Skip to main content
Your Premier Online Plumbing Supplier Since 1995


Shower Seat Buying Guide

An in depth look at shower seats to help you purchase the best-fit model for your needs and budget

Shower seats have historically been intended as an assistive device for those dealing with limited mobility: physically-debilitating conditions can make showering a struggle, and the ravages of age eventually limit even the most spry. However, recent years have seen a growing demand for seats of convenience and luxury: a perch for legs being shaved, or a comfy spot to sit and be rained - or steamed - upon.

The increasing adoption of universal design elements in new homes and renovations has revitalized the tub and shower seat market. As opposed to years past, you can now easily find a seat that's sleek and attractive, and ADA-compliant. What's purchased today for looks and relaxation may end up being an integral part of a bathroom safety plan in the future! Whatever the need, we're here to provide you with the information necessary to begin your search for the ideal shower seat.

Note: In this article, we'll be covering only freestanding and wall-mounted shower seats. If you're constructing a new home or doing a major bathroom renovation, a built-in seat may be your best option. These seats are permanent, solid, attractive, and should be able to fulfill the needs of most. Talk with your contractor about including one in your new shower.


The Basics

  • When choosing a seat, the obvious consideration is utility - what function will the seat perform? The elderly and those with physical disabilities need something ADA-compliant that can hold up to the daily stresses of supporting their full body weight in a wet environment while still being comfortable to use. Those wanting a seat purely for relaxation and convenience can forego some of the functional concerns to focus on design (though there are many designer units that incorporate ADA safeguards).
  • If showering is a physical challenge, combining the right seat with a handshower can make things a whole lot easier. The seat helps prevent slips and falls, while the handheld shower head allows the user or a caretaker to reach awkward spots with greater ease, and reduce the amount of movement needed to effectively clean.
  • We don't always like to admit it, but all of us are getting older. If you're in a home that may be "the one", it's a smart move to incorporate universal design elements into any renovation you undertake. Since many seats are ADA-compliant, it shouldn't be too hard to find a pleasing design that will have you prepared for any future mobility issues. Install a few well-placed grab bars, and you may not need to do much later on.
  • Carefully measure the shower stall or tub before you begin your search. Take note of any unusual shapes or features that could affect the placement or performance of a seat (it could be an oddly-placed soap holder, a built-in shelf, etc). If the tub has rounded interior edges, seats with four legs may not sit cleanly inside. Look for seats with continuously-adjustable screw-style legs rather than the incremental slot-and-pin style - the former will allow you to fine-tune each leg's height for greater stability.
  • To get a general idea of how the user will be situated and interact with the shower and its controls, try a "dry-run" using a chair of similar dimensions (specifically height) if possible - this can help you decide if something taller or shorter is needed, and figure out where the seat would be best placed.
  • When considering a wall-mounted seat, know your walls and what's inside - it's possible that the only suitable location for a wall-mounted seat will be too far away from the shower's controls to allow the user to shower independently. In some cases, you may be better off with a freestanding seat.

Seat Types

  • Transfer benches are made for those who have trouble getting in and out of the tub, and need a place to sit while showering. The bench extends past the tub wall, with two legs inside the tub and two outside. Transfer benches are usually the most "institutional" looking seats out there, but more attractive versions do exist. If the tub has a door, it's likely that a bench can't be accommodated, lest water get everywhere. Your best bet is to replace the door with a shower curtain, and choose a bench that has a space for the curtain to get through so the bathroom remains dry. The legs sticking out of the tub may present challenges in small bathrooms, especially for those using walkers or wheelchairs, so be sure to measure both the seat and the room carefully.
  • Helpful Hint: L-shaped benches are wall-mounted units that are used in shower stalls. The "L" shape provides an extended end for transferring to and from the shower stream, and when combined with other assistive devices, can help with getting in and out of the shower itself. These are especially helpful for hemiplegics, stroke patients, and others dealing with strength imbalances - the weaker side of the body can be rested on the short arm of the L, freeing the stronger side to do the bathing. Make sure to order yours in the correct orientation, or choose one of our reversible benches that are easily flipped over to support any user.

    Along with grab bars, we offer several options for additional assistance getting in and out of the tub: a tub transfer bar that attaches directly onto the tub wall, the Dependa-Bar which is installed on the wall and swings out, as well as the Advantage Pole and SuperPole.
  • Freestanding shower chairs are the most basic style, but can serve a variety of needs. Combined with the right grab bars or transfer aids, they can be a great option for those who don't quite need a transfer bench, but still require some assistance. These are also likely the cheapest option for shower assistance when dealing with a temporary injury. Since they're just a chair, they can easily be taken out of the shower/tub when not needed. Chairs can be found with fixed heights (usually 16") or with adjustable legs. Advanced units that feature swivel seats and act more like a transfer bench are available from medical equipment suppliers, allowing the user to sit down outside the tub, and work their way in.
  • Note: Unfortunately, most freestanding chairs are not ADA-compliant. With their only support being legs with (typically) rubber feet, they do not meet the stringent ADA guidelines.
  • Bright Idea: With a few exceptions, most shower chairs retain an institutional look. If you can do without the back of the chair we offer a number of freestanding teak benches, the beauty of which will compliment any number of design schemes. Because of their good looks, these are usually the best portable option for those that want a tasteful relaxation spot.
  • Bath boards (also referred to as "bath benches" or "bath seats"... which can get confusing) are flat, backless units that sit across the width of the tub, supported by the tub walls with clamps or stoppers. They're often legless, though models with a pair of legs are available for additional stability, as are wall-mounted versions. While they don't jut out of the tub as a transfer bench does (increasing mobility in the room itself), they can be used similarly: the user can sit on the edge, lift their legs, and gently move across the board over the tub. Boards can also be used for more frivolous pursuits: a spot for books, candles, a relaxing cup of tea (or a nice glass of wine, if you're so inclined). In addition to our several teak units, we also offer a gorgeous bamboo model.
  • Pro Tip: To use a bath board, you'll need to have a wide enough tub wall whose lip is sufficiently exposed - measure carefully before purchasing. Also keep in mind the height of the tub: most are around 18" high, which may be too low for some to reach comfortably.
  • Wall-mounted shower seats are among the most popular, and for good reason. When portability is not a requirement, the right seat can provide the necessary assistance and convenience while adding a luxurious flair to the shower. When correctly installed (on solid in-wall backing), they're extremely sturdy - some even include a pair of legs, providing an even greater degree of support. Wall-mounted seats come in a wide variety of styles and materials, from padded fold-up chairs to L-shaped phenolic benches, with plenty of teak in between. While they can't be moved, many do fold up when not in use.
  • Important! If you're not a wall-mounting expert, get a professional do the job! In addition to peace of mind regarding safety, a professional has the skills and tools to avoid mistakes that can lead to tiny cracks around the mounting hardware where water can seep in and create a host of problems. Need more incentive? Some manufacturers will actually void their warranty on seats not installed by a pro.
  • Corner seats can be freestanding or wall-mounted, and are popular for their small footprint and versatility. These seats are most likely to be used for non-health related reasons, but some can serve that function when installed correctly as part of a larger safety plan. Use them as a seat, a leg perch, a shelf, or all of the above!

Features to Consider

  • If the act of sitting down is a challenging one, look for a seat with integral grab bars or hand rests - these can help stabilize the user as they ease their way down, and as they exit the shower. Does your otherwise "perfect" seat lack them? Install a few well-placed grab bars or other assistive devices to make up the difference!
  • Bariatric seats are available for heavier folks that are unable to shower without some kind of assistance. Wall-mounted units are the best choice here, as they utilize in-wall backing to support their load. Some of our wall-mounted benches support up to 1500 lbs! If the desired seat is not wall-mounted, speak to an occupational therapist or contractor about the tub or shower base/pan before purchasing - some may not be able to support the user's weight without modification or replacement.
  • Is the seat flat, or curved? Curved or rounded seats can be uncomfortable for some to use, and may even cause a loss of balance when the user is near the edge.
  • Some chairs and benches are available with a toilet-like seat, with the option of a closed or open front (as you see on many public toilets). Open-front seats allow the user or caretaker to better access the perineal area and make for easier cleanup in the event of an accident, while closed-front seats provide better leg support.
  • Cushioned seats are available for those at risk of skin breakdowns, or who need an added degree of comfort when seated. Sliding or swivel-style transfer chairs can help limit the damage incurred when transferring in and out of the shower.
  • A seat with a removable backrest can be of great benefit to those with limited mobility: it's there when back support is needed and can be easily removed, allowing caregivers to lean the user as far back as necessary for transfer or bathing.

Materials

  • The choice of material is largely one of preference, based on comfort and aesthetics. Nearly all commercially-available shower seats are made of some type of plastic (typically HDPE, Phenolic, or proprietary "solid surface" materials), or mold-resistant woods like Teak and Bamboo. Most plastic seats feature a corrosion-resistant stainless steel or aluminum frame and hardware - avoid those that do not.
  • The plastics we offer - High Density Polyethylene (HDPE), Phenolic, and Seachrome's Solid Surface - are all high-quality, high-strength materials that are lightweight and nonporous, making for easy transport and cleaning. Their composition is such that they should not splinter in the rare event of breaking. With little real-world difference between the materials, what you choose will largely depend on other factors (function, design, price, etc).
  • Bright Idea: HDPE seats are usually limited to basic colors like white, while our phenolic offerings come in white, almond, and a golden teak-like color. Solid surface allows greater color variety, ranging from off-whites, to copper, to black.
  • Our naugahyde seats have a 1/2" marine plywood base covered by a layer of foam, over which the soft, leather-like material is laid. These seats are ideal for those with skin and wound concerns, or those who just want an added degree of comfort.
  • Teak is a hardwood renowned for its beauty, durability, and water-resistance. Teak shower seats will always be an eyecatcher, even when ADA-certified and serving an assistive role. Fresh from the factory, teak is a rich golden color, which lasts only as long as it's taken care of: regular cleaning and oiling is necessary. If the upkeep sounds like too much work, don't be put off: teak turns an attractive gray/silver when left untreated. To find out more about caring for teak products, read our article on the topic.
  • If you prefer a wood seat but aren't really feeling the teak, consider Bamboo or Iroko wood - these darker hardwoods fit in seamlessly with modern decor, and offer just as much (if not more) resistance to water, mildew and bacteria. Like teak, these woods require regular cleaning and oiling to maintain their initial dark, rich appearance.

A shower seat can be a wise investment, a luxurious splurge, or a purchase of necessity. Whatever your reasons, we urge you to carefully research the options available, and to always keep the future in mind. Those purchasing a seat for medical reasons are highly encouraged to consult with an occupational therapist, and to seek out online resources (like forums for the disabled, the elderly, and caretakers) to ensure an all-around safe bathroom and shower experience.


Ready to shop for your new tub or shower seat?

click here to see our complete listing of tub/shower seats and assistive devices


Related Items & Articles



Frequently Asked Questions

Q. "How do I tell which is right-hand side or left-hand side?"
A. For the "L" shaped transfer benches, the short side of the "L" will either be sticking out on your left side or your right side while you're sitting on the seat. So, if you were sitting on the bench and the short side of the "L" was on your right side, you would be sitting on a right-hand side transfer seat.

Q. "What does 'ADA Compliant' mean?"
A. Complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is a comprehensive civil rights act for people with disabilities. On July 26, 1990, the President signed the ADA into law as wide-ranging legislation intended to make American society more accessible to people with disabilities and to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. The ADA was built primarily due to the desire of individuals with disabilities to work toward their goal of full participation in American society, and effects the ADA may have on businesses include restructuring or altering the layout of a building, modifying equipment, and removing barriers.

Q. "I'm not disabled, simply getting older. Do I need ADA compliant items?"
A. Not specifically, but the qualities of an ADA compliant item are beneficial to everyone. ADA compliant products ensure that the item, if installed per manufacturer specifications, will hold a certain amount of weight, be within certain dimensions, and perform in a certain manner to allow universal accessibility.


return to top ↑

Copyright© 1995-2017 PlumbingSupply.com.
All Rights Reserved.