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Install a Grab Bar

Any bathroom can benefit from the added safety of grab bars.

Bathroom with grab bar over the toilet

Tools & Materials

Materials

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Know Before You Shop for Grab Bars

  • Tile might seem fragile, but it’ll seem like an impenetrable barrier to standard twist drill bits, which will crack your tile. Instead, use a 1/4-in glass / tile drill bit for mounting bars over studs or a 1/2-in glass/tile drill bit for installations using special wall anchors. (Odds are you’ll need both.)
  • Avoid mounting grab bars on acrylic tub and shower surrounds that stand out from the drywall underneath. These walls bend and flex.
  • If someone in the family lacks grip strength, choose smaller-diameter bars. Then decide whether the bar finish can be a glossy piece of bathroom bling or if it needs to be textured for better grip by wet hands.
  • Some grab bars are specifically made to mount vertically, horizontally, or in either position. (There’s no “right” mounting, so choose what works for you.) Check the package to be sure the model you want works in the position you want.

Where to Install Grab Bars

Where to install a grab bar diagram

Try climbing in and out of your tub or shower—minus the water—to get an idea where grab bars should be placed, and mount them where they work best for everyone using that bathroom. Always mount grab bars into a stud that sits behind the wall. Or, if the stud can't be located, use an anchoring device. Be sure there is adequate room within the hollow area behind the wall so an anchoring device will work. Grab bars can be placed vertically, horizontally or diagonally depending on your needs.

At the entry to the shower or tub

  • To help facilitate entry and exit, install a grab bar vertically in front of the shower or tub. A smaller grab bar (12-in, 16-in, or 18-in) works well for this purpose, although longer ones can accommodate users of various heights. Having a grab bar here helps prevent the tendency to reach for towel bars, sliding glass doors or other unstable fixtures.
  • Vertical grab bars are also good for both shorter and taller people to grip at a comfortable height.

In the shower or tub

  • Horizontal grab bars mounted inside the tub or shower provide added stability, whereas diagonal grab bars provide added stability when lowering to sit on a shower seat.
  • Generally a 16-in grab bar or a grab bar that is a multiple of 16 (16-in, 32-in, or 48-in) works best. In most cases studs are located 16 inches apart on center. Always attach grab bars to studs or use secure mounting anchors the manufacturer recommends.

Near the toilet

  • Installing a grab bar near the toilet can provide great assistance in both sitting or standing. Used in conjunction with a chair height toilet or raised toilet seat and this can further improve comfort and ease of use.
  • Generally, a grab bar is installed either horizontally or diagonally near the toilet.
  • A diagonal grab bar is more in tune with the natural movement of the hand and wrist and puts less strain on the wrist. They also offer the ability to grip at varied heights, making them comfortable for both shorter and taller people.
  • When installed diagonally, a grab bar may not reach between studs. If this is the case, it can be mounted with secure mounting anchors used at one or both ends of the grab bar.

Install Grab Bars in Your Bathtub Over Studs

Instructions

Step 1

Mark mounting locations on the wall with strips of 1-1/2-in painter’s tape at the height you need and roughly as long as the grab bar you want.

Step 2

step 2

Using a stud finder, locate the positions of wall studs and mark them on the painter’s tape strips.

Step 3

step 3

Using the grab bar mounting flange as your guide, mark the pilot hole locations oriented over your stud marks. For mounting on drywall, you’ll need to drill pilot holes using a bit that’s slightly smaller than the shaft of the mounting screw (the core that the threads wrap around). Check the directions for a manufacturer’s recommendation. Drill pilot holes through the drywall and check to make certain you drilled into a stud on the other side.

If you're drilling through ceramic tiles, you need glass / tile drill bits. For driving screws into a stud, use a 1/4-in bit to drill only through the tile and part of the drywall but not into the stud. For installing the Snaptoggle anchors used here, drill a 1/2-in hole through both the tile and drywall.

Step 4

Drive the mounting screws that came with your grab bar, or use 2-1/2-in panhead screws. Pay attention to the resistance you feel as you drive the screws. If you feel the resistance slack off before you’re finished, that could be a sign the screw tip broke through the side of the stud, reducing its strength.

Step 5

Slide the grab bar covers over the mounting flanges and apply moderate pressure to the bar to test the strength.

Mount Your Grab Bar With a Wall Anchor

The grab bar directions call for three screws per flange, which works fine for mounting on studs. But drilling that many 1/2-in holes in plain drywall can weaken the wall enough for the mounting area to break off. Instead, use two heavy-duty toggle-bolt anchors placed in the upper half of the flange with the metal channels positioned vertically. You can use three anchors per flange in tile over drywall and in plaster walls—particularly plaster over lath—because both are stronger than plain drywall.

Instructions

Step 1

step 1

Mark the flange hole openings on painter’s tape and find the center of each hole as you would for driving screws into a stud. Tape also helps keep the bit from wandering and tile from cracking as you start the hole. For the Snaptoggle anchors used here, we drilled 1/2-in holes and carefully removed any loose pieces of drywall paper.

Step 2

Hold the metal channel against the anchor’s plastic straps, slide it through the hole, and make certain the metal channel is vertical. Hold the ends of the plastic straps and pull them toward you until the channel seats against the back side of the wall. Slide the plastic cap along the mounting with your other hand until the cap is flush against the wall.

Step 3

step 3

Using the screws supplied with the anchor, fasten the mounting flanges to the wall on both ends. Apply equal pressure to the screws holding each flange to prevent the bar from rocking and damaging the drywall. Tighten the screws until they’re finger-tight against the mounting flange, then add a half-turn.

Step 4

Slide the covers over the flanges and give the bar a strong pull to test the strength of the bar.