Grab bars are essential for safety-proofing a home for aging in place. There are different types and styles available on the market to choose from. One of the key decisions you need to make is going for traditional or suction grab bars.
This article aims to make it easy for you to determine whether suction grab bars are suitable for you. It explores whether suction grab bars are safe by looking at their pros and cons and when they are most appropriate.
What Is a Suction Grab Bar?
A suction grab bar is a type of grab bar fitted with suction cups on both ends for attachment to the wall. Therefore, they do not require drilling or screws to install. They come in a variety of sizes and designs.
Suction cup grab bars are meant to be used as steadying devices for bathroom safety. Although a few are advertised as heavy-duty with a weight capacity of up to 500lbs, they are not designed to withstand a lot of force. They are most effective for handling 50-80lbs of force.
Therefore, they are not suitable for pulling yourself up or pushing on as you sit down. When used this way, there have been reported cases where they come off the wall causing the user to fall. They are primarily mobility assistance devices for balance assist and additional stability.
Pros and Cons of Suction Grab Bars
- They are widely available and can be bought online or from any big box store.
- They are easy to install. Unlike fixed mount grab bars, you do not have to worry about the position of the mounts behind the wall. Neither do you need special drilling tools or mounting devices. You do not require any handyman skills, and it takes less than a minute to have them set up.
- They offer placement versatility. You can mount them in any position, including vertically, horizontally, and diagonally.
- Can be installed on various surfaces, including porcelain, marble, and acrylic.
- They are easy to dismount; therefore, you can easily remove them if you do not need them anymore.
- They are portable. Most have a compact and light design that enables you to bring them along on your travels. They can fit in your suitcase or bag for easy transportation.
- They do not leave grout lines on the wall.
- Not suitable for use as traditional grab bars. As mentioned earlier, they do not withstand a high weight capacity or force.
- They lose suction over time, requiring to be readjusted regularly. It is advisable to always check their suction before holding on to them.
- They are not suitable for use on surfaces that experience temperature change. The temperature change causes pressure loss between the suction and the wall, resulting in them falling off.
- They must be mounted on a smooth, dry, and flat surface. They are not suitable for use on porous surfaces or surfaces that tend to get wet, e.g., bathroom walls.
- They are not suitable for use on painted walls as they easily lose suction on these surfaces.
- They are not ADA compliant for home safety.
What Are the Advantages of Fixed Mount Over Suction Grab Bars?
- Fixed-mount grab rails have higher body weight and force capacity. They can support your full body weight. Most are ADA approved with a body weight capacity of 300lb.
- They are suitable for pushing down on or pulling up from a seated position.
- Although they may require a professional to install, you are all set for extended periods once they are in place on the shower wall.
- They remain sturdy and balanced throughout. Therefore, you can confidently use them without fearing that they may have disjointed or lost suction, as with suction grab bars.
- Available in a wide variety of colors and styles to fit your décor.
- Can be used even on wet surfaces or surfaces prone to temperature changes.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Suction Bars for Aging in Place
If you decide to get a suction bar or grab rail, below are the key factors to consider when choosing one from the wide variety in the market.
Type of Surface They Will Be Mounted On
Suction bars are best mounted on flat, non porous surfaces such as flat tiles or another smooth surface that does not have texture like glass, fiberglass, and acrylic.
The most common size for suction grab bars is 16 inches. However, you can also find some that are 18 inches, 24 inches, and 36 inches long. When deciding which size is most appropriate, consider how much it will protrude out of the wall and if it will be obstructive.
Also, consider if it will provide ample space to hold on to. Longer ones are more suitable for people with larger hands. It should also leave enough space from the wall.
If you need suction grab bars that you can bring along on your travels, consider smaller ones that are light and do not take up too much space in your bag.
Most suction grab bars are rounded with ends that curl down for an ergonomic feel. Some are textured or have a contoured pattern along the bar for enhanced grip. Ultimately, your preferred choice is a matter of preference.
Overall Design of the Suction Bar
Go for a suction grab bar that matches your décor.
How to Install Suction Grab Bars for Aging in Place
Suction grab bars are quite easy to install. The key is to ensure that the surface you want to mount them on is clean and dry to ensure you create a strong seal. You can clean the surface using alcohol or a solvent cleaner and then wipe it with a clean and dry cloth.
Most come with a protective film on the suction cup. Simply peel it off and place the bar where you want it installed. Then press the suction cups firmly on the wall. Some suction grab bars have an indicator light that turns green when the bar locks in place.
Although most suction grab bars have a straightforward installation, always check your product manual for any specific installation instructions for the given product.
Tips for Ensuring Your Suction Grab Bar Sticks Better
- Install them on an appropriate surface. Even suction cups designed to have a strong seal will not attach to certain surfaces, e.g., extremely wet surfaces, textured surfaces, or uneven surfaces.
- Clean both the suction cup and the surface you will be mounting it on. If you notice that your suction grab bar is not attaching to the wall despite cleaning it, it could be that the suction cup is oily or too wet. Clean it up with alcohol or white vinegar and dry it, then attempt again.
- Sometimes, a little water on the attaching surface can help with sealing. Wipe both the suction cup and the wall with a slightly damp cloth and attach the bar to the wall. The slight wetness helps to eliminate air pockets that could cause suction failure.
- Or, apply a little amount of cooking oil on the perimeter of the suction cup to enable it to adhere to the wall. Use as little oil as possible: otherwise, the surfaces will become extremely slippery and lose suction power.
- Regularly press down the suction grab bar on the wall to remove any air pockets that may have developed due to humidity or environmental temperature changes. If the grip is loose, dismount and mount again for a stronger seal.
- Apply the grab bar in temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal suction. The suction bar will mount even at higher temperatures. However, the air is condensed at lower temperatures, so there is less of it trapped in the suction cup, causing a loss of grip.
Suction grab bars are only effective as steadying devices and when mounted appropriately on a drywall surface. They have a low weight and force capacity making them unsuitable for heavier persons. They are not suitable for pushing yourself down or pulling yourself up from a toilet seat or bathtub. They are also prone to loss of suction, leading to the user falling.
Ultimately, fixed mount grab bars are more effective at reducing the risk of falling when using the toiler. However, a suction grab bar can be suitable if the senior still has strength and a reasonable range of movement and only needs slight assistance to sit or stand up.
Besides, you can bring your suction grab bar along whether you are traveling, going to the doctor’s, or staying at a house that is not safety-proofed for a few days.