wikiHow to Install a Grab Bar

Two Parts:Getting StartedSecuring the Grab Bar

Grab bars provide extra security in the bathtub for that first slippery step. Installed properly, good-quality grab bars are specifically manufactured to hold up to 250 pounds, giving you security and safety in your shower or tub. You can learn where to position grab bars and how to anchor them so they’re rock-solid.

Part 1
Getting Started

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    Assemble the necessary tools. Grab bars are relatively simple to install for experienced home repairers as well as weekenders with the proper tools. To do the job right, you'll need:
    • Pen or pencil
    • Masking tape
    • Electric drill
    • Grab bar, available at home repair stores
    • Glass and tile bit, sized to the wall anchors
    • General purpose or wooden metal bit, also sized
    • Hand screwdriver
    • Wall screws
    • Silicone shower caulk
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    Examine the grab bar kit. Take everything out of the box, making sure the grab bar is in good condition. Check to see what screws are included and whether or not the anchors match the diameter of your tile bit. If not, you'll need to get a new tile bit.
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    Determine mounting location. This will vary depending on who the intended user is, as well as the location of the studs in the wall. In general, the bar needs to be about waist high for the shower user, to make it useful.
    • Locate two studs on the wall to screw the grab bar to. Studs are typically spaced 16 inches (40.6 cm) apart, measured from center to center. You can locate them by knocking on the wall above the tile, checking in the room on the other side of the bath wall, or using a stud sensor.
    • Use a stud finder where there is not tile to find the studs. Can usually measure 16 inches (40.6 cm) on center from where you know there is a stud (usually a corner), but it won’t always work. Be sure to find both edges of the stud.
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    Mark the location of the stud. Extend the stud marks down to the grab bar location with a level, then place a strip of 1-1/2 in. masking tape on the tile to indicate the location of the studs. A good location for a bar is at an angle between two wall studs on the long back wall of the tub. The bottom of the bar should be about 6 to 10 in. above the top of the tub. For studs 16 in. apart, a 24-in. long bar provides a nice angle.
    • Place marks on the masking tape where the screws will go to position the bar properly. Drilling through the masking tape is typically done to keep the drill bit from skating across the tile and scraping it up. It also helps to keep the tile from cracking in some cases.
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    Pre-drill pilot holes. Since most showers are tiled, you'll need to use a glass and tile bit. These usually feature a spade tip, but you can also find diamond ones which are slightly longer lasting. Most anchors will recommend the appropriate hole size to drill. Find a drill bit that is as close to the size of the shank of the screw as possible without being bigger.
    • Most bars will need about an 1/8-in. hole with a glass-and-tile bit at the mark closest to the center of each stud to confirm the stud location. If you hit solid wood, drill the remaining holes. If not, poke a piece of bent wire through the hole and probe until you feel the stud. Reposition the grab bar and mark the holes over the new stud position. In most cases, the unused hole will be covered by the mounting plate on the grab bar.
    • Once you are through the tile, to go through wood or cement board (behind the tile), change to a wood bit afterwards to finish drilling. If you forget to change, the drill will be less effective and may ruin the bit. Use a 1/4-in. glass-and-tile or masonry bit to enlarge the holes through the tile, but use a 5/32 in. bit to drill into the wood.

Part 2
Securing the Grab Bar

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    Install the wall anchors. Different wall anchors are installed in different ways, but most varieties are simply plastic wedges that are hammered into the holes to provide something for the wall screws to grip onto. Put these into the holes you've drilled, then slide the screws through the grab bar, put the grab bar in the wall, and tighten. Follow the specific instructions included with your grab bar kit.
    • No. 10 or 12 stainless steel pan head screws are commonly used for the purpose. If so, make sure the screws penetrate the studs at least an inch. In most cases, 2 in. screws are long enough.
    • Don't use toggle bolts on the ends of the bar. Toggle bolts rely on the strength of the wall backing, usually drywall or concrete boards. Distributing 200+ lbs. over a square inch or two of this type of material will not make for a sufficiently sturdy grab bar.
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    Seal the seams with silicone caulk. To keep water from seeping through the tile into the holes you've drilled, you need to put a small bead of silicone around the seam. Cut a small angle through the tube of caulk, then run a very small bead around the grab bar, where it meets the wall.
    • Some people like to caulk the back of the flange before screwing the bar to the wall. This helps to create extra security and strength in the bar.
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    Test at the end by pulling on it. Give the caulk an hour or two to dry thoroughly, then give a small amount of force to make sure it is not loose, then try more force. Give the bars a good solid yank to test their holding power. Let the caulk dry for at least 24 hours before running water in the shower.


  • Special gap-filling spacers are available for mounting grab bars on fiberglass tubs. Check with the manufacturer or a plumbing supplier.
  • If you are sure you are going into metal studs, toggle bolts may be OK to use. Otherwise, avoid them.
  • Most grab bars have three screw holes in each mounting flange, but you’ll only be able to anchor two of the three screws into a typical 1-1/2 in. wide stud. Use a plastic anchor for the third screw. As long as these screws penetrate at least an inch into sound wood, the grab bar will meet or exceed the 250-lb. load rating required by the government for public buildings.
  • There are good grab bars and better ones. Look for grab bars that have a non-slip surface. The ones we had installed were grey, heavy duty plastic , and have a finely knurled surface. As I recall, the manufacturer was located in Florida.
  • If the grab bar doesn't have a gasket, put a little bit of silicone caulk behind and/or around the flanges. You don't want any water to get behind the walls.
  • You’ll have to replace a tile if you crack the tile. Be very meticulous in measuring. Be very careful to start your holes in the very center. Use a smaller bit to drill pilot holes.
  • Make sure there are no plumbing or electrical. Some stud finders will find build in sensors. Drilling and feel like it’s not going through, might be a metal plate. If the shower head or faucet is on that wall, be careful. Predrill a small hole and check, or drill just far enough and check with a flashlight.


  • Use the screws that came with the grab bar, or some that are equally stout and are made of stainless steel to prevent rusting. Do not use smaller screws because these will not "bite" the studs properly, or the screw heads may not be large enough to hold the bar properly. No, don't use drywall screws!

Things You'll Need

  • You'll need a drill, a 4 feet (1.2 m). level, a 1/8 in. and a 1/4 in. masonry or glass and tile bit, a 5/32 wood bit, a hammer and a screwdriver. You may also need a stud sensor if you have trouble locating wood studs.

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