Getting in and out of a slippery bathtub can be difficult even when mobility isn’t an issue. One of the most important safety enhancements to any bathroom is a shower grab bar. Grab bars for bathrooms are attached strategically to walls in the tub and shower area to offer a steadying brace while getting in and out of the bath and shower, when standing in the shower and, if needed, when getting up and down from the toilet, greatly lowering your risk of a fall.
Wall-mounted grab bars and grab bars for showers that are properly installed onto walls offer the greatest stability. Bathtub grab bars that attach directly onto the outside edge of the bathtub provide assistance getting in and out, but you need to be extremely carefully when installing them because they can easily detach if not secure; they may be best as a temporary option, when drilling into a wall is not possible or when helping balancing what you need most.
Start by choosing the right size and quantity. Bathroom and shower grab bars range in length from 12" to 48”, enabling you to find a grab bar for virtually any wall. Keep in mind that the longer the grab bar, the more surface area there is for you to grip from a variety of positions. Toilet grab bars are another option and are often positioned jutting out from the wall behind your toilet or designed to be mounted floor to ceiling.
One way to figure out where you can best benefit from grab bars placed strategically around your bathroom is to get into your bathtub or shower and to sit on the toilet (with the lid down and while you’re fully clothed) and see within your reach where you’d want to have a rail to grab. Do this with a loved one or caregiver who can mark the wall with a pencil.
Grab bars for bathrooms come in a few different materials, including stainless steel, nylon over stainless steel and plastic, and colors—typically white or chrome. Choose a color that provides some contrast with the wall, making the grab bars easier to see.
The diameter of grab bars themselves vary up to 1-1/2". If you have arthritis in your hands, you may feel more secure when gripping a smaller size, perhaps between 1” and 1-1/4”. You can test your comfort level by gripping rolls of any kind of food wrap—measure the diameter of the aluminum foil or waxed paper roll that feels best.
Next pick a finish. A textured or brushed finish will give you better traction, especially when your hands are wet or if gripping is difficult for you. However, be sure that the finish isn’t too rough, which can be a problem if your skin is fragile.
Confirm the weight limit the bar can support. Be sure to read all product descriptions carefully and note the weight the grab bar you’re investigating is able to bear. Typical grab bars can handle a maximum of to 250 pounds. Grab bars labeled bariatric may be able to handle up to 500 pounds or more.
Understand how the grab bar is to be installed. Wall-mounted grab bars that are anchored into your walls are safer and durable and will give you support if you start to slip. They need to be installed by an experienced person, either directly into the wall studs, into a plywood blocking installed behind the wall or with a fastener that meets code. Grab bars attached with plastic anchors and screws directly into tile and wallboard may not stay secure if you fall and tug on them. Note that bathtub grab bars and any others that attach only with suction cups are not intended to hold your weight, but just to steady your balance and will not hold your weight if you start to fall.