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Suction Cup Grab Bars: Good or Secretly Evil?

Today, we’re going to talk about a highly contested, controversial topic: suction cup grab bars.

Clarke Healthcare suction cup grab bars.

Clarke Healthcare suction cup grab bars.

More than likely you’ve seen one of these things at the store or in the home of someone you know.

A suction cup grab bar is a handle with suction cups at both ends. They come in a variety of lengths from 12 inches on up. You can place them on any flat, non porous surface. Just avoid grout lines!

People really like suction cup grab bars because you:

  • Can buy them at any big box retailer or Amazon.

  • Don’t need tools to install them.

  • Don’t need to hire a contractor.

  • Can put them at any height and angle in the shower. Customizable to the individual!

  • Can install them on fiberglass, tile, marble, acrylic, porcelain, etc.

  • Can remove them when you don’t need them anymore.

I get the appeal. I truly do. What’s not to love about all of those points?

Clarke Healthcare Quattro Power Support Suction Cup Grab Bar

Clarke Healthcare Quattro Power Support Suction Cup Grab Bar

Check out this type of suction cup grab bar from Clarke Healthcare! I mean, the attachments to this thing alone are very attractive.

Suction cup grab bars are advertised as steadying devices. They aren’t meant for people to push or pull their whole weight on them when getting in and out of the shower or on and off the toilet.

This creates a conundrum if someone were to slip in the shower and instinctively grab onto the suction cup grab bar while generating a minimum of 50-80 lbs per force. Now some suction cup grab bar manufacturers say they can sustain up to 500 lbs per force, BUT they quickly follow up with stating that suctions cups lose pressure over time and NEED to be readjusted.

We know that temperature changes going from cold to very warm cause a loss in pressure between the suction cups and the wall surface.

Would you want to remove and reattach your suction cup grab bars every week or so?

Installation is not a one and done process. Even Consumer Affairs wrote an article that discusses how suction cup grab bars are only as effective as the method in which they’re mounted. It’s hard for us to judge exactly how much pressure we put on the grab bar. The author mentioned that if a very heavy person were to have a grab bar drilled into a stud, the grab bar would still require extra reinforcement to give the proper support that person needs when getting in and out of the shower.

Unfortunately, I’ve worked with quite a number of people who’ve had the frightening experience of pulling suction cup grab bars and standard grab bars off the wall! Those people never thought it could happen to them.

Group of women sitting and talking. Photo by Pexels.

Group of women sitting and talking. Photo by Pexels.

The probability of falling at home is highest the moment you step out of the shower. Why wouldn’t you choose a more secure option to keep you safe?

Let’s talk about the benefits of installing a standard grab bar:

Stainless steel grab bar from Home Depot.

Stainless steel grab bar from Home Depot.

  • ONE and DONE. You install the grab bar one time! No need to remove and reattach!

  • Placing the grab bar at the height and angle that works for you. Again, customizable, but this also depends on the stud placement and if you need additional plywood in the wall behind the shower surface.

  • You can hire a professional, do-it-yourself, or have a family member install the grab bar.

  • Save money by buying equipment that won’t lose suction, fall off the wall, and break into 100 pieces.

  • Confidence in knowing the grab bar stays put EVERY single time you get in and out of the shower.

  • Available in every color and finish. There’s even grab bars designed to look like a soap dish in the shower!

  • Fiberglass shower? No worries! The solid mount is designed to hold your grab bar in place.

In my perspective, grab bars are a great investment in lowering the chances of a fall. On the other hand, suction cup grab bars are akin to fast food: they provide immediate gratification with unwanted consequences later on.

Let me illustrate this point with an anecdote. Ethel (names have been changed) was preparing to return home from rehab after fracturing her hip. When we visited her home, I noticed she had a suction cup grab bar in the shower. I explained to Ethel and her daughter, Liz, to consider replacing the suction cup grab bar with a standard grab bar to avoid removing and reattaching the suction cups. Liz did not realize suction cup grab bars lost pressure and became very alarmed.


“I can’t come over and reattach those all the time.”

Ethel lived home alone and said she would ask her neighbor to reattach the suction cup grab bars. Liz and Ethel decided they didn’t want to hassle with hiring someone to install grab bars in the shower.

Eventually, Ethel finished rehab and went home. She started to get back to her regular schedule and neglected to ask her neighbor to check the pressure on her suction cup grab bars.

You know in your gut what happened next.

Ethel slipped while getting out of the shower and fell onto the floor with the suction cup grab bar in her hand. She went back to the hospital and rehab, but instead of going home her daughter helped her move into an assisted living facility.

She moved out of her home not by her choice, but by preventable circumstances.

Don’t let this be you or your loved ones. You should decide how long you live in your home. Not a piece of plastic!

Some people ask me: do I really need grab bars right now at this point in my life? My answer is, if you find yourself reaching out to steady yourself as you get in and out of the shower, you need grab bars. Shower doors, towel rods, and sink vanities are NOT suitable to withstand your weight either. Don’t even get me started on how many people I know who’ve pulled their towel rods and sinks out of the wall!

Contact me or another occupational therapist to help you decide where you should place grab bars in your bathroom. Remember, you better do it before you need it!