Bath chairs come in many designs with various features. First and foremost, make sure the chair you buy safely fits into the bathtub, especially if you have a narrow tub. Then you want to look at specific chair features to enhance the person’s safety, comfort, and hygiene. For example, would a padded seat be more comfortable for the person you care for, especially if he or she is frail or has delicate skin?
If you have a narrow tub, you’ll need to be extra careful about the chair’s size. If the chair is too large, the legs will not sit firmly on the floor, making the chair wobble when used. A wobbly chair can be unsettling, especially for those with dementia, and is also a safety issue. Make sure you read our article about better bathing also.
Things to Look Out Before You Buy a Bath Chair
First and foremost, make sure the chair you buy safely fits into the bathtub, especially if you have a narrow tub. If the chair is too large, the legs will not sit firmly on the floor, making the chair wobble when used. A wobbly chair can be unsettling, especially for those with dementia, and is also a safety issue.
Before you buy, you should get out your measuring tape and measure the floor of the tub. Compare it to the chair’s leg width measurement, usually referred to as the “base” measurement; that’s the outside measurement for the chair’s feet. The chair’s legs must sit on the flat part of the tub floor. If the chair’s base is wider than the bottom of the tub you should find a smaller chair.
There are several bath chairs you can try:
- Use the smallest bath chair you can find, as long as it’s a good fit for your care receiver.
- Use a small bath stool if the person can sit upright. The person, however, may find back support more comfortable.
- Use a transfer bench. As part of the bench is outside the tub, it can be used with many small tubs. In a small bathroom you may need to store the transfer bench lengthwise in the tub after each use to avoid its becoming a tripping hazard.
- Use a tub-mounted chair. If your bathtub rim is flat (not rounded), two chair legs can sit on the tub floor and the other end of the chair can be mounted on the tub rim. If your bathtub has a rounded rim, you may want to consider replacing it with a flat rimmed tub so you can use a tub-mounted swivel chair.
Showering a person who is sitting is easier and safer than lowering a person into and lifting them out of a tub. The right bath chair or transfer bench can increase the comfort, safety, and hygiene of the person you care for and – as a bonus – is back-friendly for you.
Also, keep in mind that a colorful towel on the seat that contrasts with the tub floor can help reduce the fear of falling for those who have dementia-related problems with depth perception or for those with low vision.
Transfer benches make getting into the tub easier and safer, reducing the chances of a fall. Sliding across a transfer bench is much safer than stepping over the tub wall. The right transfer bench can increase the comfort, safety, and hygiene of the person you care for and – as a bonus – be back-friendly for you. Not all transfer benches are equal – some features are safer than others and some benches will not fit into the person’s tub or bathroom.
Most transfer benches come with adjustable legs. For freestanding benches, adjust the legs outside the tub to match the level of those resting on the tub floor (which can be 1 to 3 inches higher) to make the bench itself level. Make sure the bench/chair will fit both into the room and tub.
Always measure the person’s tub wall height to see if the transfer bench will fit. If the tub walls are too high, ask the manufacturer if their bench can be used with extender legs.
If the tub has sliding doors, you’ll need to replace them with a shower curtain to make room for the person and the chair. In fact, we generally recommend removing sliding doors because they can be dangerous. For example, a person can be injured using the door’s towel bar as a grab bar if the door pulls out of its channels.
In case the person is frail or has a delicate skin then a padded vinyl (waterproof) seat is more comfortable to sit on, but it can be slippery when wet. A towel on the seat will decrease the slipperiness when wet. If you choose a non-padded plastic seat, purchase a textured seat with drainage holes to avoid puddles of water on the seat. As some individuals will find the seat hard, place a towel on the seat to improve comfort.
It is important to know if the person partially stand. If not, a seat with a cut-out may allow cleaning of personal areas without standing, but it requires good sitting posture or the person could slide into the cut-out, especially if the seat is padded.
In case the care receiver has very limited movement you need to be careful not injure yourself physically while lifting him/her. If the person cannot slide over on the chair or transfer bench, purchase one with a sliding seat. It’s much easier and safer to use a sliding seat than to lift someone, though the sliding seat still requires considerable caregiver strength to move with a person sitting on it. You need to also check the weight of the person to see if the chair can support your care receiver’s weight (many can hold up to 250 or 300 lbs). If not, you’ll need to purchase a bariatric chair.
Most seats come with a slot into which you can insert the shower curtain to prevent water from splashing onto the floor, but you’ll need to carefully tuck the curtain around the chair or make cuts in the shower curtain for a good fit.
Many transfer benches come with a reversible back so that the chair can be positioned in the bathtub either way. For example, in a small cramped bathroom, you may want to have the person face the opposite wall. Simply removing the seat back and inserting it into the opposite slot may provide more room in which you and the person can move around. A few extra inches can make a big difference.
Transfer Benches for Larger Bathrooms (With Sliding Seat)
If you have ample floor space, you may find a four-leg transfer bench with a sliding seat very helpful. But, if your tub is an old-fashioned clawfoot tub, check with the manufacturer first before you buy, as many transfer benches cannot be used with tubs walls over 18 or 20 inches high.
Due to its length (approximately 38 inches), the sliding seat comes all the way into the room space and, for some individuals, that makes getting onto the seat easier. The “locks” on these benches, which are really plastic clamps, can make a loud jarring sound when they snap into place if not done gently, which can be upsetting to the person.
A transfer bench with a sliding seat is helpful if the person has difficulty scooting over to the middle of the seat – the seat itself slides across. It can reduce your risk of injury while preventing skin tears for those with delicate skin.
Be careful when lifting the person’s legs so you clear the tub wall; otherwise, you will bump the person’s foot on the wall, which can be jarring.
Transfer Chair w/Sliding, Swiveling Seat
If the person’s bathroom has limited floor space, consider a transfer chair with a swivel seat that sits inside the tub. Sometimes referred to as tub-mounted transfer bench or seat, this product has two legs that sit on the tub floor and the other side, the entry side, mounts on the rim of the tub. The seat swivels so the person doesn’t have to turn their body to get into the tub. The chair comes with an optional back if the person needs back support.
With swiveling seats, one side mounts on the tub rim and the other side is supported by two legs that sit on the tub floor. The seat swivels 90 degrees, allowing an easier entry. When sliding the seat, you may have to lift the outside end to get it started. If the tub rim is curved you should check if the tub-mounted chair will fit safely on a curved rim. Some won’t. Options may include a padded seat or a bidet-like water spray in the seat to help cleanse personal areas.
Just be careful the water isn’t too hot for these delicate areas – you may need to reduce the water temperature a bit. Though the seat slides, it still requires considerable caregiver strength to move it with a person sitting on it if the person cannot help!
Tub Cut Out
If the person has difficulty lifting his/her legs over the tub wall, consider having part of the tub wall removed, called a “tub cut-out”. This reduces the lift required to pick up or swing one’s legs into the tub. A tub cut-out can be performed on a variety of tub types. There are many companies you can find online that do this.
If you live in a rental dwelling, the Federal Fair Housing Law gives you the right to make changes to your living environment. But you’ll want to ask whether the tub can be restored to its original condition. Some installers state they can re-install the old tub section at a later date, with no change in appearance or function.