Suction Grab Bars are Easy to Install and Inexpensive, But Are They Safe?

why suction grab bars are not safe

by Ellen Blake

Recently, I noticed some suction grab bars in the home of an elderly friend. She had them in the shower and on the wall behind the commode. While they appeared sturdy enough at first glance, they made me nervous. From a safety standpoint, suction grab bars are questionable, particularly for someone like my friend. Though fairly active, she is 89 years old and her balance is not great. I would hate for her to add what she thought was a safety feature to her bathroom only to find it caused her more problems.

I understand people like suction grab bars because they are affordable and easy to put in place and then take down when desired.  And those who rent their homes vs own may think it’s the way to go as they are not allowed to affix anything to the walls.

My friend told me she felt these bars were better than nothing.  She did not want to go to the effort and expense of installing permanent grab bars with the appropriate support. I’m not so sure they are better than nothing. Yes, they can provide extra support, but they are not 100% reliable. It only takes one incident to create a long-term problem.

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Yes, Suction Grab Bars Can Work, But Only Sometimes

Suction grab bars for shower or tub can definitely work, but how well they work depends on a variety of factors. For example, the surface to which they are attached needs to be conducive for the suction to work well. Also, the weight of the person is a consideration, as is the length of time they remain up. All these things affect the stability of the grab bars.

Most suction grab bars, designed to attach to smooth, no-porous surfaces like tile or glass, are made from plastic with a rubber gasket between two metal plates. To install, the user needs to push down on the bar to create a vacuum seal between the bar and the wall surface. Sounds simple, but the problem is that over time, shower surfaces get wet, soapy or dirty which can cause them to slip or detach.

Another issue is that is someone leans on the bar, the vacuum seal can break causing the grab bar to come loose. If the person using weighs more than 250 lbs, the likelihood of the bar will come loose increases significantly.

Suction grab bars can be safe, but it is important to use them correctly and understand their limitations.

Our Five Top Reasons We Do Not Recommend Suction Grab Bars:

In a nutshell, suction grab bars may not be the most reliable option for providing stability and support in the bathroom or other wet areas.

Limited weight capacity

Designed to support up to 200 pounds, these temporary bars may not be sufficient for heavier individuals or those who put a lot of pressure on the bar.

Not suitable for all surfaces

They work best on smooth, non-porous surfaces such as tiles, glass, and mirrors. They may not adhere well to textured or uneven surfaces.

Potential for failure

They rely on suction cups to stay in place. Unfortunately, these suction cups which can become dislodged if not installed correctly or if the surface is wet or dirty. This can lead to falls and injuries.

Not permanent

They are not a permanent fixture and may need to be readjusted or reinstalled regularly. This can be inconvenient and time-consuming.

Limited placement options

Suction grab bars can only be placed in areas where there is a suitable surface to adhere to. This may limit their placement options and may not provide the most ideal support for the user.

Overall, while suction grab bars can provide temporary support, they may not be the best option for long-term use or for those who require more stability and security. That’s why we recommend you consult with a healthcare professional or occupational therapist to determine the most suitable option for your needs.

Alternatives to Suction Grab Bars

Here are a few options to consider that may provide more reliable support and stability.

Wall-mounted grab bars

These are permanent grab bars that you install securely onto a wall. They can support a greater weight capacity and are available in a variety of lengths and styles. Wall-mounted grab bars are ideal for individuals who require more support and stability in the bathroom or other areas of the home.

Clamp-on grab bars

These are grab bars that clamp onto the edge of a bathtub or shower stall. They are adjustable and  you can remove them when not in use. Clamp-on grab bars are a good option for individuals who require temporary support or for those who rent their home and cannot install permanent fixtures.

Floor-to-ceiling poles

These are poles that are secured between the floor and ceiling. They can provide support and stability in a variety of situations and are adjustable. You can easily move them to different locations in the home. Floor-to-ceiling poles are ideal for individuals who require support when standing or sitting and can be used in a variety of settings.

Transfer benches

These are benches that are placed inside a bathtub or shower stall and can provide a stable surface for individuals to sit on while bathing. Transfer benches have adjustable legs and can be used to transfer individuals in and out of the bathtub or shower stall safely.

Four Most Commonly Googled Questions About Grab Bars

The Bottom Line

To ensure that these temporary grab bars are safe to use, it is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. Make sure they are installed on a clean, dry surface and periodically check the suction cups. You want to ensure they are securely attached and have not started to loosen or slip.

If you have concerns about the safety of suction grab bars, consider consulting with a healthcare professional or occupational therapist. A trusted professional can provide  guidance on the best options for your specific needs. There are better options available for individuals who require support and stability in the bathroom or other areas of the home.

In a nutshell, suction cup grab bars are not recommended due to their limited weight capacity, unreliable adhesion that can be compromised by surface conditions, the risk of sudden detachment, incompatibility with many surfaces, unsuitability for long-term use or as a primary safety solution, lack of structural reinforcement, maintenance requirements, potential misuse. Since more secure and reliable alternatives such as permanent grab bars provide stable and lasting support for individuals with mobility issues or disabilities, we recommend you use those instead. Yes, they are more expensive, but not nearly as costly or problematic as a bad fall.

As for my friend? She leaned on her grab bar one day for too long and it came off the wall. As a result, she fell. Fortunately, it was not a bad one, but it did make her realize some changes were needed. She let me replace the suction grab bars at that point with permanent ones with good support.

FAQs About Suction Grab Bars

Here are a few commonly asked questions about grab bars we hear from our readers.

What are suction grab bars?

Suction grab bars are temporary, portable handrails that can be attached to smooth, non-porous surfaces, like bathroom tiles, glass, or fiberglass, without the need for drilling or permanent installation. They provide support and stability for individuals who may need assistance in maintaining their balance, especially in bathrooms.

How do suction grab bars work?

Suction grab bars use vacuum suction cups to adhere to smooth surfaces. When you press the grab bar against the wall and engage the suction cups, it creates a strong seal that holds the bar in place. The bar can then be used for support when getting in and out of the shower or bath.

Are suction grab bars safe to use?

Suction grab bars can be safe when used correctly on appropriate surfaces. However, it’s crucial to ensure that the surface is clean, dry, and non-porous to maintain a secure grip. Regularly inspect the grab bars to make sure the suction cups haven’t lost their suction power.

What is the weight capacity of suction grab bars?

The weight capacity of suction grab bars can vary depending on the brand and model. Most suction grab bars are designed to support between 200 and 300 pounds (90 to 136 kilograms). Always check the product specifications for the weight limit of a specific grab bar.

Can suction grab bars be used on any surface?

Suction grab bars work best on smooth, non-porous surfaces like tiles, glass, fiberglass, and acrylic. They may not adhere well to textured surfaces, wallpaper, or drywall. It’s essential to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for suitable surfaces.

Are suction grab bars easy to install?

Yes, suction grab bars are relatively easy to install. You simply press the suction cups against the wall and engage the locking mechanism. No drilling or tools are required. However, it’s essential to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper installation.

Can suction grab bars be repositioned easily?

Suction grab bars are designed to be removable and repositionable. You can release the suction cups and reattach the grab bar to a different location if needed. This makes them a versatile solution for different users and situations.

Do suction grab bars leave marks on the wall?

Suction grab bars should not leave marks on the wall if they are properly installed on clean and dry surfaces. However, if the surface is not adequately cleaned or if the suction cups lose their seal, there may be some marks or residue left behind.

Can suction grab bars be used for outdoor applications?

Suction grab bars are primarily designed for indoor use on smooth, non-porous surfaces. They may not perform well on outdoor or rough surfaces.

Remember that while suction grab bars can provide temporary support, they should not be solely relied upon for critical balance and safety needs, and it’s essential to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for installation and usage.

1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you for this well written article! As a 79 year old engineer with knowledge and experience in Senior Safety Grab Handle design, I would emphatically add the need for *CONFIDENCE* so obviously lacking in suction cup handles. Some fragile Seniors are actually fearful of entering and exiting their own showers. Kind regards, Reg Tomerlin

    • You are very welcome! It scares me to see suction cup grab bars in homes – they are an accident waiting to happen! Confidence in the assistive devices is essential! Thank you for your comment!

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