What is a Bathtub Bench?
A bathtub bench is a type of bath seat that is wide enough to extend to, or over, the bathtub wall. It functions to give users a place to rest while bathing and helps to make getting in and out of the bathtub easier and safer (aka bath bench, bathtub transfer bench, tub bench.)
A bathtub bench effectively creates a bridge between the inside and outside of the tub, making it possible to sit down on the seat when you are still standing outside of the tub, thereby reducing the need to “step” over the bathtub wall. Once you are safely seated, you can raise one leg at a time over the tub wall, followed by sliding yourself across the benchtop and into the center of the tub.
Who Would Benefit From a Bathtub Bench?
- persons who have difficulty stepping over the tub wall
- persons who are unable to stand for long periods of time
- persons who have the physical skills to independently (or with a caregiver’s assistance) sit down and stand up from the seat
- persons who uses a wheelchair and have the skills to slide laterally from the wheelchair seat over onto the bath seat
Bathtub Bench Types
Most bath benches are free-standing. In other words, they do no require any formal installation. They are simply placed inside the tub. In addition to the free-standing models, there are some bath bench models that are designed to be clamped to the tub wall or screwed to the bathroom wall to provide additional safety and stability.
- 4-legged bath benches: The majority of bath bench models have four legs that extend down from the seat; two of which rest inside the tub, two of which rest on the floor outside of the tub, and a bench-style seat that extends over the tub wall. Of note, some bath “chair” models that have a very wide flat seat may also be identified as being a bath bench, because the seat is wide enough such that a user can sit down on it while still standing outside of the tub. For the bath chairs with the wide seat tops, all 4 of the legs are designed to rest on the interior of the tub.
- Two-legged bath benches: This type of bath bench has two legs that extend down to support one side of the seat and the other side of the seat rests on the sidewall of the tub. Most have a clamping mechanism to secure one side of the seat to the bathtub wall.
- Bath bench with swivel or sliding seat: Some bath seat models are equipped with a seat that slides or swivels to make getting in and out over the tub wall easier.
- Bariatric Bath Benches: These models are designed to support a higher weight capacity. They are often equipped with crossbars or 6 legs extending down below the seat to provide added support and stability.
Bath Bench Features
Bath bench models can be found offering one or more of the features listed below.
- Height Adjustable Legs: The majority of bath seat models have height-adjustable legs that are adjusted via moving a button up and down notches at preset intervals along the leg (This concept is often found on crutches and canes). With this type, it can be difficult to get the seat to sit level in tubs with walls that curve inwards at the bottom. A few bath seat models have a screw-like mechanism at the end of each bath leg that can be turned allowing for much more fine-tuned height adjustments. The screw-style height adjustable legs are better for tubs with edges that round in at the bottom, because it allows for more exact adjustments to accommodate the varying heights of the tub floor.
- Feet: Most bath seat models are equipped with rubber feet attached to the bottom of the legs. The rubber feet help to reduce the likelihood the chair will slide around when you sit down and stand up. They can either be round, rubber-stopper style feet or suction cup-style feet. The suction cup-style feet can help to further prevent the seat from slipping, but they do not work in all tubs. For the suction-cup style feet to work, the tub bottom should have a clean, smooth, untextured surface.
- Clamps: Most bath bench models are free-standing and as such they may tip or wiggle a little bit when you sit down and stand up. A few bath bench models have been specially designed to clamp to the sidewall of the tub (or rest on the tub wall), making them less likely to slide or tip when you transition from sitting to standing. If you are considering a bath bench of this type, it is important to be aware that the widths and heights of bathtub walls differ. Prior to ordering one, confirm the model selected will accomodate the width and height of your bathtub’s wall.
- Backrest: Bath bench models are available with and without a backrest. Models offering a backrest are a better option if you have trouble with sitting balance or if you fatigue easily because they provides a supportive surface to lean back against to rest.
- Sliding or Swivel Seat: Some bath seat models have a seat that slides and/or rotates, which can help make getting in and out over the tub wall easier. Some, but not all, sliding and or swivel bath seat models will have a locking mechanism attached to the seat that prevents the seat from moving when you sit down or stand up.
- Handles: Many tub benches have a handle attached to one side, which can be useful to help pull yourself across the seat when getting into the tub. Once you have arrived inside the tub, the handle can also be used to help push yourself up to a standing position, making it easier to reach and wash all areas. A few models are equipped with a handle attached to the front corner of the bench, which can be a useful addition to give some added “oomph” when you are standing up to exit the tub. Lastly, some tub bench models are equipped with two arm rests and a swiveling seat, which allows you to turn around and sit down on the seat while still standing outside the tub and once seated the swivel seat makes it easier to turn yourself to face the front of the tub. Models with two handles typically provide the greatest degree of support when sitting down and standing up.
- Bath Bench Frame Materials: Bath benches can be found made from wood, plastic, aluminum or steel, with steel being the strongest.
- Bath Bench Seat Materials: Bath bench seat materials can include: wood, vinyl, plastic, phenolic plastic, naugahyde.
- Padding: Models with a padded seat can be beneficial for persons who are prone to skin tears or pressure sores. A drawback of the padded seats is that they do have a tendency to dry out and split with time, so this type typically won’t last quite as long as a bath bench with a solid surface.
- Bath Seat With Commode Opening: Some tub bench models have a cut-out portion in the center of the seat, making it easier to reach down to clean genitals and anus. These models are usually designed to also dual as a toilet chair, which can be placed over a regular toilet. Most include a bucket, making it possible to use as a bedside commode as well. A few models have a part that can be inserted to close the hole in the seat for those who prefer to have a solid, continuos seat while it is being used as a bath seat.
Bath Bench Considerations
The following are considerations to keep in mind when picking a bathtub bench.
- Stability: Models that are designed to clamp to the tub wall are generally going to be more stable and secure than freestanding models. An example of a model that clamps to the tub wall can be viewed here: Teak ADA Removable Seat for Bathtubs.
- Height of Seat: Most freestanding-style bath benches have height adjustable legs, allowing the seat height to be adjusted up and down as needed. Models will differ in the minimum and maximum achievable seat height ranges, so make sure to select one that can achieve a seat height adequate for your needs. Be aware, the models that are designed to be supported on one side by a bathtub wall are often not height adjustable. They can be a great consideration for persons shorter in stature, but are oftentimes too low for a taller person to comfortably sit down on and stand up from.
- Height of Tub Wall: Not all bath bench models will work with all tubs! If you select a freestanding-style tub bench, confirm that the bath bench model you select can achieve a seat height that will clear the height of your tub’s walls. If you opt for a model that rests on one of the tub walls, confirm the height and width of your tub’s walls are suitable for the model selected.
- Width of Tub Wall: If you are considering a model that clamps to the tub wall, confirm the clamp can accommodate the width of your tub wall.
- Floor Space: In a small bathroom, models with two legs that rest on the floor outside the tub could interfere with your ability to move around inside the bathroom using a walker or wheelchair. If your bathroom is small, a bath seat that resides fully inside the confines of the tub, such as a bathtub board or a bath chair is usually preferable. For more details, visit Homeability’s Bathtub Board Guide and Bathtub Chair Guide.
- Shape of Bathtub Floor: Freestanding bath benches tend to work best with tubs with squarish bottoms. Tubs with curved edges present along the bottom interior edges of the tub walls don’t work as well with this type of bath bench, because the curvature often pushes the two interior legs further into the middle of the tub. This can in turn cause the center of the bath bench to be pushed out over the tub wall, resulting in the user being stuck sitting half-in and half-out of the bathtub.
- Shower Door: Bath benches do not work in conjunction with bathtubs that have sliding shower doors. If you have shower doors and want to use a bath bench, it will be necessary to remove the doors and replace them with a shower rod and shower curtain. Often times removing the shower doors can be as easy as lifting them upwards and pulling them out of the tracks. To learn more about choosing a suitable replacement, visit our guides on accessible Shower Rods and Shower Curtains.
- Water Containment: Bath benches will prevent the shower curtain from being tucked fully inside the tub, making it more difficult to keep the water inside. This problem can be remedied by cutting slices in your existing curtain to make it easier to tuck around the bench, or by purchasing a shower curtain that has been specially pre-cut for use with tub benches. To learn more about selecting an appropriate shower curtain, visit our Shower Curtain Guide.
- Reversible: Most models have a reversible backrest and/or handle, allowing the bench to be set up for use in a tub with the showerhead located on either the right or left side. Not all models offer this feature, so it may be necessary to pre-select which side of the bench you want the handle located on (if a handle is present), prior to ordering.
- No Return Policy! Once you purchase it you own it! Due to FDA regulations bathtub equipment purchased in the USA cannot be returned (unless it is still sealed in the original packaging). Therefore, it is important to make sure the height, weight capacity, and features are appropriate for your needs prior to purchasing.
The Homeability Advice™
A bathtub bench is an easy, inexpensive solution for making a bathtub more accessible. Most are free-standing (not attached to anything), so they do have the potential to wiggle or tip a bit when you sit down and stand up. If you do not feel you have enough strength to safely sit down on and stand up from a seat that may wiggle a bit, consider one of the models that clamps to the sidewall of the tub or alternatively consider having a wall-mounted bath seat installed. To learn more, visit Homeability’s Wall Mounted Bath Seat Guide. For added support, consider installing a grab bar on a nearby wall to provide a stable place to hold onto when you are sitting down and standing up.
If you feel you will have trouble scooting your bottom across a wide bench seat, the models equipped with a sliding and/or swivel-style seat are a good consideration. For more details, visit Homeability’s Sliding Swivel Bath Seat Guide.
One drawback common to all bath benches is that a portion of the seat resides outside of the bathtub, making it impossible to tuck the shower curtain inside the tub and therefore more difficult to keep the water inside. A special pre-cut shower curtain can be purchased to help remedy the problem, visit our Accessible Shower Curtain Guide for more details.
Sitting while bathing can definitely make bathing safer and easier, but it too comes with a drawback, which is that you will be further away from the shower head. A simple remedy is to add a handheld shower head. To learn more about selecting an appropriate one for your needs, visit our Handheld Showerhead Guide.
If you believe that the two bath bench legs that rest on the floor outside the tub will interfere with your ability to move around in the bathroom when using a walker or wheelchair, then a bath “chair” with a wide, flat seat that remains fully contained inside the tub is another alternative you may want to consider. If the chair’s seat is wide enough to meet (or extend over) your tub wall, then it can make it possible for you to back up and sit down on the side of the seat when you are still outside of the tub. Then from a seated position you can lift one leg at a time over the tub wall, eliminating the need to step in and out of the tub.
To learn about more alternatives, visit the links below.
- Getting In & Out of the Bathtub: Benches, Lifts, and Transfer Chairs.
- Bathtub Board Guide: The Basics
- Curbless Showers – A Great Age-Proof Bathing Solution!”
- Slide-in Bathtub Buying Guide
- Buying A Walk-In Bathtub – Your Biggest Mistake?