Toilet rails

Toilet rails

Grab rails

Grab rails can be used to push up from or to pull yourself up with when transferring on/off the toilet. They may also be used from a standing position or when transferring from a wheelchair. They are generally fixed to the wall alongside the toilet, but if this is not possible (due to a partition wall, or a radiator being in the way), then a drop down rail mounted on the wall behind the toilet could be used, or a rail that fixed to the floor.

As a general rule, if you use a rail to pull yourself up and steady yourself, then the rail is fitted starting at a point about 2.5 centimetres (1 inch) forward of your knee and about 5 centimetres above your elbow (when seated on the toilet with your arms down against your side), extending at an angle running forwards and upwards away from you (Disabled Living Foundation, 2009).

Before fitting the rail, sit on the toilet and check you can reach the points where you intend to install them and that this feels like a useful location for the rail. Check the distance between the toilet pan and the wall. If you have to lean sideways to reach the rail, it will not provide sufficient support (Disabled Living Foundation, 2009) and a drop down rail fitted to the back wall, a wall to floor rail or a free-standing toilet surround rails may be more appropriate.

If when sat on the toilet, you cannot reach the wall to one side of your toilet without leaning to that side then the wall on this side is probably too far away to use a wall mounted grab rail when standing from your toilet. Studies have shown that the shoulder needs to be in vertical or horizontal alignment with the elbow and hand to provide optimum stability and strength (Tyldesley and Grieve, 1996). Consequently, if you have to lean sideways to use the rail, you will not have as much leverage (Disabled Living Foundation, 2009), and will need to consider alternative options, these may include:

  • Wall to floor rails - These can be used individually to the left or right of the toilet or in pairs on both sides of the toilet. Ensure the position of the rail will be in the correct position to give support and it will not be an obstruction to any other part of the room
  • Drop-down toilet rails - These folding rails are useful where space is limited but check the size of the back plate of the rail fits in the available space you have. Some have an attachment for a toilet roll holder.

These are particularly appropriate for people who may be transferring to and from a wheelchair. The length of these rails varies, shorter lengths may be appropriate if you require assistance from a carer (Pain, McLellan, and Gore, 2003).

The height of the horizontal part of both wall to floor and drop down toilet rails should be just below the height of your elbow when you are sat on the toilet with your elbows by your side and your forearms at a right angle (see diagram to left). The distance from the toilet that the rail is mounted should position the rail about a fist width away from the widest part of your thigh (Disabled Living Foundation, 2009), (Pain, McLellan, and Gore, 2003).

Further considerations

  • Toilet frames simply lift over the toilet and are available with or without an integrated raised toilet seat. This may be an alternative to the above rails and can be removed when no longer required as they are not fixed. They are not suitable for individuals with poor balance or one-sided weakness
  • If you have low vision then it may be helpful to choose grab rails in a colour that contrasts with the wall it is to be installed on (RNIB, 2017).

Installing frames

Rails are only as strong as the wall to which they are fixed and the fixings that are used. Many modern houses have internal partition walls that are not suitable for the installation of wall fixtures such as grab rails. Ensure that you are using the correct method and type of fixing for the material of the wall. If in doubt consult a qualified and experienced trades person.

This is a general guide only. The ideal location of the rails will depend on your individual size, reach and toilet location. Consequently, we recommend an individual assessment with an occupational therapist or trusted assessor. Very often, rails can be assessed for and provided by your local health or social care team. You can refer yourself or visit your GP to discuss your difficulties and ask for a referral.

View our impartial list of plastic coated grab rails
View our impartial list of metal grab rails

Read our factsheet on Choosing and fitting grab rails

Advice last checked: 26 February 2018 Next check due: 26 February 2021

All advice is either supported by references (cited in the text) or is based upon peer reviewed professional opinion. Our advice is impartial and not influenced by sponsors or product suppliers listed on the site.
Conflict of interest statement