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Aging in Place at Home: The Definitive Guide Part 6


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Showering

Showering Banner

The key to a safe showering experience that minimizes the possibility of slips and falls is a combination of strong balance, healthy muscle tone, and good reflexes. These important qualities naturally decrease over time, making showering less safe for older adults.

This portion of the guide outlines the home modifications, assistive devices, and durable medical equipment that not only make showering safer, but also make it easier and more enjoyable.


Shower chair


Purpose

Shower chairs allow users to shower more safely by avoiding dangerous spills that can happen when showering while standing. A level of coordination, balance, endurance, and strength are needed to safely shower while standing. If any of these functional areas is lacking, there is a risk of slips and falls, which can lead to serious injury.

Sitting while showering greatly mitigates this risk. Furthermore, sitting is less physically demanding than standing and allows users to reserve their energy.


Must-have Features

Tool-free leg height adjustment – The shower chair seat height must match the user’s ideal sitting height to ensure the safest and most effective results. Users should follow the instructions outlined further down in the guide to determine their ideal seat height, but they should still find an adjustable-height shower chair.

Shower chair with adjustable-height legs

Tub and shower floors are sloped, so being able to independently adjust the height of each leg of the chair ensures that the seat can still be level on an uneven surface. Typically chair legs that adjust in one inch increments is suitable, but ½ inch increments is better because it offers greater accuracy.


A back rest – A back rest is an important feature for both safety and comfort.

Shower chair with backrestShould the user sit down with too much momentum, the back rest will serve as a backstop to prevent falling off the chair. Furthermore, the back rest offers additional stability for users while showering.

Sitting upright freely on a chair without a back rest can tire a user and strain core stability muscles in the back and abdomen. Opt for a back rest to avoid unnecessary fatigue.


Blow-molded plastic seat – Blow-molded plastic is lightweight, making it easy to carry and maneuver. Additionally, blow-molded plastic is durable and easy to keep clean.

Texturing on the plastic provides an anti-slip surface to keep users safe whether the chair is wet or dry. The texturing should be subtle enough to be soft on the user’s bare skin and prominent enough to provide good grip.

The drainage holes prevent water from pooling on the chair, serving both a safety (anti-slip) and maintenance (anti-mildew) function.

Blow-molded plastic seat with texturing and drainage holes


Complete metal framework – Shower chairs with metal frameworks exhibit much more stability during use compared to chairs that feature a plastic framework. Metal chairs are more likely to stand firm while plastic chairs may feel unsteady.

Shower chair with complete metal frameworkFurthermore, the metal components offer greater durability and longevity compared to the plastic parts. The plastic frame on chairs is more susceptible to cracking, at which point the safety of the entire chair may be compromised. Metal framing, on the other hand, can withstand much more use without incurring the same damage as plastic framing.

Finally, the assembly method used with metal-framed chairs is significantly more secure. Back rests on metal-framed chairs wrap under the seat, slide into brackets, and lock into place, while back rests on plastic-framed chairs are simply snapped into the top of the seat.

Click here to see the highest recommended shower chair.


Features to consider

Side arm rails – Arm rests can act as a sort of guard rail around the seat and provide a sense of security for users.

Furthermore, arm rails can provide support for users to hold onto when lowering onto the chair and to push off while rising up from the seat.

Before purchasing a chair with side arms, though, it is very important to confirm that the rails can be removed if necessary.

Shower chair with arm rails
There are a number of circumstances in which removing the arm rests can be beneficial:

  • The user needs access to a toiletry niche in the shower wall currently being obstructed by the arm rests
  • The user needs more room to sit comfortably and the arm rails are encroaching on that space
  • The arm rails collide with a grab bar or other part of the shower wall
  • The arm rests inhibit the user’s full range of motion needed to properly shower

The metal tubing armrests are suitable on their own, but those who want a softer grip should look for chairs with padded armrests.


A bariatric chair – Most standard shower chairs are rated to accommodate up to 250 pounds. If users require a higher rating, bariatric chairs are typically certified to support between 400 and 550 pounds. In general, bariatric shower chairs utilize a stronger construction method or boast stronger materials all without taking up anymore tub space as standard shower chairs.

One thing worth mentioning is that users who do not necessarily need the higher weight rating may nonetheless prefer a bariatric chair because it offers greater security. It is very common for a standard shower chair to slightly shake during normal use, which may make some users feel unsettled. Since a bariatric chair is designed for heavier weights, it exhibits more steadiness than a standard chair that is made to carry lighter loads.

A final point to take into consideration is that bariatric chairs usually run 1.5 to 2 times the price of standard shower chairs.


Features to avoid

Vinyl padding – While it may seem like vinyl padding would offer more comfort than blow-molded plastic, the difference in comfort between the two materials is fairly minor.

Shower chair with vinyl paddingFurthermore, vinyl padding is not as durable or mold resistant as blow-molded plastic. Manufacturers will often times offer a limited lifetime warranty on the frame of the chair, but will not offer any warranty on the vinyl pads. It is not uncommon for the vinyl padding to split along the seams from normal use, and once the vinyl pads tear, the chair can no longer be used.

Last, the vinyl can become slippery when wet, introducing yet another safety issue for users.

The safest choice is a blow-molded, textured plastic chair that lessens the risk of slipping off of the seat.


chair that rests on tubTub-mount chairs – These chairs rest on the sides of the tub and rely on rubber backing to stay in place. Unfortunately, a user’s weight can jar the chair off kilter and make for an unsafe situation in which the chair could unexpectedly falter during use.

Furthermore, the chair is not available with a back rest. Since the chair is not fastened securely to the tub, it cannot support a user’s weight when leaning back.


Seat cut-out – Some users may find it difficult, if not impossible, to clean certain posterior body parts while seated on a solid chair with no cut out. Unfortunately, real life application reveals that the benefit of additional perineal access comes with a substantial functional flaw.

shower chair with cutoutIt is vital that users have a solid seating surface to lower onto and raise up from when showering. The portion of the bench removed for the cut out can cause users to sink when sitting and flounder when rising.

The safety need for a firm, supportive surface to land on and push off of supersedes convenience features. To address perineal cleanliness, consider using flushable wipes during toileting.


What to know before buying

Shower chairs are considered hygienic products and, as such, are often deemed a non-returnable item by retailers and manufacturers.

It is important to be very thoughtful when purchasing a shower chair so as to avoid any wasted time and expense on a chair that may not appropriately fit in the shower space or adequately meet the user’s needs. Continue reading the following points to take the proper precautions before purchasing a shower chair.


While a chair may be advertised as “tool-free assembly,” it is highly recommended to have a few of the usual suspects (Philips and flathead screwdrivers, hammer, utility knife, wrench set) just in case. In the event that parts loosened during shipment or the manufacturer made mistakes in pre-assembly, these tools will help retighten and reassemble as necessary.

Putting together and positioning a shower chair can require some muscle, so be sure to have a capable helper if needed.


Confirm that the user’s weight falls within the shower chair weight rating. If the user requires additional support, shop for a bariatric chair.


Find a shower chair that matches the user’s seated measurements. While most adjustable-height shower chairs will accommodate the majority of users, it is wise to compare the user’s measurements to the chair’s specifications to confirm a proper fit.

Proper sitting postureFirst, be sure the user is barefoot since that will be the case during actual transfer bench usage.

Next, have the user sit in a back chair with hips, knees, and ankles all bending at 90 degrees. To establish these 90 degree angles, the chair must be at just the right height for the user.

If such a chair is not available, consider using a pneumatic office chair and adjusting its height to make 90 degree angles. Otherwise, use a chair that is too tall and place something flat under the user’s feet to serve as an elevated floor.

Pneumatic office chair for measuring user's ideal seat dimensions

Adjust the height of a pneumatic office chair for correct sitting posture

Place feet on a prop for correct sitting posture

Place feet on a prop for correct sitting posture

Once the user is seated properly, record the following measurements:

How to measure seat height

Seat height (floor to bottom of thigh where it meets the knee at 90 degrees)

How to measure seat width

Seat width (outermost parts of back of butt)

Verify that the user’s seating measurements fit the shower chair. If the chair seat height is too short for the user, then see if the manufacturer sells leg extensions to raise the chair height.

If the user requires a shorter seat height than what a shower chair can offer, investigate replacing the tub with a zero-threshold, curbless shower and using a built-in bench or installing a wall-mounted shower chair at the appropriate seat height.


Ensure there is enough space to properly use the shower chair. Take down the measurements for the chair’s overall width and depth, then apply these dimensions to the showering space to verify that the chair fits.


Recommended supplementary products and home modifications


Tub Transfer Bench


Purpose

A tub transfer bench provides safe transferring into and out of the bathtub or shower. The portion of the transfer bench that stretches outside of the bath tub allows users to safely sit down while outside of the tub.

Transfer bench and tubOnce the user is seated, it’s only a matter of raising each leg over the tub threshold and sliding further into the shower stall. The transfer bench enables users to avoid the more dangerous task of stepping over the bath tub threshold.

Tub transfer benches also allow users to shower safely. Standing while showering requires a certain level of coordination, balance, endurance, and strength. If any of these functional areas is lacking, there is a risk of slips and falls, which can lead to serious injury. Sitting while showering greatly mitigates this risk. Furthermore, sitting is less physically demanding than standing and allows users to reserve energy.


Must-have Features

Tool-free leg height adjustment – The shower chair seat height must match the user’s ideal sitting height to ensure the safest and most effective results. Users should follow the instructions outlined further down in the guide to determine their ideal seat height, but they should still find an adjustable-height shower chair.

Shower transfer bench with adjustable-height legs

In most cases, the tub floor and the bathroom floor are on different levels. Therefore, it is important that the bench can adjust to be as close to level as possible. Typically chair legs that adjust in one inch increments is suitable, but ½ inch increments is better because it offers greater accuracy.


Backrest – A back rest is an important feature for both safety and comfort. Should the user sit down with too much momentum, the back rest will serve as a backstop to prevent falling off the bench.

Furthermore, the back rest offers additional stability for users while showering. Sitting upright freely on a bench without a back rest can tire a user and strain core stability muscles in the back and abdomen. Opt for a back rest to avoid unnecessary fatigue.

Transfer bench backrest


Blow-molded plastic seat – Blow-molded plastic is lightweight, making it easy to carry and maneuver. Additionally, blow-molded plastic is durable and easy to keep clean.

Texturing on the plastic provides an anti-slip surface to keep users safe whether the bench is wet or dry. The texturing should be subtle enough to be soft on the user’s bare skin and prominent enough to provide good grip.

The drainage holes prevent water from pooling on the bench, serving both a safety (anti-slip) and maintenance (anti-mildew) function.

Blow-molded plastic seat with texturing and drainage holes


Complete metal framework – Transfer benches with metal frameworks exhibit much more stability during use compared to benches that feature a plastic framework. Metal benches are more likely to stand firm while plastic benches may feel unsteady.

Transfer bench with complete metal frameworkFurthermore, the metal components offer greater durability and longevity compared to the plastic parts. The plastic frame on benches is more susceptible to cracking, at which point the safety of the entire bench may be compromised. Metal framing, on the other hand, can withstand much more use without incurring the same damage as plastic framing.

Finally, the assembly method used with metal-framed benches is significantly more secure. Back rests on metal-framed benches wrap under the seat, slide into brackets, and lock into place, while back rests on plastic-framed benches are simply snapped into the top of the seat.

Click here to see the highest recommended tub transfer bench.


Features to consider

Side arm rails – Arm rests can act as a sort of guard rail around the bench and provide a sense of security for users.

Furthermore, arm rails can provide support for users to hold onto when lowering onto the bench and to push off while rising up from the bench.

Before purchasing a bench with side arms, though, it is very important to confirm that the rails can be removed if necessary.

Shower transfer bench
There are a number of circumstances in which removing the arm rests can be beneficial:

  • The user needs access to a toiletry niche in the shower wall currently being obstructed by the arm rests
  • The user needs more room to sit comfortably and the arm rails are encroaching on that space
  • The arm rails collide with a grab bar or other part of the shower wall
  • The arm rests inhibit the user’s full range of motion needed to properly shower

The metal tubing armrests are suitable on their own, but those who want a softer grip should look for chairs with padded armrests.


Suction cup feet – Most tub transfer benches come standard with suction cup bottoms on the two legs that sit inside the shower.

Shower transfer bench with suction cup feetBe aware that the suction cups can only establish a strong seal if attaching to a flat, smooth portion of the tub bottom. Any unevenness or texturing in the tub floor will prevent the suction cups from working properly.

When applied properly, suction cup bottoms offer noticeably more stability to the shower bench. Also, when users lower onto the part of the bench extending outside of the tub, the suction cups prevent the bench from tipping due to the weight imbalance.

The single potential drawback to suction cup bottoms is the process of moving a bench once it is in place. Manufacturers have incorporated pull tabs to help remove the suction cups from the tub, however, this requires bending down, reaching low, and pulling up the feet. These functions may pose a significant challenge to those who plan on moving the transfer bench.

For this reason, tub benches with suction cup bottoms are best for those who plan to keep the shower bench in a single position, those who are capable of safely moving the bench themselves, and those who can have a caregiver move the bench.

One final note: when the bench is used in a shower with tiled floor, the grout prevents the suction cup bottoms from adhering to the floor. Even still, benches with suction cup bottoms are just as safe and stable in tiled floor applications as benches with standard rubber feet.


A bench for shower liners – Shower transfer benches extend over the tub threshold and, thus, make water containment difficult. The key to keeping water contained is to purchase a transfer bench constructed in such a way that a shower liner can slip through the joints in the seat and seal off the shower.

Shower transfer bench with joints in the seat

This guide gives more information regarding specially-made shower liners for transfer benches here.


A bariatric bench – Most standard bath tub transfer benches are rated to accommodate up to 250 pounds. If users require a higher rating, bariatric transfer benches are typically certified to support between 400 to 600 pounds.

In general, bariatric transfer benches utilize a stronger construction method or boast stronger materials all without taking up anymore tub space as standard transfer benches.

One thing worth mentioning is that users who do not necessarily need the higher weight rating may nonetheless prefer a bariatric bench because it offers greater security. It is very common for a standard tub transfer bench to slightly shake during normal use, which may make some users feel unsettled. Since a bariatric bench is designed for heavier weights, it exhibits more steadiness than a standard bench that is made to carry lighter loads.

A final point to take into consideration is that bariatric benches usually run 1.5 to 2 times the price of standard tub transfer benches.


A sliding/swiveling bench – The goal of a sliding bench is to eliminate the manual scooting process a user must perform when using a typical shower transfer bench.

Shower transfer bench with sliding seat

And the goal of a swiveling bench is to circumvent the rotating motion a user must make when pivoting into and out of the tub.

Shower transfer bench with slide & swivel seat

While these two seat functions are certainly useful, there are some caveats to take into consideration before making a final decision in favor of this type of bench.

First, users of benches with sliding and/or swiveling seats may require the aid of a caregiver. Some users may have no problem manually propelling the sliding/swiveling seat while others may need assistance setting the seat into motion. Users who otherwise do not need caregivers may, nonetheless, find a sliding/swiveling bench too difficult to operate alone. Keep this in mind as a possible additional expense or responsibility that may come along with this bench.

Second, the levers to initiate the seat swivel/slide may be positioned under the front of the seat in an uncomfortable location.

Shower transfer bench slide & swivel levers

Users who find it difficult to reach and correctly operate these levers create an awkward situation for caregivers who then must find and depress the levers.

Third, while this bench does successfully eliminate most scooting and pivoting that standard transfer benches require, it is worth noting that users must still be able to shift and rotate, albeit only very slightly, to better position themselves on the seat. Almost all of the user participation is removed but still a small amount is required.

Bariatric versions of benches that slide/swivel are not available, so be sure to verify that the weight support rating is appropriate for the user. Depending on the model, benches with a sliding/swiveling seat can cost between 2 to 5 times more than standard tub transfer benches.

Click here to see the highest recommended sliding transfer bench.

If a sliding/swiveling bench is not suitable, investigate the following other methods to eliminate the scooting and pivoting effort:


A tub-mount bench with interior legs – A bench that mounts to the tub on one side and stands with two legs inside the shower stall saves users floor space in the bathroom compared to standard benches that extend over the tub.

Transfer bench

“Over the tub” transfer bench

Tub-mounted transfer bench

Tub-mounted transfer bench

For particularly narrow or crowded bathrooms, the legs of a tub transfer bench may take up just enough space to make the room or certain fixtures inaccessible.

There are a few important considerations, though, before purchasing such a bench. First, the outer face of the tub threshold must be flat and perpendicular to the ground.

Bathtub with raised outer threshold

The outer wall of the tub have raised sections protruding

Bathtub with curved outer threshold

The outer wall of the tub is curved

Bathtub with straight outer threshold

The outer wall of the tub is flat and perpendicular to the floor

Second, the inside face of the tub threshold must at least be flat. The inside face can slant as long as the bench clamp can adjust on a hinge.

Tub-mounted transfer bench with adjustable angle clamp

Adjustable angle clamp

Third, the width of the tub threshold must fit within the jaws of the clamp.

To guarantee a flush fit, ask the manufacturer for the size of the jaw opening, the depth of the jaws, and the width of the jaws.

Tub-mounted transfer bench with adjustable width clamp

Adjustable width clamp

Use these measurements to confirm that the clamp size is compatible with the tub size.

For tub thresholds with a slanting inside face, be sure to measure the deepest part of where the clamp will reach to truly ascertain the widest point. It is important that the clamp properly fits the tub, otherwise the bench will be unstable.

Be aware that the clamp will likely loosen after an uncertain amount of use. From time to time, it will be necessary to re-tighten the clamp, so periodically check the clamp’s seal and adjust as needed. Users with weakened gripping ability may need a caregiver or helper to tighten the clamp.

Keep in mind that the height of the tub threshold will dictate the height of the bench, so it is important to measure and verify that the seat height is appropriate for the user. Also, confirm that the tub threshold height falls within the adjustable height range of the bench legs. Leg extensions may be available if the tub threshold is too tall for the bench legs.

Finally, these benches do not offer bariatric models, so if that is a necessary feature be certain to check the weight rating before purchase.

Benches that clamp on the tub threshold can be 4 to 6 times more expensive than standard tub transfer benches.

Click here to see the highest recommended tub-mount bench.

If the space-saving feature of such a bench is needed but the bench is incompatible with the user or tub, then consider these alternatives:


Features to avoid

Vinyl padding – While it may seem like vinyl padding would offer more comfort than blow-molded plastic, the difference in comfort between the two materials is fairly minor.

Tub transfer bench with padded vinyl seatFurthermore, vinyl padding is not as durable or mold resistant as blow-molded plastic.

Manufacturers will often times offer a limited lifetime warranty on the frame of the bench, but will not offer any warranty on the vinyl pads. It is not uncommon for the vinyl padding to split along the seams from normal use, and once the vinyl pads tear, the bench can no longer be used.

Last, the vinyl can become slippery when wet, introducing yet another safety issue for users. The safest choice is a blow-molded, textured plastic bench that lessens the risk of slipping off of the seat.

However, those with particularly weak skin who fear that scooting and pivoting on a bench may be problematic should explore the options listed below:


A bathtub board bench – As mentioned earlier, the clamps that transfer benches use to fasten onto the tub eventually loosen. In the case of a bench that clamps onto the tub threshold with a set of legs inside the bathtub, there is no safety issue when the clamp loosens because the legs offer adequate support.

chair that rests on tubA bathtub board bench merely rests on the lip of the tub and is prone to moving unexpectedly during use, which could easily lead to a fall.

Users with limited bathroom space should opt for a transfer bench that clamps onto the tub with a set of interior legs.


A bench seat cut-out – Some users may find it difficult, if not impossible, to clean certain posterior body parts while seated on a solid bench with no cut out. Unfortunately, real life application reveals that the benefit of additional access comes with a substantial functional flaw.

It is vital that users have a solid seating surface to lower onto and raise up from when entering and exiting the bathtub. The portion of the bench removed for the cut out can cause users to sink when sitting and flounder when rising. The safety need for a firm, supportive surface to land on and push off of supersedes convenience features.

Shower bench with seat cut-out

To address perineal cleanliness, consider using flushable wipes during toileting.


What to know before buying

Bath tub transfer benches are considered hygienic products and, as such, are often deemed a non-returnable item by retailers and manufacturers.

It is important to be very thoughtful when purchasing a shower bench so as to avoid any wasted time and expense on a bench that may not appropriately fit in the bathroom space or adequately meet the user’s needs. Continue reading the following points to take the proper precautions before purchasing a tub transfer bench.


While a bench may be advertised as “tool-free assembly,” it is highly recommended to have a few of the usual suspects (Philips and flathead screwdrivers, hammer, utility knife, wrench set) just in case. In the event that parts loosened during shipment or the manufacturer made mistakes in pre-assembly, these tools will help retighten and reassemble as necessary.

Last of all, putting together and positioning a shower bench can require some muscle, so be sure to have a capable helper if needed.


As mentioned earlier, tub transfer benches extend beyond the footprint of bath tubs and consequently push shower curtains outside of the tub. To minimize water spillage, consider purchasing a special shower liner that fits transfer benches or cutting two slits in a standard shower liner according to the dimensions of the transfer bench.

Also, a hand-held shower head with a flexible hose offers users more control over the spray direction and can help with containing the water.


Confirm that the user’s weight falls within the transfer bench weight rating. If the user requires additional support, shop for a bariatric transfer bench.


Find a bench that matches the user’s seated measurements. While most adjustable-height transfer benches will accommodate the majority of users, it is wise to compare the user’s measurements to the transfer bench’s specifications to confirm a proper fit.

Proper sitting postureFirst, be sure the user is barefoot since that will be the case during actual transfer bench usage.

Next, have the user sit in a back chair with hips, knees, and ankles all bending at 90 degrees. To establish these 90 degree angles, the chair must be at just the right height for the user.

If such a chair is not available, consider using a pneumatic office chair and adjusting its height to make 90 degree angles. Otherwise, use a chair that is too tall and place something flat under the user’s feet to serve as an elevated floor.

Pneumatic office chair for measuring user's ideal seat dimensions

Adjust the height of a pneumatic office chair for correct sitting posture

Place feet on a prop for correct sitting posture

Place feet on a prop for correct sitting posture

Once the user is seated properly, record the following measurements:

How to measure seat height

Seat height (floor to bottom of thigh where it meets the knee at 90 degrees)

How to measure seat width

Seat width (outermost parts of back of butt)

Verify that the user’s seating measurements fit the shower transfer bench. If the bench seat height is too short for the user, then see if the manufacturer sells leg extensions to raise the bench height.

If the user requires a shorter seat height than what a transfer bench can offer, investigate replacing the tub with a zero-threshold, curbless shower and using a built-in bench or installing a wall-mounted shower chair at the appropriate seat height.


Wheelchair users should use the height of the wheelchair seat as a model for the proper bench height, assuming that a qualified healthcare professional properly fitted the wheelchair to the user (click here to read about having a wheelchair correctly fitted).

Verify that the user’s seating measurements fit the transfer bench. If the bench seat height is too short for the user, then see if the manufacturer sells leg extensions to raise the bench height.

Also, make sure the user’s seat height isn’t lower than the minimum clearance height allotted by the tub threshold. If the user requires a shorter seat height than what a transfer bench can offer because of the tub threshold height, investigate replacing the tub with a curbless shower and using a built-in bench or installing a wall-mounted shower chair at the appropriate seat height. Alternatively, consider making a tub cut and using an appropriately sized shower chair.


Be certain the tub threshold does not interfere with adjusting the transfer bench to match the user’s ideal seat height.

First, measure the height of the tub threshold. Next, determine the transfer bench’s maximum clearance height by taking the shower bench’s maximum seat height and subtracting the seat thickness. The minimum clearance height is the bench’s lowest seat height plus the seat thickness or the tub threshold plus the seat thickness, whichever is taller.

The clearance height and seat thickness may not always be clearly stated by manufacturers and retailers, so determining these measurements may require a phone call for verification.


Ensure there is enough space to properly use and maneuver around the transfer bench.

Take down the measurements for the bench’s overall width and depth, then apply these dimensions to the space where the bench will be used. Mark the area the bench will occupy in the bathroom and answer the following questions:

  • Is there adequate space to approach and sit on the transfer bench safely? This is particularly important if the user employs a mobility aid, such as a rollator or walker.
  • Is there room to freely raise and move legs over the tub threshold? Sometimes a bathroom fixture may prevent a user’s feet from lifting over the tub threshold. If a sink base cabinet is in the way, consider replacing the cabinet with a pedestal or wall-hung sink. If a toilet is in the way, the best options may be replacing the tub with a curbless shower or making a tub cut.
  • Does the tub transfer bench prohibit safe access to and use of other bathroom fixtures such as the toilet and vanity? The transfer bench with a tub threshold clamp may be a great solution to freeing up the necessary floor space.

Recommended supplementary products and home modifications


Transfer bench shower curtain


Purpose

Using a shower transfer bench makes it difficult to keep water from spilling out onto the bathroom floor because the bench keeps standard curtains from completely blocking off the shower space. A wet bathroom floor is a dangerous slipping hazard for users, so it is important to keep the bathroom floor dry to ensure a safe transfer out of the shower.

transfer bench shower curtain
Leaving the shower open and trying to limit the amount of water that gets onto the bathroom floor is too challenging and not feasible.

A transfer bench shower curtain solves this problem. Transfer bench shower curtains are designed to minimize water spillage outside of the shower due to its unique fit around a transfer bench.

A transfer bench shower curtain is a must-have for those who use a shower transfer bench.

Click here to see the highest recommended transfer bench shower curtain.


What to know before buying

Currently, the shower curtains specifically made for use with transfer benches that are available in the marketplace are limited in features.

First, only transfer benches placed near the middle of a standard size, 6 foot long tub are compatible with these special shower curtains. The slits that fit around the transfer bench are centered on the shower curtain, so benches at the head or rear of the tub are incompatible.

Second, transfer bench shower curtains necessitate benches with slots into which the shower curtain tucks away. This complementary feature ensures an effective water seal.

Third, manufacturers have positioned the slits high enough on the curtain to accommodate most transfer bench heights, but in doing so the slits often create an opening that is actually taller than the transfer bench. This opening above the transfer bench obviously presents water containment issues.


Despite the aforementioned shortcomings, transfer bench shower curtains can still play a valuable role in reducing water spillage when used with the proper benches placed in the middle of the tub. While the shower curtain itself is helpful, its effectiveness is greatly improved when paired with a P.E.V.A. (P.V.C.-free) antimicrobial shower liner that is custom cut to overlap any curtain slit openings above the transfer bench. To properly custom cut the shower liner, follow these steps:

  • Make sure the transfer bench is placed in the correct position and adjusted to the proper height according to the desires of the user. This step is the most important because it impacts how the shower liner is cut to custom fit the transfer bench. For detailed instructions on how to determine the correct transfer bench height, please refer to the above section on tub transfer benches.
  • With the transfer bench in place, hang the transfer bench shower curtain so that the bottom falls inside of the shower, step inside the shower, and insert the curtain slits through the bench.
  • Measure the distance from the top of the bench seat to the top of the curtain slit openings. Remove the transfer bench after taking down this measurement.
  • Hang the shower liner on the same hooks that are holding the curtain; be sure to hang the shower liner on the inside, closest to the shower.
  • Close the shower curtain and liner together while inside the tub. With both the curtain and the liner hanging freely, use the clear liner like tracing paper and mark the outline of the curtain slits with masking tape.
  • Take the measurement from step three and drop the marks for the top of the slits down by that distance.
  • Cut the shower liner along the markings to create an opening for the transfer bench and remove the tape. It may be wise to cut slightly lower than the top marking to hedge against erroneously taking off too much of the liner and leaving a portion of the slit openings still exposed.
  • Replace the transfer bench, pull the curtain and liner closed, tuck the curtain slits through the bench, verify that the liner overlap fits properly, and adjust as needed (if there is excess liner).

Custom cutting the liner may require some effort, but the curtain and liner combined perform much better than the curtain alone.


Users whose transfer benches are at the head and rear of the shower should custom cut two shower liners: one to act as the curtain and the other to act as the inside liner. To properly recreate a transfer bench shower curtain, follow these steps:

  • Make sure the transfer bench is placed in the correct position and adjusted to the proper height according to the desires of the user. This step is the most important because it impacts how the shower liner is cut to custom fit the transfer bench. For detailed instructions on how to determine the correct transfer bench height, please refer to the above section on tub transfer benches.
  • With the transfer bench in place, hang the shower liner so that the bottom falls outside of the shower.
  • Use the clear liner like tracing paper and mark the outline of the seat portion of the transfer bench with masking tape.
  • Cut slits in the shower liner along the taped outline. It may be wise to cut slightly lower than the top marking to hedge against erroneously cutting too far and causing a portion of the slits to extend above the shower bench seat.
  • Move the shower liner inside of the tub, pull the liner closed, tuck the liner slits through the bench, verify that the liner fits the bench properly, and adjust as needed (if the slits must be extended).

To custom cut the second liner, follow the 8-step instructions outlined earlier.


Recommended supplementary products and home modifications


Thermostatic shower valve


Purpose

Skin weakens and thins with age, so older adults are especially at risk of injury caused by hot shower water. And for some, the aging process wears away at their sensation to touch so much that they may not recognize scalding hot shower water until they’ve already burned themselves.

To avoid the risk of accidental water burns while showering, consider a thermostatic shower valve.

Thermostatic shower valve

A thermostatic shower valve regulates water temperature for shower heads to prevent scalding water from passing through and burning the user.


What to know before buying

In new construction or shower remodel scenarios when the walls and plumbing are exposed, it only makes sense to install thermostatic shower valves. Take advantage of the moment and spend the extra money on these temperature-regulating valves.


Simply replacing the existing shower valve with a thermostatic valve can be done but will require creating access to the plumbing within the wall.

If the shower has a single handle, then the process is usually fairly straightforward: remove the shower handle, remove the escutcheon trim piece to reveal the valve in the wall, and replace the existing valve with the new thermostatic valve.

If the shower has a dual handle, then the process is more intensive and may require removing some shower tile or cutting into the wall from behind (if there isn’t an existing access panel). Once the plumbing is exposed, the existing valve can be replaced with the thermostatic valve.

Finally, a remodel cover plate can be used to cover the demoed part of the shower tile and drywall patching can be done to repair cutting into the wall from behind.


Recommended supplementary products and home modifications


Hand-held shower head


Purpose

Handheld shower headA hand-held shower head with a hose attachment allows users to shower more safely and effectively. A hand-held shower head brings the water stream to where it’s needed rather than having to turn and contort one’s body to meet the water stream. This limits the amount of footwork and movement in the shower, which curbs fatigue and reduces the risk of slipping. Hand-held shower heads are especially helpful for those with low energy levels and poor balance.


Must-have Features

Wall-mount shower head holder – A wall-mount bracket brings the hand-held shower head closer to the user. While everyone benefits from the convenience of a wall-mount shower head holder, this feature is particularly helpful for those who use a shower chair or bench.

Wall-mounted shower head holderWall-mount brackets are sold separately from hand-held shower heads, so be sure to purchase a holder that can fit the existing shower head. The shower head should fit securely in the holder while also being positionable so it can face both towards the user and away from the user.

Also, forego the suction cup wall-mount holders; opt for the more durable wall-mounts that anchor and screw into the shower wall.

Before installation test the bracket in different places to determine the most convenient and useful location. Consider who will need access to the hand-held shower head, both currently and in the future (spouse, caregiver, etc.).


Minimum 6 foot long hose – The hand-held shower head is only as helpful as its hose length. The hose must be able to reach far enough to wash from top of head to bottom of feet. A 6 foot minimum may seem excessive, especially considering conventional bathtubs are only 5 feet long, but the extra hose length provides the necessary slack to direct the spray everywhere a user desires.

Furthermore, an appropriate-length hose will make cleaning the shower and tub space easier.


Shower hose with metal fittingsMetal hose fittings – The fittings at each end of the hose play a large factor in the durability of the hose.

Metal fittings, such as brass and stainless steel, fair better than plastic fittings that have a tendency to eventually crack and leak.


Features to consider

Pause control switch or shut-off shower valve – Some hand-held shower heads boast a pause control functionality that can temporarily stop the water flow.

Handheld shower head with on & off switchWhile the flow is off, users can safely enter and exit the shower without being distracted by the water spray. Furthermore, pausing the water allows users to conserve water while lathering or shaving.

It should be noted that pause control switches actually do not completely shut off the water flow; the switch allows a very light trickle to show that the water is still on and serve as a reminder to users to completely shut off the water at the shower controls when finished.

Shut-off shower valveIn the case of hand-held shower heads that do not include a water control switch, an inline shut-off valve serves the same purpose. Look for a valve with the correct male/female ends and a matching pipe diameter to fit the valve between the hand-held shower head and the hose.

Thread seal tape may or may not be needed to ensure a tight, leak-proof seal. Finally, it’s important that the pause control switch or the shut-off valve be easy to grasp and turn, especially for users with arthritis, weak hands, and poor dexterity.


Slide grab bar for hand held shower headSlide grab bar – Higher end hand-held shower heads often include slide bars to mount near the shower controls. The slide bar allows the shower head to reposition vertically to a variety of desired heights.

Users often inadvertently steady themselves by holding onto the slide bar while adjusting shower controls or entering/exiting the shower. Even more, users may rely on the slide bar to catch themselves during a fall. The slide bar looks a lot like a grab bar, after all. Unfortunately, the vast majority of slide bars included with hand-held shower heads are not rated to bear weight and can fail when used as a grab bar.

Therefore, it’s advised to use a dual-function bar; the convenience of a slide bar combined with the safety of a grab bar.


Adjustable spray settings – When shopping for hand-held shower heads, consider the various spray settings available.

Keep two things in mind when deciding on spray settings: user preferences and needs.

Users who are unable to safely bathe often miss its relaxing effects and may enjoy a massage setting to serve as an alternative. If water conservation is an important factor, then be sure to purchase a shower head with a low-flow setting. Showering is more difficult for those who are managing wounds and wearing casts, but a focused stream setting can help direct water away from areas that need to stay dry. Users with delicate skin would do well to avoid the more powerful spray settings that may be painful and turn to soft drench sprays instead.

Of course, the switch or button to adjust the spray settings should be easy to operate, regardless of hand strength and dexterity.


Features to avoid

“Strechable” hose – In an effort to maximize the useful length of the hand-held shower head hose, manufacturers have created a “stretchable” hose. Theoretically, the concept of a “stretchable” hose works, but real application proves this to be one feature to disregard.

When the hose is stretched, the plumbing in the wall is pulled in a manner for which it was never intended. This daily stress can loosen the plumbing and cause a leak within the wall that likely won’t reveal itself until mold develops.

Select a hose that provides adequate length and take a pass on “stretchable” hoses.


Shower hoses with P.V.C. exteriors – Generally, hoses with P.V.C. exteriors can be very rigid and unwieldy, making for a frustrating showering experience as users attempt to control and move the unruly hose.

Rather than waste energy fighting with a P.V.C. shower hose, select a hose with a friendlier and more flexible stainless steel exterior.


Plastic fittings – The fittings on each end of the shower hose play an important role in securing the hose’s connection to the shower arm and shower head. Plastic fittings are prone to cracking over time, resulting in a leak in the hose.

Choose more durable metal fittings to minimize the chances of a leak.


What to know before buying

The plumbing components of a hand-held shower head (the head itself and the hose) often have unpredictable shelf lives. To hedge against premature failure, take care while showering not to drop the shower head or pull on the hose.

Despite all best efforts, the plastic and rubber materials in these parts can still break down; it’s simply the nature of these products. Therefore, it’s important to be prepared for such an occasion.

Have a backup hand-held shower head and compatible hose nearby at all times. Should either component fail during use, it will be very helpful to have a replacement at the ready. The backups don’t have to be expensive, just functional.

Test the backups immediately after purchase to ensure they work properly, let them dry out, and then store in an accessible place in the bathroom.


Recommended supplementary products and home modifications


Non-slip bath mat


Purpose

The bottom surface of showers and bathtubs can be slippery, especially when wet. A non-slip bath mat in the shower helps protect users from slipping while showering and when transferring in and out of the tub.

Non-slip bath mat

Coordination and balance gradually diminish with age, so a non-slip bath mat that offers greater stability is very valuable for older adults.


Must-have Features

Suction cups – The mat absolutely must have suction cups on its underside.

A suction cup bottom is the most reliable means to secure the mat to the tub floor and create a non-slip surface that keeps users safe. Avoid any and all mats that simply rest on the tub floor and fail to utilize suction cups to fasten down the mat.

Bath mat with suction cups on bottom


P.V.C.-free – P.V.C. is one of the most toxic kinds of plastic and undergoes an off-gassing process in which harmful chemicals are released into the surrounding environment.

The most notable evidence of off-gassing is the “new” smell that P.V.C. products emit. This plastic aroma, which can last for quite some time, can be nauseating to users due to its intense smell and its harmful effects.

Exposure to P.V.C. off-gassing can damage the liver, central nervous system, respiratory system, and more. Steer clear of bath mats made of P.V.C.


Features to consider

Latex-free – Users with a latex allergy should find bath mats specifically labeled as latex-free.


Anti-bacterial – Bath mats that destroy bacteria and inhibit bacteria growth help keep users clean and healthy, especially since feet can be major carriers of bacteria. While this anti-bacterial feature is definitely a boon to hygiene, keep in the mind that the most important role of a bath mat is to prevent slips and falls.

So, it’s recommended to choose the bath mat that provides the best non-slip surface whether or not it also boasts an anti-bacterial feature.


Mold and mildew resistant – Water is easily trapped between the suction cups on the bottom of bath mats, which eventually leads to mold and mildew growth. To help stave off this unwanted development, consider bath mats that are mold and mildew resistant.

Keep in mind that “resistant” does not mean “proof.” That is, there is no guarantee that mold and mildew will not develop and grow, but the resistant feature will help to inhibit that development and growth. Users must still regularly (once a week or so) clean and/or air out the undersides of bath mats to effectively address mold and mildew build-up.

Bending down to remove and/or clean a bath mat may be unsafe for some users, so make arrangements for someone (housekeeper, caretaker, family member, etc.) to assist when the bath mat needs to be cleaned.


Textured tub compatibility – Generally, the suction cups on bath mats only adhere to smooth surface tubs. There are, however, bath mats available that are dual surface compatible; they are able to suction onto a smooth surface and a non-skid, textured surface.

Bathtub surface texturingUsers with textured tub surfaces should select bath mats specifically made to adhere to such tubs. It is worth mentioning that, due to the wide variety in textured tub surfaces, compatibility is not 100% guaranteed.

The likelihood of the bath mat successfully suctioning to the tub increases when using a textured tub compatible mat, but manufacturers cannot guarantee compatibility.

For this reason, it may take some trial and error before finding the most suitable non-slip bath mat.


Features to avoid

Weight-applied suction cups – There are some bath mats in the marketplace whose suction cups will only stay fastened to the floor if enough weight is applied.

These particular mats are a safety concern because when the user lifts his or her feet the bath mat is actually loose and can inadvertently shift out of place. The force of the user pushing off the mat when exiting the tub and the momentum of the user stepping onto the mat when entering the tub create a serious safety hazard.

It isn’t always obvious which mats require weight to suction, so research other users’ experiences to weed out such mats.


What to know before buying

Thoroughly clean the tub floor before applying the bath mat to establish a strong suction. Wash the tub with liquid dish soap or some other solution that will not leave behind a powdery residue.

Let the tub air dry and then wipe it down with isopropyl alcohol to remove any oils. Let the tub air dry once again and then set the bath mat in place by engaging the suction cups.

Applying the bath mat to a clean tub surface will provide a secure initial bond. Repeat this process every few months to rid the tub of foreign matter that settles on the surface and inhibits the suction cups from fully fastening to the tub.


Some users may find that the suction cups on the underside of non-slip bath mats make the mats feel bumpy, and thus, less than comfortable underfoot. If this is the case, consider wearing a pair of slip-on sandals to provide additional foot support while showering.

These sandals should be kept in the bathtub and slipped on only after the user has entered the shower; entering and exiting the tub while wearing sandals is a safety hazard as the sandals may catch on the tub threshold and cause the user to fall.


Those who have tub transfer benches or shower chairs with suction cup feet will find that many bath mats occupy the tub space where the suction cup feet would attach to the floor. Tub transfer benches and shower chairs can still perform safely without suction cup feet fastening to the tub floor, however, some users may find the additional stability reassuring and/or necessary. To enjoy the benefits of both, the bath mat must be customized to make space for the suction cup feet:

  • Make sure the transfer bench or shower chair is placed in the correct position in the tub according to the desires of the user. This step is the most important because it impacts how the bath mat is cut to custom fit the suction cup feet.
  • With the bench or chair still in the tub, determine the placement of the bath mat based on where the user’s feet will be when showering. Use masking tape to outline where the bath mat will reside. Note: bath mats that occupy the entire tub won’t need to be marked. Remove the transfer bench or shower chair from the tub.
  • Place the bath mat on its position in the tub and replace the transfer bench or shower chair back into the tub on top of the bath mat. Ensure the transfer bench or shower chair is in its appropriate position as determined in step one and use a writing utensil to outline the position of the suction cup feet as they sit on the bath mat. Remove the transfer bench or shower chair and the bath mat from the tub.
  • Use a utility knife and poke slits into the bath mat over a portion of both outlines. Insert a pair of scissors through the starter slits and cut along the marked outlines.
  • Lay the bath mat back into position in the tub and place the transfer bench or shower chair in the tub with the suction cup feet lining up with the modified bath mat. Engage the feet and the bath mat to ensure that both exhibit proper suction. If the bath mat is still in the way of the suction feet, make adjustments to the mat as needed.

Recommended supplementary products and home modifications


Grab bar


Purpose

Grab bars help prevent slips and falls while showering by providing a secure hand-hold for maintaining balance. When transferring in and out of the shower, grab bars are truly beneficial for users of all ages and abilities.

Grab bar

Grab bars can also give users relief by bearing some of their weight. This goes a long way to conserving energy and minimizing how tiresome showering can be on the body.

For those who use a shower chair or transfer bench, grab bars help users safely sit down and rise back up. Grab bars help users lower onto a chair or bench in a careful, controlled manner rather than abruptly falling back into the seat. And when it comes to standing up from a chair or bench, grab bars give users a way to hoist themselves up and avoid getting stuck.


Must-have Features

A.D.A. compliant – Grab bars that meet A.D.A. standards have been tested and verified by independent third parties, so users can have absolute confidence in their structural strength and performance.

In addition to the grab bar itself, the mounting hardware should also be A.D.A. compliant. This ensures that the grab bar will stay securely fastened in place. The various kinds of mounting hardware are detailed below.


Rust-proof – The vast majority of grab bars in the marketplace are rust-proof, but there are still a handful out there that are not. And it may go without saying, but a rusty grab bar is a serious safety concern because it may fail without warning and cause injury to the user (not to mention the mess the rust makes in the tub!).

Do not make any assumptions when shopping: verify that the manufacturer specifically states that its grab bar is rust-proof.


Features to consider

Grip type – Grab bars are available in several different kinds of grips:

Grab bar with smooth gripSmooth – Smooth is the standard grip type that comes with most grab bars. Grab bars with a smooth grip are generally easy to grasp, even when wet; nonetheless, some users with especially weak hand strength may need the additional traction that other grip styles offer.


Grab bar with peened gripPeened – Peened is a finely grit textured finish applied to the grab bar that provides users with a better grip.

The texture creates friction that helps prevent hands from slipping off the grab bar.


Grab bar with knurled gripKnurled – Knurled is a coarse, diamond-patterned texture cut into to the grab bar that creates a very strong grip. Grab bars with a knurled textured perform very well when wet.

Because knurled is so coarse, though, users with sensitive skin may find the grip to be too abrasive.


Grab bar with curl gripCurl – A curl grip grab bar uses a smooth finish with indentions on the underside of the grab bar to allow fingers to better wrap around and hold onto the bar.

Curl grab bars help users keep a strong grip without any harsh texture.


Grab bar with grip padsPads – A padded grip grab bar uses a smooth finish with non-slip rubber pads on the underside of the grab bar.

The rubber pads offer users a better grip than the smooth grip finish offers on its own.


Grab bar with shur gripShur-grip – A shur-grip (also called sure grip and rippled) grab bar incorporates a patterned texture into the grab bar material itself.

The gripping surface is continuous and “closed” as opposed to peened and knurled which feature actual cuts into the material to create the gripping surface. The “closed” ripple effect gives users a secure grip without being rough on their hands


When selecting the grip type, try to strike a balance between current needs and potential future needs. If a user finds that the knurled grip is only negligibly better than the peened grip, then the peened grip may be a better long-term solution since the knurled grip may later be too harsh as the user’s skin weakens.

On the other hand, if a knurled grab bar is the only grip type that gives a user the security he or she needs, then by all means select the knurled grab bar and address future needs as they arise (this may mean introducing additional home modifications, assistive devices, and/or care providers).


Grab bar towel rack – While the value of grab bars in the shower may be obvious, grab bars also play a valuable part in safety outside of the shower. Removing and replacing a towel on a wall rack is usually a harmless act, but an uncooperative towel that catches on the rack or a slight loss of balance can potentially lead to a disconcerting situation.

In such circumstances, it’s simply human instinct to grab hold of the towel rack for support and balance. Unfortunately, wall-hung towel racks can fail when used in this manner; towel racks are meant to support the weight of towels, not people.

Grab bar towl bar

Therefore, consider replacing the existing towel rack with a dual-function grab bar towel rack. Doing so can offer the reassurance that should the user need to rely on the towel rack for support and balance, the strength of the grab bar will deliver.


Concealed screw mount – There are two benefits of grab bars that conceal the mounting screws.

Exposed mount grab bar

Exposed mount

Concealed mount grab bar

Concealed mount

First, the escutcheons that snap onto the mounting plate and cover the screws give grab bars a more finished appearance. Second, covering the screws helps to prevent soap scum build-up in the slotted screw heads; it is much easier to clean the smooth surface of the escutcheon cover than the grooves of screw heads!

Generally, grab bars that feature concealed screw mounting are only slightly higher priced than grab bars with exposed screws.


Features to avoid

Suction cup – Grab bars should only ever be installed by fastening to the wall with screws and proper mounting anchors. Suction cup grab bars are very dangerous; the grab bar may unexpectedly slip from its position or even fall off the wall, which could result in serious injury.

Suction cup grab barUsers who are less inclined to go through the trouble of drilling through the shower wall to install grab bars are attracted to suction cup grab bars’ non-invasive installation method. But it is exactly this poor installation that makes suction cup grab bars so ineffective and dangerous.

Many manufacturers specify that their suction cup grab bars should strictly be used for steadying purposes rather than supporting weight, but this is disingenuous. During a slip or fall users instantly reach for a grab bar to hold onto for support without regard to whether or not it is intended to bear weight.

So, only buy and use grab bars that securely mount to the wall; never buy or use suction cup grab bars.


Tub clamp grab bar – Many users like that tub clamp grab bars mount above the middle of the tub threshold, a location that conventional grab bars are unable to reach. The problem is that tub clamp grab bars are unable to provide lasting, reliable support and actually become more of a safety hazard than a safety aid.

Tub clamp mount grab barNo matter how tightly the grab bar clamps onto the tub, the torque that users apply when holding onto the grab bar causes the clamp to loosen. The clamp’s grip weakens with each use, often imperceptibly, until eventually the clamp unexpectedly slips, and the grab bar gives way altogether.

While regularly retightening the clamp may seem like a simple solution, the tightening nut can be extremely hard to turn even for strong hands.

Furthermore, the non-marring rubber pads that give the clamp its grip are prone to slipping under the weight and pressure of normal use. When one of the rubber pads loosens, the clamp loses contact. And when the clamp loses contact, the entire grab bar gives way.

Tub clamp grab bars are too unreliable and pose too much risk, so users should look elsewhere for assistance with entering and exiting the tub

Conventional wall-mounted grab bars and tub transfer benches are two great solutions to employ first.

To fully experience the benefits of grab bars, it’s important to know where to place them in the shower and how to use them properly. Correct grab bar placement is described in detail in the “What to know before buying” section below.


Fold away grab bars – Similar to tub clamp grab bars, most consumers are attracted to fold away (or flip up) grab bars because they extend out into areas where wall-mounted grab areas cannot reach. But just like tub clamp grab bars, fold away grab bars also mount at a single point and the mounting bracket is unable to stand up to the torque of normal use.

Flip up grab barUnfortunately, a user’s weight is simply too much pressure for the pivoting fulcrum to withstand and the mounting bracket can actually break at this joint.

The problem really is a lesson in physics. The leverage effect that’s created when a user applies weight onto the end of the grab bar produces so much force that the mounting bracket breaks.

Pass on fold away grab bars and choose appropriately-placed conventional grab bars instead. Read more about correct grab bar placement in the “What to know before buying” section below.


Floor-to-ceiling mounted grab bars – What makes floor-to-ceiling mounted grab bars so appealing is that they can be placed nearly anywhere without depending on vertical walls for support. Unfortunately, floor-to-ceiling mounted grab bars suffer from the same shortcomings in design as tub clamp and fold away grab bars: the mounting method isn’t strong enough to endure the torque applied during normal use.

Floor to ceiling mounted grab barFloor-to-ceiling mounted grab bars use tension to stay in place, similar to the mechanics of a spring-loaded shower curtain rod. When the user holds onto the grab bar for support, the force can cause the top and/or bottom brackets to suddenly slip from position.

This propensity to slide out of place is exacerbated by other conditions of the environment such as uneven ceilings and floors, condensation build-up that weakens the mounting brackets’ contact with the ceiling and floor, home foundation expansions and contractions that disturb the mounting brackets’ contact with the ceiling and floor, and inadvertently bumping into the grab bar pole that may cause mounting bracket movement.

The possibility of failure is too great with floor-to-ceiling mounted grab bars and isn’t worth the risk.

Opt instead for wall-mount grab bars for the safest and most secure grab bar solution. Keep reading for instructions on proper grab bar placement and use.


What to know before buying and installing

Grab bars are only as reliable as how well they are mounted to the wall. Plan out how the grab bars will fasten to the wall before purchasing the grab bars and any necessary mounting hardware.

Stud-to-stud – The optimal mounting scenario is fastening both ends of a grab bar to wall studs with 2 to 3 rust-proof screws per end (4 to 6 screws total). But often there are several factors that prohibit this optimal mounting scenario.

Grab bar stud installationFirst, identifying the exact location of studs may be troublesome. If the shower wall upon which the grab bar will be mounted is not tiled all the way to the ceiling, then locating the studs is as easy as using a stud-finder on the non-tiled portion of the wall and following the stud down to where the grab bar will be fastened.

But if the shower wall covers the entire wall, then the process can be much more of a guessing game. Fortunately, there are three methods that may help successfully locate the studs through the tile.

Before trying to search through the tiled shower wall, see if the studs can be located on the opposite drywall side of the wall. Use a stud-finder to mark the stud locations, record the distances from one end of the wall to the studs, and transfer those measurements to the tiled shower side of the wall.

Stud finderIf the opposite side of the wall is inaccessible or not drywall, then try using a stud-finder with a deep scan feature that may be able to sense the studs through the tile. Keep in mind that the stud-finder may also signal the location of pipes and other inner workings of the wall. Take the time to confirm stud locations to avoid mistakenly hitting a pipe upon drilling through the tile.

If a stud-finder with a deep scan feature is unable to locate the studs, then consider using a metal scanner or even a rare-earth magnet to find the studs based on the location of the metal screws that are fastening the backer board to the studs. When scanning for the metal backer board fasteners, see if a regular interval pattern emerges that may indicate the location of the studs. Remember that a metal scanner and a rare-earth magnet will also find pipes and other metal components that may be in the wall, so be careful to discern the location of the studs from other metal workings in the wall.

Second, even for those who are able to track down the wall studs, the position of the studs may not align with the grab bar location that best suits the needs and preferences of the user. Furthermore, grab bars are manufactured at pre-assigned lengths (12 inches, 16 inches, 18 inches, etc.) that may not match the distance between the studs.

Even though studs are traditionally 16 inches apart, there’s no guarantee that the studs were installed accordingly (especially in a “wet wall” where studs may have been repositioned to accommodate plumbing lines). So, it may be difficult to find an uncommon length grab bar in a finish that matches the existing shower hardware.

If no studs can be located, only one stud can be located, or the location of the studs doesn’t suit the user, utilize a hollow-wall anchor to securely mount the grab bar.


Hollow-wall anchors – The basic function of all hollow-wall anchors is the same: maximize the wall-mounted weight the anchor can support by distributing that weight across a larger portion of the wall. Hollow-wall anchors utilize a toggle that inserts through a hole in the wall, spreads across the inside of the wall, and screws into place with a bolt to remain anchored to the wall.

There are three different hollow-wall anchoring products in the market that are well-suited for mounting grab bars.

SnapToggle bolt anchors by Toggler – The SnapToggle bolt anchor features a metal channel that inserts through a drilled hole in the wall and flips up vertically to grip onto the inside of the wall above and below the drill hole.

Snap Toggle grab bar anchor
Snap Toggle grab bar anchor through the wall

A bolt passes through the hole in the wall and screws into the channel to fasten the grab bar flange securely into place.

Snap Toggle grab bar anchor in the wall
Snap Toggle grab bar anchor screwed to wall

According to the manufacturer, the SnapToggle bolt anchor should only be used when the other end of the grab bar is fastened to a wall stud. If no studs can be found, then skip the SnapToggle bolt anchor and consider the other two hollow-wall anchors. If the location of one stud is confirmed, then the SnapToggle bolt anchor is an appropriate option for mounting the stud-less side of the grab bar.

One advantage of the SnapToggle bolt anchor is that it is very rare to find an obstruction within the wall above and/or below the drill hole that would inhibit the metal channel from flipping up into place. Plumbing lines and other wall inner workings tend to run vertically rather than horizontally, so it is most likely that the SnapToggle metal channel will flip into position without any interference since potential obstructions would probably only be located to the left and right of the drill hole.

Nonetheless, if a tile grout line is very close to the intended mounting location, then it may be prudent to drill a very small pilot hole through the grout and test the surrounding area for any obstacles hidden within the wall. Insert a bent paperclip or other “L” shaped wire through the hole in the grout and rotate to see if it hits any obstructions. Fill the pilot hole in the grout line with a dab of silicone caulk or patch the grout line with matching-colored grout mix.

SnapToggle anchors are available in five different holding strengths to suit the specific conditions and needs of each grab bar application.

The strength of the SnapToggle anchor is directly related to the size of the hole drilled in the wall and the diameter of the fastening bolt. That is, the stronger the SnapToggle anchor, the larger the hole in the wall and the larger the bolt diameter required.

Here is a breakdown of the drill-hole size and the bolt diameter size required for each of the SnapToggle versions listed from smallest (carries the lightest load) to largest (carries the heaviest load):

  • B.A. SnapToggle – requires ½ inch hole in wall and uses a 3/16 inch diameter machine threaded bolt to fasten to the wall
  • B.B. SnapToggle – requires ½ inch hole in wall and uses a 1/4 inch diameter machine threaded bolt to fasten to the wall
  • B.E. SnapToggle – requires ¾ inch hole in wall and uses a 5/16 inch diameter machine threaded bolt to fasten to the wall
  • B.C. SnapToggle – requires ¾ inch hole in wall and uses a 3/8 inch diameter machine threaded bolt to fasten to the wall
  • B.D. SnapToggle – requires ¾ inch hole in wall and uses a 1/2 inch diameter machine threaded bolt to fasten to the wall

The first step in mounting a grab bar with the SnapToggle anchor is to select the correct SnapToggle anchor size to support the weight of the user. Keep two things in mind when determining how much weight the SnapToggle anchors must hold.

First, there may be secondary users (spouses, family members, guests, etc.) who share the shower and may also depend on the grab bar. Second, caregivers who assist with showering may need to hold onto the grab bar for support, sometimes simultaneously with the user. Factor these possibilities into the potential weight the SnapToggle anchors must hold.

To select the correct SnapToggle anchor version, consider the two variables that determine holding strength:

  • Wall material – what is the wall material (drywall, tile over backer board, fiberglass tub surround, etc.)?
  • Wall thickness – what is the wall thickness (3/8 inch drywall, ¼ inch fiberglass tub surround, 5/8 inch backerboard plus tile, etc.)?

Identify the wall material and thickness for the grab bar installation and review the weight-bearing specifications in the chart below for the different SnapToggle versions to determine the smallest, least invasive anchor size that offers the appropriate holding strength.

Snap Toggle Weight-Bearing Chart

Due to the size and proximity of the installation holes, only two SnapToggle anchors should be placed in the upper half of the grab bar flange when fastening to drywall and fiberglass. Walls with plaster over lath and tile over drywall are stronger, so in these instances three SnapToggle anchors can be used to fasten a grab bar flange. When determining the appropriate strength and least invasive anchors, be sure to account for the total number of anchors that can be used based on the wall material.

The next step is to ensure the selected anchors are compatible with the grab bar flange screw holes.

The diameter of a grab bar’s mounting flange screw holes varies from grab bar to grab bar, but most grab bar mounting flanges are fastened with 3/16 inch diameter screws. The smaller SnapToggle anchors use bolts of a smaller diameter (3/16 inch and ¼ inch), while the larger SnapToggle anchors use bolts of a larger diameter (3/4 inch). When shopping for grab bars, find out the largest screw diameter size the mounting flange can accommodate and compare that with bolt size of the SnapToggle anchors that were selected in the previous step. Make sure the grab bar’s mounting flange screw holes are large enough to receive the appropriate SnapToggle anchor bolts.

When the appropriate size and number of anchors are used according to manufacturer guidelines, SnapToggle anchors can securely attach grab bars to any shower wall surface as long as one of the grab bar flanges is fastened to a wall stud. For stud-less grab bar installation, consider the following two hollow-wall anchor options.


WingIts anchors – The WingIts anchor features an expanding toggle that inserts through a drilled hole in the wall and pops open to grip onto the inside of the wall around the drill hole. Similar to the SnapToggle, a bolt passes through the hole in the wall and screws into the toggle to fasten the grab bar flange securely into place.

Wingits through wall
Wingits expanded in wall

A particularly nice bonus feature of the WingIts anchors is the 3M® waterproof tape that holds the anchors in place during installation and seals the drill holes to protect against water penetration.

WingIts anchors can be used to mount both grab bar flanges to the wall; neither flange needs to be attached to a stud. This makes installing the grab bar much easier as the location isn’t dependent on any wall studs. With that being said, the mounting location must not have any obstructions around the drill hole that would interfere with the WingIts anchors properly expanding inside of the wall.

If there is a tile grout line near the drill hole location, then drill a very small pilot hole through the grout and test the surrounding area for any obstacles hidden within the wall. Insert a bent paperclip or other “L” shaped wire through the hole in the grout and rotate to see if it hits any obstructions. If there is something in the wall that would block the WingIts anchors from expanding, then move the mounting hole position to avoid the obstruction (keep in mind that this will change the placement of the grab bar).

If the 3M® waterproof tape covers the small pilot hole, then there’s no need to patch the hole as the waterproof tape will seal it. Otherwise, fill the pilot hole in the grout line with a dab of silicone caulk or patch the grout line with matching-colored grout mix.

WingIts anchors are available in two different holding strengths. The drill-hole size required to install the WingIts anchor is directly related to the anchor’s holding strength, that is, the stronger WingIts anchor requires a larger drill-hole size than the light-duty version.

While the drill-hole size for the light-duty WingIts anchor is smaller, it actually requires two drill holes rather than just one. Because drilling through tile can be such a delicate process, users may prefer to drill two larger mounting holes instead of four smaller mounting holes to fasten a grab bar to the wall.

The two WingIts versions and their respective drill-hole sizes are shown below:

Wingits - resgbw35

R.E.S.G.B.W.35 – requires two ¾ inch holes in wall

Wingits - gbw40

G.B.W.40 – requires 1 ¼ inch hole in wall

For the majority of users, the R.E.S.G.B.W.35 WingIts anchor offers the appropriate support for mounting a grab bar. Users who need additional holding strength should select the G.B.W.40. Remember that in addition to the primary user, there may be secondary users (spouses, family members, guests, etc.) who share the shower and may also depend on the grab bar. Also, caregivers who assist with showering may need to hold onto the grab bar for support, sometimes simultaneously with the user. Factor these possibilities into the potential weight the WingIts anchors must hold.

One drawback of the WingIts anchor is that it is only compatible with WingIts and Glacier Bay (Home Depot brand) grab bars. WingIts anchors feature screw holes that exactly match up with the screw holes on the flanges of WingIts brand and Glacier Bay brand grab bars. This actually makes installation easier since the anchors and grab bars are made specifically to fit together.

WingIts anchors can securely fasten grab bars to any shower wall surface except fiberglass/acrylic tub surrounds that are less than ¼ inch thick. If the thickness of the fiberglass/acrylic tub enclosure is unknown, remove the escutcheon plate from the tub controls to measure and check.


SecureMount anchors by Moen – The SecureMount anchor features a plastic toggle that inserts through a drilled hole in the wall and flips up vertically to grip onto the inside of the wall above and below the drill hole. A bolt passes through the hole in the wall and screws into the toggle to fasten the grab bar flange securely into place.

Moen SecureMount Anchor
Moen SecureMount Anchor Install

Just as is the case with WingIts anchors, SecureMount anchors can be used to mount both grab bar flanges to the wall; neither flange needs to be attached to a stud. The grab bar position isn’t dependent on fastening to any studs, but the mounting location must not have any obstructions around the drill hole that would interfere with the SecureMount anchors flipping into place inside of the wall.

The SecureMount anchor is similar to the SnapToggle anchor in that it mounts vertically against the inside of the wall above and below the drill hole, so encountering an obstacle within the wall is much less likely since most inner workings also run vertically and will be on either the left or right of the drill hole.

Even still, if there is a tile grout line near the drill hole location, then it may be wise to drill a very small pilot hole through the grout and test the surrounding area for any obstacles hidden within the wall. Insert a bent paperclip or other “L” shaped wire through the hole in the grout and rotate to see if it hits any obstructions. If there is something in the wall that would block the SecureMount anchors from flipping up vertically, then move the mounting hole position up or down to avoid the obstruction (keep in mind that this will change the placement of the grab bar). Fill the pilot hole in the grout line with a dab of silicone caulk or patch the grout line with matching-colored grout mix.

Moen only offers one SecureMount anchor that requires a drill hole size of 1 ¼ inch and is rated for supporting persons weighing up to 300 pounds. when installed properly. When considering how much weight the anchors should support, think about any secondary users (spouses, family members, guests, etc.) who share the shower and may also depend on the grab bar. Also, caregivers who assist with showering may need to hold onto the grab bar for support, sometimes simultaneously with the user.

Moen recommends using Moen brand grab bars with the SecureMount anchor. The Moen grab bar flanges have screw holes that are specially designed to align with the screw holes on the SecureMount anchor. The mounting flange on Moen grab bars offers more places to insert the fastening screws than other grab bars, and consequently, makes installation much easier. The SecureMount anchor can be used to anchor grab bars to any wall material, even 1/8 inch thick fiberglass.


The best orientations and positions for grab bars are based on the function and needs of the user. Review the various functions as they relate to showering to see the ideal grab bar orientation and placement:

Entering and exiting the shower – The best grab bar orientation and placement for entering and exiting the shower is vertically at the head or rear wall (depending on which end of the tub the user enters the shower).

Grab bar for entering and exiting the showerThe vertical orientation is particularly helpful because it offers a variety of heights to hold onto the grab bar. Many bathtubs sit lower than the bathroom floor, and a vertical grab bar ensures that the user will find a comfortable place to grasp the grab bar whether standing on the higher bathroom floor or in the lower tub.

Furthermore, the vertical orientation allows the grab bar to be used for support by a variety of users with different heights and preferences. Make sure the user tests the position of the vertical grab bar when entering and exiting the shower. It’s very important that the grab bar be comfortable to reach and grasp from both outside the shower (when entering) and inside the shower (when exiting). Don’t make the mistake of placing the grab bar too far from one side that it is out of the user’s reach.

Wheelchair users and those who use a shower bench that extends over the edge of the tub do not need to install a grab bar to assist with entering and exiting the shower. Follow the directions included in the bath transfer bench section to properly enter and exit the shower with a tub transfer bench.


Operating shower controls – Reaching down to turn the shower control valves on and off can be very difficult without the help of a properly placed grab bar. There are two grab bar positions that offer the most assistance with safely reaching the controls for users who shower while seated on a bench or chair.

The first is the vertical grab bar installation mentioned earlier that helps with entering and exiting the shower at the head of the tub. Depending on the length of the grab bar and how far away the user is seated, this vertical grab bar can also offer a secure hand-hold to grip onto when adjusting the shower controls.

Grab bars for operating shower controlsAnother option is a diagonal grab bar on the long shower wall next to the seated user.

Hold onto the grab bar while leaning forward to reach the shower controls and push off the grab bar to return to the seated position. The slant of the grab bar makes for a more natural hand and arm position that is easier on the wrist and shoulder.

The angle of the grab bar should be customized to fit the user’s preferences and abilities while seated on the bench or chair. Be certain the transfer bench or shower chair is in the exact spot in which it will be used before experimenting with the best diagonal grab bar placement.


Maintaining balance while showering – Even with the traction a non-slip bath mat offers, the slippery conditions of showering may still cause one to lose footing. In these moments when support is needed to maintain balance, the importance of having a properly placed grab bar cannot be overstated.

Grab bar position for maintaining balance while showeringThe ideal location to install a grab bar for keeping balance is horizontally or diagonally on the long shower wall. The grab bar should be placed slightly below where the user’s wrist comfortably falls. This allows the user hold onto the grab bar with one hand while lathering or rinsing with the other.

The length of the grab bar should extend along the wall as far as the shower space is used.

When considering installing a diagonally placed grab bar for balancing keep in mind that the steeper the angle and the longer the grab bar, the shorter the length of grab bar that will be useful.


Lowering onto and rising up from a shower chair or transfer bench – Shower chairs and benches offer users adequate assistance when it comes to lowering onto or rising up from the seat, particularly those with attached armrests. Users may find shower chair and bench armrests intrusive, though, and opt against them. And while the seat itself can be held when lowering onto and pushing off of a chair or bench, some may require a support that is higher than the seat.

Grab bars for standing up and sitting downIn such cases, the ideal solution for safely standing up from a seated position in the shower is a horizontal or diagonal grab bar installed along the shower wall next to the shower chair or bench.

With the chair or bench in the tub where it will be used, test both the horizontal and diagonal orientations to see what most suits the user. Most find that a horizontal position offers a more natural feel and reduces strain on wrists and shoulders. When testing the diagonal grab bar, ensure that the height and angle allow the user to comfortably sit down on and stand up from the chair or bench.

From the seated position, test to see if the diagonal grab bar can also help with operating shower controls.

Finally, verify that the height and angle of the diagonal grab bar allows the user to maintain balance while showering in both a standing and sitting position.

A properly positioned diagonal grab bar can serve triple duty by assisting with operating shower controls, providing support for standing and sitting, and acting as a balancing aid while standing.


Emergency fall prevention – Users can stop falls as they happen and prevent injury by employing specially placed grab bars in the shower.

A horizontal grab bar orientation is best for emergency fall prevention because it is the easiest to hold onto in the event of a fall. Ideally, fall prevention grab bars should be placed on the long shower wall and the shower controls wall.

Grab bars for emergency fall preventionIf the user enters and exits at the rear of the tub, then a grab bar should also be placed on the back shower wall. The grab bars should be placed slightly below where the user’s wrist naturally falls. The ideal height allows users to lock their arm and catch themselves before falling.

One exception to the grab bar on the long shower wall is that it can be in a diagonal position if that suits the user. Many users prefer the diagonal position for rising up from a shower chair or bench and allow this grab bar to also serve as an emergency fall prevention. Just be sure the angle of the diagonal grab bar isn’t so steep that its usefulness in an emergency fall prevention situation is severely diminished.


Grab bars for standing up after a fallStanding after a fall – Grab bars significantly reduce the risk of falling, but unfortunately falls can still happen.

In the event a user suffers a fall, there must be an accessible grab bar that helps the user stand back up again.

A horizontal or diagonal grab bar along the long shower wall is the ideal placement. In fact, the grab bar used for maintaining balance can also assist users with standing up after a fall.


It’s worth mentioning that the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (A.D.A.A.G.) prescribe orientations and positions for shower grab bars for commercial settings.

The goal of the A.D.A.A.G. is to make commercial spaces as accessible as possible for the most people as possible. The result is a set of accessible design standards that are generic enough to adequately serve a wide spectrum of users. Essentially, A.D.A.A.G. caters to the “average” user who has accessibility needs.

Do not automatically follow the grab bar standards set forth in the A.D.A.A.G. Instead, customize the orientation and location of shower grab bars to fit the user.


Drilling holes through shower tile to mount grab bars can be a precarious process because the pressure can cause the brittle tile to crack or break apart.

Apply painter’s tape to the tile to help the drill bit establish grip and prevent wandering. Only use tile drill bits, such as diamond and carbide. Also, it’s important to apply very little pressure and let the drill do the work; exercise caution and don’t rush the process.

Finally, the intense friction of drilling through tile will heat the drill bit and cause it to wear more quickly than usual. To combat overheating and premature dulling, continuously spray lukewarm water on the bit during drilling and take breaks to allow the bit to cool.

Note well that porcelain tile is especially hard and may wear down the drill bits despite the best conservation efforts. Depending on how many holes one needs to drill, it may be wise to have several replacement bits on hand and return any unused bits once the job is completed.


When installing grab bars into fiberglass tub surrounds, the correct mounting hardware must be used to avoid damaging the fiberglass. For stud-less installation, the WingIts anchor can be used for ¼ inch thick fiberglass and the SecureMount anchor can be used for 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch thick fiberglass.

For attaching grab bars to the wooden studs behind fiberglass tub surrounds, a special fastening system called The Solid Mount is required.

The Solid Mount Grab Bar Fastening SystemUsually there is a gap between fiberglass tub surrounds and wall studs. Even with a long enough screw to reach the wall stud, the pressure exerted on the grab bar is too much for the fiberglass. The Solid Mount creates blocking between the fiberglass tub surround and the wall stud. This blocking reinforces the mounting bolt and transfers the weight applied to the grab bar from the fiberglass tub to the wall stud.

The Solid Mount is compatible with most grab bars, but be sure to compare the grab bar flange with the Solid Mount flange (number of mounting holes and diameter). In the case of one side of the grab bar being fastened to a stud with the Solid Mount, the other side of the grab bar can be fastened with any of the aforementioned stud-less hardware products according to their respective guidelines for fiberglass thickness.


Recommended supplementary products and home modifications


Leg lifter


Purpose

The threshold lip of a shower bathtub can be difficult to climb over even when using a shower transfer bench. A leg lifter enables users to lift their legs over the shower threshold with greater ease than if they attempted the same task on their own strength. A leg lifter is an ideal solution for users with limited range of motion, those with poor strength in their legs, and patients recovering from hip surgery.


Must-have Features

Leg lifter with wide mouth stirrupAdjustable, wide-mouthed stirrup – The stirrup should have a large opening that can accommodate the user’s feet. Furthermore, the stirrup should be adjustable so that users can customize its shape to more easily loop around their feet. Once the shape is set, the stirrup should keep that shape until the user modifies it again.

The best option is a stirrup with bendable metal wiring sewn into the nylon webbing.


Rigid metal body – The body of the leg lifter should contain a rigid metal rod that holds its shape during use. This metal rod is essentially an extension of the user’s arm, so it must have a high resistance to bending.

Leg lifter with rigid metal body


Features to avoid

Leg lifter cinchCinch-style stirrup – Some leg lifters have a stirrup that cinches tight around the user’s foot. While this helps with holding onto the foot, it can make releasing the foot from the stirrup very difficult. Avoid cinch-style stirrups and choose a leg lifter that boasts a more user-friendly foot stirrup.


What to know before buying

Leg lifter stirrups will fit over most user’s bare feet, but it’s highly recommended to verify by comparing the stirrup opening dimensions to the user’s foot size.


Make sure the leg lifter is long enough to safely and comfortably reach both feet while the user is seated.


Users with weak arms and/or heavy legs may need both hands to lift and move their legs. Keep this in mind when considering how the leg lifter will be used. Those with poor balance who use one hand to steady themselves while seated will only have one free hand available to use the leg lifter.


Recommended supplementary products and home modifications


Wound Shower Cover


Purpose

A watertight cast and bandage protector allows users recovering from surgery or injury on limbs to keep the wounded area dry while showering.

Cast shower cover

Maintaining a dry cast or bandage is very important in preventing infection but difficult to do without giving up normal showering. Consider using a watertight protector to keep wounded areas dry.


Features to consider

Latex free – Users with a latex allergy should find protectors specifically labeled as latex-free.


Features to avoid

Diaphragm seal – Protectors that use an end diaphragm tend to fail in two ways.

First, protectors with a diaphragm typically are not as watertight as protectors without. Second, the seam that connects the diaphragm to the sleeve is prone to tearing, rendering the protector useless.

Stick with the basic protectors; they perform better and last longer.

Cast shower cover with diaphragm seal


What to know before buying

Watertight protectors can stretch out over time, so it is wise to purchase several replacements. It is best to have a new protector ready right when it is needed rather than having to postpone showering until a replacement arrives.


Consider placing two protectors over the wounded area as an extra precaution. Should the outer sleeve fail, the inner sleeve can serve as a backup. Obviously, dressing and undressing a second protector increases the amount of time it takes to shower.


Recommended supplementary products and home modifications


Bathtub cut-out


Purpose

A bathtub cut-out is a modification made to an existing bathtub that removes part of the threshold and creates a new, lower threshold to give users easier passage into and out of the shower. Those who have difficulty lifting their feet over the tub threshold when transferring in and out of the shower should consider the possibility of performing a bathtub cut-out.


What to know before installing

There are two methods to convert a conventional bathtub into a bathtub cut-out:

TubcuT® by Access Designs, Inc. – Self-proclaimed as the “original” tub-to-shower conversion system, TubcuT® is a product and service bundled together that’s only offered to consumers through Access Designs, Inc.’s national network of certified installers. Therefore, TubcuT® may or may not be an option depending on availability of local certified installers.

This cut-out method stands apart from its alternatives because of its flexible application. That is, the TubcuT® is capable of significantly more customization than other bathtub conversion solutions.

No matter the height of the current tub threshold, the TubcuT® can lower the threshold to the point at which the inside of the tub wall curves where it meets the tub floor. Generally, this will result in a tub threshold approximately 4 inches tall.

TubCut - any height

Furthermore, the tub opening can usually be made as wide as needed.

TubCut - any width

Finally, this system can accommodate any tub wall thickness and can easily handle changes in tub wall thickness.

TubCut - any thickness

With so many different styles of tubs, it’s wise to have a certified installer examine the tub in person and provide an accurate forecast of how large of an opening is possible.

The TubcuT® process works on all tub types (fiberglass, acrylic, steel, and cast iron) and takes around 5 to 6 hours to complete. Some tub materials are easier to work with than others, so times may vary depending on the tub type.

First, the portion of the tub threshold that is to become the new opening is cut and removed.

Next, supporting for the new threshold step is placed within the hollowed tub. This support is typically 2 by 4’s secured to the subfloor. Sheets of solid surface material, such as Corian®, are custom-shaped onsite and used to patch the tub-cut.

Finally, a repair putty, similar to Bondo®, is applied to create a seamless finish. The tub requires 24 hours to cure and then is ready for use.

This finishing method provides a better water seal compared to other tub-to-shower conversion systems. Also, the TubcuT® offers more of a factory finish appearance. With that being said, it can be a challenge to match the putty and solid surface material to the color of the existing tub.

When users no longer need the bathtub in its cut-out condition, the tub can be restored to its original function and appearance by re-attaching the portion of the tub that was removed. Metal brackets and high strength epoxy secure the cut-out back to the rest of the tub and the aforementioned repair putty is used to fill in the seams.


CleanCut (formerly Safeway Safety Step) – Just like TubcuT®, the CleanCut is sold as a combined product and service by certified installers across the country. CleanCut has a large network of approved professionals, so this solution may have greater availability than the TubcuT®.

The CleanCut system uses a prefabricated, acrylic insert to place over the cut-out portion of the tub. The CleanCut Step reduces the tub threshold by 8 inches and provides a 24 inch wide opening.

Clean Cut Step

Clean Cut Step

The CleanCut Ultra-Low reduces the tub threshold by 14 inches and also provides a 24 inch wide opening.

Clean Cut Ultra Low Step

Clean Cut Ultra Low

If a tub threshold is 8 inches or shorter, the CleanCut system will not work.

Additionally, the one-piece insert must be able to fit over the tub wall thickness. The CleanCut Step and Ultra-Low come in three different thickness options: narrow, medium, and wide.

Narrow can accommodate tub walls that are 4 ¼ inches thick at the top and 5 inches thick at the bottom (the bottom of the tub-cut, not the bottom of the tub). The medium size fits tub walls that are 4 ¾ inches thick at the top and 6 inches at the bottom. Wide is for tub walls up to 6 ¼ inches thick at the top and 7 ¼ inches thick at the bottom.

A bathtub is incompatible if its walls are thicker than the CleanCut cap. Transitions in the tub wall thickness is not a problem so long as the thickness never exceeds the CleanCut insert. Obviously, it’s best to have a professional take measurements of the tub and verify that the CleanCut product will fit appropriately.

This cut-out method usually takes less time than the TubcuT® because there is no finishing work required. Generally, the process takes between 2 to 4 hours. CleanCut products work on all tub types (fiberglass, acrylic, steel, and cast iron).

First, a template of the one-piece insert is used to measure and mark the portion of the tub to be removed. Once the tub is cut open, wood blocking is attached to the subfloor within the hollowed tub to support the weight of users stepping onto the new threshold.

Next, a vapor barrier is applied to prevent water from finding its way into the hollowed tub. The prefabricated cap is cut to fit the size and contours of the tub.

Last, the cap is placed onto the tub and sealed with caulk. Wait 24 hours for any adhesives to cure and then the tub is ready for use. Unlike the TubcuT®, it is very obvious that the CleanCut is an after-market modification.

CleanCut offers an insert with a door that seals the tub opening and allows users to bathe. Unfortunately, the door design requires users to bend over to reach the latch before filling the tub.

Clean Cut Door

Clean Cut Door

For many who will be using this product, this is both a safety concern and an operational barrier. Furthermore, bathing exposes the door seal to significantly more water than simply showering and increases the likelihood of water leaking into the hollowed portion of the tub. Opt out of this door feature to avoid hazards and hassles alike.

CleanCut also offers a convertible insert so the tub can be used interchangeably as a step-in shower with a tub-cut or as a full tub for bathing. But just like the CleanCut door version, bathing exposes the convertible seal to a lot of water and introduces a potential leaking hazard.

The cut-out portion of the tub can be saved and reinstalled later, however, installers for CleanCut products may use a different refurbishing method than the process described for the TubcuT®. One such method involves reuniting the tub pieces and installing an acrylic tub liner over the original tub. This liner is custom-made from a mold to fit onto the tub like a glove and, in essence, “refinishes” the tub.


While the cut-out portion may be able to bear weight, it’s not recommended that the insert be used as a step. The cut-out piece is only 5 to 8 inches deep, which is simply too shallow to establish secure footing, especially when the surface is wet. Users should always step over the tub cut-out.


A bathtub cut-out does not completely eliminate the tub threshold; the tub will always have at least a 4 inch tall threshold. There may come a time when a user needs a zero-threshold, curbless shower. At that point, the tub must either be replaced or the user must move into a new home with a curbless shower.

This isn’t to dissuade consumers from proceeding with a tub cut-out; this is only to remind consumers to consider the user’s prognosis and choose solutions that best match current and projected needs.


Be sure to thoroughly consider the placement of the tub opening.

The user may not currently use a shower chair or tub transfer bench, but there may come a time when such equipment is necessary. It is wise to cut the tub where the user’s legs would likely hang while seated so that sliding into and out of the tub on a shower bench is made much easier.


Recommended supplementary products and home modifications


Curbless shower


Purpose

Curbless showerA curbless shower offers safe passage into and out of the shower by eliminating thresholds that users would otherwise have to step over. A zero-threshold entry provides full shower accessibility, which is especially beneficial to wheelchair users.

Also, curbless showers increase the overall functional showering space compared to bathtubs and combination tub/showers, which take up more room.


Features to consider

Linear shower drainLinear trench drain – Most showers are like big bowls: the drains are in the middle of the shower with the surrounding floor pitched towards the drain. Unfortunately, this can cause problems with balance and wheelchair use. Alternatively, a linear shower pan paired with a trench drain allows the floor to only slope in one direction. This makes balancing much easier.

Furthermore, a single slope means wheelchair users can keep all four wheels safely in contact with the floor at all times.

Try to pitch the shower floor towards the back of the shower to help contain all of the water and prevent it from spilling out onto the bathroom floor.


Doorless shower – If full accessibility is a priority, then consider a shower without a door. Eliminating the shower door means eliminating its swing, which will free up additional maneuverable space, especially for wheelchair users. This extra room is hugely beneficial for making the area less crowded for caregivers.

Doorless showerFurthermore, a doorless shower design improves safety. Rather than trying to open and close a shower door while navigating over a wet surface, users can solely focus on safely travelling through the space without the distraction of operating a door.

There are two things to take into consideration. First, doorless showers don’t stop drafts, so users may get chilly while showering or on their way to finding their towels. This can be partly remedied by designing the space so towel hooks are within close proximity.

Second, water may splash outside of the shower, so users should be aware that the bathroom floor may be wet when exiting the shower. Use a non-slip tile for the bathroom floor to enhance foot traction. And to minimize the amount of spillage, design the shower space so that the shower head is directed away from the shower exit.


Collapsible dam threshold – Even with shower floors pitched towards the drain, water can still flow out onto the bathroom floor. A collapsible dam threshold can be used to stop the water from spreading into the bathroom, while still allowing wheelchair users to roll into and out of the shower.

Collapsible shower damAlthough many collapsible dam thresholds have self-adhesive on the bottom for fastening into place, it is recommended to use silicone caulk as a sealant and for additional holding power.

Despite being made of a foam or rubber material, collapsible dam thresholds can have relatively short lifetimes and may need to be replaced as soon as one year after installation. Monitor the threshold periodically to identify when its performance diminishes and replace accordingly.

A good policy is to give the collapsible dam threshold a trial period, and if it performs well, purchase a second threshold to have ready when the first one needs to be replaced.


What to know before installing

There’s plenty involved in replacing a bathtub with a curbless shower, but the most significant step is lowering the shower subfloor so that the new finished shower floor is flush (curbless) with the finished bathroom floor. The shower subfloor should be dropped approximately 4 inches to allow for proper slope and drainage.

Curbless shower installation detail

Generally, the top of the shower drain should be 1.5 to 2 inches below the flat bathroom floor, and the shower floor should slope between 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch per foot. Please note, though, that building codes vary and specific design details should be verified with local authorities before planning/construction.


Depending on the type of home and the location of the remodel (basement, ground level, or higher than the first story), the shower subfloors will either be a wood flooring system or a slab-on-grade concrete foundation. Older wood subfloors are typically made of 2 inch by 12 inch joists and at minimum 1/2 inch thick plywood sheathing while more recently constructed homes have subfloors made of Truss Joist I-beams.


Dropping a wood subfloor involves removing the existing plywood sheathing, cutting the existing joists, installing new framing at the lowered floor height, and reinstalling the plywood sheathing. The following graphic illustrates this process:

Curbless shower pan installation for wooden I-joists floors

Source: J.L.C. Online Magazine

While this diagram shows I-joists, the same construction method should be followed for 2-by-x dimensional lumber framing. Here’s a technical sheet showing the final construction for a curbless shower with wood framing:

Curbless shower pan installation for dimensional floor joists

Source: The Center for Universal Design at N.C. State University


For a concrete flooring system (slab foundation), lowering the subfloor means cutting into and removing part of the concrete slab itself.

One caveat with concrete slabs: verify that the slab does not contain post tension cables. These cables are often placed sporadically within the slab and the foundation would suffer serious damage should one of the tension cables be inadvertently cut. Here’s a technical sheet showing the final construction for a curbless shower with slab foundation:

Curbless shower pan installation for concrete slab sub-floor

Source: The Center for Universal Design at N.C. State University


Remember to always consult with a licensed structural engineer in the planning phase to make certain that dropping the subfloor can be successfully completed without compromising the home’s structural integrity.


Sometimes it may not be possible to lower the subfloor 4 inches. If such is the case, then an alternative method to creating a curbless shower is to transform the bathroom into a wet room. This requires a more intensive bathroom remodel because the entire bathroom floor essentially becomes one big shower pan.

To create a wet room, the bathroom’s existing tub, toilet, and sink must be removed. Next, the existing bathroom floor must be pulled up. Then the shower subfloor is lowered by at least ¾ inch to create the necessary slope for water to properly drain. A mortar bed is placed on the entire bathroom floor and pitched appropriately to the shower drain. The mortar floor is sealed with a waterproofing membrane. Finally, tile is installed with thinset over the waterproof membrane.

Here are three different ways to drop the shower subfloor ¾ inch:

Add cleats and drop the subfloor. Be sure to verify with a structural engineer that the cleats can support the weight of the shower floor.

Add cleats to the floor joists and drop the sub-floor

Source: Fine Homebuilding Magazine

Notch the floor joists and provide necessary reinforcement. Again, always consult a structural engineer before making changes to the floor joists.

Notch the floor joists and add reinforcement

Source: Fine Homebuilding Magazine

Raise the surrounding subfloor to effectively lower the showering area floor. Keep in mind that building up the floor will result in a raised transition at the entrance of the bathroom. This can be remedied with a small ramp that creates a seamless, accessible transition into the bathroom.

Build up the surrounding sub-floor

Source: Fine Homebuilding Magazine

When converting a bathroom into a wet room, it’s important to know that vanity sink base cabinets should be replaced with water-resistant alternatives such as porcelain pedestal sinks or wall-hung sinks. In the event water makes its way out onto the bathroom floor, the fixtures and finishes should all be able to get wet without suffering any water damage.


Recommended supplementary products and home modifications


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