What is a Bathtub Chair?
A bathtub chair (also known as a tub seat, tub chair, or bath chair) is a water-resistant chair, often made from plastic and/or metal, with a seat and a backrest similar in shape and size to a regular household chair. This type of equipment usually features a slip-resistant seat as well as rubber or suction cup-style feet to maximize safety. All bath chair models function to give users a place to rest while bathing. Some models can also help make it easier to get in and out of the bathtub.
We have provided a quick summary of the types of bath chairs available below, followed by helpful tips to aid you in identifying one that is well-suited for your specific needs.
Portable Bathtub Chair Types
Bath chairs can come with varying numbers of legs extending down from the seat, ranging from models that look like a standard chair with four legs, to ones that have no legs at all.
- Bath Chair With 4 Legs: Most bath chairs have four legs extending down from the seat, all of which are designed to rest inside the confines of the bathtub.
- Bath Chair With 2 Legs: Some bath chairs have two legs that extend down to support one side of the seat and the other side of the seat is supported by the tub wall. Most models have a clamping mechanism that helps to secure them to the tub wall.
- Bath Chair With No Legs: There are models that exist with no legs at all. They have a backrest and swivel seat and are designed to rest across the tops of the tub’s two sidewalls.
- Bariatric Bath Chairs: These models are designed to support a higher weight capacity. They often include crossbars and/or a stainless steel frame to provide added support and stability.
Bath Chair Considerations
One type of bath chair will not work well for everyone. Not only do people differ in their height, weight and physical needs, but the dimensions of each bathtub can be different as well. The following are considerations to keep in mind when you are picking a bathtub chair to help you in identifying one that will work best for you.
- Height of Seat: Models, such as the legless and two-legged ones, that are designed to be supported by the bathtub walls are usually not adjustable in height. Since this type rests at, or close to, the height of the tub walls it tends to be a better consideration for persons of shorter stature. Most (but not all) of the freestanding-style bath chairs have height adjustable legs, allowing the seat height to be adjusted up and down, making them better considerations for taller individuals. Models will differ in the minimum and maximum achievable seat height ranges, so make sure to confirm the model you select can achieve a seat height that is adequate for your needs.
- Width of Seat: Selecting a model with a wide seat (wide enough to meet or extend over the bathtub’s front wall) can make it possible for you to turn around and sit down on the seat while you are still standing outside the tub, allowing you to then raise your legs one at a time over the tub wall from a safe seated position, thereby preventing the need to “step” in and out over the bathtub wall.
- Seat Style: Some models have a completely flat seat, while others have a contoured, slightly bowed shape, dipping down in the middle and curving upwards on the sides. If you plan to sit down on the side of the bath seat, prior to entering the tub, make sure to pick a model with a completely flat sitting surface because the ones with sides that curve upwards can tip if you sit down on them from the side.
- Stability: Models designed to clamp to the tub wall will typically be more stable and secure than freestanding models. The freestanding models are more likely to tip or wiggle a bit when you are getting on and off.
- Height of Tub Wall: Models that clamp to the tub wall are not compatible with all tub walls, so is good to confirm it will accommodate the height of your bathtub’s wall prior to ordering.
- Width of Tub Wall: If you are seeking a leg-less model that is designed to rest on top of both tub walls, confirm that it will not only accomodate the width of your tub, but also that you have the minimum amount of exposed wall it requires to sit safely on top. Most models require there to be a minimum of 1 inch of exposed tub wall present on both sides. This is particularly important if you have a very small edge present on top of the tub wall located adjacent to the bathroom wall. If you are considering a model that clamps to the tub wall, confirm the clamp will accommodate the width of your tub wall.
- Width of Tub Floor: Bath chairs can vary in the width of the legs at the base (span between the bath chair’s feet). If your tub is more narrow than average or the bath chair appears particularly large, it is good to confirm the width of the chair’s legs will fit inside your tub, prior to ordering.
- Padding: A model with a padded seat can be helpful for persons who are prone to skin tears or developing pressure sores on their bottoms.
- Shower Door: Bath chairs that clamp on the tub wall, or rest on top of the tub wall(s) will not work in conjunction with shower doors, because they block the shower door from closing. If you have shower doors and want to use this type of bath chair, it will be necessary to remove the doors and replace them with a shower curtain.
- 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). Make sure the height, weight capacity, and features are appropriate for your needs prior to purchasing.
Bath Chair Features
Bath chair models vary in the features they offer. Models can be found offering one or more of the features listed below.
- Adjustable Legs: Most (but not all) models offer height adjustable legs. Some are adjusted via moving a button up and down notches at preset intervals along the leg, similar to what’s found on crutches. Others adjust by turning a screw-like mechanism found in the bottom of each of the legs. The latter type is better for tubs that have rounded edges at the bottom, because it allows for more fine-tuned adjustments to accommodate the varying heights of the tub floor.
- Feet: Most bath chairs are equipped with rubber “feet” at the bottom of each leg, which helps to reduce the likelihood that the chair will slip away when you sit down. Some models have suction cup-style feet to help further prevent the seat from slipping.
- Clamp: Some bath chairs are specially designed to clamp to one of the sidewalls of the tub, making them less likely to slide or tip when you transition from sitting to standing.
- Swivel or Sliding Seat: Some models come equipped with a seat that slides and/or swivels, which can help make getting in and out over the tub wall easier. Some (but not all) of the sliding and/or swivel seat models have a locking mechanism that prevents the seat from moving when you sit down or stand up.
- Handles/Armrests: Some bath chairs include handles attached to the sides of the seat, others do not. If you can easily step in and out of the tub, a model with two handles (one on either side of the seat) can be useful to help push up off of for assistance when standing up. If you have difficulty stepping in and out of the tub, and would prefer to instead turn around and sit down on the side of the bath seat first and then lift your legs over the tub wall from a seated position, opt for a model with one of the following options: no handles, one handle attached on the far side of the seat, or a model with flip-back style armrests.
- Cut-Out Seat: Some models have a cut-out portion in the center of the seat, making it possible to reach down and wash genitals while seated.
- Bath chair materials: Most bath chairs have a solid plastic backrest, solid plastic seat, and aluminum legs. Some models can be found made from wood or entirely made from plastic. There are also some models with stainless steel legs (more common on bariatric models) and ones with a vinyl-padded seat and/or backrest.
- Foldable: A few models are designed to fold-up making them easier to store out of the way when not in use and easier to pack when traveling.
Who Would Benefit From a Bathtub Chair?
- can’t stand for long periods of time
- can’t step over the tub wall
- are able to sit down and stand up from the seat
- can slide laterally from a wheelchair seat onto the bath seat
The Homeability Advice™
Space permitting, we highly recommend selecting a bath seat that has both a flat sitting surface and as wide a seat as possible. A wide seat will give you more surface area to safely land on. It can also be helpful if you have difficulty stepping in and out of the tub, making it possible for you to sit down on the side of your seat first and then from a seated position lift each leg over the bathtub wall. If you feel you will not be able to safely lean back over the tub wall and sit down on a seat located inside the tub, you may be want to consider a longer bath seat called a bath bench instead.
Since most portable-style bath seats are free-standing, there is always some potential for them to wiggle or tip a bit, so at a minimum you must have enough strength and balance skills to sit down and stand up from a surface that isn’t firmly fixed in place. If you do not, consider one of the bath chairs that clamps to the sidewall of the tub or a wider transfer bench, which is less likely to wiggle when you sit down and stand up. Alternatively, consider installing a wall-mounted bath seat.
In bathtubs with tub walls that round inwards at the bottom edges, the bath seats equipped with screw-style legs are a good option. Most bathtub chairs have legs that are adjusted in preset increments (like the legs found on crutches). The benefit of the screw-style legs is that they can be turned gradually to fine-tune the height of all four legs to accomodate the differing heights of the tub floor. When the bath chair is level, it will be more stable and less likely to wobble when you sit down and stand up.
If you have trouble, or feel you will have trouble, scooting your bottom across the seat, a model equipped with a swivel seat can make this part easier. If you require additional support, consider adding grab bars on the nearby walls to give yourself a stable place to hold onto when sitting down and standing up. Visit the Homeability guide on Grab Bars, to learn about the different options.
As always, we recommend you seek advice from your qualified health care professional about the appropriateness of a given solution or product for your needs.
Obviously, sitting while bathing is definitely safer and easier, but it also comes with its’ own 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.
To learn more about alternative bathing solutions, read:
- Buying A Walk-In Bathtub – Your Biggest Mistake?
- Slide-in Bathtub Buying Guide
- What You Need to Know Before You Buy a Bath Lift Chair
- Accessible Bathtubs: An Amazing Diversity!