Why will a shower curtain fly toward the shower when the shower is running and hang straight down when it is off?

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When you have a hot shower steam is generated and, because it is warmer than the surrounding air, it rises. As the steam flows upwards, cooler air flows in to the lower level of the shower. If the shower is not fully enclosed, the steam will flow out the top of the shower area and the cooler air will flow in near the base of the shower. If the air cannot easily get around the curtain, it will push it inwards as it flows past. Ways to address this are:
  • fully enclosing the shower to keep the steam in
  • weighting the curtain base
  • having significant gaps beside the curtain to let air in
  • hanging the curtain so it is held against the shower base lip by its own weight by positioning the rail well outside (>100mm beyond) the line of the base. (This will mean that if the curtain swings outside the shower base it will drip on the floor, so needs a high lip to hold the curtain in.)

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This effect is caused by a small reduction in the air pressure of the column of air that is inside the shower curtain. The reduction is caused by the pressure of the water being sprayed out of the shower head having to drop from a higher pressure towards normal atmospheric air pressure. This effect is known as the Venturi Effect.

The air does not quite reach normal atmospheric pressure until it gets out of the column of air formed by the shower curtain. Because that column of air is at a lower pressure than the air outside the curtain, the curtain gets pressed inwards by the higher (but normal) air pressure in the rest of the room.

This effect happens the same no matter if the water temperature is hot, medium or cold.
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