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How Safe are Suction Grab Bars?

Suction grab bars don’t screw to the wall, instead, they use suction pads. You probably know what I mean by suction pads. They’re those circular rubber things that children lick to stick toys and other items onto windows. But are they strong enough to be any use? Do you think suction grab bars are safe?

Many seniors need support when walking up and down outdoor steps and when in the bathroom and toilet. Installers usually fix the support bars (or grab bars), securely to a wall so they can support the weight of a fully grown adult.

RELATED: Bathroom safety tips for the elderly

The fixings for the grab bars depend on the type of wall you have as many houses use various building materials. The safest and strongest walls are solid brick or concrete block, and the wooden studs within the plasterboard drywall. Never fix grab bars to drywalls using cavity fixings as they just won’t hold.

There is however another type of grab bar available, and that’s what we’ll talk about in this article.

What are Suction Grab Bars?

You’ve probably seen many of these advertised online and wondered if they were ‘fit for purpose’.

At first sight, they seem ideal to keep yourself or an elderly relative safe. As mentioned before suction grab bars use air pressure to hold suction pads onto a smooth, non-porous surface. And I stress smooth and non-porous, otherwise, the suction pads won’t stick.

Are Suction Grab Rails Safe?

The answer to this question depends on what you’ll use them for. If you intend to install them in public and commercial buildings, you’ll have to comply with many different regulations governing fixings and installations.

Different states within America and different countries have their own regulations. So, if you’re in doubt, contact your local government office and someone will help you out. There aren’t any regulations, at the time of writing, governing grab bars in private dwellings.

But, if you use those for public buildings as a set of guidelines you won’t go too far wrong.  Basically, the regulations state how the grab bars should be designed and the limits of their use.

Where to place suction grab rails?

Well, they’re very convenient and simple to install, but they have their limitations.

  • You can only place them onto a smooth and non-porous wall.
  • There’s no guarantee that the suction pad will hold the applied weight.

However, If the person has had a minor fracture or surgery and only needs the bars to help with balance, then suction grab bars will help increase confidence and boost recovery time. Just make sure the user knows that the bars will not necessarily take their full weight.

Also, suction grab bars aren’t permanently fixed to the wall, and the decoration doesn’t need repairing upon removal.

They’re useful when the user wants to know where to position permanent grab bars. Good positioning of these is essential, and by using suction bars, you can try out different locations before fixing proper grab bars permanently to the wall.

How to Install Suction Grab Bars?

So, let’s assume that the senior will be using the suction bars temporarily and knows that their weight might be too great for the suction pads, or maybe they only want help with balance issues.

How do we install them onto a wall?

As mentioned before, choose a smooth and non-porous surface. Six-inch glazed bathroom tiles, glass, plastic or metal are ideal and are probably the only surfaces smooth enough to take the suction pads.

Read the installation instructions and familiarize yourself with them. Make sure you follow them to the letter. As the instructions will depend on the make and model of grab bar, I can’t go into the details. But, I can tell you generalizations.

  • Wash the surface to remove all traces of grease and dirt. Dishwashing liquid and warm water will be ideal for this job.
  • Dry the surface using a clean cloth or paper towel.
  • Check that the surface is perfectly smooth and clean.
  • Moisten the suction pads where they come into contact with the wall’s surface.
  • Press the grab bar against the smooth surface so that air expels from beneath the suction pads.
  • Most suction grab bars have locking levers to strengthen the pads’ suction. If yours have them, engage and lock into place.
  • Some suction bars also have an indicator to tell you when the suction strength is satisfactory. Ensure yours indicates as specified in the manufacturer’s instructions.

Are Suction Grab Bars ADA Approved?

This is a phrase placed into many adverts to give the impression of good quality. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as being ‘ADA Approved’.

Presumably, this stands for the Americans with Disability Act. This is legislation protecting the rights of disabled American citizens in public places.

The standards aren’t designed for private residences but they provide guidelines for installers. The ADA is NOT a government agency and can NOT issue approvals or disapprovals for anything.

If you see this phrase used in any advertising, it actually means nothing and often makes me wonder whether it’s there to deceive the ordinary elderly person or if the manufacturer doesn’t understand the legislation.

It’s much better if you see the phrase ‘ADA compliant’. Then, you’ll know that the design and manufacture of the grab bars comply with the legislation. This is much better and shows the manufacturer knows what they are talking about.

But remember that ADA compliance has no legal meaning in private residences. It’s only a set of guidelines.

How Well do Suction Grab Bars Work?

As stated earlier, suction grab bars are great to use if they’re only there to help with balance issues. They aren’t necessarily strong enough to support an adult’s full weight and may give a false sense of security.

As a general rule, I would say that these aren’t suitable for a chronically disabled or elderly person as there’s no guarantee the grab bar fixings can support the person’s weight.

How Much Weight can a Suction Grab Bar Hold?

ADA compliance ensures that grab bars meet with certain standards. One of these is that it must be capable of supporting 500lbs weight. A typical suction grab bar with heavy-duty suction pads will hold anything up to 300lbs depending on the condition and smoothness of the wall surface and the seal between pads and surface.

What Are some Alternatives to Suction Grab Bars?

Two alternatives to suction grab bars are

  1. Bars screwed or bolted to a solid wall or wooden stud. This is by far the safer method of fixing a grab bar.
  2. Those that are free-standing and support a person’s weight by resting on the ground using their own feet. Although the person’s weight transfers to the floor, fix the support preventing the structure from moving when used.

How Much Weight can a Grab Bar Hold?

A standard non-suction grab bar can hold a minimum of 500lbs if it complies with the ADA legislation. This is enough to support the full weight of a standard-sized adult and includes enough strength to withstand a downward force due to falling.

What’s next?

I am sure you got a much more clear picture of suction grab bars safety. As mentioned before suction grab bars usually hold up to 300lbs weight but this depends on different factors. These are great if you have minor balance problems or if you are on the go.

You can take with you if you are visiting relatives and intend to stay a few days. It’s easy to position these exactly where you want them, without disturbing the existing decorations.

If you want to discover more gadgets like this you can check the guide to home modifications.

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