity. The plumber had to break the floor (original tile from from 1951 and concrete that is from about 20 years ago) and replace the pipe. What are the dangers I need to look out for?
He put everything back (all the debris) to cover the 2 square feet that he broke. Now the super needs to come and fix the floor. He told me he wouldn't be using any concrete. Just Thin Set Mortar. I will have him use the one you recommended. Are there any other dangers I need to be aware of? Should we have taken out all those pieces of old concrete and laid new concrete before doing thinset?
Any other things I need to be aware of?
I had a mold issue in the bathroom before but it was on the walls and ceilings only.
Thanks

Truly Green said...

Also, when we removed the vanity we discovered that the bottom of the cabinet was somewhat braking apart (8 year old vanity cabinet from home depot, made of flake wood, which I know has formaldehyde). Is it encapsulated and can I get just another new one like it, as I seem to have a difficulty finding one that's made of solid wood under $350. And even some of the ones I found have either some MDF or particle wood parts in them, as well as wood veneers. Any suggestions?

Corinne said...

Be careful with concrete and tile dust. Thin set is usually concrete based.

Corinne said...

How about repairing the bottom of that one. Otherwise some of the cabinets companies in the kitchen post make bathroom posts. The good ones are definitely expensive. Depends how DIY you are and your level of sensitivities if you want to make something custom or go down to cheaper options.

Chris said...

Hi Corinne. I was wondering if you've learned anything about the toxicity of Dens Armor Plus? I had a 2x3 ft section of a lathe and plaster wall taken out in my daughter's bedroom that I need to have restored with mold-resistant something.

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