Suction grab bars are a useful tool that requires minimal assembly and installation. They are also easily reusable and adjustable, making them particularly useful as a mobile solution for those who need a grab bar. However, the convenience that comes with this tool can be limited depending on the type of surface it is fixed upon.
Suction grab bars cannot work properly on drywall or other porous surfaces. They are designed primarily for non-porous and non-painted surfaces, such as large format tiles. Therefore, because drywall is a very porous material, suction grab bars will not safely affix to drywall surfaces.
Although suction grab bars can be useful on the right surface, using them on drywall can be problematic and dangerous. Continue reading to explore the reasons and science behind why suction grab bars should not be used on drywall and other similar surfaces.
How Do Suction Grab Bars Work?
A suction grab bar usually has two suction cups on each end of the bar, which are typically made of plastic and are concave. When the suction cup is placed against a flat, non-porous surface, the air must be squeezed out of the suction area. After all, the less air in the suction area, the stronger the grip.
After the air is removed, a low-pressure area is created in the suction area. Because atmospheric pressure must try to constantly equalize, the air on the outside of the cup will press down and force it against the flat surface. Therefore, as long as the seal remains firm, the suction cup will remain secure.
However, if air can find its way through cracks in the seal or a surface underneath the seal, the suction will fail, and the cup will fall off. Surfaces such as ordinary painted walls are included in those that will fail to hold suction. The reason is that paint, and many other surfaces are uneven, and any surface that is porous or not completely flat will have problems with suction.
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Would This Work on Drywall?
The simple answer to whether suction will work on drywall is no. Drywall is a very common material found in modern homes that typically consists of a gypsum layer sandwiched between paper. As for the drywall in your home, it is likely raised and drilled into 2×4 studs, primed, and painted. Remember, paint is already a bad surface for suction before even getting to the drywall.
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The gypsum that makes up a large part of drywall is also a porous material that is lightweight and easily malleable before it is shaped into its solid form. It is created using several methods, which are:
- The evaporation of brine
- Dehydration of anhydrite
- Oxidation of sulfides
Gypsum usually has material on both sides of it, and in most installations, it is paper, which is also very porous. The two layers of very porous material will allow air to seep into the suction area of a suction cup. Additionally, drywall surfaces are never truly as flat as a large tile, and thus there will be microscopic voids in which air will seep into the suction area.
Due to the surface being porous and not as flat as others, it allows more air to enter the suction area, causing the seal to fail. Once this happens, the suction cups will fall, meaning they will be unable to support much weight, if any. Therefore, drywall, especially drywall that has been installed and painted, is unsuited for suction cups, especially weight-bearing grab bars.
Different Types of Drywall
There are various types of drywall that you may find in a house or building, which are made of different materials that allow for different types of functions. For example, you can get drywall for:
- Sound dampening
- Fire retardation
- Moisture resistance
- Mold resistance
However, regardless of the different types of drywall that you may find, there is no type of drywall that is non-porous enough to allow for a suction grab bar to be safely installed.
Will Paint on the Drywall Create Suction?
Acrylic paint is the most common type of paint you will see on drywall. Simply put, acrylic paint is a chemical composition of a plastic that includes pigments that are suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion. A positive is that plastic, assuming it is flat, is a great material for suction cups. However, acrylic paint does not share that property.
Even though acrylic paint is technically plastic, it becomes porous when it dries. As mentioned earlier, a porous surface cannot safely create a suction area underneath a suction cup. Therefore, even though your drywall may have a thick layer of acrylic paint on it, it will still be unable to safely retain a suction grab bar.
Keep in mind that it may appear as if suction cups work on a sufficiently flat wall, even drywall covered with a layer of paint. However, the difference between regular suction cups and grab bars utilizing suction cups is the intent. When falling, a great deal of weight and force hit a grab bar, making any instability potentially dangerous.
Even If It Sticks, Do Not Do It
As mentioned above, there are certain situations in which suction cups or a suction cup grab bar will secure itself to the drywall. Whether it is due to the surface being sufficiently flat or a measure you took to allow the suction cups to adhere to the wall, it does not matter.
Suction cup grab bars are only meant to hold around 250 pounds of weight. Considering this amount of weight is under ideal conditions, such as it being fixed to a tile wall with maximum suction occurring, expecting the same when it is attached to a porous surface is foolish.
Moreover, even on the proper surfaces, suction eventually fails and must often be readjusted. Trying to do a quick fix and expecting it to work will only fail, or worse, get you hurt.
What Surfaces Do Work?
You commonly see suction grab bars in places like bathrooms or hospital rooms because the surfaces are non-porous. For example, a shower stall usually has tiles or a plastic surround, allowing for a suction area to exist under the suction cup of the grab bar. In more industrial settings, you may also encounter metal or plastic walls, both non-porous surfaces.
- Ceramic Tiles: Ceramic tiles are created by shaping clay and then firing it in a kiln. They can be coated with a glaze, which will make them non-porous. Although they are non-porous, make sure the grout lines between tiles are not underneath any suction cups, or the suction will fail.
- Porcelain Tiles: Porcelain tiles are even less porous than ceramic tiles. You will commonly see porcelain tiles in showers and bathrooms. These surfaces can also be used for suction grab bars. As previously mentioned, make sure no grout lines are running underneath the suction grab bar.
- Metal Walls: Metal walls are often composed of aluminum, which is a non-porous material. Such walls might be found in industrial settings, restaurants, or hospitals. Due to metal walls being non-porous, it will be safe to affix a suction grab bar to them.
Suction grab bars cannot be used on drywall. The suction cups on these products require the creation of a vacuum underneath the suction area, which is impossible to achieve on a porous surface such as drywall. Therefore, attempting to use a suction grab bar on drywall is a risky practice. And, even if the suction grab bar sticks, the load-bearing weight will be extremely low.